It's about Human Rights in the middle of Asia with Nepal’s Christians. And what's wrong with Christianity anyway?
By Steve Richards
United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 18. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance. https://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/
It’s about freedom of religion.
Nepal’s Christian community is increasingly underground; back to its roots you could say. There are arrests and imprisonments and the constant threat thereof, simply for doing what Evangelicals do: saving souls according to Christian principals some 2,000 years in the offing that encourage conversions of the believer as a natural consequence.
Nepali Christians are used to it. So too Christian based western NGO’s it would seem. An intended, and largely successful consequence, by the powers-that-be (largely Hindu centered) to keep the NGO’s largely separated from their Nepali brothers and sisters as NGO workers can also be arrested and deported if they aren’t careful. So, you have Western Christian groups in highly compromised positions. So close, and yet so far away.
I get it. I understand all too well the baggage that simply comes with the word Christianity. Say Jesus and a flood of personal experiences, opinions, relationships, etc. come rushing in. Including big chunks of those in the west who agree that Christianity has no place in a place like Nepal. Most afraid we are going to mess up perfectly good cultures with our double-edged swords of history, culture, and tangled religious-economic-ecological outcomes. Most 0like the idea of Nepal, sticking with its largely Hindu culture.
But this isn’t the point. It’s not up to us. Nepal has decided that freedom of religion is what they want. So much so that they have enshrined it in their constitution, just like we have in the USA and liberal democracies throughout the world. Here’s what Nepal’s constitution says:
Section 26 - Right to freedom of religion: (1) Every person who has faith in religion shall have the freedom to profess, practice and protect his or her religion according to his or her conviction…No person shall, in the exercise of the right conferred by this Article, do, or cause to be done, any act which may be contrary to public health, decency and morality or breach public peace, or convert another person from one religion to another or any act or conduct that may jeopardize other's religion and such act shall be punishable by law. https://constitutionnet.org/sites/default/files/2017-07/Constitution-of-Nepal-_English_-with-1st-Amendment_2_0.pdf
Sounds good right? Freedom of religion with limitations. It’s all well and good except for the part about converting another person. This makes the whole thing unworkable for religious minorities in Nepal. Don’t convert people? Don’t try to save their souls? It’s not in the evangelical DNA of Christianity ever since Christ directed folks to spread the word. Islam as well.
It wasn’t so long ago when there were virtually no Christians in Nepal. Until its opening in the 1950’s as a consequence of Sire Edmund Hillary’s expeditions to climb Mt. Everest it was a Hindu Kingdom dating back to pre-history - and still was when I first visited in 1998. A civil war ushered in a new constitution complete with religious freedoms and all that we take for granted in the USA, except for one glaring omission: the ability to convince others that your religion is the one and they should try it. That can put you in jail. So where is the freedom of speech? Where is the freedom of religion? How about freedom of assembly if you are assembling to hear the Word and consider baptism?
This principal of religious freedom is very much in the USA’s DNA as well. We take it for granted. It’s doubtful the pilgrims would have ever stepped foot on Plymouth Rock if not for the desire to be free to follow their religion. And this foundational Enlightenment principal found its way so elegantly in our constitution simply by saying there would be no laws at all about it in the very beginning of our Bill of Rights. The very first thing. Amendment 1 reads:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;” https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/first_amendment
Freedom of religion is first and foremost because it is so integral to all the others.
This is not what they have in Nepal, They simply do not have freedom of religion. And they are therefore not free. Oh, compared to Chinese citizens just to the north they are, but compared to what they say they are, where they want to be, they aren’t quite there. Close but not quite you might say.
Why is this an issue? Is Nepal better off economically not guaranteeing these freedoms? Given that Nepal is one of the poorest nations on earth, and Christianity generally associated with economic growth as Max Weber in 1904 demonstrated in his: The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. https://christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/article/protestant-ethic-of-prosperity/
My personal experience includes years of relationships, days upon days of time, working together, praying together, worrying together, documenting, playing, preaching a few times, trekking to far away villages, attending baptisms, services, secret meetings, feeding, WiFi enabling, teaching, promoting, championing, loving, respecting, editing, producing, supporting, explaining, missing, and passionately advocating, for my friends in Nepal, Christian, Hindu, and Buddhist alike. It just so happens that I tend to run with the Christians.
You might think I am a particularly religious person, even a zealot. I’m not. I’m an environmentalist first and foremost. I research and write about Christ not to save souls but to show to Jesus’s followers how simply and harmoniously he coexisted with the earth. I’m more in line with Thomas Berry than Joel Osteen (of whom I’m a fan and follow on Twitter). I’m also a bit of an economist by training and am panicked by Capitalism’s effects on our environment. And knowing that Christianity is at the center of so much of the devastation via its underpinnings of Capitalism and western political economies, I study and write about Christianity’s intersections with the environment and economics.
So, what’s this got to do with Nepal’s Christians? Because while I’m not sure Capitalism and the ecology are particularly well suited to each other, I do have a sense that human rights are integral to an evolving communion between humankind and our planet. It is in TheoEco’s name where our ecology, economics, and theologies are inseparably woven and impacting each another.
To me, it’s not about Christianity in Nepal so much as the Christians themselves.
If a leading priest needs to go by Rev. X and take down a mini-documentary featuring him from YouTube I understand. If a Nepali Christian leader needs to stay off camera I get it. If Brother Barnabas needs to use an alias, I know he has a good reason. These people have families and ministries. And political and legal niceties are all well and good for a guy like me safely on the other side of the world where Christian edifices are so ubiquitous and our religious liberties guaranteed for hundreds of years now. But not when your flock is counting on you. Or your kids and spouses Shunning is the least of it.
As a result, it is very difficult to bring attention to these folks. They avoid websites, they use aliases, they need yet don’t want attention. Brother Barnabas is a top Christian leader though he also must stay underground You’ve seen him in our films though not under his alias. He is a tireless advocate in Nepal, not just for Christians but for all those that marginalize along religious lines. A real lover of democracy.
Want to help? Join us this weekend…
Now imagine all of this but with a monthly income of $86, the average monthly income of a Nepali. Forget that they just got through the monsoons with no A/C and head into winter with no central heat, just a hefty winter blanket and body heat from loved ones. Add to this: landslides, floods, and the actual smell of death in the villages on really bad days for some.
Now Imagine all this hardship while being a tiny Christian minority. Many wonder that there are Christians in Nepal at all. Nepal is sandwiched between two ascending rivals: India and China. It is a new democracy and no superpower. Except perhaps in spirit.
Nepal has largely been shut down in the same way as most everywhere else. Stay inside mainly. Masks, social distancing, waiting for a vaccine. Tough folks Nepalis. Something we all share? Resiliency. Though we happen to be rich in comparison.
It is these same folks that we celebrate in A Kathmandu Christmas.
What is harder for us to empathize with are the social stigmas based in Nepal’s Hindu caste system roots, even with one of the most progressive constitutions in all of Asia. Our friend Brother Barnabas in Katmandu, a Christian leader of the highest order, relates that they are in a situation that five types of disasters seem to be aiming at them all at once: natural, economic, social, political, and even the religious.
He writes in his most recent newsletter:
TheoEco's All Day Christmas Party
To get into the party click here.
Please join us as we celebrate the holidays in four Zoom screenings of "A Kathmandu Christmas" with our friends and supporters across the globe.
Four screenings make for four separate parties and opportunities to join the festivities. All times are Eastern Standard Time in the USA. Of course, feel free to attend any, or all of our screenings. We’ll be happy to see you anytime.
All screenings take place in TheoEco’s Zoom theater found here.
The party is free though please feel free to make a donation as it is a fundraiser for our Nepal projects and for our co-hosts and sponsors through their peer-to-peer links. You might also want to hold your own group Zoom parties with you and yours, then come into TheoEco’s Zoom theater shortly before the screening time. We’ll then start at the appointed time with a quick hello and holiday cheer with the 40-minute film starting shortly thereafter. Immediately after the film we will talk with Amit Nepali and others in Nepal for some Q & A. Total event times will likely run an hour and half or so.
So please make an appearance and maybe see some old friends. Unfortunately, as a Zoom event this is strictly BYOB but you should certainly make a get-together out of it if so inclined. We will be dressing in our holiday finery and drinking eggnog for sure!
Hoping to see you there and wishing you the very best for the season.
To register click here.
We are preparing for the 2020 Holiday Season Premiere of A Kathmandu Christmas on Friday, December 11th.
Please join us as we celebrate the holidays with the Christians in Nepal with our 2nd annual holiday screenings. All will take place from TheoEco’s Zoom theater.
To register click here.
The Premiere is free to all and will begin at 7 PM with a quick introduction from Steve Richards and then the 40-minute film shortly thereafter. Immediately after the film we will talk with Amit Nepali from Kathmandu for some Q & A. Total event time will likely run an hour or so.
Regularly scheduled screenings will begin the next day on Saturday the 12th at 9 AM (all times are eastern) for our friends internationally, especially those in Kathmandu where it will be 7:45 in the evening. There are matinees at 2 PM and two evening screenings at 7 and 9 on Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays through January 3rd. Tickets are $10 or whatever donation can be afforded. Saturday’s matinees are always free. Proceeds are split with our co-hosts and TheoEco’s portion is going towards the institute’s Nepal projects.
For a schedule of screenings click here.
To become a fundraiser/sponsor of the Premiere just click on the "Support" button at the top of the landing page. Our Flipcause tools will keep track of any funds raised by co-hosts, sponsors, and fundraisers in peer-to-peer fundraising efforts. And If you would like to hold a screening for your group’s holiday festivities we hope you’ll consider co-hosting an event from our schedule or set up another time. For more information please contact us.
We look forward to bringing a whole new look at Christmas from our brothers and sisters in Nepal!
Merry Christmas From Kathmandu!
(Originally posted December 2016)
By Steve Richards
Christmas in Nepal. The weather is sunny and a “coolish” 60’s in the day and 40’s at night in Kathmandu--and Christmas trees are everywhere! They can be found in Christian, Buddhist and Hindu households, in front of stores, in malls, everywhere! Just like home. Even Santa Clauses!
We are here for five weeks to complete a revisit to our “Piles of Bricks” documentary. We are going back to the places and people we met last year to see how things are coming with their earthquake recovery.
The world has pledged more than $4 billion for the effort and amazing progress is being made by individuals to get their houses rebuilt. But not with the $4 billion. That money seems to be in the clouds. We’ve met no one, no organization, no municipality that points to any of those funds as being significant to their rebuilding (aside from $150 given to homeowners shortly after the quakes in early 2015). And they’re not expecting it.
Homes, monuments, temples and the like are being rebuilt from the ground up by homeowners and independent organizations like the Kathmandu Preservation Trust out of New York City. TheoEco’s director Amit Nepali’s family has completely rebuilt a temporary version of their home complete with brick and plaster walls, a new bathroom, four bedrooms, a new kitchen, a living room, a recording studio, and so on. All with no insurance and virtually no government assistance. Not sure the building code is exactly up to spec but when you have 12 family members close to living in the streets during monsoons, you get moving, apparently. This is the story we hear all over – people doing for themselves as we’ll show in the film coming out in January at our TheoEco Miami Event on the 21st. For a country run mainly by communists, it seems familiarly Republican to us!
We are also shooting a new documentary before the summer concerning a big problem in Nepal: human trafficking. We are doing our first interviews this coming week in Sindupalchowk where we will be able to interview parents, victims, and others involved so that we can relate some of the realities of what is happening from here. Another documentary due in 2017 is on the water situation here, including the drinking water situation in Kathmandu, its almost boundless hydroelectric power potential, and the spiritual uses of the water whether it be Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, or other.
We are also busy at home, shooting these past few months: “Miami’s Floods,” which focuses on the water situation in South Florida--and there are intriguing connections with Nepal, which we look for so that we can learn from each other. We are interviewing scientists, the Army Corp of Engineers, museum curators, and many others for this film; starting with the realization that Miami Beach is spending $100’s of millions for pumps, road elevations, and without arguing about what is causing sea-level-rise. It is simply a threat that city leaders feel they must deal with and they let us in for the documenting of a blue-ribbon panel discussion before the last king tides, and we’ve kept running.
But first we need to wrap up “Piles of Bricks–Revisited” and its companion, “The Flourishing Kathmandu Church,” a retrospective of the Christian Church in Nepal also due by the summer.
So, for now, Merry Christmas from Nepal and we hope you enjoy the brief video from your Anglican friends from Golgotha Church in Kathmandu Christmas caroling a few days back at Amit’s house. He’s doing the principal singing and produced this over the past few days as the church’s greeting to all.
By Steve Richards
My first trip to Nepal in January 1998 is memorable to my family, friends, and co-workers as a time I went missing – or worse. I wasn't, just on a trek with a couple Austrian Buddhists I met on the train from Delhi to the Nepal/Indian border. They were on their way to Pokhara to see the sun rise on the Himalayas from Poon Hill - 10,000+ feet up in the foothills of the Annapurna range.
Getting there was a three day hike up mountain trails in use for thousands of years alongside the raging Kali Gandaki River fed by glaciers high up in the world's tallest mountains.
Even though I was much younger, my pack was too large, and my exercise regimen too weak, to make walking in these parts anything but a challenging (read painful) experience. And the most life-changing experience I ever encountered. I suppose it's like that for many from our neck-of-the-woods.
I had told everyone at home not to expect me for a month as I was on vacation and was heading to India for my roommate's wedding; I was to be in the wedding. Unfortunately, I never actually received a written invitation with an address, and absent-mindedly figured someone would be waiting for me at the airport. So, after a couple days of trying to locate my hosts I decided to head to Kathmandu and see what Bob Seeger had been singing about in my youth.
Suffice it to say that when I didn't show at the wedding most were concerned, and my mom got a call that her son had gone missing. Fortunately, she knew me well enough not to worry too much.
All were relieved when I finally found a phone and called home from Ghorepani, the village at the base of Poon Hill, and where we are heading on our latest trek. I'm hopeful my cell phone will do a better job of keeping us plugged-in than the occasional landline we depended on back then.
We are heading back to Poon Hill on our latest Nepal 2020 trek in January and invite those that want to come along to join us. For more click here. You can also meet some of those that will lead us at the premier of A Kathmandu Christmas screening on December 28th.
We are also raising funds for all these efforts so please consider supporting us at our Nepal 2020 fundraising page.
Thank you and we hope all are enjoying a happy holiday season.
We are preparing for the premiere of A Kathmandu Christmas on December 28th at 6:00 PM EST. We will be streaming the film everywhere and look forward to having folks from the film available for Q&A direct from Kathmandu!
One of the film’s highlights is when the children go to "Sunday School" even though Nepal’s Christians mostly attend services on Saturday, their one day off. The Nepali family whom we meet in our first mini-documentary “Piles of Bricks-Patan/Lalitpur” are now in their church: Golgotha Church in Kathmandu where Rev. Shyam Nepali is rector. Amit Nepali and the band start the service as he does most, leading the gathering congregation in a half-hour of praise music before things get started in earnest. There’s lots of music throughout – some familiar and some not. You’ve never heard “How Great Thou Art” like this! For more go to Sunday School on Saturday.
You can tune-in and even co-host A Kathmandu Christmas for your organization. Click here for tickets in person at St. Luke’s in Miami or to stream it online.
Come see and share A Kathmandu Christmas with us on Saturday, December 28th!
For more information contact us.
So Why Co-Host this World Premiere Screening on the 28th?
We are looking forward to a delightful holiday event featuring our brothers and sisters in Kathmandu to help fund our Nepal 2020 projects - and provide a fundraising opportunity for our co-hosts.