The living church

Happening Issue 145 Dec, 2013
Text by Lizbeth Lucksom

The early missionaries did not struggle in vain. The oldest church in Nepal is proof of their resilience.

Nepal, before being a secular state, was best known as a Hindu kingdom. The Hindu temples and shrines around the country are a common attraction for thousands of tourists each year. Even though Christians are a minority group, Nepal is home to an increasing number of believers with more than 170 churches in Kathmandu alone. Apart from Assumption Catholic Church in Bhanimandal, the images that we typically identify with the places of worship – the architecture, stained-glass windows and crosses, chandeliers, candles and decorated halls - are largely absent here. Instead, churches in Nepal are mostly situated in rented houses, usually denoted by a small sign near the gate or on top of the building.
Nepali Christians from India and Western missionaries struggled hard to spread the religion in Nepal right after the collapse of the Rana rule in 1950. It was the start of a new era with people converting to Christianity and gathering in groups where they would pray together for a better Nepal despite the persecution they had to face. These Christians did not gather to destroy the harmony of the Himalayan Kingdom but to bring peace and stability through means that would remove the chaos and confusion that existed during the era.

Founded in 1954, Putalisadak Church, better known as Bethshalom Church, is one of the oldest churches in Nepal. With the help of young Indian students from the Union Biblical Seminary and others from Nepal, they started a regular worship service and is now an established church with hundreds of members in Kathmandu, Dhading, Bhaktapur and Lalitpur. Pastor Dev Kumar Chhetri, along with other church elders, leads the congregation currently. Nepali churches would be incomplete without missionaries like Pastor Robert Karthak, L.P. Neupane, Rajendra Rongong and other committee members who started with a small establishment at Dillibazar in 1957. Currently, Nepali Isai Mandali is the biggest Protestant church in Nepal with thousands of believers in Kathmandu and other districts. Their major churches are located at Gyaneshwor, Gongabu and Dhobighat with new branches in other parts of Kathmandu.

For a Christian, church is not just limited to a Saturday morning service and it’s so much more than a couple of hours of gathering. Churches ensures the overall development and growth of an individual. Bible studies and classes for children and youths are conducted, with  seminars and conferences taking place occasionally. There are training and leadership programmes to help build young promising leaders. Running social services like orphanages, old people’s homes and helping the underprivileged are also one of the primary objectives apart from spreading the word of God, which is the main basis of Christianity. A church is more than just a concrete establishment made of bricks. It’s a place where people go to worship and thank the Lord for each day and hope for a better future, for Christians and non-Christians alike.

Churches in Nepal not only speak of the numerous social struggles, persecution, imprisonment and isolation that Christians had to face but also tell the stories of visionary missionaries who crossed the rugged mountains, walked for miles every day singing songs and preaching the word to all who were willing to listen. They brought hundreds of people together under one shelter we call ‘church’ and changed the lives of many. These old churches speak of victory more than anything else. They are not just places where people can learn from each other and share each other’s burdens, but also places where people come empty handed and return home with a life full of blessings.