Friday, December 14, 2012

Early Churches in Nepal

Review of Early Churches in Nepal: An Indigenous Christian Movement Till 1990, by Rajendra K. Rongong (Kathmandu: Ekta Books, 2012), 171 pages, NC 250.

Prof Rajendra Rongong, is one of the senior leaders of the church in Nepal. He has written this book as "a simple record of God's work in Nepal" (p. 5). The record, he writes, is based on "the experiences of many early Christians and the information obtained through church leaders' responses to a questionnaire, oral statements by individuals, and ... observations of the author himself". He warns that those looking for a scholarly account may be disappointed.

The first three chapters, describing the early efforts at Christian ministry in Nepal, are documented elsewhere and don't really add anything to these previous works (such as Jonathan Lindell's Nepal and the Gospel of God [1979, 1997], Cindy Perry's A Biographical History of the Church of Nepal [1990; 3rd edition, 2000], and Norma Kehrberg's The Cross in the Land of the Khukuri [2002]). In chapter 4, however, 'Advent of Democracy in Nepal and Entry of Christians' Prof Rongong gives an acount of the movement to Christ from the early fifties when the Rana oligarchy was overthrown. This is where the book picks up, not just because that period was so exciting, but because the author was personally involved.

In chapter 5 we are given a short account of the first few churches established. Some of this was new to me which could be because it has not been documented before or because I have forgotten (I do not have the other works with me anymore).

After a short chapter on 'The Nature of Early Churches in Nepal' the author goes on to list 16 churches that were established during the Panchayat regime (1960-1990). He does not claim to be exhaustive here but would like to provide a full list in a future edition. I think there must be several omissions. I find it surprising that Aradhana Mandali, Sanepa is not included. From my poor memory the Church of Christ, Thapathali, and churches that identified themselves as Baptist and 'El Shaddai' must also have been in existence at that time. The author is relying heavily on reports sent to him by the churches themselves. As such numbers are taken at face value as also assertions of self-support that seem hollow to this reviewer.

After two short chapters on 'Consequences of Persecution' and 'Church Growth' Rongong goes on to discuss 'Reasons that Contributed to the Growth of the Church'. Like so much of the book the author is heavily dependent on other works such as that of Kehrberg. He suggests that one "distinct phenomenon that resulted in the revival and growth of churches was the work of the Holy Spirit" (p. 122). He reports that "towards the later part of the 1960s and early 1970s, a few leaders ... had the experience of the anointing of the Holy Spirit" which resulted in phenomena such as tongue speaking and healing. We are not told what this was distinct from."Praise and worship soon became a common feature of the service in almost all churches.... Revival became the order of the day" (p. 123) The author here is using the periphrasis 'praise and worship' (Np. stuti prasamsa) in a very restricted sense (everyone standing and singing and praying out loud together) and in opposition to the worship forms that had been common till that time.

In chapter 11 Rongong describes the restoration of democracy of 1990 (not 1989 as on p. 125).

In chapter 12 the events of the 2001 palace massacre and its aftermath and described in brief and a number of well-wishing messages from prominent politicians to the church are included.

'The Current Situation' is described briefly in the following chapter with an extraordinary report that "some missions or denominations ... from Asia ... have initiated their own brand of evangelism with such fervour that in some cases they even resort to physical violence" (p. 141). No wonder then that in the next paragraph we read that "open hostility from different religious groups is perceived."

The last chapter on "The Role of Expatriate Missionaries in the History of the Church" is followed by a substantial appendix furnished to the author by Dr Ramesh Khatry listing all the known incidents of arrest, sentences, and torture of Christians in Nepal during the 70s and 80s. Some of the brief notes are stirring indeed and leave one longing for a fuller account of these events.

A helpful bibliography concludes the book.

I am grateful to Prof Rongong for his contribution to the documentation of the first several decades of the church in Nepal. The book, however, is very disappointing to me for the following reasons:
  • it is heavily dependent on other already published works
  • it is hagiographic in style - there are three identical photos of Pastor David Mukhia and two of Pastor Robert Karthak (the author's brother-in-law, who also wrote an introduction) scattered throughout the book
  • it is not at all critical - apparently no attempt has been made to verify the claims of the churches in their reports to the author - leaving it looking decidedly naive
The biggest disappointment to me is that the author missed an opportunity to write his own memoires more fully. The most interesting feature of the book is the author's account of his own involvement in the growth of the church during this period. One longs for more and it is hoped that he and other leaders can write their memoires more fully before they pass on their ministry to others and receive a royal welcome into the presence of the Lord Jesus.

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