Frustrated Joy

On Monday morning, we left Kathmandu for a two-day stay in Hetauda—a decent sized city in southern Nepal. Though only 60 miles away, it took us 4 hours to get there on the “death road” as we called it. The scene was comically frightening. Four Americans packed into a small backseat that uncomfortably fits 3. A one-lane road for two lanes of traffic spiraling up and down the hazy mountains of Nepal. Every 10 seconds another oncoming truck whips around the corner, forcing our clown car to the edge of a 2,000-foot drop. I’m continually impressed at the skill of Nepalese drivers. And I’m thankful that I upped my life-insurance before I left.

But we made it safe and sound to the orphanage in Hetauda, our residence for the next two days. After lunch, Babu—the Indian missionary who runs the orphanage—took us to a small village-church in Simara, a city about an hour away. Much like the “basement church” in kids at orphanageKathmandu, the church was filled to the brim with worshipers belting out praises to their King. And once again, I’m struck at how the church in Nepal is bursting at the seams. Such growth is creating a real problem, however. The cold winters and monsoon summers make buildings a necessity for their cherished gatherings, especially in the south. What’s sad is that it only costs about $3,000-$5,000 to build a church that would meet the needs of this growing church. But that’s a ton of money for a church where the pastor makes less than $100 a month.

After hanging out at the orphanage the next morning, we headed to a church that met in the middle of the jungle. What we saw there blew our minds. We bumped along through the jungle road dodging monkeys and sugarcane farmers. Finally, we reached our destination: a medieval looking village situated between somewhere and nowhere—an hour away from the nearest real town. I felt like I was back in time. And I’m pretty sure this gloomy hamlet had never seen a white person before. As I looked around for the church, I was directed to what looked like a 300 year old barn built for hobbits. The $20 a month it costs to rent the building is all the Christians can afford. And once again, the place was packed. Sugarcane churchNot a single square inch was empty as 40-50 believers gathered for worship. I could literally touch the worship leader and the bongo player from where I sat without getting up. And the sound we heard was sweet—some of the sweetest sounds I’ve ever heard. Former Hindu men and women crying out to the One who snatched them from Satan’s kingdom, in the middle of the jungle where no westerner has been. Amazing. Quite simply—amazing!

Once again, they have a great need for a building. They have been able to lay the foundation but are in need of $5,000 to finish the work. They told me that their current building can’t fit any more people, even though Hindus keep coming to Christ. In the summer months, cobras curl up under the floor of the second story sanctuary (think: “loft”) making worship quite dangerous. They could use some cement walls to keep them out. And the floor of the sanctuary is so rotted that even Babu joked that he ups his life-insurance when he preaches there.

Yet this jungle church continues to grow. And its walls continue to bend at the sweet sound of blistering praise.

As I debriefed with Babu the next day, he told me that he not only runs an orphanage—the only one in Hetauda—but he also runs a Bible institute and oversees 14 different pastors/congregations. Knowing the size and poverty of these churches, I asked “How do these pastors survive?” “We support them,” Babu said. “You support them? How do you

Babu with his daughter Sweetie

Babu with his daughter Sweetie

support them?” Babu quietly answered, “We use some of our support to support the pastors.” As I glanced over at Babu’s own house that lies unfinished, I quickly saw where the money comes from. Babu gives from his own empty pocket to financially enable Nepalese leaders to shepherd believers packed in tiny churches. “If I can ask, how much do you give them?” Babu responded: “Some get, maybe, $50 a month, others $60. It all depends on their need. But it’s not enough. It’s not enough to put petrol in their motor bike to visit the people.”

Babu is one of the most zealous yet humble believers I’ve ever met. He used to run the orphanage in the city of Berganj, which Lonely Planets calls one of the worst cities on earth; avoid at all cost. The city lives under a thick blanket of smog, and sex trafficking is one of its major trades. What made Babu move, however, was when the radical Hindus set off a bomb under the orphanage’s bus. Thank God only 1 kid got hurt. Babu and his wife were also thrown in prison for their faith, and by prison think: one steamy cellar packed with 30 thugs who don’t like you, and no toilet. So Babu thought it best to move the orphanage north to a city where the kids would be safer. Unfortunately, as with the local pastors, the orphanage is under supported. They have 50 kids, but Babu could physically take on at least 100. Almost daily, Babu said, they turn away kids. “We just don’t have the money to take in any more children.”

I don’t know what tRoad to Sugarcane Churcho think of my time with Babu. “Frustrated Joy” is the best phrase that came to mind. I’m exceedingly joyful at God’s surprising power that’s penetrated Nepal. To see Nepalese men and women, recently converted to Christ sing out with such authenticity and passion was worth the price of my flight. But I’m leaving a bit frustrated. Frustrated at how easy it would be for the western church to come alongside these indigenous pastors with financial support. Yet I know that until you come and eat the curry, sit at the feet of Babu, and the smell the rotting wood that holds the sanctuary together, it’s tough to muster up the desire to hold off on buying that 2nd flat screen so you could support a pastor for 2 months.

But I have tasted the curry. And I’m not leaving unchanged.

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5 comments

  1. Chris Hay

    Preston–I so resonate with some of the emotions you are processing. I would gladly forego any number of Western “necessities” to build a church, or support a pastor. But is that the best way to do it? How much damage has our western money done already? And I know it has also done a lot of good. But is the best thing really just pouring in money??? I have read the great book “When Helping Hurts” and am wondering how those principles apply to Nepal?
    Blessings on the rest of your trip!

    • Adam

      Hey Chris,

      “When Helping Hurts” is a great book and something we were discussing on the trip with Pastor Babu who had the book in his library. From what I’ve read in the book, I feel that we are on the same page as the author. I feel that we can do more to come alongside of native pastors and workers in Nepal and help them fulfill THEIR God-given vision for THEIR country and people … to support them not only in money but also in prayer and encouragement. Most of the time we impose our own Western visions and agenda on countries like Nepal, which can be detrimental to the health of the native churches. It’s like an excited elephant dancing over a mouse, if I can borrow the analogy from the book. But there is something beautiful about coming alongside what God is already doing in these countries – essentially, serving them as they serve their people.

    • Preston

      Great question, Chris! Jet lag is kicking in, so I’ll try to string together a few brief thoughts.

      First, I totally believe in what “When Helping Hurts” talks about. So I’m wrestling with the same questions you raise. The question for me isn’t to give or not to give, it’s how best to give. And I think the first step is to cultivate the desire to “forego” and “give.” This is the intention behind raising awareness through the blogs.
      If people did actually want to give to Nepal, then we’d need to take the next step and think through the best way to give.

      Second, as much as I buy into everything “When Helping Hurts” said, I still see a lot of raw redistribution of wealth in the NT (and OT, actually). Jesus was “dependent” upon a bunch of women (Luke 8:1-3), Paul was dependent (to some extent) upon Phoebe ( as were many others, Rom 16:2), and the Jerusalem church was dependent upon the churches of Macedonia and Achaia (2 Cor 8-9). So I don’t know. The NT seems to error on the side of wealthier churches/people giving to the poorer ones.

      Third, I envision not just dumping money into Nepal, but partnering with them in ministry and investing in creating long term financial solutions that are self-sustaining. This is why I think it’s super important to have a rich, long term relationship with the indigenous pastors we’re partnering with.

      Just a few thoughts. But ya, I’m thinking through the same issues you raise!

  2. Chris

    Good thoughts. I totally concur with the ‘partnership’ concept. The last church I was at has ongoing partnership with Ecuador. They go every summer. I was part of that team 2 different summers along with my kids. It is a relationship. Of course some of our ‘American money’ ends up there, funding ministries, supporting pastors, etc. But like you said, it is in the context of relationship. And we go as learners, not the experts. We do NOT know how best to do church in a different culture; that culture does.

    So yea, if we are going as partners in a relationship, not as experts imposing our views; if we let the local indigenous church handle and disburse the money we give as they see it best used; if we proceed cautiously and prayerfully; then by all means lets reduce our ‘fat’ a bit and give so that more can hear!

    • Adam

      Amen to that Chris! When we align ourselves with God’s vision for the earth, I believe He infuses our spirits with power and anointing. Without it, so many become disillusioned with church … it’s so easy to become enraptured in ourselves – our endless meetings, programs, and bumper stickers. The wheels ever spin (like the Nepali prayer wheels), but without vision it seems empty and meaningless. I personally feel that the Western Church could benefit greatly from more simplicity – she’s a lot more attractive without all that caked on make-up :)

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