by Sharon E. Mumper
Reports from around the world.
Nepal: The mountain Hindu enclave
The 630 million Hindus scattered throughout Asia form a majority in three nations and a substantial minority in 11 others. But only in tiny isolated Nepal is Hinduism a state religion. Now zealous Hindu revivalists outside of the country are bent on turning the little mountain kingdom into a Hindu shrine.
Not that Nepal hasn’t tried to keep the kingdom pure. For some 35 years it has been against the law for citizens to convert from Hinduism to another religion. Causing someone to convert is a crime; even witnessing is illegal. Despite this, the number of Christians has grown from a mere handful in the early 1950s to an estimated 25,000 baptized believers today.
Revival continues unabated, and church leaders like former pastor Nicanor Tamang predict the Christian population could double again within 10 years. This wholesale flouting of the law against conversion concerns the government. Nevertheless, despite their rapid growth, Christians form less than 1 percent of the population of Nepal. The government has more pressing problems.
Some Hindus beg to differ. Nepal has a unique responsibility to preserve the purity of the faith. Half measures won’t do. In Nepal, beef is banned, but Bibles are not, though it can be difficult to bring Christian literature into the country. Indian Hindus in particular press for nothing less than the extermination of Christianity in Nepal.
Nepalese Christians have always faced opposition. The Hindu mob action that plagues some parts of India has not yet crossed the border of Nepal, but Christians have often been the target of sporadic violence.
Most distressing for Christian leaders is the constant threat of arrest and imprisonment. The government has found it impractical to arrest everyone who converts or who witnesses to a neighbor. But frequently they target leaders.
Nearly 130 Christians have been tried in 44 cases, but only 20 have served sentences, according to the Open Doors News Service. Those who have been convicted may appeal. The state may also appeal acquittals.
Tamang, who was imprisoned last year and then expelled from the country in December, says many cases have been working their way up through the judicial system over the last few years. Definitive Supreme Court rulings expected in the next two years will affect the future of the church.
Some believe the future of missions in the country is up for grabs as well. The position of missionaries has always been sensitive. Nepal has been a distinctly reluctant host. Nepal is still one of the world’s least developed countries. Per capita income is a painfully poor $200 per year. Only the country’s desperate need for schools, hospitals, and orphanages has kept the door open to missions.
From the beginning, mission agencies were told to stick to development, rather than religion. But many missionaries witnessed to individual Nepalese as opportunities arose, and a lively community of believers formed.
Mission agencies have never been permitted official ties with the Nepalese church. As a result, churches developed independently, with Nepalese assuming leadership from the beginning.
Because churches are neither dependent on nor controlled by mission agencies, they are stronger, says Tamang. "If missionaries were to pull out of Nepal tomorrow, it would not totally disrupt the life of the church." He hopes missionaries will not be forced to leave. However, as Nepalese receive professional training, the government plans to replace missionaries with national workers. In recent years, the government has moved to bring many mission schools and hospitals under its direct control.
In the face of pressure from Hindus outside Nepal, Christian Nepalese leaders are uncertain about their future. In the meantime, they will take advantage of every opportunity to fan the flames of what Tamang calls the "wildfire spread of the gospel."
Africa: Solving the discipleship puzzle
The good news in much of Africa is that a firmly planted church continues to grow and blossom. The bad news is that in many cases it is failing to mature. The need for discipling has reached crisis proportions, says Tokunboh Adeyemo, general secretary of the Association of Evangelicals of Africa and Madagascar.
Discipleship was the theme of Africa Update ’88, sponsored by the Evangelical Committee for Africa (EFMA-IFMA). It was identified as the key issue for the African church at the previous Africa Update in 1986. Africa Update is a missionary consultation with Africans studying or working in North America.
Africans have responded in mind-boggling numbers to evangelistic outreach, conferees said. "We have lots of converts, but we neglect our spiritual babies," one theology student said.
"Neglect" may be too strong a word, others said. In Africa, there are too few trained to disciple the masses of people entering the church. Those who are capable of nurturing new believers carry too many responsibilities. Africa needs more trainers.
Too often the church has simply reacted, rather than initiating needed training programs, one leader said. Discipleship should be pursued with the same vigor demonstrated in evangelism.
Africa presents unique discipleship challenges. In a culture in which the elder is the teacher, how does a younger person disciple an older, but spiritually less mature believer? Communication is most effective in the believer’s own tribal language. But in Africa, there are some 1,730 languages and a broad diversity of cultures. The church struggles, often unsuccessfully, to make discipling culturally and linguistically relevant.
Africa lacks printed material and other resources useful for discipleship. Africans educated in the West and introduced to sophisticated multi-media products are often frustrated by the lack of resources at home. Africans must develop new methods and models of discipleship, some conferees concluded. Those imported from Western countries are too expensive to maintain locally.
Nevertheless, "lack" is not the last word in the discipleship puzzle. A vast and vital African church does not lack for resources, conferees concluded. But today’s leaders must set priorities to discover and unlock the hidden resources in the African church.
New organization for Third World missions
Thirty-two leaders of Third World mission agencies and associations from 21 nations met in Portland, Ore., this spring to form a cooperative association called the Third World Missions Advance (TWMA). The new organization encompasses continental and national associations of evangelical missions and seeks to forge relationships among mission agencies, local churches, and other missions supporters.
A 29-member general council and five-member steering committee are composed of representatives from Asia, Africa, Latin America, Middle East, and the Diaspora. David Cho, former general secretary of the Asia Missions Association, was appointed as chairman of the steering committee. Patrick Sookhdeo, director of In Contact Ministries, is coordinator, and Minoru Okuyama, general secretary of the Asia Missions Association, is treasurer.
The organization and the consultation that spawned it were the result of the concerns "that if we were to have a significant advance in Third World missions, some practical issues of interest to all Third World mission efforts needed to be addressed and some concrete solutions found," Cho said.
The group proposed the development of an International Mutual Fund to help provide finances for Third World missions and to work in conjunction with the Welfare and Security Fund to provide missionary health care and pension services.
TWMA decided to deploy missionary training centers throughout the Third World and to develop a pool of missionary educators from which training centers could draw.
A Research and Communication Bureau was established to coordinate the flow of information and to "dialogue with existing information-gathering groups." The group called on national and regional missions associations to select resource people to act as "monitors," to evaluate and interpret information for TWMA, and to provide authoritative and accurate communication.
Recognizing a need for the involvement of professional workers in missions, TWMA called for improved training of professionals and for the coordination of information on job openings.
Prayer and fasting were identified as the underlying foundation of the spiritual dynamic critical to missions. TWMA will review its first year’s progress in a meeting next May.
Mozambique: Civil war and drought form deadly alliance
A decade ago, a visitor to Mozambique could have climbed into a car and driven the 100 miles from the capital city of Maputo to Xai-Xai on the coast. Most travelers in today’s war-wracked Mozambique would not consider such a foolhardy adventure.
Today airplanes fly the routes once traveled by car or foot. Surface travel is just too dangerous. Renamo, the Mozambique National Resistance rebel movement, virtually controls the countryside, effectively disrupting communications, transportation, and normal commerce. One in 15 Mozambicans is displaced, living in camps or makeshift settlements within the country. Another one in 15 has found refuge outside the country.
The 13-year-old civil war and drought have impoverished the country, which is now in the grip of one of Africa’s severest famines. The plight of thousands of starving Mozambicans has drawn the attention of international relief agencies like World Relief, whose associate executive director for international ministries, Bas Vanderzalm, visited the country last spring to assess ways in which the agency could cooperate with evangelical churches to provide relief.
He found a church, which despite severe societal disruption, was stronger than perhaps ever before. Nazarene pastor Simiao Sigaugue told him Mozambicans are more open to the the gospel than previously. "For a while people were encouraged by the government to set aside religion." he said. "But they found they had nothing to replace it, so now they are coming back with an even stronger commitment."
Many churches have reported strong growth during the last couple of years. One church established in June, 1987, in a resettlement village of 25 families, boasted a membership of 220 people less than a year later. In Maputo, there are churches with thousands of members.
Churches in Mozambique are enjoying new freedom of worship. The Marxist government cracked down hard on religion after gaining independence from Portugal in 1975. Missionaries were expelled and Christian schools, hospitals, and other social ministries were nationalized. The church suffered intensely in a brutal crackdown.
Now, Christian leaders say, the government has recognized it cannot eradicate faith from Mozambican society. Twenty-one percent of Mozambicans are Christians, according to Patrick Johnstone’s Operation World. Thirteen percent are Muslim, and some 60 percent practice African traditional religions. Only 5 percent are non-religious or atheist.
Government opinion may also have been swayed by the impact of Christian relief efforts in the country. "If it weren’t for the church, the country wouldn’t exist today," one government leader is quoted as telling church leaders. Western donors helping the government battle famine have strongly urged officials to allow churches to operate freely, according to a report in the Christian Science Monitor.
The silver lining in the cloud of oppression that spread over the church in 1975 is the emergence of new national Christian leaders as missionaries were forced to leave the country. Leadership education, however, is a serious need. Aside from one small program in Maputo, Vanderzalm is aware of no other leadership development programs in the country. In fact, only 14 percent of the general population is literate.
Christian leaders are under severe stress as they help church members cope with the trauma of death, poverty, and dislocation. Many churches function virtually without resources, meeting under trees or in fields, lacking Bibles, songbooks, and other helps.
How does the future look to such people? Politically and socially, there is little hope. The drought continues while the violence escalates. Nevertheless, Vanderzalm reports finding joy and dynamism in the church and among its leaders.
"The churches are full to the bursting point. People are vitally involved in the life of the church," he says. "Leaders are excited about the future, about the continued growth of the church, and the growing openness of the government toward the church."
It may not be safe to walk or drive the back roads of Mozambique, but those who travel the highway of faith have found solid footing in the midst of trauma.
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