NRB International Insider
Welcome to KathmanduI am reminded on many of my trips abroad how little I know of the many cultures of the world. In spite of the 45+ nations I have traveled to, I am always amazed when I encounter a new country and culture. Such is the case with Nepal.
Our concepts of a place like Kathmandu, Nepal, are built upon history, Hollywood, and high adventure…the history of the British influence, the film impressions from Indiana Jones, or the stories and accounts of expeditions up Mt. Everest. While the culture of today carries some traces of these legendary elements, it goes beyond those glimpses to paint a different picture.
My disclaimer on these observations is that my two days in Kathmandu don’t qualify me as an expert on the culture. However, when I couple my personal experience, short though it may be, with the life observations of those who call this legendary place home, it does have a bit more validity.
First, Kathmandu is a big, big place. The city, and surrounding population centers that make up the Kathmandu valley, account for almost five million people. It would equate to the general size of a Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. It’s big.
Second, it is not very well developed. The infrastructure is less than ideal. Roads are poor, the electrical power system is not reliable, and the buildout of phones and Internet is a mess. The lack of systematic street addresses makes the mail system almost non-existent. Even finding someone who has given you their address means a cell phone, several calls, and finally hoping to see them physically at a window or door.
Third, the Hindu religion permeates the culture. Whether it is statues in the hotels and airport, or the dress and markings of the religion on the people, all the way to the very public rituals of the Hindu adherents, it is celebrated, not suppressed.
In our brief stay in Nepal we had an opportunity to see the cremation ceremony that goes on daily. This has become a tourist attraction. And that means merchants selling their trinkets and souvenirs. More on that later. The ceremony takes place along the river, where several funeral pyres are burning intensely. The family brings the body of the deceased, wrapped in burial cloths, to the location. It is placed on a ramp leading down to the water and, at a point in the proceedings, the feet of the deceased are placed in the water for the purpose of purification. The family participates in this and other elements of the ceremony, though there are many onlookers on both sides of the river.
Then, after the wood for the fire has been lit and is burning strongly, the body is placed on the pyre. Hay is put on the body to help accelerate its burning. This is certainly foreign to our system of burial, but I’m sure our ways seem quite strange to those of the Hindu faith.
While there, we witnessed another religious ceremony. With loud drums and cymbals, a crowd of mostly young people carried a float representing one of the Hindu goddesses. These events become opportunities for wild celebrations, and at times it resembled the wildness of a Mardi Gras. It was difficult to see anything of a spiritual nature to the event.
Evangelical churches have a challenge in this culture. Pastors recognize that they must take the message of Christ to the people, not wait for them to come to the church or to a crusade. And that’s why we were there. In Nepal, like most places of the world, media impacts the culture. And Great Commission Media (formerly IRR/TV), led by our friend Hannu Haukka, is using that fact to make the message of Christ almost unavoidable.
Using radio, TV, newspapers, bus cards, hand flyers, and other types of media, GCM launched a Mega City Campaign to invite Nepalese to find the “Power to Change.” Testimonies of average people and well-known individuals who have given their heart to Christ tell of the change Jesus has made in their life. And the folks of Kathmandu were invited to call a toll-free number to receive a book, The Power to Change. In this beautiful 100+ page book are testimonies, spiritual insight, the plan of salvation, and an invitation to ask Jesus into their heart.
Over 40,000 calls were received in the month of the campaign. The website for the event, which carried the same material, received over 600,000 hits. The campaign was in January 2011, and the responses continue to come in.
Evangelical churches have been involved from the beginning, and over 1000 volunteers mobilized to assist in the campaign. One of the key roles they play, and one of the brilliant parts of the strategy, is that when a book is requested, as often as possible it is delivered by a church volunteer who builds a relationship with the person who called. Then, when appropriate, the church member seeks to lead that inquiring soul to Christ and involve them in the local church. At the very least, they build bridges of an ongoing relationship in order to have further opportunities for a witness.
Our stay in Nepal was brief. We only met a few of the Nepalese folks, mostly pastors and those who worked in the media campaign. We did worship with the international church at their Sunday services. The evangelical churches in Nepal have Saturday services. It was a rich experience.
I thought it interesting that while in that worship time we sang the contemporary praise song, “You’re the God of this city…” I don’t think that any other time I have sung that song, I thought of Kathmandu, Nepal. Yet it is true. God desires that the people of Kathmandu come to know Him as their Savior. He wants to be the God of their city.
I mentioned earlier the vendors selling handmade crafts near the Hindu place where cremations take place. We had no sooner gotten out of our car when they descended upon us. Most were young, all were intense in their desire to sell us something. And they had their selling pitches well refined.
One young lady had a handful of necklaces and implored me to buy one for my wife or my daughters. One after the other she would hold up a necklace and tell me how much the women in my life would like one…or two…or more. She laughed as she made her pitch, and seemed to enjoy the challenge of selling me something. Of course, they are used to bargaining for the right price. While she was insistent, she wasn’t obnoxious. When she sensed we were moving on, she smiled and said she would be waiting when we returned to our car. I had no doubt about that!
My new friend and the other vendors actually followed us as we made the rounds of the cremation site, standing off to the side…waiting. And as we made our way back to the car, they were waiting. At one point while she and I were bargaining, I asked her if she were Hindu. I knew the answer already by her dress and decorations. And she said yes. I told her we were Christians, and explained why we had come to her city…to share the love of Christ. When she heard that I was a Christian, hoping to make a sale, she playfully said, “Then I’ll be a Christian, too!”
Hindus have thousands of gods, so adding another would not be a big deal. I quickly explained that it didn’t work that way. Understanding what God did for us by sending His Son Jesus to die on the cross for our sin…we either accept Him alone as Savior, or we reject Him. We can’t just add Him to the other gods we worship.
My friend was more interested in making a sale on a slow day than in talking about important spiritual matters, so that was about as far as we could go. But I did introduce her to one of the Nepalese pastors who was with us. His church was nearby, and he told her of their youth center and activities. I am prayerful that God’s Spirit will draw this young lady with an engaging personality to seek Him for salvation.
I am flying at 35,000 feet while writing this and listening to music on my computer. In God’s providence a piano/cello rendering of a wonderful Stuart Townend hymn is playing. “How deep the Father’s love…”
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure.
Tears well up in my eyes. God’s love extends to everyone...everywhere. To me. To you. To this young Hindu girl in Kathmandu, Nepal. Everyone. But many have never heard. How can they know the depth of their Heavenly Father's love…unless someone tells them? That is why it is so important that we help Christian broadcasters in such far-flung places, to tell the story of God’s love to those who have never heard.
Ronald L. Harris, DD
Senior Vice President for Strategic Partnerships
National Religious Broadcasters
703-330-7000 (NRB HQ)
This is one in a series of occasional looks at the
need and the impact of Christian broadcasting around the world.