Ruined in Nepal
Tim Chambers (Lead Pastor of Christ’s Church, Joplin, MO) and I [Ian Ashby] recently visited Nepal, where Christianity has been spreading rapidly. The number of Christians in this Hindu-majority nation has tripled in the last decade. It was this growth that led the government to implement an anti-conversion law recently.
It is not illegal to be a Christian in Nepal or for churches to gather for worship, but it is illegal to try and convert someone. Tim and I had no intention of putting the law to the test! Our purpose in visiting this beautiful country was not to convert but to learn. In his excellent book, Global Humility, Andy McCullough writes, “We need the humility to learn from all our brothers and sisters. It is arrogant to assume the Western world is only ever meant to be the teacher rather than also the student.” This was the attitude we took with us to Nepal.
The church I pastor, New Frontiers Church (Portsmouth, NH), has had a connection with Nepal for many years, largely through the work of one of our members, a businessman called Marian Noronha. Over the last 20 years Marian has been involved in redeeming slaves, buying land for them to farm and build houses on, building schools for their children, and encouraging micro-industry. I heard many first-hand stories of this amazing redemptive work and the opportunities it has provided for former slaves, their children, and future generations. It was very moving to say the least. More information about Marian’s work can be found at Bridge to Nepal.
On this particular trip, Tim and I had been invited by one of the key leaders there who helps to serve some 40 fellowships in a very rural area. We visited two of them and had the privilege of participating in their meetings. We also shared at a regional leaders prayer gathering and a midweek home group in a small mud house with a tin roof.
At each of the different gatherings, we witnessed everyone, without exception, engaging in wholehearted, joyful worship with only a drum to accompany their singing. No band, no spotlights, no A/C, just a thankful people, full of God’s spirit and expressing gratitude for God’s goodness to them. When they prayed, it was with a fervency and a desperation that we rarely see in our own prayer meetings.
These people are hungry for God. They live close to God. When they gave to the offering, some gave vegetables, the first-fruits of their crop. They are mostly subsistence farmers, who depend on their land and livestock, and life can be hard for them. Some years, when the floods come, they lose everything. So, as they shared their food with us after the meetings, it gave me a newfound respect and gratitude for the food I eat and so often take for granted.
Wherever we went, we were asked to pray for the sick. There are few doctors or medical supplies in the region, so the people depend on God. On one occasion, we prayed for a young man to be delivered from a spirit that was causing him and his family much distress. His parents lived in fear. It’s in those situations that you realize, whatever your theology, the best thing to do is follow Jesus’ example and do what he did! Later that same day, I was worshipping alongside this same young man at a small group meeting in his family’s home, thanking God for his goodness.
At every one of these gatherings, the presence of God was tangible. It was a very humbling experience to worship with people who express their need for God, who rely on God, and are hungry for God in a way that is hard to imagine in our affluent, comfortable, consumerist, western churches. As Francis Chan wrote in Letters to the Church, “While we can’t force people to be devoted, it may be that we have made it too easy for them not to be. While trying to keep everyone interested and excited, we’ve created a cheap substitute for devotion.”
I suspect that is why Christianity is not growing here the way that it is in Nepal. It’s why I would urge anyone in the western church to find an opportunity to go and learn from our brothers and sisters in another part of the world. I think it would cause you to re-evaluate what true worship is and who it is for. It might give you a new respect for life and the food that we eat. You will likely see God in a new way and have a greater hunger to know him more. It could transform your prayer life as you become more devoted to him. It may ruin you, as I pray it will ruin me!