Local Christian ministries in Nepal have been heavily involved in practical response to the earthquakes. One that utilises Theological Training by Extension (TEE) courses to equip and empower the local church has been in the forefront of this effort, providing practical and prayer support. These Nepali believers, without the resources of an international NGO, have been able to show Christ’s love while demonstrating that their work is relevant both for humanitarian relief and for equipping and empowering church members and leaders. Here is an update.
“We are safe.” This message from Tanka Subedi in Kathmandu on May 12, after the second earthquake shook Nepal, was followed by posts describing cracks to buildings, showing images of destruction, and making known the various needs he has uncovered through his work for the Institute for Theological Education by Extension in Nepal (ITEEN) and as a pastor in the Nepali church.
Sadly, many others are still not safe and the needs in the country remain huge.
On April 25 at 11.56 a.m. a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck the Kathmandu Valley leaving behind incredible devastation: 8,800 were killed; 23,000 were injured; UNESCO world heritage monuments were destroyed; hundreds of thousands were left homeless; entire villages were flattened.
Since then there have been more than 100 aftershocks and a second earthquake on May 12. For a country in the midst of nation building after a decade of Maoist insurgency and still wracked by political stalemates and fuel, water and electricity shortages, it seemed to come at the worst possible time.
While ITEEN’s work is centred on Jesus, rather than just on humanitarian work, the two are connected. Even though their prime focus is to provide in-service training for members and leaders of local churches, it’s also about helping new believers grow strong in their faith so that they have hope in the midst of catastrophe, while learning to serve Him practically and share their faith. And their outreach is huge. Since TEE first came here 20 years ago, they have seen 20,000 people do ITEEN courses and they currently have contact with 7,000 active participants.
ITEEN’s Executive Director, Tanka Subedi, was still at the Increase TEE conference in Malaysia when the earthquake struck. As soon as Tanka returned to Nepal, ITEEN was able to assist with the relief effort by delivering food, tarpaulins and chlorine tablets to 500 families, and establishing water purification plants in more than 100 locations with Water Missions International. One of the places they helped was the Ashish Home, where 50 orphans were living in tents because the centre had been damaged in the earthquake.
“The shop where they used to buy food was closed and they didn’t have money for buying from others,” said Tanka. “They were so happy to get food from us. We also supplied blankets for the children.”
While normal ITEEN work such as tutor training was initially put on hold after the quakes, some regular work has started again now, even though they are operating from temporary offices and working in a tent. “We are planning to be heavily involved in rescue for one more month, then probably for two years in rebuilding work,” said Tanka. They plan to build 200 churches and semi-permanent housing for 1,000 families.
To some degree this is a natural extension for ITEEN, which is involved not only in church-based growth but also in seeking to be proactive in Nepal’s social and political climate.
As a boy, Tanka first learned that practical, social and health care can lead people to Christ, when a young man suffering from leprosy came to the mission hospital where his mother worked. Ram Bahadur Pun was treated for leprosy and cured, despite losing his fingers and toes. Although he had little education, he started to read the Bible and ended up becoming a Christian.
“Four years ago God called him to a church planting ministry,” Tanka reported. “He had completed five TEE courses, and these gave him the encouragement he needed to do the church planting. Now he has 14 churches in three different districts in mid-west Nepal; some are in the very remote hills where the Maoists started and in some village churches there are up to 500 people. He is now using TEE courses to help train and disciple the upcoming leaders.”
Tanka shared Ram Bahadur’s testimony and spoke about ITEEN’s work at a dinner hosted by Increase in Kuala Lumpur in April. As a result, more churches have a vision for running ITEEN courses, and Tanka plans to visit Malaysia again soon to train group leaders from more fellowships.
ITEEN plans to develop more course materials, particularly relating to teenagers and to Christian family life, for Nepali speakers both in Nepal and in the diaspora in the UAE, Malaysia, India, Australia, the UK, the USA and South Korea. In this way ITEEN is able to help Nepalis beyond the Himalayas, particularly those who receive the gospel message while living abroad.
ITEEN has also been involved in working with the United Nations and NGOs to address the lack of religious freedom in Nepal. Since 2008 Nepal has been a secular state, but, as Tanka explains, “There is still no religious freedom legally in Nepal ... The constitution of Nepal only says that you are free to exercise any religion you wish provided that it has been handed down to you by your ancestors.”
Later this year he will travel to Geneva with other special interest groups to promote these concerns at the Universal Periodic Review of Nepal (a process that UN member states have to undergo every four years). “It is very important to make sure that Nepal has a constitutional clause to provide for religious freedom.”
Despite the challenges that lie ahead ITEEN is determined to continue its work training church members and leaders, as well as addressing practical needs, in a way that will give Nepalis a real experience of Christ’s love for them. To find out more about ITEEN, go to http://www.iteen.org.np
Joanne Lane is an Australian freelance photojournalist based in Brisbane. Jo has travelled to some 40 countries (and lived in a few as well), and her writing covers humanitarian, travel and social issues. See www.visitedplanet.com
HOW YOU CAN HELP...
ITEEN is still helping to meet immediate needs by providing food, clothing, mosquito nets, medicine and other essential items. Over the next two years they also plan to construct 1000 semi-permanent houses, and rebuild 200 churches.
To make an online donation to ITEEN’s relief and rebuilding work, go to http://www.gofundme.com/u7m973u