Video by Thomas Haines
Outdoor Ministry as a Mission Strategy? An interview with a catalytic Nepali youthworker on “The Challenges and Opportunities of Youth Work in the Buddhist/ Hindu Religious Context of Nepal”(Hom Tamang is a Nepali youthworker and the director of Nepal Outdoor Adventure (NOA), a micro-enterprise mission project of Wilderness Ministry Institute. Listen in on a recent interview Patrick Crossland (of Center for International Youth Ministry) had with Hom about the challenges and opportunities of youth ministry in Nepal. Hom and his team of youth workers, having now been trained in basic wilderness ministry skills, take groups of kids into the Himalayas to share the Gospel with them and help them grow in their faith.)
Nepal is situated between two giant countries India to the South, East, and West and China to the North. It used to be the only official Hindu kingdom in the world, but recently it has been declared a secular state. Though Nepal has experienced partial religious freedom since 1990 and despite a recent declaration to be a secular state, the majority of the people of Nepal are still Hindu and Buddhist.
There are about 26 million people in Nepal. More than 33 percent are under the age of 18. That means there are nearly nine million young people in Nepal who do not know Jesus. The task to reach them is huge. How do we reach them?
In order to look for opportunities to reach out to Hindu/ Buddhist youth, we need to understand their needs and struggles. Also it is good to know about their view on God, life and work.
Problems and Opportunities
#1 Complexity of the religion leads people to frustration
Hinduism is a most complex religion. Many of its practices and beliefs are based on mystical ideas. The elderly, who are less educated, observe everything passed down to them. But as people became learned, they began reasoning about their religion and have not found any convincing answers to why they believe what they believe. While they do follow the customs and tradition for the sake of their family and the society, many of them have stopped believing in Hinduism. Therefore, in my opinion, many Hindu and Buddhist youth today are not practicing their faith.
They are living in a state of confusion, and are also looking for something trustworthy. I have come across a particular tribal group called Magar that once followed all Hindu cultures, but have now stopped celebrating some of the festivals such as Dashain, because this festival has some connotation of Brahmin people domineering this particular tribe. There are other tribes such as Tamang, Gurung, and Rai, which emphasize their own festivals. This shows Hindu and Buddhist youth are fed up with the complexity of the religion and they are searching for truth.
Therefore, it is the right time to discuss spirituality and the Gospel. As people become more and more exposed to outside world, their minds have broadened.
The change is taking place at a rapid rate in Nepal. There is a huge break-through in media and communication. The government allows the public to own a private computer and T.V. at home with all kinds of the sites and channels. A cellular phone, which once was rare, has now become very common among the young people in Nepal. Through this means of science and technology, the younger generation is able to get the information from the outside world instantly.
In the past, people did not easily accept the outside values and norms. They always had a negative impression of Western norms and values. As people have become informed about outside world, their mind has broadened.
I have heard Hindu and Buddhist young people say they would like to be married in a church. They have accepted Christmas as one of their festivals. They do celebrate it by eating and exchanging wishes, though they don’t understand the real meaning of Christmas. They like most of the things that Christian do. The parents want to send their kids to Christian schools because they think Christianity teaches good things. The point I am trying to make is that the minds of young people are not like that of the elderly. They are open and teachable. Though they view Christianity as a strict religion, they see Christians as people who do not partake in drinking, smoking, and fighting. They are very simple and helpful people in the society. So Christians are well accepted by the youth in Nepal. So it is the time to invest time and treasure in making disciple among the young people in Nepal.
#2 Socio-economic condition of Nepal has left youth of Nepal vulnerable
For the last 15 years, the government of Nepal did not do anything to encourage the youth. Instead, they were busy enjoying “the good life” at the expense of the poor people of the country. They stored up treasures for their family and even for their extended family while they were in the power. As a result, birth of Maoist insurgency took place that pulled down the economic of country further. The government did not create jobs as the needs of the country increased, so the unemployment rate hit 90 percent and as a result, many youth have gone abroad for work. Those who could not afford to go abroad stayed home doing nothing. They became frustrated with their lives and likewise turned to drugs and crime.
I heard a comment made by a man who said that “95 percent of the youth of Nepal are living in tension” I agree with him. Really, the youth of Nepal are living in the state of fear and hopelessness. Because most people respond to god in crisis, it is the right time to share the love of Jesus to the youth of Nepal. Now is the right time. While there are opportunities to share Christ among Nepalese youth, there are also challenges to get this task done.
#3 Challenges to making disciples
Family, society, culture have been a challenge.
Evangelizing youth actually has been fairly easy so far for us. But the process of helping them to grow in faith is very difficult. If a parent discovers that there child has become a Christian, they can be very offended. They may straight off stop their child from going to church forever.
There is a practice in Hindu culture whereby once a father or mother dies, their offspring will have to observe “Kiriya,” a showing of bereavement whereby individuals refrain from eating food and salt for 13 days with their hair shaved. Only this act of their child helps them to get to heaven. One of the greatest concerns of the Hindu parents is that they will not have any one to observe Kiriya for them after death. In some cases, when the child becomes a Christian, the parent expels them from home and in turn, they not allowed to partake in paternal property.
Another difficulty for growing youth occurs during the festival time. Nepali culture is very much related to religion and a Christian cannot do the things that have religious significance. During festival time, a young Christian may have a difficult time. Since they are too dependent on their parents, they can not oppose them, yet they can not just follow those practices blindly. We need Godly wisdom to counsel the young Christian in situations such as these.
#4 Youth are becoming more materialistic than spiritual
Generally, Nepalese people believe that having more possessions will make them happier, more important and more secure. This is the teaching of their religion and practice of their culture. So the goal of the Nepalese youth is to acquire higher education, secure a good job and make good money. The people from Brahmin tribe are especially studious and don’t have time for other things, whereas the Buddhist dreams of becoming a British or an Indian Army and making enough money for their family and themselves. Therefore, they are busy with physical exercise to keep fit and healthy.
So the youth of Nepal seem to be more attracted to material things than spiritual things and it is very difficult to get them to hear the spiritual things. This makes wilderness ministry, taking young people on adventures that stretch them can help them see their need for Christ.
#5 Lack of commitment to follow up meeting
Over the past 15 years of working in youth ministry, I have observed the youth’s commitment to learning God’s Word and found it to be very minimal. Programs like club and camp, where there is music, fun and even food, are practiced, but when comes to follow up meetings and small group meetings they have many excuses. Even in the club meetings, if they get a hint that it is a Christian program, the attendance will drop dramatically. That is what is happening in one of our clubs, we used to have 50-60 people in our club meeting. When they discovered that it is an outreach meeting, the attendance dropped to 20 to 25 people. We need to pray that they will have thirst for spiritual things.
#6 Churches are not focusing on making disciples
During the 1990′s, the Nepali church was known as one of the fastest growing churches in Asia. The first generation of leaders did a tremendous job of evangelizing. The second generation has been a little slower to take the baton of leadership and run with it. Why is that? Because the method used by first generation of leaders was one of addition rather than multiplication. Many people were brought to Christ (certainly not the young people), but few leaders were multiplied.
In most of the churches, senior leaders are not seriously thinking of preparing second-line leadership. The gap between the church youth and elders is huge. Usually, youth programs are neglected by church leaders, partly because they don’t know how to work with youth. Whatever the reason, if the leaders don’t think about preparing a second-line leadership, the church will suffer from a leadership crisis soon.
Furthermore, it is a sad fact to say that our churches are not doing anything about reaching the non-Christian youth. There are promising leaders within the church and great potential to harvest at our door-step, but we have not been able to put those resources together.
We should continue to pray that churches will see vision and train up potential leaders to reach the youth of their community.
What is the role of a local church?
* Churches should be committed to making disciples
* Churches should raise up more young leaders.
* Churches should explore new strategies and ways to reach the modern day youth.
What is my hope and dream for young people and churches in Nepal?
My dream and hope for a young people of Nepal is that every young person will have the opportunity to walk around leaders who can guide them and encourage them to walk in God’s way. And for the churches, my dream would be that the youth of the church will be actively involve in reaching out to their non-Christian friends and lead them to the light of Jesus.