The story of Brethren In Christ Church Nepal
First mission efforts
Brethren In Christ Church (BIC) Nepal was pioneered by missionaries from the Brethren In Christ church in Bihar, India. In turn, the BIC mission station in Bihar, India, was started in 1914 by the missionaries from USA and Canada who came under BIC World Mission.
For more than three decades or until around 1950,these missionaries from North America were not very successful in planting churches. In the meantime, they discovered mission work among Santals in south Bihar was fruitful to them. So, they appointed a native missionary from south Bihar to reach out the Santals in north Bihar. Encouragingly, people responded to Jesus Christ and very soon churches began to grow among the Santals.
Later the North American missionaries found another responsive tribal people known as Urawn where the BIC missionaries focused their outreach. As a result, many people accepted Jesus as their Saviour. Significantly, the churches among the Santal and Urawn began to grow in their neighbourhood as the local believers were so zealous to reach out other people from their own tribe wherever it was possible for them.
When an Australian missionary working in Nepal border informed the BIC missionaries in Bihar about the Santals in Nepal they became very happy to know it and planned to visit them. So, under the leadership of this Australian missionary, Indian native missionaries from BIC Bihar visited the Santals in Nepal for the first time. When they saw the interest of people to accept Jesus Christ as their Saviour, the missionaries began to visit them regularly.
The first and second events of baptism were recorded in 1959 and 1962 when Nepal was constitutionally a Hindu country. This meant preaching the gospel was illegal and conversion from any other religion to Christianity was punishable by three to five years’ imprisonment. Followers of Christ had to face persecution from government and the local community.
Although the number of people infected by COVID-19 is increasing, the people of Nepal have suffered more due to the lockdown. People have lost jobs and are starved for food. However, in the midst of such a critical situation, Christian believers learn to rely on God for everything.
During the lockdown, most believers spent time in prayer seeking the will of God for their lives.
Many formed prayer groups for chain prayer weekly or monthly, and some spent time in fasting prayer.
They learned to be thankful to God even in the time of difficulties. They have collected whatever they have and shared with each other as per their needs.
Mrs. Netra Neupane, a member of a BIC Nepal church, runs a restaurant in a rented house. During the lockdown, she found very difficult to survive and also pay the house rent because the restaurant was completely closed. In spite of her own difficulties, when she saw some people without food lying in the bus station, she shared with them the rice she received for herself.
Even when the local BIC church wanted help her family, she directed assistance to those who are more needy and helpless than her family.
“I learn to share and care for others happily even in the time of difficulties such as the pandemic coronavirus and lockdown,” she says. “That gives me not only satisfaction but joy in serving the needy as Jesus taught his disciples.”
Formation of Brethren in Community Welfare Society
In the beginning, most early believers were excommunicated by their society. However, in spite of this situation, Nepali Christians continued to spread the gospel secretly and the number of believers in Christ continued to increase. Therefore, regular church worship began in the early 1980s and the churches of BIC Nepal were officially organized in 1994. They continued to work under the church board of BIC Bihar until 2004 when BIC Church Nepal became the national conference.
Since there was no provision to register as a church, BIC Church Nepal decided to organize a social wing to serve the community to share the love of God in action. In the name of Brethren in Community Welfare Society (BICWS) Nepal, a social trust was formed and registered with the local government. After two years of becoming a national conference, BIC Church Nepal became an associate member of MWC in 2006 in Pasadena, USA. In 2009, BIC Nepal became a full member of MWC.
In the partnership of BICWM and coordination of BIC Church Bihar, BIC Church Nepal continues to grow in spite of some challenges and difficulties. Now there are 34 churches including 12 house fellowships with 912 total baptized believers.
BIC Church Nepal continues to have close fellowship with BIC Church Bihar and holds associate membership in Mennonite Christian Service Fellowship of India (MCSFI).
BIC Church Nepal is associated and coordinates with the local Christian society, provincial Christian society and Nepal Christian Society (NCS) and also with National Churches Fellowship of Nepal (NCFN).
Major ministry focus
Along with many other church activities, BIC Church Nepal has been focusing on five major areas: church planting, leadership development, community development, children’s education and humanitarian relief service.
Evangelism and church planting is one of the main focuses of BIC Church Nepal and therefore the church has been reaching out to the unreached people for Christ. The BIC church in Nepal is small, and its numbers do not increase rapidly. However,inspite of persecution and other difficulties, new believers are being added to the church and also new house fellowships are formed almost every year.
BIC missionaries from India pioneered churches mainly among the Santals and Urawn communities in southeast Nepal. Now,the BIC churches are planted among 11 different peoples including Santals and Urawn in seven districts of two different provinces of Nepal. The church includes people from Rajbanshi, Rishedev, Tharu, Rai, Limbu, Magar, Newar, Tamang (Lama), Madheshi people groups and high caste Hindus.
The BIC church organizes short-term lay-leadership training at least twice a year. Since 1990, in coordination with Allahabad Bible Seminary, Uttar Pradesh, India, BIC Church Nepal has developed a Bachelor of Theology (BTh) course in Nepali medium. This course is carried on through extension program as it is aimed to provide an opportunity to those Nepali-speaking church leaders who cannot attend or do not have an opportunity to go for theological training in residential bible school/colleges. This course is also open to other evangelical churches and denominational leaders who are interested.
Serving the community who are helpless and oppressed has always been part of BIC Church Nepal’s mission since it was registered with the local government as Brethren in Community Welfare Society (BICWS). We serve those who needto be helped and be librated as we find in Luke 4:18 and Romans 12:13.
First, for six years in partnership with United Mission to Nepal (UMN),BICWS empowered women of the target community through self-help group mobilization, vegetable farming and kitchen gardening.
For last 10 years in partnership with MCC Nepal and the local government, BICWS has been actively involved in the community development through food security projects, vocational training programs and rural education programs in the target community of Jahada Rural Municipality in eastern Nepal.
In partnership with MCC Nepal and the local government, BICWS Nepal is also engages in response to natural disasters. Almost every year, the Society has been responding to drought, fire, floods and thunderbolts. In 2015, BICWS responded to earthquake although it was in limited areas.
With the support of MWC through the Global Church Sharing Fund, we supported congregations to reconstruct the church buildings that were damaged by the flood. Whenever needed, BIC church also coordinates with the other local congregations and provincial Christian society for humanitarian relief support during critical situations.
Even this year at the time of lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, BIC Church Nepal coordinated with the provincial Christian society to provide relief food and other needs for those who are in quarantine centres in the border of eastern Nepal.
Most of BIC churches in Nepal are established in the rural area among unreached people who are mostly uneducated and also financially poor.When these people come to the faith in Christ, we try to support them to grow in their spiritual life and also assist them for their children’s education.
We have two different programs in order to ensure all children of BIC Church Nepal have an opportunity to get school education and are nurtured spiritually.
In partnership with BIC World Mission USA, we run Sponsorship Program for International Children’s Education (SPICE) hostels where children from rural areas come to live together and join the nearby government schools for their education.
In partnership with BIC World Mission Canada, we run a Provide Essential Assistance for Children’s Education (PEACE) project. This project is run nearby government’s schools, so the BIC Church gathers children every day before and after school for tutoring and food.
In Nepal, we do not have major theological conflicts since BIC Church is the only Anabaptist-related church, although the believers are from different cultural backgrounds. Charismatic Pentecostal, Presbyterian and Lutheran churches in the region also mostly practice balanced evangelical faith and teaching. Most churches in Nepal recognize the differences and accept each other, living in communal harmony.
Challenges and opportunities
In the present context of Nepal, we have both challenges and opportunities.
Persecution from the government and religious fundamentalistsis one of the major challenges. Although Nepal is declared a secular country under the constitution of Nepal, which was promulgated 20 September 2015, and the constitution provides for freedom to practice one’s religion, it still denies the right to convert another person. Christianity is a minor religion; therefore, followers of Jesus are often in the target of religious fundamentalists, who falsely accuse Christians of bribing others to Christianity. Several Christian leaders from other churches are in prison or facing court cases against them. BIC leaders are aware of the risk of accusations against them.
Other major challenge is natural disasters as Nepal is vulnerable to earthquakes, landslides, floods, thunderstorms, avalanche, fire, droughts and epidemics. Almost every year, hundreds of people die and thousands people are badly affectedby these disasters.
In 2015, an earthquake took more than 10 000 lives and damaged 500 000 houses were damaged. People who were badly affected by such devastating disasters were slowly trying to recover. Now, the COVID-19 pandemichas affected normal human life. At press time,51 919 people are infected of which 322 have died and 36 672 have recovered. Comparatively more than the direct hit by the illness has been the lockdown which badly affected people especially the daily wage workers.
Poverty and increasing rate of unemployment of youth is another major problem because of which youth participants in the church decrease day by day. The young people are attracted to worldly pleasures and they try to compete with others to earn more instead of desiring to grow spiritually and be obedient to God.
After Nepal became a secular country it was a joy for Christians to worship and practice the faith in Christ more openly. Christian leaders are learning about the fundamental human rights and are raising their voice for religious freedom. But with this religious freedom, several cults came to Nepal who visit mostly Christian homes and try to impose the believers to accept their teaching that is contradicting our biblical and evangelical faith.
In the midst of difficulties and challenges,many good things are also happening.
Persecution brings unity among the Christians and binds them in one cord despite doctrinal and denominational differences. It opens the ways to connect with each other and share our common concerns and also support each other in whatever ways possible. Those who are strong in faith try to help other believers to be strong and encourage them to trust God, spend time in continuous prayer and live in closer fellowship with other believers in Christ. They are motivated to organize chain prayer with fasting and praying and also depend on God rather than any resources or human being. It gives them sense of togetherness and unity as it is seen in the book of Acts. During difficulties, the believers experience the grace of God and also learn to support each other in every way as possible. They learn only to depend on God and God’s power rather than human power. As they live in unity, they learn to co-operate each other and try to resolve problems together.
In times of difficulty, like the pandemic, people are more open to the gospel. Especially when they are sick, lack supplies and also face political pressure, they are open to accept Jesus as Saviour.
—Submitted by Hanna Soren on behalf of BIC Church Nepal.
|Nepal BIC Church/Brethren in Community Welfare Society