Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Nepal Pt 6: Shopping with Jesus

Yesterday I taught my class how disciples make disciples, using a little handbook: ‘Come Follow Me’ I’d written some years ago. I encouraged the students to be ready to not only preach the gospel to unbelievers, but then lead new believers into a real practical walk with Christ.
Later in the afternoon, Prem and I motor-biked into the heart of Kathmandu. He drove and I clung on to the back of the bike, through congested traffic and potholes! You never know what the day holds in unpredictable Kathmandu: things can change drastically just around the next bend in the road, both naturally and spiritually.
We got into Thamel, the Hippie-Heaven backpack centre of the city, changed dollars into Nepalese Rupees and walked about, looking for changes since I was last here 2 years ago. Not much: same tourist books, knick-knacks, ‘spiritual’ 3rd Eyes, and quirky oriental mystical methodologies parading professions of enlightenment (?).
We wandered among the shops with no special goal in mind, just enjoying being led by the sights and sounds. Soon we came across a shop with a box out front filled with cute children’s animal-shaped toques and a sign: 150 NR. That’s only about $1.50 each, pretty cheap I thought, so I stopped to look through them.
The shopkeeper came out; I asked how much they cost, hoping to get an even cheaper bargain.
Erica always considered bargaining un-Christian. She’d say, and it’s true, ‘That’s already cheap enough; don’t be so cheap, give the man his full asking price!’ But I’d insist on doing the guy-thing to get the cheapest price possible. But this guy didn’t budge. He pointed to the sign: it was a set price and I could either take it or leave it.
So I bought three.
He then invited me to look right in his shop, even found me a really nice woolen coat. Tempting! I tried it on, he gave me his asking price, I didn’t see a set price sign, so I countered and the game was on! Our bartering led us into conversation; that’s part of the fun, and he jokingly said my low offers were trying to ‘screw’ him.
I took exception. ‘What do you mean, ‘screw’ you? Where did you get that from?’ He said he’d heard it from some Americans. I told him his word implied pressure, deception, and even morally offensive behaviour!
‘No,’ I found myself saying, ‘I want to ‘bless’ you!’
‘Really,’ he responded?
Then I spied a pair of wildly coloured post-hippie pants, threw them into the bargaining process, made a further offer and … he suddenly agreed. Just like that we had a deal and both of us seemed satisfied!
He started to bag my purchases and asked where I was from and if I was doctor.
‘That’s a funny question,’ I thought. I sensed we'd been led here by the Spirit, a door was open, and I went for it.
‘Yeah, I’m from Canada, I’m a heart doctor, and I give out good news: Jesus gives people new hearts!’
‘How can he do that? he marvelled. His interest stirred, he continued: he had a Christian friend and a brother that had become a Christian, a preacher even! Our conversation turned more personal, we exchanged names and my new friend, ‘Beamish’, grew more and more interested in our ‘good news’.
I told him he was young and strong, but without Christ he still needed a new heart.
I then ‘guessed’ his age… correctly as 24 and he was quite impressed - word of knowledge?
He guessed mine as 54: I told him he was my friend forever!
Then I pulled out the little discipleship handbook I’d encouraged my students to be ready to use in the morning and showed him how Jesus was the Way, Truth and Life to restore us to Father God.
He asked if he could keep it, but I urged him to take it to his heart, not just put it in his pocket, and simply respond to the booklet’s message now.
‘How?’ he asked, and I read him the sample sinners’ prayer.
He asked what ‘sin’ was. ‘Anything that separates us from God,’ I explained.
He said he was Hindu, didn’t understand much about his own religion and what sense all its sacrifices served.
I told him Jesus made one sacrifice for all sin for all people for all time.
Then I pitched the real deal and asked him if he believed Jesus rose from the dead.
He said, ‘Yes,’ and when I showed him that’s all that God requires to be saved, he became very excited.
‘You’re a very humble man,’ he kept insisting. I kept pointing him to the only truly humble man: Jesus.
I then asked if anything was keeping him from receiving Christ as his Saviour right now rather than later.
He thought a moment and shook his head.
So in the next few minutes we prayed with him, he received Jesus and was born again! Prem and Beamish exchanged phone numbers and emails to stay in touch and help him walk his first baby-steps as a child of God.
It’s amazing what shopping with Jesus can lead to in Kathmandu these days: a bargain-to-blessing God-encounter, changed life and opportunity to bring the harvest in!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Nepal Part 5: Good News for junk dealers and sadhus!

Nepal: Part 5! 2years ago, about this same time of year, I got to visit Nepal for my 1st time.
My initial contacts with this formerly Hindu kingdom had been through Prem Pradhan and Sundar Thapa, (as I’ve previously recounted). But I had lost track of them in the intervening years and had not been able to re-establish contact. Prem had graduated to heaven and Sundar was busy with his ever-growing church duties and fending off death threats from Hindu extremists, so he’d had to constantly change his address and phone numbers.
However, during this time I had taught in a Victory Bible College in Thailand that trains students from all over Southern Asia and one of these, another Prem- Bahadur, had asked me to come and teach in his new Training Centre in Nepal. Together with his wife, Lalita, and a committed team of helpers, they were believing God to touch + transform their nation with the gospel and I felt the call to help. They had only a dozen students, but they’d come from all parts of Nepal to be taught for a few months and then return to their towns and villages to make a difference for Jesus!
I stayed pretty well right in Kathmandu for 2 weeks, taught New Testament Survey during morning sessions, and then PremB + I would venture out on his motorbike during the afternoons.
While teaching the Book of Acts, I had a revelation quite like never before. In a Hindu culture where the endless cycle of karma and reincarnation dominate, Christ’s Resurrection is a revolutionary message, just as it had been in the Early Church! This is not just a religious idea: it is an historically-documented event! It has indeed taken place, the world will never be the same and that includes Nepal! I saw more clearly than ever why the gospel was now making such inroads in this country that had closed its doors for centuries. These people were tired of religious cycles; they were hungry + thirsty for the Revelation of Jesus Christ!
We drove through Kathmandu’s streets: dusty, dirty even, with garbage lying all round , even in their supposedly sacred places. I thought: they talk of reincarnation, but don't even practise recycling!
Piles of plastic: bags, bottles, jugs… confusion everywhere!
In the market place right next to the Durbar temple-palace centre of the city, a shopkeeper tried to sell me an ugly Kali idol for …he said, only $7000!
I asked him, ‘Why would I want to bring such an ugly thing into my home? You should pay me $7000 to take it off your hands! It’s ugly and it’s sinful!’
He replied, ‘I am empowered by sin!’
I countered: ‘I know Someone who has power over all sin.’
He questioned, ‘Who?’ and I played my Ace: 'Jesus!'
He said he’d heard of Him: Jesus was a god too, just like Kali, the destroyer.
‘No way!' I objected, ‘My God overcame and destroyed the destroyer!’
I figured we were just continuing the bargaining process: sales + spiritual.
But just then, another vendor overheard us and piped in, ‘ Oh, Jesus… that’s Christians, right? I met some Christians once and they gave me a book…’
He then began rummaging through a big chest next to the ugly idol and sure enough, after getting right to the bottom, he eventually emerged with a little book: a Gideon New Testament in Nepalese!
While the other idol-seller muttered, Prem read out its message and showed the 2nd man how to receive Jesus in his heart and not just keep Him in a box (literally). He said he wanted to! Amazing!
Right next to the idol, the light shone forth! Shiva was struggling to dance, but the Holy Spirit was destroying the destroyer’s mesmerizing works!
We then rode another ½ hr to Pashupatinath, one of Shiva’s main temples, right at one of the sources of the Ganges (Holy) River. Holy 'sadhus' (just a repackaged brand of Saddhucees) seated in front of their holy 'stupas'. Ascetics putting on an outward show of denying flesh, poop on their foreheads and more poop in their hair, all the while staring and daring the gawking tourists to take their pictures so they could charge them money (so much for their having forsaken the world!)
But I'm not a tourist; I'm a traveler! so I avoided their stares and dares, and furtively snapped a couple shots anyways when they weren’t looking.
Further up the river, caves labelled ‘Meditation’ wafted forth a distinctly different marijuana odour… some meditation!
Still further, funeral pyres burned corpses right on the riverbank in the midst of all the garbage!
Death and life simultaneously mixed in this religious complex.
And monkeys… everywhere! 1000s of monkeys! And they weren’t very holy monkeys either: they were constantly fighting + attacking one another, while trying to steal our stuff… like every religious system.
Dusk fell and we were leaving the temple, but Prem felt to turn aside at the riverbank, to a real God-encounter!
A sadhu approached and asked if I wanted to take his picture.
No, I said. I didn't want to give him my money. We started to talk and the poor soul was truly lost. He was searching, but couldn't really say for what. I perceived that he was, quite evidently, one very stoned sadhu and I told him he wasn't going to find truth that way. I hadn't and, I assured him, neither would he. I gave him the brief version of my testimony; he understood English quite well, even when I told him the good news of the gospel!
But again, another bystander had been listening in on our conversation and suddenly intervened. He was young, sharply dressed, very Western-looking, and asked if I was from Canada? (my red maple leaf hoodie was a clue maybe?) and what was I doing in Nepal?
I gave him my new standard response: ‘I’m visiting friends and giving out good news.’
‘Oh!’ he added, ‘I’m into news too. Sports news; I’ve got my own show every night on Kathmandu TV. What kind of news do you have?’
I briefly told him the Good News of Jesus. We also talked about how sports can easily become an idol and then he apologetically introduced himself as Paras, with the same name as the notorious playboy 'Prince of Nepal',
but … he insisted, he was searching for true peace.
I told him he needed the peace and assurance of God's constant love in Jesus.
All the while the sadhu was now listening in to our conversation. Paras was asking all the right questions and finally the sadhu chimed in, ‘You can take my picture now… you and me…for nothing!
This led to photos with both Paras and our sadhu: the prince of the principality + the religious drugs-slave.
Paras walked us back to our motorbike and recounted how he’d once intervened to save some Christian missionaries from being stoned (a different kind of stoned!) for preaching Christ in front of a temple. He’s been struck by how they believed Jesus was so special!
'But every religion is truth, isn't it?' he asked.
Truth is, I'd prayed that morning we would find a genuine truth-seeker that day and here he was... at the centre of one of the most religious and confusing places I'd ever been too… searching!
Another 10 minutes: more questions, exchanged emails and we got to pray with this ‘prince of Nepal’ to come to know the real Prince of Peace! He laughed and said that would be good!
Then we headed home!
And now I’m going back again, searching for more God-seekers in a land that is ripe with harvest!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Pt 4- Nepal: Prem Pradhan's Legacy

Here’s Pt 4 of Journey with Prem Pradhan, one of Nepal’s 1st apostles: spent many years in jail simply for being a Christian, but turned his jail cell into an apostolic center from which the Good News rang out freedom throughout his nation.
About 10 years ago, Prem went home to be with Jesus. He fought the good fight, ran his course and passed the baton to his Timothy, Sundar Thapa. Sundar also came to our church in Canada, stayed in our home for a week and spoke to the church of Abbotsford right in our present City Hall! He now leads a growing fellowship of over 1000 churches, a Bible Training Centre, schools and orphanages.
Nepal has gone through revolution: both political and spiritual. In 2001, one of the princes massacred 10 of his own royal family, including the king and queen, sending shock waves through a once invincible traditional ruling hierarchy. Today, those who once rebelled against the Hindu kingdom are in power: Maoist communists control a parliament trying to govern a bitterly divided nation. The traditional religions have lost much of their respect and control, but Christ’s Church has multiplied throughout the land. Where there were once no known Christians 60 years ago, now hundreds of thousands (some estimate up to 3 million = 10% of the Nepalese population!) follow Christ and fill the streets of Kathmandu in Jesus Marches, witnessing and proclaiming the gospel!
Sundar told me that the situation had so changed in his nation that instead of persecuting Christians, the new government had approached him, as one of the acknowledged Christian Evangelical leaders, to give his input on helping rewrite the constitution! A far cry from the prevailing sentiments of most Western governments! However, Hindu extremists continue to utter death threats against him, his family and the work of Christ.

Two years ago when I 1st visited Nepal, I met personally with Sundar and was able to see some of the fruit of Prem’s legacy first-hand. I was especially impressed by the orphanage: the children were so well cared for; they wore warm, clean clothes, looked healthy and even danced out a worship song for me. After 30 years, some of the original ‘orphans’ had now become its leaders. The torch had been passed down throughout the ranks. During these next weeks, I hope to reconnect with Sundar again.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Prem: Apostle of Nepal Pt 3

Here’s Pt 3 in my pre-Nepal journey: Life of Prem – 1 of Nepal’s 1st apostles.
He spent 10 out of 15 years (1960-1975) in prison just for being a Christian, but God was with him and prison-time became prison-ministry: he preached the gospel to a captive audience and many became believers, went home and started churches in their villages. I remember him eating with us in our home, it was like having the apostle Paul with us: his simple manner exuded the calm unmoveable authority of Jesus! I specifically recall the hush over our church when he related the following story.

Not everyone favoured Prem as their mayor, however; some became envious and conspired all the more against him. He found himself again in prison, under the watch of a very evil warden who hated him with a passion. He determined to do away with Prem and put him in an unimaginably horrible situation: a dungeon filled with prisoners’ dead bodies awaiting their families’ retrieval for cremation. No room to stand up or lie down, no food, no water, no light, but lots of lice! Chained hand and foot, in complete darkness with only the company of rats and disease-infested, rotting corpses! Imagine being in such a hell-hole! He survived only by what little moisture he could scrape from the dank walls and bread crumbs that other prisoners generously snuck through the cracks between the massive door and stone floor. Days passed, but Prem’s courage grew. When he closed his eyes, he could envision pages of his Nepali New Testament. That’s how he read and prayed.
One day the guard outside heard him praying out loud.
“Who are you talking to?” the guard asked.
“Jesus,” Prem replied.
“I’m on guard. No one gets by me! How’d he get in there?”
“Well, He’s here.”
The guard opened the door and shined in his light.’ “I don’t see Jesus,” he said.
“You won’t find Him that way,” Prem said. “Let me tell you how you can find Him.”
The guard squatted on the threshold and Prem led him to the Lord.
Weeks passed in this chamber and eventually Prem despaired for his life. He began to lose sight of how God would call him to preach to his nation, only to have it end in this dungeon of death. It seemed all hope was gone and both the natural and spiritual darkness were overwhelming him.
But just when Prem was at the end of his rope, suddenly a supernatural light appeared on the wall: a glowing Cross radiated Christ’s presence, power and life.
Prem heard His Saviour’s voice, “Don’t be afraid, Prem! Don’t lose hope! You will preach the gospel in your own nation, and beyond, to other nations around the world!”
Shortly thereafter, the warden opened the door, fully expecting to find only Prem’s collapsed, wasted corpse. However, to his complete amazement, Prem walked out of the darkness and stood before him: a testimony of perfect health!
“But… how can this be?” he stammered. “I threw you among all those rotting bodies, without food or water for all these days, and now, rather than dead, you look more alive than when I threw you in! How can this be?”
“Do you really want to know?” Prem coolly replied.
… what an opportunity to share the Good News and indeed he did travel to Canada, the US and other countries and shared what God was doing in his own nation and that became my connection to now go to Nepal myself.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Back to Nepal Pt 2:

I head out on my 1st overseas trip since Erica’s death this Saturday.
I need your prayers so I want to let you know how the kingdom of God has impacted Nepal just in this last generation. Erica knew the importance of prayer; Nepalese Christians value its vital role; please read + pray with me for this nation to answer God's call.
Here's Pt 2 of Prem Pradhan- apostle: 
One time during his many years in prison, Maoist political prisoners overcame the guards and ran for freedom. The gates were open, everyone was running and Prem found himself also running with them, caught up in the excitement. However, when he reached the gate, an invisible wall suddenly prevented him from running further.
He heard Holy Spirit say, “If you cross through that gate and run for your freedom, you will have to keep running all the way to India and you will never be able to return to your country. Then you will never be free to fulfill your destiny and my call on your life.”
Prem stopped immediately, transfixed at an invisible line, unable to move.
Other prisoners rushed past him, shouting, ‘Come! This is our chance!’
But Prem stood there.
Still others shouted, “Hurry, Prem! Don’t lose this opportunity. Be free! Don’t be a fool!”
Incredibly, he remained standing. All the others escaped and within a few minutes, army reinforcements arrived to restore order. All the prisoners were gone, except one: Prem. The soldiers stared at their lone prisoner, standing in the courtyard all by himself, freedom’s gate still open before him.
“Why are you still here?” they wondered in amazement. “Why didn’t you go with the others when you had your chance?”
Prem replied, “Do you really want to know?”
Little did they know what they were in for when they responded, “Yes, why?” and Prem proceeded to share Christ with them all. He had earned the right to share ‘the reason for the hope that was in him’ and now also reaped the harvest.
God eventually opened many doors for this man who would not just run through any.
He knew that when God opened a door, no man could shut it, but when man tries to open what God has shut, his efforts are in vain.
During different interludes between prison sentences, Prem returned to his home village, where he continued sharing his faith and love for Jesus. Problems plagued Nepal: sickness, poverty and ignorance were rife and the traditional Hindu-Buddhist religions were unable to bring healing, life or light. The Light of Christ shone in thick darkness, and many were touched, even without their full understanding.
His village Hindu + Buddhist leaders could not agree on their local government council; the two sides were always fighting. So rather than choose a leader from either camp whom neither could trust, they asked Prem the Christian to serve as their mayor! They knew they could trust Prem. God has an ironic sense of humour: an illegal Christian became mayor of a Hindu/Buddhist town! God’s favour shone through Prem and he served in this capacity for many years, also founding orphanages and schools to care for his people. Even the King of Nepal heard of his humanitarian and educational work and presented him with a special Social Service Medal of Honour!
Let your light so shine!

Back to Nepal: A Nation in the Revolution of the Revelation of Jesus!

This Saturday I leave for my 1st overseas Mission since Erica disappeared. I miss her not traveling with me, but she has now joined the ranks of that great cloud of witnesses and I’m sure she’s organizing prayer meetings in heaven right now, interceding for Christ’s kingdom to advance throughout the world. And that includes where I’m headed: Nepal. I was there 2 years ago and on my return, I’ll be teaching in a Training Centre for a week and then trekking into the Himalayas to visit some of the young pastor’s church plants. Please pray for me on this journey into these highest mountains in the world, where God is writing some of His greatest overcoming stories!
Here’s part of how Christ’s gospel is transforming this nation:

True apostles with such vision are rare these days.
But we had such a man stay with us in our home about 20 years ago: a true apostle, not an ego-tripping, looking-for-position-to-validate-his-identity-wannabe. Prem Pradhan was the real thing and having him in our church and home felt like having the Apostle Paul right with us. Prem came from Nepal, a strictly Hindu-Buddhist kingdom tucked in the Himalaya Mountains between India and China. A generation ago, Nepal had no known Christians. Prem served in the Indian army during WWII with the British Air Force and was shot down and wounded. He walked with a noticeable limp from that injury for the rest of his life. In early 1950’s northern India, Prem, about 30 years old, heard a disciple of Bakht Singh proclaim, “It is appointed unto man once to die, and after that the judgment.” (Heb 9:27)
It was a strange message for his Hindu understanding and he wondered how he could avoid that judgment. He asked the street preacher, who then challenged him to read the New Testament
– 6 times! Prem did. During his reading, he gave his life to Jesus and God called him to go back to his country and preach the gospel that had saved him. Like Moses, Prem at first objected.
“I am a cripple,” he argued, “how can I walk up and down mountains?
And I don’t know all the different languages to reach all those isolated villages!
I can’t hike and I can’t speak. Call someone else.” But God would not relent.

One more problem: in Nepal at that time, it was illegal to not only preach, but merely to be a Christian! An automatic 1-year prison sentence if a person changed religions, especially if they became Christian. For the more extreme: 3 years in jail for preaching, 6 if you were caught baptizing converts! Sure enough, after he returned to his country, it only took a short time and Prem was in trouble with the authorities. A paralyzed woman was healed when Prem prayed for her and the miracle so stirred the town that many turned to Christ, even the local Buddhist lama! Prem wrote and invited the local authorities to the new believers’ open baptism. “Jesus suffered openly for us,” he taught, “so we must be willing to suffer openly for Him.”

The enraged authorities arrested the believers and threw Prem in jail.
But they murdered the lama.

Prem languished in a dungeon of death. No ventilation in summer, no heat in winter. Sanitation facilities were non-existent, biting insects everywhere! Rehabilitation was not the goal of Nepalese jails. Prisoners were given bare survival rations of only one cup of rice per day to cook over their own little fires. Without help from relatives, many soon died.
He had done no harm; he was there just for who he was!
Prem was discouraged. “Lord, you saved me with a purpose: to preach the gospel to my nation. How can I do this when I’m stuck here in this filthy prison?” He first saw only filthy prisoners, but as he looked around, he noted that many were from outside his local area. He saw that the Lord had brought his mountain mission field to him! One by one, he started to minister to them naturally and spiritually, showing Christ’s love in this inside-the-prison Training Centre and one by one, he led them to Jesus. Eventually, on their release, they returned to their homes filled with Christ, shared their new faith and love with their families and friends, and started churches in their villages. God’s plan for evangelizing Nepal was different from what Prem had first envisioned: prison ministry with a twist! Soon churches began to spring up over the entire nation, more quickly and effectively than Prem could have ever done in his own way!
Then Satan’s persecution tactics changed. The prison warden grew very angry with Prem.
“Prem,” he said, “you must stop sharing your faith. After all, that’s why you’re here in prison! You must obey me!”
Prem responded like the early apostles: “I must first obey God in my life, in prison or out.”
The warden gave up in frustration and moved Prem to another prison. Prem saw the hand of God in this too: he had already finished evangelizing this prison; he was now ready for a new field to sow more gospel seed in other needy hearts!
Between 1960 and 1975, Prem spent 10 years in 14 different prisons!
Once his sentence was 20,000 days – 54 years! and his release came only when Western friends intervened and paid a ransom of 1 rupee per day, equivalent to $2000.

The only charge they could find against Prem was being a Christian. I wonder: if you were arrested for being a Christian, would the authorities find enough evidence to convict you?