Reaching Tibetans (5/5)

Reaching Tibetans (5/5)

[This is a five-part series by Charles Rijnhart on reaching Tibetans]

Section 5: Nepal: Initial Stages, Nepal: Current Day, Conclusion

Nepal: Initial Stages

The first Christian mission that had contact with Nepal was the Capuchins from 1703-1715. However, political instability during the reunification of the Nepali kingdoms caused the Capuchins to leave. The early Nepali Christians associated with the Capuchins were kicked out of the country as well. Interestingly enough, the first Capuchins in Nepal had their focus on Tibet.[1] After many failed attempts by the Catholics to succeed in Tibet, in 1882, that they finally established a mission station with the Nepali Himalayas in mind.

On the other hand, Protestant Baptist missionary William Carey had a much earlier vision for outreach in the area. Carey was already seeking to establish a mission station in Bhutan by 1797. By 1800, Carey had settled in a Danish colony and the ‘Nepala New Testament’ begin in 1812 and was completed in 1821.[2] Scottish missionaries formed the Church of Scotland’s Eastern Himalayan Mission (EHM) in 1870, which sought to form ‘native churches’ in Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, and Tibet. They also established schools alongside their mission stations due to their low literacy rates and the need for them to be literate to read the Bible. Fredrik Franson founded the Scandinavian Alliance Mission (SAM) in America in 1890 and within two years, nine missionaries made their way from Darjeeling with the object of penetrating Tibet with the Christianity.[3] The SAM mission assisted the EHM in missional outreach while seeking to reach the Tibetans. Eventually the SAM changed their focus altogether, giving up on the Tibetan mission, and focused on unreached areas of Nepal. It would be from the indigenous Nepali-Lepcha church, which was aided by the Scottish EHM mission in diaspora that would eventually lead to a mass movement of Christianity in Nepal.[4]

Conversions started taking place among the diaspora in Darjeeling and Kalimpong. By 1874, the first twelve baptisms had taken place, all Nepali. By 1875, the focus started to shift towards the need for discipling these new believers due to the rise in conversions.[5] By 1892, the indigenous Nepali church started sending their own missionaries to the field. The first being Ezra Kaziman sent to the Gorkhas on the “Gorkha Mission” in 1893.[6] By 1895, there were over 2,300 Nepali Christians. The next fifty years were marked by little growth due to paternalism by new leadership and the concentration of expanding the number of schools, leaving a smaller amount of time for evangelism. As the policies in India lightened for missionaries in the 1900s, new missionaries from different denominations began to enter in. When Nepal finally opened it doors to the outside world following the overthrow of the Rana regime in 1950-1951, Christian missions were invited to do medical work.

The first church was established in 1952 in Pokhara, Nepal. The church was a mixture of ex-pats and Nepali (Ram Ghat. Daud Masih, Philip Gurung, Budhi Sagar, and Putali) but only the Nepali people served in leadership. Church growth gradually spread out across the valley. Dr. Rajendra Rongong stated, “characteristics of early church growth included bigger cities having congregations of over 100 and work going slower in small villages. Equality among the members was visible, in contrast to a society where caste was strictly adhered to.”[7] Also, church growth continued in spite of persecution due to healings of the diseased and maimed. Christians would rather risk arrests than to stop witnessing although it was illegal to do so. The testimony of the power of the Holy Spirit and his role in healing someone is one of the main reasons people come to faith in Nepal.[8] This powerful movement of church growth continues today and it will be exciting to see the plans God has for the bold evangelists of the Nepali people.

Nepal: Current Day

Despite having arguably the fastest growing Church in the world today Nepal is still very much unreached.[9] Around 96.6% of all Nepali people do not know Christ.[10] Today the church is vibrantly expanding across the nation of Nepal. But one major factor hindering Church growth in Nepal is the Nepali economy. It’s estimated that over one third of Nepali working age men and women leave for work opportunities in other countries. Estimates continue that there are over 2.8 million working in SE Asia and the Middle East alone with India not even included in this statistic.[11] Although it is understandable to want a better livelihood, this cripples the church by removing other would be vibrant leaders from within the Church. There are many who also go to schools in other countries for education and never return.

Although not so good for the Nepali church, the Nepali Christian diaspora who leave Nepal and go other places have been passionately evangelistic. Nepali Christians can be found in India, South Asia, the Middle East, and the West; and where they go they start churches. God has always used the diaspora communities to further His kingdom and it seems in the case of the present day the Nepali Christians have a big part in that plan.

Conclusion

In the beginning, the Jesuits and Capuchins sought to bring the gospel to the Tibetans. Unfortunately their missional attempts were short lived and characterized by infighting. The collapse and removal of the leaders among the Tibetan kingdoms where missions were stationed ended many mission attempts. Many of the Tibetan missions heavily used mission stations and suffered from paternalism, not doing everything in their power to institute indigenous leaders early on. Because the nationals did not lead the Church it didn’t have much of a chance to survive due to the political instability in the region that caused the missionaries to leave. On the other hand in Nepal, the Christian Mission History is characterized by an indigenous-diaspora-movement in Darjeeling and Kalimpong that eventually returned to Nepal. When paternalism crept in the mission slowed but when put back in the hands of the indigenous people the Church began to grow again. From 1952 to 1990 there were 50,000 Christians but by 2020 (considering current growth rate around 4%) there is suppose to be an estimated 1,300,000.[12] Missiological efforts must be prayerful, indigenous, self-supported, highly evangelistic, and patient to survive. From both of these missional histories it is clearly evidenced that God’s plans for these people are not our own, as stated in Isaiah 55:8, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways”. Nonetheless, there is great hope going forward.


[1] Perry, 30.

[2] Perry, 30

[3] Ibid., 32.

[4] Ibid., 35.

[5] Ibid., 42.

[6] Perry, 42.

[7] Rongong, Rajendra K., Early Churches in Nepal: An Indigenous Christian Movement Till 1990 (Kathmandu, Ekta Books Distributors, 2012), 76.

[8] Ibid., 80.

[9] Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (2013) Christianity in its Global Context, 1970–2020: Society, Religion and Mission. (South Hamilton, MA: Center for the Study of Global Christianity), 38. http://www.gordonconwell.edu/ockenga/research/documents/ChristianityinitsGlobalContext.pdf (Accessed Dec. 9, 2017)

[10] Joshua Project, Country: Nepal, https://joshuaproject.net/countries/NP (Accessed Dec. 9, 2017)

[11] Inchley, Valerie, The Nepali Diaspora: Migrants, Ministry, and Mission (Kathmandu: Ekta Books, 2014), 208.

[12] Kekrberg, Norma, The Cross in the Land of the Khukuri (Kathmandu, Ekta Books Distributors, 2000), 131.

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