By Denton Lotz
It was an honor and joy on April 11 to celebrate in Kathmandu with hundreds of pastors and leaders the Silver (25th) Anniversary of the Baptist movement of Nepal. As former BWA General Secretary it was a joy to see how a convention helped in its start by the BWA is now growing. General Secretary Vijay Thapa and his excellent team are to be congratulated on a job well done.
Hari Gurung, founding General Secretary of Nepal Baptist Church Council (convention), and other Baptists from Nepal had been in Calcutta in January 1993 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of William Carey’s arrival in India. It was in Calcutta that individual Nepali Baptist pastors had come and were impressed with the large celebration of Baptists in India. There the Nepal Baptists met with BWA leaders.
Soon after I returned to BWA headquarters in the United States, I received an email from Pastor Gurung. He asked, “How do we become a Baptist convention?” I wrote back that I would immediately fly to Nepal and consult with them on how to become a convention and member of the Baptist World Alliance.
With Edwin Lopez and Bonny Resu of the Asian Baptist Federation, we flew to Kathmandu and then on to Pokhara. In Pokhara, we met with Pastor Gurung and Daniel Subbha, as well as other local Baptist church pastors. With 15 Nepali Baptist pastors and leaders we met in the home of a former Indian Army captain. We met around candles since there was no electricity. They informed us of their desire to become members of BWA and to become a Baptist denomination.
For hundreds of years Christianity had been forbidden in the Hindu kingdom of Nepal. Individual Christians were persecuted and forced to flee the country. In 1951, the new king appealed for help in development. Eight Christian denominations, including Baptists, formed the United Mission to Nepal (UMN), which was allowed only to provide social work, medical services, education, etc. They were strictly forbidden to proselytize or evangelize. Gradually more freedom was granted. The Christian population grew from 100 in 1966 to 400,000 in 1999. However, the UMN, because of a contract with the government, was opposed to denominations forming churches. Nevertheless, denominations began to form and found churches. The Assemblies of God and Pentecostals grew quickly and refused to obey the UMN, which wanted a united church and no denominations. Even some Baptist mission agencies opposed the forming of a Baptist convention.
The social misery of the people was so bad that many young people thought communism would bring relief and prosperity. The government persecuted these young communists, many of whom escaped to Nagaland. In Nagaland, they met Baptists who gave the young people Bibles and introduced them to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Today, many of the present-day Baptist leaders are former communists led to the Lord by the Naga Baptists of India. They then returned to their country of Nepal and began to tell the story of Jesus. One of these young men was Daniel Subbha of Ithari, Nepal. Now he leads a church of more than 1,000. Hari Gurung, who became the founding General Secretary of the Baptists, was teaching in India and came under the power of the gospel there.
These young Christians insisted they wanted to become Baptist believers. Thus, on April 11, 1993, Baptist leaders came together and, with only eight churches and 250 baptized believers, formed the Nepal Baptist Church Council (NBCC). What a joy to see God’s leading among young Baptists, who are eager to share the good news of Christ. The Nepal Baptists now have 219 churches and 248 fellowships, for a total of 467 meeting places! They have 20,000 baptized believers. But there are probably another 10,000, if you include children, families, friends, and visitors.
The recent celebrations were held in a rented hall that could hold only 500. Nevertheless, 700 came, many of whom had to stand outside in the courtyard and listen through the windows.
Although the new constitution declares Nepal to be a secular state, the fact is it is still very much a Hindu country supported by the state. Christian evangelism is prohibited, and many people fear another era of persecution could come.
Nevertheless, after visiting with our brother and sisters, hearing their enthusiastic singing, their dynamic preaching, and seeing their social programs, one comes away rejoicing at the triumph of grace in the life of Nepal Baptists. One is impressed with the youthful leadership. Their seminary now has 48 students and has graduated hundreds from a basic Bible course to diplomas and Master of Divinity programs.
NBCC has 192 ordained pastors and 300 leaders involved in running the churches and fellowships. After the main celebration, 250 pastors and lay leaders remained the next day for seminars on Christian leadership. I was impressed with the indigenous leadership. Nepal Baptists are not a Western missionary-led union; they are led completely by local pastors and indigenous leaders. They are enthusiastic about the power of the gospel and the joy Christ brings to their lives.
Walking along the holy river seeing where bodies are burned, a young pastor told of how his father, a former priest, had the joy now of knowing Christ and a changed life.
Itinerant evangelists, mainly retired pastors, roam Nepal telling the good news. There is no retirement for pastors. After retirement, they are sent to unevangelized areas of the country.
Pray for our brothers and sisters in Nepal as they stand firm in their faith in Christ and rejoice in how God has led them these past 25 years.
Pray that the next 25 years will be even more glorious and that our new BWA General Secretary, Elijah Brown, who sent video greetings, will help Nepal Baptists celebrate their 50th anniversary.
Pray that Baptists of the world, through the BWA, will continue to defend religious freedom and support the social development programs of our Nepali brothers and sisters in Christ.
Denton Lotz is General Secretary Emeritus of the Baptist World Alliance.