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"Being a Christian in Nepal is both a great privilege and a positive challenge"

Pastor Narkaji Gurung of Pokhara's Zion Grace Church and second-generation believer Sradda Thapa of the Areopagus Congregation talk of their beliefs and on being a Christian in a Hindu-majority society.

STARTING OVER: Pastor Narkaji Gurung (right) and Krishna Baniya (left) baptise Sher Bahadur Gurung in the Kali Khola, Pokhara, Christmas 2009.
The general understanding of Christianity in Nepal is that it was a very small community prior to 1990, when proselytising was still illegal, but that it is now growing apace. Will the 2010 census to be revealing?

Narkaji Gurung: Before1990, according to official government reports, the numbers of Christians were small. However, there may have been more who were closet Christians due to the fear of opposition from family, community, and the government, and other who were unaccounted for. Post 1990, many of these closet Christians have come out. Moreover, now that we are able to freely evangelise, more people have the opportunity to hear and receive Christ as their saviour. So yes, the 2010 census will be revealing in this regard.

Sradda Thapa: One of the basics of democracy is freedom of choice, including that of religion, so it would seem natural that with the end of the criminalisation of Christianity, more Nepalis would be open to exploring their faith or admitting to it. As for the census, any minority group would naturally hope for an accurate reflection of reality!

Why do you think so many Nepalis are willing to convert now, and which communities are they concentrated in?
Conversion is a matter of personal free will. People may convert for various reasons, some of which may be self-motivated but in the course of time those who are genuine converts will be revealed.
I don't think conversion is concentrated in any particular community though generally the poor have been more receptive to the message of Christ's deliverance. This not surprising considering they are the most oppressed. Our small church of around 80 represents nearly all strata of Nepali society.

ST: I'm not sure if more Nepalis are willing to convert now or if the removal of a state religion (which labelled others as un-Nepali and hence 'illegal') has permitted Nepalis to be more open. But we've come a long way since the bugging of Christian leaders' phones and open threats.

What is it like to be a Christian in Hindu-majority Nepal? Is there suspicion towards the community, and what would you say to Hindus who may feel that in a secular state they are 'losing their religion'?
: It is a great privilege and also at the same time challenging in a positive way. Personally, I think the Nepali community as a whole is very welcoming and friendly to Christians. One thing that must be made clear is that Christ did not come to start a new religion so the Nepali people should not feel threatened that they will lose their religion. However, truths in the Bible do challenge us to revaluate our religious concepts and practices, whether be it Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam or even Christianity itself.

ST: Since my childhood, when I was scared to proclaim my faith, to my teenage years, when non-Christian Nepalis perceived me as less of a Nepali at best and more of a traitor at worst, things have gotten better. These days, well-travelled, educated and urban Nepalis are more open to the idea of freedoms, so there are opportunities to learn about each other's faiths. Actually I feel Christianity can help expand Nepali culture; we sing Christian hymns to Nepali tunes, wear traditional clothes and serve Nepali meals at our functions.

Institutionally Ė from the state that still frowns upon proselytising to media houses that run Dasain specials but not Lhosar, Eid or Christmas specials to schools that do not post 'Merry Christmas' on bulletin boards like they would for 'Vijaya Dashami', minority groups obviously realise that they still reside in a 'Hindu' state. But I don't think I feel threatened or consider it malicious Ė it's been an opportunity for me to experience how it must be like for Hindu Nepalis in culturally Christian countries elsewhere. It's made me consider how to make spaces more comfortable for the marginalised and minorities of any kind.

What about the accusations about missionaries who 'bribe' or 'take advantage' of poor people, converting them with promises of money or material benefits?
Some of these accusations are valid because sad to say, there are those who do follow such practices. It could also be a lack of wisdom on the missionaries' part; they have a genuine desire to share Christ's love but they may do so without proper discernment. However, in some cases missionaries are not to be blamed but those who come to them with various expectations of personal gain. Many times it could just be that the missionary is addressing a need someone may have and those who are envious make accusations.

Would you like to share your personal experience of finding Christ?

NG: I came to Christ in 1996 shortly after a two-month backpacking journey in India. I bumped into two English missionaries in Shimla. We decided to travel together for two weeks, at the end of which they gave me a Bible as a gift. After returning to Nepal, I began to read the Bible and found that it answered some of the deepest questions I had been struggling with regarding my origins, identity, purpose and destiny as a human being. It also provided the forgiveness, acceptance and love I sought in the person of Jesus Christ. My conversion was a simple affair. One evening I was reading the Bible and I came to a portion of the Scriptures, Romans 5:6, "For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet peradventure for a good man we would dare to die. But God commendeth his love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." After reading this I felt convinced that Jesus was the one who would save me from my sin so I said a short prayer in my heart, accepting Him into my life.

ST: It's nothing exciting Ė my parents found the Lord when they were in their early twenties, so I was born into a Christian home. But since Christianity isn't a religion you inherit from your parents or forefathers I made the conscious decision to accept Christ as my saviour when I was 12. I waited till I was 24 to get baptised as it was the most important decision of my life.

What are you (and your congregation) doing this Christmas?
The week leading up to Christmas Day we have been singing carols in the neighbourhood where some of our believers live. On Christmas Day itself we will have a service in the church in the morning with prayers, hymns, and a message celebrating the story and meaning of Jesus's birth. We will have a simple meal afterwards. The service is open to everyone, both Christians and non-Christians. If you happen in to be in Pokhara that day, you are most welcome to join too!

ST: We have had caroling at different church members' houses in the evenings this past week. We will have a special program at church in the 25th and have been raising money and dipping into our church funds (comprised of members' tithes, or 10% of our earnings) to buy clothes, bedding, stationery, and toys for a small orphanage.

Anything else you would like to add?
Though there are differences among churches as to when exactly Jesus was born, most important to us is that His birth is a historical fact and He was born to dwell among us to reconcile us to God. And when we celebrate Christmas we celebrate Christ so actually for us every day is Christmas!

ST: Contrary to popular belief and the commercialisation of this season, it's not about gifts and partying, as much as about remembering God's largest sacrifice to mankind, the sending of his son, Jesus Christ, to be crucified for us and our sins.

1. jange
Christianity is an interesting religion. One of core foundations is the belief that humans are inherently sinful. In fact they believe that humans are born in a state of sin, a concept known as "original sin". And that only Jesus Christ can deliver man from sin.

In contrast the prevailing attitude in this part of the world is that man is born free of any "sin" and any "sin" committed are due to deeds committed by the person. And that it is up to each person to work out his salvation and that while churches, gurus, books etc. might help you, you and you alone determine whether you go to "hell" or "heaven".

Are they both right? Are they both wrong?

2. Goray

Could somebody care to elaborate the following statement from Sraddha Thapa? 

"......Christianity isn't a religion you inherit from your parents or forefathers......"

I like it.

3. Sargam

Many a true word is spoken in jest. Everyman Jack of them appreciate Woody Allen's quickness at repartee which is just one of his little idiosyncrasies: 'I am astounded by people who want to know the Universe when it is hard enough to find our way around Chinatown'

To be specific, in such a clutter it reminds me something about Montesquieu's line in 'Lettres Persanes': 'If triangle were to make a God they would give Him three sides.'

Although life is riddled with difficulties I do not think we are all that fatalists, yet there are things real hard to swallow as they present some time. So why to make them acceptable we are bound to act on a hunch and create a new situation to take them from the positive ends, and for a start:

'A health care reformer goes to paradise to meet God. He inquires whether one day the USA could really make the health care reform. 'Sure, for sure, but not in my life time!' exclaimed God. 'My Lord, you mean never, because you are immortal, you never die?' , retorted the reformer. 'There you are wrong, my son. I die like all human beings. I'm simply the God of religion, that means I'm only the God of faith. The day human beings cease from believing in a religion and lose their faith I cease from existing like Communists tried to eradicate religions from their countries by saying that religion is the opiate of people'. And God continued,

'If you reiterate a little bit you will find that all alleged to be Gods They died. For instance, what happened to the Trinity Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva a k a Generator, Observer and Destructor - G O D? Most probably they lived in the pages of ancient scripts of Vedas but we never saw Them taking care of Their devotees. In the same manner, Lord Krishna after his performance in Mahabharata we hardly heard of Him and to our great dismay, He is believed to have died so sadly with the arrow of a lad who took His big toe (where His Soul was supposed to have been taking a nap), for the ear of a deer, and He got killed like an ordinary old man of 80 years. Plus what happened to the Greek ancient Gods, namely, Zeus, Hera and Poseidon? Except in Greek mythology and some scattered statues here and there in Greece they are no more worshiped in temples like erstwhile.

Sure enough, in monotheist religions such as Jewish, Christianity and Islam, first off, Yahveh was believed to have handed over the 'Ten Commandments' as the principles of life to be respected to Moses, but He was just the voice that Moses was the only one to have heard. Why Moses did not encounter his Creator?

Jesus was crucified like a vulgar misfit personified by Barabbas. All that sort of cock and bull story of resuscitation is too complex to be trusted. The Prophet Mahomet died simply like a human being. Buddha died as an old sage at the age of 80 in Kushinagar. Only his message like to know about others is a knowledge but to know thyself is self-enlightenment remains intact in our memory.

All these Gods of different faiths are alive only because their devotees and followers believe in Them. So you see I am also evanescent like all kinds of beliefs.

But mind out, there is sure enough the God of Consciousness who every human being is liable to possess in the groundswell of his innermost heart and spirit. It is up to him to be aware of His existence. If you go one touch further you will realize that it is He who is called as omniscient and omnipotent.

All those 'top dogs' who are at our services are so clever and sharp minded that they amalgamated that God of Consciousness with the Gods of religions by saying there is only one God. What do you do with Hindus' 33 crores ( *1 crore = 10 to the power 7) of Gods? Since there are on earth about 6.7 billions (* 1 billion = 10 to the power 9) of human beings that 33 crores mean almost a few drops in the ocean comparatively.

The cleverness of those 'top dogs' in enticing the droves of devotees is so high that the former took advantage of the innocence as well as the ignorance of the latter to enroll them at the best of their possibilities. Unless the devotees are not conscientious of the trickery crafted by the top dogs we have nothing to be afraid of.

Now on the premise let us meditate over the case of Mother Teresa who made a meteoric rise as a linchpin of devotion to the human misery and breakdown; her legendary compassion did not help her go that extra mile to believe in God. This great Soul of the 20th century tended to believe but found the absence of evidence was too flagrant as the evidence of 'His Absence.'

Here are some of her litanies she was said to have told her various advisers:

'For me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see - listen and do not hear - the tongue moves but does not speak. Such deep longing for God - and repulsed - empty - no faith - no love - no zeal - [The Saving of] Souls holds no attraction - Heaven means nothing; What do I labor for? If there be no God - there can be no Soul - if there is no Soul then Jesus - You also are not true.' So like everybody she also went through the vicissitudes of life.'

To top it all off, conventional wisdom has it that the modern scientists put the same as follows:

'Reality is what we take to be true. What we take to be true is what we believe. What we believe is based upon our percepts. What we perceive depends on what we look for; what we look for depends on what we perceive. What we perceive determines what we believe etc, etc.'

And on top of all: ' Swadharme Nidhanam Shreya.'

4. so what
whats the difference from one religion to another? all the same!  then whats the meaning of changing? its all false belief which ever you choose. the difference comes from not choosing to be one and thats the most natural way of living!

5. Pabitra
Sargam Ji, 
I think you've missed the point...
Whether you believe in God or not, it only matters to your relationship with God, not God's existence itself. 
I believe in the truth... there must be a single truth to any proposition... black and white cannot exist at the same time.... light and the darkness do not coexist... 
in a same way "One believes in God therefore God exist"..."another does not believe in God therefore God does not exist"... these two statements cannot be true at the same time... there cannot be two separate truth for two different people... because we live in the same island... it's possible that they can believe in two different things but it does not mean that there are two different truths.
One good citizen may believe that killing is bad....
another bad one may believe that killing is OK... 
both can believe what ever they want... but... in one society... the only one statement is true and good... that the first one...
there is one universe, one world and in this world there can be only one truth about God too... it can be either "God exists" or "God does not exist"
the first statement is true and Good at the same time... because belief in God gives us the consciousness of right and wrong... good and bad...
when communist tried to wipe out the belief in God, during the war time in Soviet... people did not hesitate to eat their own children... because there was no logical reason why they should not... since there is not God... it means there is not right or wrong... people lived by the norms of their belief... 
Believes in God makes people special, and valuable... especially Christianity put really a high value on people that they are created in the image of God...
when the communists removed God consciousness from their heart... they treated people as if they are just a weapon... that's evident through out the history 
I am sure... "God exists" is the true and far better statement than the "God does not exists" 
Christianity shows God's true love for humanity... it possible that you may be confused when you see other Christians...who may not be the best example to show the good God...
As the Christianity says... People are inherently sinners... if you remove God... nothing good remains in them... But God so love the world (people) that he gave his only son, that who ever believes in him shall not perish but have an eternal life. 

6. wind
the concept of "original sin" does not mean that sin is not committed by the sinner any differently than others understand sin. Instead, it is the concept that humans are simply incapable of avoiding sin and that very corruptibility is in itself the root of the problem. Jesus fixed our corruptibility. Not that we don't still fight against sin in our lives, but that to God we are always reconciled. In the court of Heaven our only defense is Jesus loved us. This is not just any religion, this is a relationship with our Creator as close as a brother, and even sin can no longer separate us from Him. Praise God for Jesus!

The sincerity of the relationship is only known by God and ourselves. To those who continue to sin and only pretend to be Christian Jesus will say: "Away from me, I never knew you." To those who are sincere they will conquer sin one way or another.

7. Carole
In response to Goray... when a person accepts that Jesus died for his/her own sins and receives the forgiveness and eternal life God gives, that person becomes a child of God. God doesn't have any grandchildren, only children. So, each person's relationship with God is that person's personal relationship with God, who loves every person in the world and desires a personal relationship with every one.

8. Vija Srestha
Life Times
"Being a Christian in Nepal is both a great privilege and a positive challenge"

I wouldn't agree that being a Christian or believer in any other faith one needs to consider himself as privileged, but there are certainly challenges for those who have chose to be a child of other faith rather the one majority has chosen. 'So, each person's relationship with God is that person's personal relationship with God, who loves every person in the world and desires a personal relationship with every one.'
The kindest and most accepting words I have ever heard.Thank you Carole.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)