An expanding Christian church in Nepal is taking the gospel forward, making inroads in a place where Christian testimony was once severely restricted. As the church expands, strong Nepali leaders are needed to guide the church to full maturity.
Troy Bierma and Arbin Pokharel with Nepali Christian leaders.
Nepali Christians share their faith in Christ in the face of significant financial, political, religious, and logistical challenges.
“They pray for what they lack, they take what resources they have, and they go,” says Troy Bierma, a Christian Reformed World Missions (CRWM) missionary in Nepal.
Many Nepali churches hold evangelistic programs in their communities or lead outreaches in other communities.
About half of Nepali Christians have come to Christ through their own or someone else’s testimony of healing from spiritual oppression or physical illness. Others have been drawn to the gospel through Christians’ witness and care for others.
The church Troy and Faith Bierma are a part of has had more than 20 adult baptisms in 10 months. Although the church began only a few years ago, it has already planted five daughter churches, a couple of which have also started churches. This growth is mirrored in other Nepali churches.
“The greatest blessing of the Nepali church has been sharing the gospel on a personal level and through the churches,” says Arbin Pokharel. Arbin and his wife, Bimala, Nepali Christians, are CRWM partner missionaries committed to building up their country’s Christian leaders. “But as we enter the second generation of church history in Nepal, leadership skills and adequate training are severely lacking. Because of that, churches are less than healthy.”
In 2011, Troy Bierma began teaching at Evangelical Presbyterian Theological Seminary (EPTS) as part of World Missions’ commitment to help strengthen Nepali Christian leaders. The seminary’s 55 students come from a variety of denominations across Nepal.
“There is a danger here that immature believers who lack leadership may fall away,” he says. People may give in to discouragement “or be led astray by false teachings from cults who are taking advantage of the young church or confusing past life, Hindu ideas, and ‘theology’ [as] Christian truth.”
Recently Bierma asked his hermeneutics class how they would counsel Christians who had taken work in an idol factory. His question stemmed from a conversation he’d had earlier with a Christian friend whose boyfriend, a new believer, had done just that.
To Bierma’s surprise, at least half of his students responded that it was okay for Christians to make idols if they couldn’t find any other work and as long as they didn’t trust the idols. His students argued that it could be an evangelism opportunity and quoted texts about “do[ing] everything for God’s glory.”
Bierma had his class research and write a paper on the Bible’s teachings on idol worship. “They started to see how much they allowed their culture and poverty to influence their interpretation and their willingness to read texts out of context,” he said.
“They came away having both theological understanding of what’s at stake and the practical knowledge about how to counsel new Christians who are tempted to make idols for a living.”
These discussions and studies are preparing Nepali church leaders for the often difficult task of guiding a wider church community into a deeper relationship with Christ.
Shyam, an EPTS graduate, intimately knows the value of these studies. As someone from the dalit (or untouchable) caste, Shyam grew up believing he was inferior to everyone. His position in the caste system dictated his whole life—whom he could marry, his access to education, and his job opportunities.
But as he studied, he realized that he was made in God’s image and is an equal member of the church. He discovered untapped leadership gifts and joy in serving the church.
“Shyam’s testimony packs an amazing punch,” says Bierma. “It is so counter-cultural in a place that allows caste to dictate so many facets of one’s life and purpose. He is and will continue to become one of Nepal’s great Christian church leaders and planters.
“By teaching church leaders to serve and disciple their own peoples, the church of Nepal, with the Spirit’s leading, can grow in unity, maturity, and grace.”
About the Author
Sarah Van Stempvoort is a writer with Christian Reformed World Missions.