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Blog #1 from Nepal
We have just finished our first conference in Nepal and I wanted to get my thoughts down before we go to India for our second conference.
To say I am overwhelmed is to say the least. I find that many of the stereotypical thoughts and even pictures that I have heard and seen from missionaries are the same as my thoughts and pictures (see some at the end of the blog). The poverty is overwhelming. The culture is oppressive. The resources are so few. Sounds like the only hope is God!
We did a two day conference in which I summarized the New Believers curriculum that we have on BiblicalTraining.org. As we talked with people, we were encouraged that this was precisely the right material to discuss. Some of the people were from the main city of Kathmandu. Others like Paul are from so high in the mountains that after a three day bus ride he still has to walk 4 days. He showed us pictures of his church built with mud walls and a partial tin roof. He had been a Maoist (communist to us). He watched his best friend murdered and prayed that if God spared him that he would investigate Christianity. He is now the pastor for several villages scattered throughout the mountains. We have always heard of people like Paul from missionary presentations at church, but it is totally different to sit down with him and talk.
The Nepali people learn best from stories, not through doctrinal instruction. This is part of their Hindu culture. As I told the stories of the Bible, their eyes lit up. I talk about about God knowing all things, being all powerful, and being present in all places. (I knew enough not to use the theological terms!) But then I told the story of Joseph to illustrate these points, and their eyes lit up. Out of the 120 people, only about 15 had even heard the story. These are good people committed to the Lord in the face of persecution, but they just don't have the training or the materials.
Our third day here was spent visiting some of the ministries supported by New Directions, the missions organization that is working with BiblicalTraining to get our materials out into the third world where there is virtually no internet. Our favorite place was a home for elderly ladies who are all alone in the world. They spend 2-3 hours every day in prayer; I wonder how long a retirement home in the US would last if that was it primary recreational activity.
We also met some amazing people that have committed their lives to caring for orphans. As I heard their stories and realized how little money (by American standards) was required to support the widows and orphans, I found myself getting frustrated and eventually angry at the American Church's preoccupation with itself. If every American church over 200 people would commit to supporting one orphanage or one elderly home, it would hardly impact their budget and the difference it would make in the spread of the gospel (as well as caring for those who cannot care for themselves) would be incalculable. Doesn't the Bible say something about getting into heaven only if we have feed and clothed the poor and visited the downtrodden? I am pretty sure Matthew 25 is still in the Bible.
One of the things that I have really learned is that effective evangelism only works within the context of caring for the needs of people. Every ministry we saw concerned itself with both the spiritual and the physical. I had heard this academically, but it is something else to actually see it work. We met with one pastor who also has an orphanage, and asked him how many people had come to know Jesus. He pointed to the five houses closest to the church, and said that every person in every house had come to be believers. They saw how the Christians loved each other, and they responded to the gospel.
We also spent some good time with a pastor named Dil who runs the training center that we are working with to get the LAMP materials (what is listed as Foundations on the website) out into the hands of those who need it the most and can afford it the least. We talked a lot about the level of instruction, the need for translation, how to create study groups in the towns and in the mountains, and also the technical means for how to do that. In the picture below you can see one such device, a portable mp3 player with solar powered batteries, and the front of the case is a speaker. Nepali people, like many cultures, learn best in groups, and so they can sit in groups and listen to the lectures. We have been working for a long time toward this goal, and to actually hold the player was quite emotional to say the least.
On a personal level, my visit to the home of a Bible translator was one of the highlights. Given my background you can imagine why. I can't give you too many details about this person, but I can say that he was a Tibetian monk who got malaria, and the missionary doctor who treated him led him to the Lord. (Again,holistic missions.) After 35 years of being a highly trained Buddhist, he became a Christian. Wow. When he was 79, God called him to write a Tibetian translation of the Old Testament. The only one they currently have is a mixture of Tibetian and Hindi so it is difficult for many to read. God preserved his eyes (he doesn't even wear glasses), and the translation is in the final proofing stage. My prayer is that it is printed before he dies. When I think about how the twelve of us translated the ESV, I was ashamed.
The needs of the Nepali people are so great it is easy to give up and shut down. In fact we wrote to a friend about the difficulties of being here and she said precisely that: don't shut down. Stay engaged. But how can we help all their people? I am learning that we can't. But we can help some. I am looking forward to meeting people in heaven who gave their lives to Christ through Paul's ministry in the mountain villages, and the joy of knowing I had some small part in that. As I left the Tibetian translator I said, It has been an honor to meet you. I look forward to talking with you in heaven in the same language, whatever that will be. But more than that, I look forward to seeing the effect of God's Word as it travels through the Tibetian people, a Bible that was made available because a 91 year man living in absolute poverty was faithful to his call, and God was faithful to him.
Heaven is becoming more of a special place to me every day. But for now we have work to do, and do it we shall, by the grace of our Lord Jesus.