I'm back home. My time in Omaha was very fruitful and I have something fun to share with you from that trip. In a bit.
The last couple days have been taken up with getting back in the swing, grocery shopping (why is there never anything to eat when I come home?), planting trees (three Red Wing Maples, a Bali Cherry, and a Sunburst Honey Locust), getting ready to sand and stain the new deck, answering e-mails, etc.
Time to get back in the swing of blogging. Here's my first item, from Fides :
Fr. Pius Perumana, pro-Vicar Apostolic of Nepal, notes that while the 8,000 member Catholic community of Nepal grows by 500 baptisms every year (which I would regard as vigorous for so small a community), conversions to Protestantism run about 100,000 a year and the Protestant community numbers about 2 million.
I wrote about this amazing emergence of Christianity in Nepal in the extensive Introduction to Independent Christianity that I posted three years ago.
“It is sometimes said that Catholics have a “big battalion” mentality. Is being a small but growing minority evidence of a failed mission? This would seem to imply that “success” involves the rapid conversion of the majority and the establishment of some kind of “Christendom”. In contrast, Independent Christians expect to be a minority and have no use for Christendom. They accept “outsider” status as the normal situation in which Christians live in this world and in which evangelization and mission occurs. For them, minority status is not evidence of mission failure. What matters is, “Are people becoming intentional disciples of Jesus Christ?”
The conversion of 1% of the population of a hitherto completely non-Christian people would be regarded by Independents as a giant breakthrough. But viewed through the lens of the “Christendom norm,” it could be used to “prove” the futility of missionary activity.
Nepal is an excellent case in point. Until 1951, Nepal was completely closed off to all missionary work. In 1960, there was only a handful of known Nepali Christians. The big breakthrough occurred in the early 60’s when two lay evangelists from India crossed the Himalayas to share the Gospel.
By 1970, there were about 7,450 Nepali Christians in an illegal underground movement led by teenagers who were tortured and imprisoned for their faith. In the early 80’s, I remember hearing an evangelical woman missionary just back from Nepal describing the marks of torture still visible on the hands of the young leaders. By the turn of the millennium, there were almost 600,000 Christians in Nepal, most associated with indigenous, New Apostolic movements.
Nepali Christianity is growing so fast that Barrett estimates that the Christian population topped 768,000 by mid-2005 and now makes up 2.8% of the total population. 582,000 or 76% of Nepal’s Christians are Independents. There are only 6,626 known Catholics in the country.
“At least 40 to 60 percent of the Nepali church became Christians as a direct result of a miracle," says Sandy Anderson of the Sowers Ministry. "Most times the people do not know what we are talking about when we preach the gospel. That's why it is very important to demonstrate the gospel. We preach. Then God heals the sick when we pray. The gospel is not only preached but demonstrated in Nepal." (The Church at the Top of the World, April 3, 2000, Christianity Today).
So what’s the verdict? Are the Christians of Nepal a failed and beleaguered minority, or a success story that sounds remarkably like the first century church? How different the evangelical imperative looks if we stop assuming that creating another Christendom—the ultimate big battalion—is the measure of validity.”
Five years ago, David Barrett, the evangelical guru of global Christianity, estimated that Nepali Christians were about 770,000. Today, the Catholic Pro-Vicar Apostolic is estimating that Protestants in Nepal number 2,000,000. If true, that would mean that Protestant Christianity grew 260% in just 5 years – far faster than the 100,000 a year rate that Fr. Perumana quoted.
It is most unusual in my experience for Catholics to come to a higher estimate in such matters than evangelicals but here it is. If Fr. Perumana's figure is accurate, Christians would make up nearly 7% of the Nepali population. I think it is safe to say that Fr. Perumana's numbers would be greeted with some skepticism even among evangelical missions enthusiasts. In any case, everyone who has studied the Nepali situation agrees that the situation is one of dramatic Christian growth and has been for decades.
And Fr. Perumana is sensing a unique opportunity for Catholics.
The reason for these new fields and opportunities, the pro-Vicar explains, is that “ while Nepal was a kingdom with Hinduism as the state religion, most Nepalese citizens were Hindus in name. Today people enjoy more freedom to choose between the different beliefs Christianity, Islam, Traditional religions”.
“The doors are open to mission, the Nepalese are ready to encounter and accept Christ. We must preach openly, we must invite people to prayer meetings. A Centre of Prayer which we recently opened in Godawari is sparking interest among the local people: this is what the people need, to be stimulated, encouraged. It only takes a spark and the powerful Word of God heals, works miracles, converts hearts ” the priest told Fides.
Fr. Pius continues : “Recently a Maoist asked to know about Jesus Christ. Not long afterwards the man fell ill and had to go to hospital for treatment. Members of Catholic community visited him regularly, comforting him and praying with him until he recovered. At the end of that period of trial and suffering, the man asked to prepare for baptism and is now taking a course of catechesis”.