Archives For Hinduism

Behind Enemy Lines

Preston Sprinkle —  January 15, 2013 — Leave a comment

We saw two worlds collide in our last couple days in Kathmandu.

on moterbike

Me and Beki, ready to fly!

On Thursday, we visited a small village up in the mountains between Kathmandu and Mt. Everest. The road wasn’t as deathly as our trip to Hetauda, but I was able to offset my safety by riding on the back of a motorcycle. The others guys piled in a clown car; I’m not sure who was more risky. The ride was exhilarating, though I choked down enough exhaust to take 5 years off my life. I now know why Beki’s pastor-mentor died a couple years ago of lung cancer, even though he didn’t smoke. After a 3-hour ride, we arrived in the village and Beki began to tell us about how the gospel had reached the city a year and a half ago.

Long story short, an old lady had a serious stomach problem, and after six months of unsuccessful medical treatment, she met a Christian who healed her and the word spread throughout the entire village. Shortly after, her daughter and son-in-law came to Christ, and they are now helping lead the church. Currently, there are about 40-50 converts in this small village: old people, young people, upper caste and lower caste. The gospel has scaled these remote mountains and reclaimed them for Christ. The scene reminded me of what Jesus told Paul in Acts 17: “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking…for I have many in this city who are my people.” God’s people were tucked away in those mountains, and the gospel found them.

I left the village with a bit of that “frustrated joy” I had when I left the jungle church. These zealous believers are living out their faith publicly for all the villagers to see. But they are without a pastor. The first converts help lead the people, but they need more oversight, someone who can nourish the people with wisdom, teaching, and encouragement. Beki hops on his motorbike to visit the village twice a month, but it’s a 6-hour journey round trip. Plus, Beki oversees 9 other such fellowships in and around Kathmandu. There’s a lot of work to be done, and the local pastors are doing it. But they are spread quite thin with financial resources.

old lady in village

A recent convert in the mountain village

To put it in perspective, there are over 50 pastors in training at Himalaya School of Theology—a master’s level theology program overseen by Beki in Kathmandu. Once these aspiring pastors graduate, they’ll be ready to go out into mountain fellowships like the one we visited. The problem is that many of the believers in these churches can’t afford to support a pastor, and finding work is already tough. Beki told us that some people in the village were selling their organs to buy food. Others are able to keep both kidneys, but still live far below the poverty line by any standard. So there remains a thick wedge between zealous pastors and needy young converts. Frustrated joy—I don’t know how else to put it.

The gospel was victorious in the mountain village. But this world collided with the one we saw the next day.

On Friday, we visited two significant religious sites: the main temple to Shiva (one of the three primary gods of Hinduism), and the Boudhanath (think: temple)—one of the holiest Buddhist sites in Kathmandu. Shiva’s temple was the most sobering. I don’t know if it was the smog, the cloud of incense, or the burning of dead bodies over the holy river, but there was a spiritual thickness in the air. Smoke from flesh mingled with incense filled the air. Shrines with phallic images filled the hills. Steady drumbeats filled my ears. Sadness and fear filled my heart. The trendy, hippie, coffee-shop Hinduism that Californians toy with doesn’t exist in Nepal. Satan still has a frightening foothold on this country.

Buddha Temple

On the balcony of a Buddhist monastery in a stare down with the Buddha.

The Boudhanath was a bit more serene. Bubbling with tourists and Buddhist monks, this beautiful temple has a seductive lure to it. The all-seeing eyes of the Buddha stare at you wherever you go, and the idols that fill the monastery radiate a placid glow. The hope that gleams from the believers in the village is absent here, however. Tourists and worshipers frantically spin prayer wheels, burn incense, and give money to local monks to pacify their guilt, grope for unattainable perfection, or just scratch a spiritual itch that never goes away. The façade of peace doesn’t produce many smiles in this temple. Only anxiety.

It’s now Saturday morning as I write this blog and we will be boarding the plane in just a few hours. Mark, Adam, and Dathan will head home to California, while I’m heading on to Zambia with a stop in Delhi to visit some friends. My heart is filled with so many thoughts. After I get my head above the smog I’ll write another blog summarizing my reflections. For now, pray for Beki, pray for Babu, pray for the local pastors who are joyfully furthering the kingdom of God here in Nepal—behind enemy lines.

I’m guessing this has never happened to you. But it happened to a friend of mine. The church he pastors rents its sanctuary and offices from another church. When that church put the property up for sale, a wealthy Hindu couple purchased it. They assured my friend that nothing would need to change with the way the church functioned or used the property.

Then they set up an altar in the “cry room” (a room at the back of the sanctuary where parents can watch the service with their infants).

What do you do about that?

I mean really. Imagine arriving at your church prepared to worship, and then noticing a new fixture in the back of the room. Hmmm. Maybe one of our missionaries set up a table to show us what it’s like to minister in India. Then you look a little closer. Nope. That’s an altar. Incense. An idol. People have been worshipping an idol here. Here. In the same building where we worship God.

How would you handle that?

I’m not just trying to be provocative by raising a crazy scenario. But I do think that it’s healthy for us to wrestle with some of the dilemmas that our brothers and sisters face as they seek to live as the church in unique settings. So take a minute to think about how you would respond. (Don’t cheat by reading ahead. Seriously think about it for a minute.)

Here’s what my friend did. He preached on two things. First, he preached on the reality of the church. The church is not a building. In the Old Testament, the Temple could be defiled by bringing uncleanness (and idols) into the physical structure. In the New Testament, however, worship is no longer centered on a building. The life of the church spills out into all of life. A dentist’s office is no less sacred than a so-called sanctuary. So an altar in the biggest room that this particular church happens to meet in does not defile the church. Idolatry in their lives would bring defilement, not idols in their meeting hall.

Second, my friend preached on 1 Corinthians 8:4–6, where Paul says, “as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that ‘an idol has no real existence,’ and that ‘there is no God but one.’” People in Corinth were understandably concerned about eating meat that had been used to worship an idol. But Paul told them not to worry about steaks or blocks of wood. God is real, focus on him.

Obviously idolatry is a huge issue. But the presence of an object that has been falsely worshiped does not overpower God’s church. If that were the case, we would have to leave our wallets, our spouses, and our children at the church door, because those things often function as idols in all of our lives.

The thing that impressed me the most about the way my friend handled this situation is that they used the presence of the altar as a reminder to pray for their new landlords. In reality, there are people all around us who desperately need Jesus; we just don’t always recognize their lostness and idolatry. But when my friend’s new landlords set up a Hindu altar in the back of the sanctuary, all of the cards were on the table. Our calling is to be ministering to the people that God has placed in our lives, even when their idolatry is not literally on display.