NOTES FROM THE FIELD
In this series, thoseinvolved with CLC foreign missions profile one aspect of our overseas endeavors.
During the last couple of weeks of January 2016, I had the privilege of traveling to Nepal on behalf of the CLC Board of Missions. Much was accomplished while I was there. I spent the first several days traveling through earthquake-affected villages to offer the encouragement of God’s saving Word, and to assess the relief efforts that have been taking place over the past several months. When I returned to Kathmandu, I was joined by Pastor Rob Sauers, his wife Kate, and Missionary Peter Evensen. I had the privilege of attending and participating in the ordination of five pastors of the Himalayan Church of the Lutheran Confession of Nepal (HCLCN), a pastoral training seminar, and the dedication of the new Himalayan Bible Institute. It was also a very special privilege to be invited to officiate at
the wedding of Raju and Sanju Bhitrakoti on January 31.
I also travelled to a far-flung region of Nepal where very few Nepalese—let alone westerners—ever visit. The village of Siddhi is located in the Shaktikor district of Nepal, which is west of the capital city of Kathmandu. The trip to this district takes you up and over several of the foothills of the Himalayan mountain range. The road winds along the picturesque and sometimes wild Trisuli River that cuts a deep path through the very steep hills of this remote district.
Once you have arrived in Shaktikor, you still are not even close to the village of Siddhi. If you have the financial means to rent a four-wheel-drive vehicle, you will be able to cut about three hours off your journey. At the end of the “road” you will find only footpaths that lead you up some of the steepest “hills” you will ever see. The one-hour trek will take you up a series of switch-back trails that hug the side of the hill on rugged steps made of rocks and boulders of various sizes. If you can’t find or afford to rent a 4×4 ride, then your trip will take more than four hours: three hours of walking up the gradual incline of rocky roads and trails that don’t seem possible to drive, and then the final one-hour hike.
On reaching Siddhi you will find the typical rock-wall homes and outbuildings, scattered among hillsides that have been terraced for farming. The other thing you will find in this particular village is a church building in the most prominent part of the village. How this church building came about is a story of God’s grace and love.
This is the third time I have made the long journey to visit the Chepang tribal people of Siddhi. But this is the first time I have heard the whole story of how the HCLCN came to be involved in this region and how the Lord has blessed this effort. Not long before the Lord brought the CLC and the HCLCN together back in 2007, Pastor J.B. Bhitrakoti (Raju’s father) had learned of opportunities to spread the Gospel among these tribal villages, and had made several trips to visit the area. What he initially found among this marginalized tribe was a mixture of Hinduism, Buddhism, ancestral worship, and tribal superstitions mixed with a Pentecostal-influenced form of Jesus worship. Apparently the Gospel had come to this very remote region at some point in the past, but thorough training in the Word did not follow. The people were left without a solid foundation in the truths of Scripture. Given the low literacy rate in the region, many were unable to study the Scriptures on their own. Pastor J.B. recognized an opportunity to proclaim the truth of God’s saving Word. He identified a few young men who had learned to read as prospects for becoming future leaders—and perhaps pastors—in the congregations that were beginning to form under his tutelage. But he also knew that there was much work to be done if these young men were one day to serve as pastors. This opportunity and others like it led Pastor J.B. and his son Raju to search the internet for some assistance in training men to be faithful preachers and teachers of the Word of God. They found references to the CLC offering pastoral training in India. This led to their first email to the CLC, which contained a simple request: “Will you please come to Nepal to offer a pastoral training seminar?” The rest is an amazing demonstration of God’s grace, mercy, and blessings.
For centuries, the village of Siddhi had been used as a place to gather for the many Hindu and Buddhist festivals that take place every year. It was not uncommon in the past for thousands of people to gather for these idolatrous festivals. What is truly amazing is that this flat spot among the hills is now the place where an HCLCN church building stands. No longer is this area used in the worship of false gods. Instead, children of God are worshiping in spirit and in truth. No longer are people gathering there with the false hope of garnering the favor of an idol. Instead, sinners are receiving the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit through the water and Word of Holy Baptism. No longer are tribal people offering prayers to Jesus alongside the long list of Hindu gods who they hope will bring them earthly blessing and a better reincarnated life. Instead, they are gathering regularly to confess their sins and rejoice together in the forgiveness of their sins through the perfect life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ!
The pastor of the Siddhi congregation is Pastor Bhimlal Chepang. This man has faithfully made the long trip by foot and bus to attend pastoral training almost every month for the past eight years. He has demonstrated a solid understanding of the truths of God’s Word, and has successfully completed a study of Luther’s Small Catechism, along with many other doctrinal studies. Pastor Bhimlal graduated from his formal training and was commissioned and ordained as a pastor of the Himalayan Church of the Lutheran Confession of Nepal on January 28, 2016.
Praise be to God Who has opened this door of opportunity to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ and all that He has revealed to us in His Word.
Todd Ohlmann is pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Manchester, Missouri, and serves as chairman of the CLC Board of Missions.