The Magar People of Nepal
Perhaps best known as the world's only Hindu kingdom, the small, mountainous country of Nepal is home to approximately 400 ethnic groups. The Magar tribe represents 7 percent of the country's total population, and is one of the oldest tribes in Nepal.
The Magars are traditionally known as craftsmen, including miners, blackhanges and basket weavers. Today, many members of the Magar community are employed as professionals in urban Nepal, and are prominently represented in the military. Magars practice a form of Hinduism that combines animistic and Buddhist rituals.
The government fiercely opposes any form of evangelism, and those Christians who are sharing Christ in Nepal do so at the risk of imprisonment.
One native Nepalese ministry supported by Christian Aid has taken this risk and focused their efforts on reaching the Magars with the gospel. Their first contact with the tribe was made in 2000, when they led one Magar family to Christ. This family created a bridge into the community, and helped the ministry learn how to meet specific needs in Magar villages.
As their first project, the ministry provided a water filter to one village that was desperately in need of clean drinking water. After learning that many of the villagers were unable to earn enough income to feed their families, the ministry also supplied the villagers with vocational projects through funding from Christian Aid. A pair of goats or pigs provided several families with the beginnings of a farm. Other families began earning a living through organic gardening or bee keeping. Lives were completely transformed.
Through the kindness shown by the ministry, the Magars became receptive to the message of Christ, and a small fellowship of believers gradually formed. In 2004 a simple mud cottage was used as a church, but a larger facility was needed as Christianity continued to spread throughout the Magar community. The ministry's leader chose a piece of land and began making partial payments, promising to pay the full amount by a set date.
Panic began to set in as the deadline for payment approached, and the leader realized that it would be impossible to raise the needed funds in time.
"I was crying out to God day and night to provide these funds before the due date. We were nearing the last day, and I kept praying for a miracle," he said. "On the final day, I received an email from Christian Aid, informing me that funds had been wired into our account. It was the exact amount needed for the project!I cried tears of joy."
The new building acted as more than just a church meeting hall. It became a children's home for Magar orphans. Boys and girls who were once homeless are now given food, shelter, clothing, medical care and an education through private tutoring or local schools.
In addition to the government's stringent prohibition on evangelism, the ministry faces the threat of the Nepalese People's War, a Maoist insurrection launched in 1996 to topple Nepal's constitutional monarchy and install a communist republic.
Chris, one of the native missionaries who work with the ministry, travels by jeep through the mountains of Nepal to share the gospel with Magar villages. On one excursion, Chris and several companions were unaware that they were being closely followed by Maoist insurgents. As they climbed down from the jeep to hike up a steep road to a mountain village, an insurgent approached Chris and forcibly led him away from the rest of the group.
"The insurgents are known for approaching a person and asking to talk to them in private," Chris said. "Then they usually break their hands or legs. They like to torture their victims before killing them."
Chris explained his ministry's outreach programs to the Maoists, after which time they captured the entire team and took them to an isolated hideout containing an arsenal of weapons and materials to prepare bombs.
The insurgent proceeded to search through the bags of the gospel workers, and discovered Bibles and Christian literature. Chris and his friends were able to answer the questions of the curious Maoists by sharing the good news of Christ. That day, the entire group of insurgents gave their lives to Christ and released Chris and his team.
Despite the obstacles, this ministry continues to boldly proclaim the name of Christ in Nepal. Portions of the Bible are now being translated into the Magar language. The ministry is praying for the means to provide more Magar villagers with vocational projects as an open door to share the gospel.