8-14 May 2015 #757

But faith is alive

The collapse of Kapan Church exposed the vulnerability of places of worship in Nepal
Om Astha Rai

CHURCH FALLS: Picture of the seven-storey building housing a church taken minutes after it toppled on 25 April, killing nearly 70 people, 26 of them members of the congregation. Churches in Nepal hold their prayers on Saturdays because Sundays are working days.

When the deadly earthquake struck central Nepal, just before noon on 25 April, nearly 80 Christians had congregated at a protestant church in Kapan on the northern outskirts of the capital.

Arun Moktan, a 30-year-old taxi driver and member of the congregation, was kneeling down quietly when the church started shaking violently. Everyone got up and started crying and screaming, but there was no escape since the church was on the sixth floor of a seven-storey building.

“We realised that we would not be able to escape unhurt from a high-rise building,” he said, “and our pastor was also asking us to stay calm.”

The iconic building of the Kapan area swatted, teetered and collapsed, killing 26 and wounding 49 worshippers. Moktan was holding on to the door, praying to God to save his life. “We were all buried under the rubble,” he said, “I was lucky to survive.”

Moktan’s right arm is broken and he has livid bruises all over his body. He had parked his taxi near the church, and it was crushed by the falling building. Even after witnessing the horrific death of his congregation, Moktan has not lost his faith.

“Those who died were taken to heaven by God,” he said. “God left me to struggle on this earth. My survival has a purpose and it is to continue serving God.”

The earthquake demolished the Kapan Church but could not deter its faithful from gathering one week after the disaster under a shed nearby to pray. Many churches in Nepal have prayer meetings on Saturday because Sunday is a working day.

“Our bodies are mortal but souls are immortal,” says Moktan. “But our souls die the day we lose faith in God.” The church was an extension of Cannan Prayer House, a protestant church in Buddhanagar, and Moktan had been going there every Saturday and on other religious occasions.

Cannan Prayer House has branches in Thali and Gwarko of Kathmandu, Chilankha and Laduk of Dolakha and Peepal Chaur of Kavre as well. Its Kapan and Gwarko extensions were also completely destroyed. More than 300 members of the congregation have been affected by the earthquake.

The National Council of Churches Nepal (NCCN) and Christian Federation of Nepal (CFN) have just started assessing the extent of loss, but there is concern about the vulnerability of church buildings in Nepal.

Radha Krishna Baral, pastor of Cannan Prayer House, says they knew that Kapan’s seven-storey building was not earthquake resistant but he could not find any other place.

“Though Nepal is now a secular country, the state still doubts our activities and it is difficult for us to find a perfect place to build our church,” he says. “So we set up churches in any space we get.”

Read also:

Needed: A Marshall Plan, Editorial

Bright lights on a dark day, Mark Zimmerman

Life after deaths, Om Astha Rai

Rising from the rubble, Anurag Acharya

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