When Paul preached the gospel in Thessalonica, it aroused quite an uproar. “These men who have turned the world upside down,” shouted the mob, “have come here also” (Acts 17:6). This scene drips with irony. Paul and his companions go into a large city and teach in one of the synagogues for 3 Sabbaths. And some of Jews and a good portion of the “devout Greeks” (i.e. proselytes) and women come to Christ. But Thessalonica had a population of about 200,000 people. I don’t care how many people from the synagogue came to Christ, Paul’s preaching didn’t put a huge dent in the otherwise pagan population. “World upside down?” Really?
The outcry of the mob reflects not the number of converts, nor the immediate societal effects, but the beginning of the Kingdom of God overpowering the Kingdom of Satan. God is turning the world upside down through an upside down Kingdom. And it begins with a mustard seed—like the one planted in Thessalonica 2,000 years ago. I witnessed a similar seed in Kathmandu last Sunday.
Only 2.5% of the 800,000 people in Kathmandu are Christians, and every one of these
converts is an in-your-face-miracle. Most people in Nepal are Hindu. A few are Buddhist. This means that almost every single Christian is a genuine “convert.” In other words, they didn’t raise their hand during Sunday school class or at summer camp to accept Jesus. Rather, they were yanked from one religion to another in the midst of persecution from family, friends, and society at large. There is no human explanation why the church continues to grow in Nepal. But it continues to grow.
On Sunday, I saw many mustard seeds turning the world upside down in Kathmandu. Our first visit was to a colony of lepers living outside the city. Beki, the Nepalese pastor touring us around, visits them every week with food, fellowship, and love. Today, we got to follow Beki’s heart around the colony while passing out food. As we handed out rice and vitamin-rich biscuits, we were greeted with warm smiles and much gratitude. It felt a little different, however, than other homeless excursions I’ve been on in the States. Then I asked Beki, “Who else comes here to care for these lepers?” And with his characteristic life-giving smile he said, “Nobody comes to help. Only the Christians.” And by “Christians” Beki humbly meant himself. Hindus believe that these lepers have been cursed by God, so to help them would go against God’s will for them. I suddenly realized I wasn’t another walking handout filling space until the next handout arrives that evening. The rice we delivered was their food for the week.
I asked Beki, “How many of these lepers are believers?” He answered with deep seated satisfaction: “When we started the ministry, there were one or two. Now, there are about 14-16 believers.” As I did the math I realized that while 2-3% of Kathmandu are believers, about 30-40% of its lepers are believers—citizens of God’s unstoppable kingdom.
Without fingers and feet, these lepers are turning the world upside down.
Our next stop was at a church that meets in a small room in a rundown apartment building. I hesitate saying “small,” because small for Americans means there’s not much room between the chairs and the stage. But this church was genuinely small—a 12ft x 12ft room packed with 25 people. A fire-hazard, I know, but we’re not going to worry about that in Kathmandu. Come to find out, we were 2 hours late to the gathering. But they were all there, with warms smiles that cut through the chilly basement air. We gathered, we sang, and Mark shared a word from Matthew 2. We sang some more, shared testimonies, and drank some deliciously sweet tea.
I was shocked once again at the power of the gospel. How in the world did these people come to Christ? How is it possible that these former Hindus gather in a basement to worship Jesus in the face of persecution? They don’t even have a pastor to drag them to church every Sunday. Yet they gather. They sing. They worship their King. I imagine that Satan is shocked at this gathering as well. After all, his kingdom has had a firm grip on this country for thousands of years. A country that birthed the Buddha; a country flooded with Hindu temples; a country awash with idols; a country where cows are more valuable than people with leprosy. “Not in my backyard!” Satan cries. Yet God continues to rip people out of Satan’s empire and crown them with honor and glory in God’s kingdom. Even lepers, and children gathered in a murky basement.
Without a building, without a stage, without a pastor—this overcrowded gathering is turning the world upside down. I’ve witness the power of God in Kathmandu last Sunday. But nothing compares to the confusing joy I experienced in the jungles of southern Nepal on Tuesday. Stay tuned!