Earthquake in Nepal Presents Christians with Unique Opportunity

May 07, 2015

Nepalis use their hands to dig through debris in search of survivors.

Nepal's earthquake presents Christians with a prime opportunity to unite with their countrymen – and to demonstrate that they are a force for good, rather than agents of disharmony as depicted by Hindu nationalists, indigenous ministry leaders said.

While the presence of international relief agencies has been critical for beginning to get aid to some of the estimated 2 million people displaced by the 7.8 earthquake on April 25, indigenous Christians and other Nepalis working together across ethnic and religious lines have distributed most of the aid, said Christian Aid Mission's South Asia director.

"Most of the help has come from Nepalis, either from the diaspora or those who live here," said Sarla, who is visiting her home country to assess needs and encourage ministries that Christian Aid assists. "They're the ones on the ground bringing the help, in whatever small way they can."

In the process, people from various backgrounds have come together, and this will be good for the way Nepalis see Christians, she added.

Nepali doctors have gone days without sleeping to save lives and limbs, she noted, and an indigenous ministry worker assisted by Christian Aid Mission has endured rains, rough terrain and other hardships to get aid to a village in Bhaktapur District, outside the capital city of Kathmandu.

"When the time comes for him to return to the village to share Christ, he will be warmly welcomed back," she said.

The chaos and distribution delays that typically arise the first days after a natural disaster are slowly being resolved, and while many survivors are frustrated that food, water, medicines and tarps for make-shift tents have not reached them, Christians are focused not on complaints, but loving their neighbors, ministry leaders said.

"This is not a time to criticize the government, but an opportunity to explain to the government what Christians are and what Christians do in Nepal," said one ministry leader, S.S. Chhetrie. "Our goals are not to damage the culture and traditions of Nepal, as some think. They need to know that this Christian presence will help the country, develop the country, and that we are people who love and care for the Nepali people."

Before the earthquake, media and the government had begun to slowly warm up to Christians in Nepal, the world's only Hindu monarchy until 2008. That year Nepal began transitioning to a secular, multiparty, constitutional republic. Hindu extremism, however, has increased since then.

"There are many Hindu fanatical groups. Almost every day they check up on us," Chhetrie said. "We have to keep moving from one place to another. We cannot worship in the same place, we have to keep moving every day. That's actually how the police advise us."

Thus earthquake relief efforts offer indigenous Christians an opportunity to demonstrate the love of Christ by caring for their Nepali countrymen in a way that will not be lost on government, media or Hindu nationalists. All 12 ministries assisted by Christian Aid Mission are helping to distribute relief items to one to three villages each, Sarla said.

Some of the indigenous Christian workers know the Nawar language, which helps the ministry reach the ethnic Nawar. Many of the older Nawar do not know Nepalese.

Numerous deaths are leading to mass cremations, without standard Hindu rituals.

Part of the country's communications infrastructure is still knocked out, which has contributed to problems in coordinating relief and left survivors uncertain whether loved ones are alive or not, Sarla said.

"I saw people digging through the rubble desperate to find some belongings," she said. "There is disbelief in their faces; they still can't make sense of their loss. Many old people are just sitting around in hope that someone will come to the rescue."

At the children's home of one ministry, a girl lost her mother and younger sister to earthquake injuries, she said, and a boy lost a grandmother.

While entire villages in other areas have been leveled, including church buildings, the government is ignoring survivors in such areas because there were no deaths, Sarla noted.

"These places are very windy and cold," she said of the high-altitude villages. "People are going to stay outside for months and even for years unless their houses are fixed."

Where mudslides have not blocked roads, ministries assisted by Christian Aid are bringing aid to remote mountain villages, carrying huge bundles of relief items on their backs as they trek on foot. In an effort to distribute food to the Lamosangu area northeast of Kathmandu, one ministry drove two trucks loaded with rice, lentils, oil, salt, soap and other items for four hours, barely making it past large boulders that had landed in the road, Sarla said. Eventually such roads give way to mountain pathways.

"There's no way you can bring a truck up to these villages, because there's no road," she said. "So we had to stop, and we called the villagers, and we distributed to four different villages."

An area church building was leveled, killing 17 people, she said. Residents were able to dig through the debris to pull out the pastor's mother. Before the earthquake dropped the second level of the three-story structure to the first story, she said, children who were gathered on the ground level were able to run out; none was hurt.

That area, near the epicenter, had nearly 3,000 deaths, the largest of any district, she said.

While food can be purchased locally thanks to supplies from India and other districts in Nepal unaffected by the quake, there are no tents available for purchase, she said. Workers are trying to bring tarps and plastic coverings to provide shelter for survivors.

"Some people are still sleeping outside," Sarla said, "though most have gone back to their homes. They are sleeping on the ground floor and keeping their doors open so they can run out at any time."