Pastor Sanchang Phago leads a church of about 40 people in a village called Jhiljeli in SE Nepal. His church is in a region of serious unrest as Nepal wrestles with its identity as a secular nation. Just this past September Nepal’s Constituent Assembly rejected calls to re-declare Nepal as a Hindu state and remove the term ‘secularism’ from the new Constitution. This triggered protests by Hindu activists and four churches in this area were bombed. To add to Nepal’s trouble, India is rationing shipments of petroleum and other essential goods into Nepal, forcing them to seek trade relief from China. Prices are spiraling out-of-control in a nation that is among the poorest on Earth. Caught in the struggle are the low caste people who simply lack the resources to deal with these changes.
Pastor Phago has his work cut out for him. He and the Christians in his congregation are being squeezed from every side. There is no economic advantage in Nepal to being a Christian. On the contrary, it may derail any economic or social opportunities a man or woman had previously enjoyed. His congregation is reeling under the weight of converging forces they are powerless to affect.
The stories I read of Rome in the Book of Acts remind me of India and Nepal. Hinduism is essentially polytheist, relying on a complex system of traditions and sacrifices led by an elite priest caste, much like the Paganism of Rome. Hindus have no problem adding Jesus to the pantheon of gods. It is not unusual to meet a Hindu who will tell you that he loves Jesus, was saved by Jesus and had his life changed by Jesus… while at the same time he is on his way to the temple to offer incense to Ganesh, the elephant god. However, if you reject Hinduism and call yourself a Christian, you are no longer part of the community and are likely to be ostracized.
Pastor Ajay, a church planter and friend (and former worshipper of Ganesh) has been encouraging church leaders in this part of Nepal. He runs a leaders training institute and has had a significant impact on the unity of churches in this region. He is a sacrificial advocate for the church leaders in this part of Nepal, like Pastor Phago. When I was in India last week he asked me to come and encourage the pastors of the region.
I couldn’t possibly turn him down. But it is humbling to think that he would ask me to encourage these men. I live in a country where we do not pay a price to be Christians. We may not have the endorsement we have previously enjoyed from society at large, but we are free to believe and to express the love of Jesus to the hurting world around us.
I met some amazing people — men and women who are struggling and have been discouraged of late. As privileged as I was to bring a word of encouragement, it was not my empathy, wisdom or experience that could make a difference – it was the word of God. And it was the dedication of an advocate named Pastor Ajay who knew what they needed in times like these when they are being squeezed from all sides.
“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places” (Habakkuk 3:17-19)