Friday, January 29, 2016

God’s Grace Shines Upon Siddhi and the Shaktikor District

I want to tell you about a far flung region of Nepal where very few Nepalese will ever visit, let alone visitors from the west. The village of Siddhi is located in the Shaktikor district of Nepal which is to the North and West of the capital city of Kathmandu. To reach the town of Shaktikor from Kathmandu the locals will ride a series of buses for about 7 hours. This trip will take you up and over several of the foothills of the Himalayan mountain range as the road winds along the picturesque and sometimes wild Trisuli River that cuts a deep path through the very steep hills of the remote district. 

Siddhi is located near the red X west of Kathamandu
Once you have arrived in Shaktikor you are not even close to the village of Siddhi. If you are fortunate enough to have the financial means to rent or hitch a ride in a rugged and high clearance four wheel drive vehicle, then you will be able to cut about three hours off of your journey and you will only need to hike the final one hour of your trip. But that final hour will be a brutal hike straight up the steepest “hill” you will ever see. The hike will take you up switch-back trails that hug the side of the hill and on rugged steps made of rocks and boulders of various sizes. If you can’t find or afford a 4x4 ride then your trip will take more than four hours; three hours of walking up the gradual incline of rocky roads and trails that don’t seem possible to drive, and then the final one hour hike straight up. 

Once you arrive in Siddhi you will find rock-wall homes and out-buildings scattered among the hillsides that have been terraced for farming. The other thing you will find in this village that is very unique to the 1000s of villages throughout Nepal is a church building in the most prominent part of the village. How this church building came about is a story of God’s grace and love.

Road to the bottom of the "hill" where you begin the one hour trek to Siddhi
This is the second time I have made the long journey to visit the Chepang tribal people of Siddhi, but this is the first time I have heard the story of how the Himalayan Church of the Lutheran Confession of Nepal came to be involved in this region of Nepal and how the Lord has blessed this effort. Not long before the CLC and HCLCN started to work together in 2007. Pastor JB (Raju’s father) had learned of opportunities to spread the Gospel among these tribal villages and had made several trips. What he initially found among these marginalized tribes was a mixture of Hinduism, Buddhism, ancestral worship, and tribal superstitions mixed with a rather wild and Pentecostal form of Jesus worship. Apparently the Gospel had come to this very remote region at some point in the past but thorough training in the Word did not follow and the people were left to without a firm and solid foundation in the truths of Scripture. There was also very little formal education taking place among the people so there was an inability to study the Scriptures on their own since most could not read. Pastor JB saw and very real opportunity to proclaim the truth. There were a few young and middle-aged men in the villages who had managed to go attend school in the distant and larger town of Shaktikor who JB identified as possible future leaders and perhaps pastors for the congregations that were beginning to form under his tutelage. But he also knew that there was much work to be done if these young men were to one day serve as pastors. It was situations like this and others that led Pastor JB and his son Raju to get on the internet to find help in training men to be faithful preachers and teachers of the Word of God. Pastor Raju did a search for Lutheran Pastoral Training and “stumbled” upon an internet blog that mentioned Lutheran pastoral training seminars that had been conducted in India. His first email to the CLC was a simple request; “will you please come to Nepal to offer a pastoral training seminar?” The rest is an amazing demonstration of God’s grace, mercy, and blessings.

30 minutes into the trek to Siddi that began at the buildings in the distance
Just ten to twelve years ago the village of Siddhi served as a central location for the Chepang people in the surrounding hill villages to gather. This area, about the size of a football field, had leveled many years ago and had served for centuries as a place to gather for the many Hindu and Buddhist festivals that take place every year. From what I was told, it was not uncommon in the past for 1000’s of people to gather for these idolatrous festivals. What is truly amazing is that this flat spot among the hills of this region is now the place where a HCLCN church now stands. 

HCLCN church building sits where Hindu festivals were once held
No longer is this area used in the worship of false gods. Instead, children of God are worshiping in spirit and in truth. No longer are people gathering there with the false hope of garnering the favor of an idol. Instead, sinners are receiving the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit through the water and Word of Holy Baptism. No longer are tribal people offering prayers to Jesus alongside the long list of Hindu gods who they hope will bring them earthly blessing and a better reincarnated life. Instead, they are gathering regularly to confess their sins and rejoicing together in the full and free forgiveness of their sins through the perfect life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ!

The pastor of the Siddhi congregation is Pastor Bhimlal Chepang. This man has faithfully made the long trip by foot and bus to attend pastoral training most every month for the past eight years. He has demonstrated a solid understanding of the truths of God’s Word and has successfully completed a study of Luther’s Small Catechism among other doctrinal studies.
Pastor Bhimlal Chepang is sitting on the far left
Pastor Bhimlal graduated from his formal training and was commissioned and ordained as one of the first pastors of the Himalayan Church of the Lutheran Confession of Nepal on January 28, 2016. While he continues to patiently work with and instruct the people of Siddhi, his work has recently increased as pastors and elders from other independent Christian congregations have been inquiring about training for themselves and those they are serving. These men have not had the opportunity, nor do they have financial means to attend a Bible school or seminary. Through their contact with the HCLCN they now recognize the importance of having the firm foundation of God’s word upon which to build a congregation. Most of the congregations that these men are leading are involved in the mix of Hinduism, Buddhism, ancestral and tribal religion, along with a Pentecostal mix of Jesus worship. So there is much work still to be done here.

Praise be to God who has opened this door of opportunity to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ and all that He has revealed to us in His Word.

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