We saw two worlds collide in our last couple days in Kathmandu.
On Thursday, we visited a small village up in the mountains between Kathmandu and Mt. Everest. The road wasn’t as deathly as our trip to Hetauda, but I was able to offset my safety by riding on the back of a motorcycle. The others guys piled in a clown car; I’m not sure who was more risky. The ride was exhilarating, though I choked down enough exhaust to take 5 years off my life. I now know why Beki’s pastor-mentor died a couple years ago of lung cancer, even though he didn’t smoke. After a 3-hour ride, we arrived in the village and Beki began to tell us about how the gospel had reached the city a year and a half ago.
Long story short, an old lady had a serious stomach problem, and after six months of unsuccessful medical treatment, she met a Christian who healed her and the word spread throughout the entire village. Shortly after, her daughter and son-in-law came to Christ, and they are now helping lead the church. Currently, there are about 40-50 converts in this small village: old people, young people, upper caste and lower caste. The gospel has scaled these remote mountains and reclaimed them for Christ. The scene reminded me of what Jesus told Paul in Acts 17: “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking…for I have many in this city who are my people.” God’s people were tucked away in those mountains, and the gospel found them.
I left the village with a bit of that “frustrated joy” I had when I left the jungle church. These zealous believers are living out their faith publicly for all the villagers to see. But they are without a pastor. The first converts help lead the people, but they need more oversight, someone who can nourish the people with wisdom, teaching, and encouragement. Beki hops on his motorbike to visit the village twice a month, but it’s a 6-hour journey round trip. Plus, Beki oversees 9 other such fellowships in and around Kathmandu. There’s a lot of work to be done, and the local pastors are doing it. But they are spread quite thin with financial resources.
To put it in perspective, there are over 50 pastors in training at Himalaya School of Theology—a master’s level theology program overseen by Beki in Kathmandu. Once these aspiring pastors graduate, they’ll be ready to go out into mountain fellowships like the one we visited. The problem is that many of the believers in these churches can’t afford to support a pastor, and finding work is already tough. Beki told us that some people in the village were selling their organs to buy food. Others are able to keep both kidneys, but still live far below the poverty line by any standard. So there remains a thick wedge between zealous pastors and needy young converts. Frustrated joy—I don’t know how else to put it.
The gospel was victorious in the mountain village. But this world collided with the one we saw the next day.
On Friday, we visited two significant religious sites: the main temple to Shiva (one of the three primary gods of Hinduism), and the Boudhanath (think: temple)—one of the holiest Buddhist sites in Kathmandu. Shiva’s temple was the most sobering. I don’t know if it was the smog, the cloud of incense, or the burning of dead bodies over the holy river, but there was a spiritual thickness in the air. Smoke from flesh mingled with incense filled the air. Shrines with phallic images filled the hills. Steady drumbeats filled my ears. Sadness and fear filled my heart. The trendy, hippie, coffee-shop Hinduism that Californians toy with doesn’t exist in Nepal. Satan still has a frightening foothold on this country.
The Boudhanath was a bit more serene. Bubbling with tourists and Buddhist monks, this beautiful temple has a seductive lure to it. The all-seeing eyes of the Buddha stare at you wherever you go, and the idols that fill the monastery radiate a placid glow. The hope that gleams from the believers in the village is absent here, however. Tourists and worshipers frantically spin prayer wheels, burn incense, and give money to local monks to pacify their guilt, grope for unattainable perfection, or just scratch a spiritual itch that never goes away. The façade of peace doesn’t produce many smiles in this temple. Only anxiety.
It’s now Saturday morning as I write this blog and we will be boarding the plane in just a few hours. Mark, Adam, and Dathan will head home to California, while I’m heading on to Zambia with a stop in Delhi to visit some friends. My heart is filled with so many thoughts. After I get my head above the smog I’ll write another blog summarizing my reflections. For now, pray for Beki, pray for Babu, pray for the local pastors who are joyfully furthering the kingdom of God here in Nepal—behind enemy lines.