Nepal: the fastest-growing church on earth

by Bob Putman, Point Editor

Kathmandu is a dusty, traffic-choked, pot-holed city of 8 million, located 13.6 miles from the epicenter of the powerful earthquake that struck Nepal last April. The surrounding Himalayan foothills, dust and exhaust fumes make the air nearly unbreathable. Drivers, horns blaring, use both sides of the road. Much here reminded me of previous trips to China, Haiti and the Philippines. Same traffic, noise and run-down shops with silly English names.

Converge missions executive director Ivan Veldhuizen and I traveled to Nepal last September for two purposes: first, to see how nearly $99,000 in Converge earthquake relief funds were being used; second, to visit more than a dozen Nepalese churches and learn why the church in Nepal is experiencing explosive growth.

‘If you go to the church, you will be healed’

Ivan and I joined a team of American pastors and laymen from several church organizations. Pastor Kirt Wiggins of Converge’s Pathway Community Church, Elmhurst, Illinois, was among them. Our first stop was just outside Kathmandu on Saturday, when churches in Nepal meet. Visiting Multi-cultural Christian Church, we removed our shoes before entering the “holy place.” Inside, about 25 men and women, seated on mats woven from plastic bags, were divided by a center aisle. Children sat with either parent.

During the two-hour service we sweated in the thick air as this group, nearly all new believers, sang full volume accompanied by an out-of-tune guitar. They prayed aloud simultaneously, a cacophony of voices. The church has met in their building for two years, while also sending several church planters to start churches on the other side of the hill. Pastor Binot is training two more church planters.

I asked our guide Shiva why churches are multiplying so quickly in Nepal.

“One of the main reasons is people want healing,” he said, “or they’re looking for answers to unsolved problems.”

He described a 23-year-old woman who, demon-possessed, was unable to sleep for three months. Her family took her to an occult healer, who tried many times to free her from oppression. Finally he said, “I cannot heal you. If you go to the church, you will get healed.” She came to this church, and Shiva and pastor Binod prayed for her. She was freed. “Because of her testimony, many people are coming to the Lord,” Shiva told us.

In 1960 at best only a few hundred evangelical Christians were in Nepal. Today there are more than 1 million, most coming to faith in the past 20 years. Converge and its Nepalese partners are responsible for starting about 2000 of Nepal’s 15,000 churches.

A big relief

Also traveling with us were Converge missionary David Nelms and Krishna, the Nepalese national leader. Krishna, Shiva and Bishwa, a third key leader, had worked tirelessly for months. They traveling to Converge-funded churches to brings tents, water, cooking supplies and a million meals for leaders and families in need. Five churches and 100 homes have already been rebuilt or are scheduled to be rebuilt as soon as materials are available.

On Sunday we attended the separate dedications of three of these churches. Alaporte Christian Church was started in 2009 among the Newari people group. Their building was badly cracked in the earthquake and unsafe for use. During its dedication we learned the pastor has started five daughter churches. Their church planters, combined with church-planting trainees from Alaporte’s membership, started 29 daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughter churches. And they have nine church planters in training.

At Balcot Christian Church, Nelms chose me to give the prayer of dedication, cut the ribbon and open the door to the congregation’s new building. This four-year-old church of mixed tribes has planted 20 churches and helped host a church planters training conference. Twelve Balcot men and women are currently training to start new churches.

Pastor Wiggins spoke at the third rebuilt site, two-year-old Balku Christian Church. Already Balku has discipled converts who have discipled converts and so on for five ‘generations’ of new believers. We also visited four of the homes built for pastors and people from their villages.

DLs and Timothy training

The next day we drove southwest for several hours into mountain and river country. Terraced hillsides, waterfalls and suspension bridges marked the route. In Kurintar we participated in an all-day training session for 47 district leaders, each with 20 to 30 ‘Timothys’ in training to plant churches. Two Tibetans led worship, then three of our group taught sessions in the hot, humid building. Nelms called on district leaders (DLs) for testimonies.

The first man, from near the Tibetan border, in one year taught through 10 of the required training books, saw 17 families trust in Christ and baptized 27 people. His Timothys were penetrating another village.

Another had established a church by training Timothys. One man they reached was paralyzed from the waist up. His parents had spent 2 million Rupies—about $20,000—on treatments, but he was healed through prayer. Now he is a district leader and has baptized 40 people.

A man from far western Nepal had traveled 300+ miles to attend the training session. When he had become a Christian, his parents had thrown him out of their home. He has established churches and started a Timothy training center. Two of his students are now district leaders starting many house fellowships. “Revival has started in far western Nepal,” he said. “Many people are interested in multiplying churches and are asking me for training.”

Another DL said six of his students had established a church within four months. In one place a young lady was being attacked by demons and sometimes lay unconscious nine hours a day. People told her to go to church and they will pray and you will be healed. They prayed, and she felt peace. Two days later she experienced a relapse. They prayed again, and “now it’s eight days and she’s well and praising the Lord,” he said.

This church planting movement is structured for rapid multiplication.

  •  Nelms and national leaders Krishna, Shiva and Bishwa lead the movement ― starting training centers and visiting, training and holding accountable district leaders, “Pauls.” Pauls are often pastors.
  •  District leaders win, disciple and train “Timothys,” the initial church planters, visiting them monthly to ensure accountability.
  •  Timothys train “Tituses” they select from their churches, the next generation of church planters.

Every Timothy is required to work through 11 training books, start a church within two years, train one or two Tituses (the next church planters) and complete a humanitarian or social justice project such as caring for orphans or widows. Krishna, for instance, houses five orphans in his home.

The happiest man in Nepal

After our time at the DL training in Kurintar, we visited the parents of Shiva, who wanted us to meet his father and share the gospel with him.

Like his grandfather and father, Shiva had been born into a Hindu Brahman family and raised to become a Hindu priest. From childhood he learned and practiced its rituals and traditions. At 21, he left his village in southwest Nepal to pursue an education in Kathmandu.

There he became unsatisfied with Hinduism and felt hopeless. He encountered a Christian preacher, who told him about Jesus Christ. Well studied in the Hindu scriptures, Shiva asked the man if there were any Christian scriptures he could read. The preacher told him, “I have only one scripture.”

“What’s that?” Shiva asked.

“The Bible.” The man gave him a New Testament, which Shiva read through in a week.

“As I read it, Jesus was coming into my heart, speaking to me,” Shiva said. “He was saying, ‘I will give you peace. I will restore you. You have to believe in me. You have to accept me as your Lord and Savior.’”

When Shiva met the preacher a week later, he asked, “What do I have to do now?”

The preacher told him, “This is the way God is speaking to you: you have to do one thing: Confess all your sins, all your mistakes and wrongs in life. After that Jesus will come and live in you and restore peace in your life.”

“So I did exactly what he asked,” Shiva said. “I experienced peace, and I have followed Jesus for 24 years.”

At first Shiva kept his Christian faith to himself. Then about two or three months later his father called him to say he wanted to hold a large Hindu celebration to pass the family mantra―how Hindus worship their clan god―on to Shiva. His father had been a priest for 42 years.

“This was very difficult for me,” Shiva said. “I had accepted Jesus and found peace, and now I had to participate in my father’s ceremony.” He wrestled in prayer past midnight, asking the Lord, “What can I do?”

Jesus spoke to him, saying, “I have chosen you; you did not choose me. But I will use you to build my kingdom. You will be greatly used. So you must inform your parents that you are a Christian. Go to the celebration. Don’t participate, but witness to your father that you are a Christian. Whatever problems come up, I will handle. I am your God. I will give you the Holy Spirit and he will guide you. He will restore everything in your life. You don’t have to worry about anything.”

Shiva obeyed. His father and family were furious, and his dad threw him out of the house. Shiva had only the clothes he wore and a few Rupies in his pocket. But he began to live for Jesus.

Now he is pastor of Nepal Multi-cultural Christian Church in Kathmandu, and a national church planting leader. He and others had witnessed to his father 19 times. Always, the retired Hindu priest argued against the gospel.

Our group of 10 visiting pastors and mission leaders gathered in the cramped living room of Shiva’s 84-year-old father and chatted with him. Then Converge missionary David Nelms gently walked him through the gospel message.

This time there was no resistance. Shiva’s dad followed along, asking questions and laughing. Then he prayed to confess his sins, turn from idols and trust in Christ as his Lord and Savior. As we left, Shiva was glowing with joy. The next morning his father called to say he had gotten rid of all his idols and was full of joy in knowing Jesus. In late October, Shiva’s mother also came to faith in Christ.

Meeting the Magars and Thank You Church

The next three days we visited nine more churches, close to Nepal’s border with India. After a bone-jarring ride and one-kilometer hike through woods and fields, we passed two bulls and ascended a steep hill to reach a church. The western Magar people group are animists, numbering about 792,000. They speak their own language and practice a distinct culture.

Inside we found seats among about 50 brown-faced Magars, who had been meeting as a church only 18 months, the pastor trained by Shiva. Most had walked an hour to meet us. Others had walked five hours from their new, four-month-old church. 

After they greeted us with ceremonial scarves, they boisterously sang a song in their language. Then a beautiful young woman in brightly colored clothing stood up and danced as all the Magars clapped and sang a traditional song a capella. We felt we were participating in a National Geographic special.

The Magar group had built their church by hand, complete with electric lights and fans. They had carried the rocks in baskets on their backs, cut down forest bamboo beams for rafters and constructed the walls using donated cement mix. Someone gave the corrugated roofing and another person volunteered the electrical work.

We also visited four-month-old Thank You Church, led by a pastor we had met that morning at the DL training in Adrass. We crowded into a back room with 15 adults, twin boys, a seventh-grade girl and other children. Due to travel delays, we had arrived four hours late, but the people had waited to greet us and worship together. (Many other adults had left earlier to pick up their children from school.) The pastor told us 19 of his people were new believers and, at Nelms’ request, pointed out his two Tituses. This accountability is a key component to the movement’s growth.

Experiencing first-century church growth

We visited another four churches, then it was a long, sweaty walk through fields and along rice paddies to reach our final stop, Bhakati Christian Church. This remote mountain fellowship was just three months old, hosted in the home of a new believer.

The pastor who started the church and had led his mother and others to faith in Christ. Bhakati is a poor church among the Dalit people, the lowest Hindu caste. But already these new believers have led others to faith in Christ. The pastor pointed out his Timothy-in-training.

One woman was holding her year-old baby, blind and unable to support his head. Our team prayed for his healing. Shiva told us the problem was arsenic in the groundwater.

When our time with the Dalits concluded, Nelms observed: “Men, you have just seen the first-century church. It’s a remote setting, new believers meeting in a home, with people worshiping and praying for one another. Unbelievers are here listening in, and the gospel is spreading rapidly.” We nodded in agreement.

Back in the van, the team pledged $1,000 to provide a water purification system for the entire village and to transport the mother and baby to Kathmandu for medical care.

A departing gift

As Ivan and I sat on our KLM flight out of Kathmandu, I thought about the 30-plus-hour trips to get here and back, the many churches we had visited, the stories we heard, the things we had observed, the things we experienced. For years I had dreamt of someday seeing Mount Everest, but now that didn’t matter. I had just witnessed amazing things God is doing in a country that is 95 percent Hindu. Christ is building his church, at an astounding rate, and Converge is in the thick of this movement.

I glanced out the window and suddenly there was Everest, its jagged peak thrust several thousand miles above the clouds. I grabbed my phone and started shooting. Yet another gift from God.

It’s unlikely I’ll return to Nepal, though I would love to revisit its churches. I’ll leave that to Ivan and others, maybe even you. I do know this: I’ve left a piece of my heart there with my newly met brothers and sisters in Christ. And someday I’ll listen for their loud voices as we worship together before the throne of Christ.

    Point - September 2018

    Point Magazine

    Our official magazine, publishing captivating stories of God's work in our midst.

    Subscribe for free >