Unrestricted Faith

Despite a evangelism ban imposed on Nepali Christians in September 2015, their faith for Christ has only grown by the minute. Doors have also opened for faith-based media ministries to reach out to their nation, in remarkably innovative and compelling ways.

Most days, Mr. *Sherpa strides on the streets of Bhaktapur, Nepal with ease. But this particular morning, his movements are rushed—He is late. As he moves into oncoming traffic, he jerks out his hand in confidence to deter any bus, car or motorcycle that threatens to close in on him. He leaves an offhand trail for me and I strive to follow it, but I am not as quick and not nearly as smooth. As I try my best to keep up, mini-clouds of smoke prostrate themselves at the heels of passing buses then billow like flowers into the surrounding air.

Three buses later, as we draw close to our destination, Mr. Sherpa’s phone begins ringing. He picks it up, stands in the middle of the temporarily barren street, and listens quietly. Minutes later, Mr. Sherpa puts the phone down and resumes crossing the street. The appointment that Mr. Sherpa is late for is the recording session for a faith-based radio broadcast. The person on the other end (the producer) had been calling to inquire about his whereabouts.

After the call, Mr. Sherpa turns to me: “He does not know what we are going through.” In that instance, I pick up on what he is referring to. As a doting father, Mr. Sherpa and his wife, *Joy, had gone through the previous night tending to their fever-stricken, three-year-old daughter. From the sounds of the young girl’s shrieked cries late in the night, it had not been an easy feat. Both had sacrificed much sleep.

Despite the challenges at home, ministry work has and continues to be a priority for Mr. Sherpa. Whether that means going in earlier or later, he is ready to commit to what he sees as most urgent. Upon arriving at the obscure radio studio location, not more than a few minutes have passed before he is behind his booth, recording. Hours later, he is still there. Over the years, his ministry had also come to include direct evangelism methods: religious distribution, public speaking engagements at churches and other such evangelistic events. It is a calling that he doesn’t take lightly.

But as of September 2015, evangelistic work of this nature has found itself on new grounds. Under the new Nepalese Constitution, all evangelistic activity is prohibited. For the Christian population of 2.8 per cent, this is solemn news. The law bans engagement in direct evangelism of any kind: Preaching, distribution of spiritual literature, and even teaching. Article 31(3) of the Constitution says that “any act to convert another person from one religion to another, or any act or behaviour to undermine or jeopardize the religion of another, is punishable by law.”

The new law will make it harder to carry on evangelism of a public nature—All registered organizations are required to report their activities to the government. But Mr. Sherpa uses a convert identity so that his association to this radio broadcast ministry is not publicly known. He even corresponds with his listeners this way.

An Extraordinary Broadcast

With the increasing rise of technology use, media evangelists such as Mr. Sherpa are placed in a prime spot to share Christ with others. “More than half of the population in this whole country are on Facebook, and they use smartphones,” Mr. Sherpa says. “If we go out into the street and tell these people the Lord’s message, how many people will respond? Yet if we use the media and whatever tools we have, the results will be extraordinary.”

And Mr. Sherpa doesn’t hold back from sharing the truth. He relays weighty messages to his audience, in a way that can be easily digested. Broadcast messages include topics of prophecy, faith, family values, health, God and life.

Mr. Sherpa’s love of studying and sharing the Scriptures, in addition to his passion for media, further compels him to do what he does. In fact, prior to beginning his current radio ministry, he had written two books exploring the prophecies of Daniel. But due to a lack of financial support, he had to cease the printing process for both books.

And this hasn’t been the first time that Mr. Sherpa has experienced financial barriers during the course of his ministry. Together, both he and Joy put the money they earn towards ministry work (his income stems from his temporary contract work), a most noble sacrifice they have come to appreciate. In their early days of serving together, the faithful couple would skip a meal and use that money instead to feed and clothe orphans in their community.

In addition to the numerous financial challenges Mr. Sherpa has faced, he has also received threats on Facebook from mostly fanatical Hindu groups. Although it presented a hard reality about the harsh opposition to evangelism work in his country, Mr. Sherpa has not given up on his faith. “Challenges are now more than previous years. If you are thinking genuine Christianity will have a smooth path, you and I are mistaken,” he explains.

Reaching the Nation

Sandwiched between India and China, Nepal has a small percentage of Christians (they are close to last after Buddhists and Muslims). Yet, the number of Christians in Nepal is growing —According to the World Christian Database, it is even considered one of the fastest growing Christian populations in the world. This incredible growth has only increased since the earthquake two years ago, largely due to the acceptance of relief from foreign organizations, some of which are Christian. Prior to 1950, Nepal was closed to foreigners.

In such a time as this in Nepal, media ministries bear incredible weight in their potential to reach many for Christ. During the time of my visit, I took close to a day’s bus ride to visit the leaders of another media ministry, who possess a similar burden on their hearts for the Nepali nation. The word of interest here is Reach, and that is what they hope to do in the predominately Hindu nation.

Originally founded as an orphanage by a group of American students, it now solely focuses on dubbing as much spiritual literature and DVDs as possible in the Nepali language. Today, it is now largely led by a powerhouse couple, one of whom is an American foreigner. It was through the Brown’s work together in ministry, that they met and were subsequently married.

My first impression upon meeting Mr. and Mrs. Brown is that they are modest and humble. The entrance to their home in Nepalgunj is simple and bare, with only a few items of interest. The front hall consists of only a bookshelf, with a piano close by. Not too far from the entrance are a set of doors—the one in the middle leads to the studio where the ministry largely operates for now.

Mrs. Brown sports a soft white and green kurtha suruwal, which when wrapped around her, appears to give her light sandy brown skin a certain glow. Her short black hair has been tied away from her face, and there are a few dabs of pink in her cheekbones.

Although Mrs. Brown has an active role in ministry now, it wasn’t always that way. In her early days of attending church after converting to Seventh-day Adventism (she was introduced to the faith through the unwavering perseverance of her brother), she doubted whether she could even speak for the Lord. “Every time the pastor would tell us that we needed to share the gospel, I never thought I even knew how to share. I said to the Lord, I cannot do this kind of work,” she says.

Now, her days are so packed with translating and editing the materials from books, in addition to her household duties. Before the law, she was also involved in teaching ESL and Bible stories to children in the community. But with the implementation of the law, it is no longer possible to teach anyone under 16 about any religion. They are also unable to hold evangelistic series openly as they had in the past, although house to house ministry is still permissible.

“We all gathered outside on the lawn, held hands and prayed together for protection. People were crying.”

But even so, Mrs. Brown, her husband, and the rest of the team continue to pursue a vision that they see as greater than themselves, to “reach every house because only God’s word can change people…” Mrs. Brown affirms. It is this unshakeable faith that has no doubt been strengthened over time, especially as a result of one earth-shattering event in the previous year.

Unshakeable

The day the earthquake hit Nepal, both Mrs. Brown and her soon-to-be husband, *John were in Banepa, taking part in a health evangelism event. Then, on the Sabbath morning, as John was about to preach, the group heard a loud, rumbling noise “as if the earth from beneath was making noise,” Mrs. Brown solemnly remembers. “We all gathered outside on the lawn, held hands and prayed together for protection. People were crying.”

Caught up in this life-and-death experience, Mrs. Brown says she believed that this would be her last moment on earth. “I feared greatly for my life. We were trying to open the door to go outside and it took forever to open it,” she says, in recollection. “The pastor kept turning and turning the keys, but it was not working. That was very scary inside the church.”

In the aftermath of the earthquake and in close proximity to the hospital, Mrs. Brown says she worked closely with the staff to attend to the needs of the patients. Beds and mattresses were kept out on the field and many people were attended to there. For the benefit of the church members who remained—about 24 in total—tents and tarps were also set up. When it started to rain, ministry volunteers and hospital staff spent the whole night trying to push water away from the tent, so as not to wet the patients.

That same night, Mrs. Brown says she recalls witnessing a lot of trauma. “In the hospital we saw many deaths. We saw a truckload of people coming in all the time. We saw people swearing and screaming and cursing. When you are in pain, you forget everything, it seems.”

But in the midst of the chaos, according to Mrs. Brown, it was God’s hand that ordered the events that followed. Through their efforts, care packages were distributed in the community to those who had lost their homes. An estimated 3,000 tarps, along with food and medical supplies were distributed to many of the areas hit by the earthquake.

And in serving together, Mrs. Brown drew closer to John. Just four months later, they were married. It was their miracle, in a time of great loss.

While the Christians abiding here may be smaller in number compared to the overall population, it hasn’t deterred them from their faithfulness to God. Instead, it seems as if the fiery spirit (for service and love of the Lord) has only burned brighter in their hearts.

As for Mr. Sherpa, his uttermost desire is to be able to live in a country that grants freedom of worship for all. “What I want for this nation is for every person to have a right to choose whose god they want to worship. I would want our nation to be one where tolerance, brotherhood and peace will prevail,” he says. “They would understand that my freedom ends where someone else’s begins.”

*names have been changed

To read an update as of last year, regarding the evangelism outreach ban in Nepal, please read this story.

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Alexandra Yeboah
Alexandra Yeboah

Alexandra Yeboah is the founder and lead storyteller of Speak The Words Communications. She is seeking daily to be transformed by God's grace.

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