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:
Almost five years in the making, Piles of Bricks (Revisited) documents Nepal’s rebuilding efforts from late 2015 to present.
A proper premiere is not possible under current conditions, but we surely can stream it instead - as planned – today, Saturday April 25th 2020 at 8 PM from Kathmandu (10:15 AM in NYC) when producer Amit Nepali will stream it directly from Jubal Studio in Lalitpur.
At just under an hour and 30 minutes the film is still finalizing cuts, reviewing captions, and adding titles and voiceovers. But virus or not we were determined to get this film out for the people of Nepal on the quakes’ 5th anniversary - and so we are.
Be part of this and share with your friends. It may prove a gracious diversion as we keep our distance, wash our hands, and pull together with others worldwide, especially those still very much struggling in Nepal. They have come through so much – and are dealing with the Coronavirus like the rest of us - indoors. Something we all have in common it appears.
To join the event, which includes and introduction an Q&A with the producers please go to our event page where we broadcast the film via Facebook Live at 8 PM Kathmandu time. To go to the Event Page click here.
Additionally, we are making replays of the screening available through the rest of April as a remembrance and celebration of all those that have suffered and continue to persevere in Nepal.
Please go to PilesOfBricks.com for more.
Part of our four-part blog series Piles of Bricks’ Priests: The Hindu, the Anglican, and the Ex-Shaman in which we talk about the film through the eyes of the priests in the film in their non-clerical roles - as survivors of the 2015 Nepal Earthquake. We are looking forward to introducing Pastor Lilam and his inspiring story in our upcoming Piles of Bricks (Revisited) being streamed for the first time on Saturday, April 25th from Lalitpur at 6 PM, and again that evening at 8 PM NYC time.
The Ex-Shaman - Ps. Lilam Bahadur Rana Magar, Gorkha. Perhaps the most intriguing for folks that have grown up in American Christendom is the example of Pastor Lilam in Gorkha, ground zero of the 2015 'quakes. He is a former shaman/witchdoctor who converted to Christianity when his spells no longer worked, once upon a time.
By Steve Richards
We first meet up with the Pastor in our mini-documentary Piles of Bricks – Villages shot in 2015 when we treked to Gorkha, the epicenter of the earthquake. Using a combination of vans, 4WD vehicles, and leg power, we survey damage in his village ranging from cracks to cave-ins.
The film, shot in the midst of the fuel shortage caused by the Indian blockade, we see long lines queued up for petrol, packed buses with passengers riding on the roof, and commercial trucks giving passengers a ride at no charge.
In 2015 the pastor was not expecting much from the government. By the end of the film we are pleasantly surprised that he had received his promised three Lakh (300,000 rupees, or about $3,000) from the government and was much recovered. This is not a universal story amongst the villagers we talked with including those in Lele and Harisiddhi.
Part of our four-part blog series Piles of Bricks’ Priests: The Hindu, the Anglican, and the Ex-Shaman in which we talk about the film through the eyes of the priests in the film in their non-clerical roles - as survivors of the 2015 Nepal Earthquake.
By Steve Richards
I thought long and hard about intruding upon your Easter, but I am hopeful we can add a bit of Easter spirit to what is a deep feeling of loss today for so many of us. An Easter without fellowship is unmooring. So, with all this misery (which I imagine is much closer to what the disciples felt that first Easter morning) let us see if we can brighten the load a little.
Meet Pastor Amosh Shahi, an Anglican pastor in Lalitpur, Kathmandu, Nepal.
We first met Amosh through Rev. Shyam Nepali and son Amit just six months after the quakes. We brought him to our watchers in two of the original Piles of Bricks mini-documentaries, one of which is especially poignant this morning: Sunday School on Saturdays. This is a 10-minute condensation of a three-hour (typical for Nepali Christians) service we shot in October 2015 in the same church they were gathered in that fateful Saturday in April. When the quakes hit – they were thankfully all together in their church. Saturday is the day of services in Nepal and many, including the pastors, knew their homes were trashed and would not be sleeping in their own beds that night.
Part of our four-part blog series Piles of Bricks’ Priests: The Hindu, the Anglican, and the Ex-Shaman in which we talk about the film through the eyes of the priests in the film in their non-clerical roles - as earthquake survivors. Please excuse our presumption in sending these blogs at this difficult time. We understand the situation we all find ourselves in all over the world, and hope our blog, and the approaching April 25th anniversary of the 2015 Nepal quake. might offer a bit of some welcome distraction.
By Steve Richards
Meet Susan Kapali, 9th Priest of Bhimsen Temple, Patan Durbar Square. We are looking forward to introducing him and his temple in our upcoming Piles of Bricks (Revisited) being streamed for the first time on Saturday, April 25th from Lalitpur at 6 PM, and again that evening at 8 PM NYC time.
We first met Susan through Amit Nepali and in Dec 2016 as we were back for Christmas after our initial Nepal Project in 2015. He doesn’t strike you as a priest upon first meeting – but then he was the first Hindu priest I ever met. In fact, it wasn’t until I knew him some time that I found out he comes from a very long line of Hindu priests who serve as clerics for the monument which anchors the northern end of Patan Durbar Square, a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is not available to tourists and is an active temple even as it undergoes a complete renovation. The temple was built in 1680 and is Susan’s home.
TheoEco is all about the intersection of economics and theology and rarely is there a coming together of the two as we find with Bhimsen Temple. You see Patan Durbar Sq. is the ancient center of Patan (Lalitpur), formerly a kingdom unto its own as was Kathmandu (and Bhaktapur) until they were unified by the great Gorkha King Prithvi Narayan Shah in the 18th century.
By Steve Richards
Piles of Bricks (Revisited) features a lot of priests. But in their non-clerical roles - as earthquake survivors. So, we thought we would introduce you to a few:
All these folks were brought into our orbit by Amit Nepali who also edits our films so we are assured that what we present is both appropriate and something Nepalis can be proud of.
We have never personally witnessed divisions between the religions in Hindu dominated Nepal, but at a political level it exists in profound ways. Ways that we in the west really can’t quite appreciate. Imagine being a Christian, especially one on the more evangelical end of the spectrum, and not being able to covert a newcomer to the faith. That’s what freedom of religion in Nepal means: you can practice whatever religion you want but the constitution explicitly states that you cannot convert folks from other religions. Various rationales exist for this, but they are largely political with economic undertones. It is also historical in that, until very recently, Nepal’s leaders were proud of its unique status as a Hindu Kingdom. Interestingly, the aristocracy is gone, the Maoists are in, and Hindus still rule within this new democracy.
The official Piles of Bricks (Revisited) poster is ready!
Shot from a Lele rooftop two months ago it encapsulates so much, starting with the sun breaking onto the Kathmandu Valley. We see piles of bricks, rebuilt (and rebuilding) homes, and people working – always working. It shows the progress in a picture worth at least a thousand words, but only a couple hundred today.
Instead, we’ll let the image speak for itself and invite you to see where Lele and the other villages we documented in 2015 are today by joining us for the streaming/screening event of Piles of Bricks (Revisited) on April 25th - the five year anniversary of the quakes. And to see what we found in Lele in 2015 take a look at our original Piles of Bricks mini-documentary Villages click here.
If you would like a copy of the digital poster for your very own it is available only to those that pledge $10 or more to the Piles of Bricks (Revisited) Kickstarter campaign. Click here to make a contribution to the cause and get this awesome momento, a ticket to the April 25th streaming event, and more!
April 25th is coming - virus or no virus - and one way or another the movie will be screened on the 25th from Kathmandu! For more about the screening/streaming event click here.
Please co to PilesofBricks.com for more. Thanks!
Piles of Bricks (Revisited) Premiere Screening/Streaming Event April 25th live from Kathmandu and New York City.
Let’s go viral while keeping our distance on this worldwide update/remembrance of the 2015 Nepal Earthquake - Exactly 5 years to the day.
Yes, we know both Kathmandu and NYC are currently locked down. We also know that April 25th is a month away, which is an awfully long time to stay locked down. Either way we will be streaming the film in a virtual premiere on the 5-year anniversary of the 2015 Nepal earthquake with the film’s director, producers and quake survivors online.
Piles of Bricks (Revisited) is a new documentary about the earthquake rebuilding efforts, and is scheduled for release on the Nepal megaquake’s 5-year anniversary: April 25, 2020. Five years in the making it provides an update on how things are going now five years later and tries to shed a light on the question: Where’s the $4 billion the world promised back in 2015?
To see the trailer click here.
We are committed to screening the film on April 25 as we expect worldwide publicity to mark the five-year anniversary. Unfortunately, a proper premiere is not possible under current conditions, but we surely can stream it instead - as planned - on April 25th at 6 PM from Kathmandu when producer Amit Nepali will stream it directly from Jubal Studios in Lalitpur. And if we get lucky, perhaps people can organize in small groups and watch at a socially safe distance. Same thing in NYC with a second streaming of the film at 8 PM NYC time. Both screenings will include an introduction and Q&A afterwards from the filmmakers and our brothers and sisters in the film. This is a fluid situation so please stay tuned.
The event will be available for a $5 contribution to the Piles of Bricks (Revisited) Kickstarter campaign which is raising funds for the completion and marketing of the film. Click here for our campaign and secure your ticket! There are many other reward levels so check them out and make a pledge. Or, if you would like to just buy a ticket from our website click here.
Be part of this and share with your friends. It may prove a gracious diversion as we keep our distance, wash our hands, and pull together with others worldwide, especially those still very much struggling in Nepal. They are about to be reminded as we approach April 25th about all they have come through - while bracing for the next stinker their environment throws at them – like the Coronavirus. Something we all have in common it appears.
Go to PilesOfBricks.com for more.