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THE NEPALI DIASPORA – 1. A brief bit of History Not so long ago, I was asked by a former INF Director not to use the word Diaspora because not everyone would understand its meaning. I hope that is no longer true, but just in case, a literal translation from the Greek would give „through – seeds / scattered‟. Originally it applied to the dispersion of the Jews after the Babylonian captivity (exile) and later, since the apostolic age, to Jews living outside Palestine / Israel. Nowadays the term is also used for any similar dispersion or migration of other peoples. We are probably all familiar with the Chinese Diaspora and have also heard about NRIs.1 One of their characteristics has generally been to preserve their original culture wherever they go. The Filipino Diaspora, and particularly the Christians, have taken a different view, and used their scattering for spreading the seeds of the Gospel.2 In fact, it was Filipinos who helped the Nepalis get started in Doha, Qatar and now the Nepali fellowship is the biggest. David Stevens has gone on record as saying that INF involvement in the Nepali Diaspora is going back to our roots – and he‟s so right! INF began as NEB (Nepali Evangelistic Band). Its members were expatriates, Indians from NE India (mostly Kalimpong, Darjeeling & Sikkim) who were ethnic Nepalis (or Lepchas3), and Nepalis who had migrated to India for work. In the 1930s and 40s NEB worked on the border of Nepal in Nautanwa (in the winter) and in Shillong (in the summer) and by this strategy they reached many Nepalis, especially soldiers migrating back and forth across the border and those who had moved to India for employment. Dr Deependra‟s father was one of these early migrant workers in Shillong, Assam (now Meghalaya) – and that‟s where he accepted the Lord. When Nepal opened up in 1952, half of NEB moved into Pokhara and the other half stayed in Shillong, working with the Nepali pastor there, developing the Nepali Christian fellowship. This man‟s son is now Pastor of the church and he was Ps. Prabhat Thapa present at the recent Nepali Global Missions Summit in Pattaya. Since 1952, the Lord has done amazing things for the Church in Nepal. It is one of the most rapidly growing churches in the world, increasing from zero to approximately 7,00,000 in 60 years. Today there are >3,000 congregations and Christians number around 2% of the total population of Nepal. Before 1990, there was virtually no facility for Bible Training inside Nepal: now, in the Kathmandu valley alone there are more than 60 centres (from short trainings to 3 year college courses). Cindy Perry produced a selective biographical history of the early days but no later comprehensive story is yet written.4 Cindy also studied the Nepali Diaspora for her PhD and her book is a fascinating historical study – but in terms of useful current reference about the Diaspora, it is now hopelessly out of date,5 although she has written other more recent articles.6 In the early 1990s, when Cindy was doing her research, the Nepali Diaspora was much smaller. Now people speak of it as the ‘third half of Nepal’. Apart from the Nepalis and Lepchas who were born and lived in Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Sikkim, early migrants were principally the Gurkha soldiers and their families, who spread out into NE India and Burma (and later, Thailand). There were also (seasonal) migrants to India. It is only since the mid 1990s, however, that the Diaspora has exploded, with huge numbers of migrant workers going to Malaysia and „Arab‟ Gulf Countries, the main reasons being both economic and political. Increasing numbers are also studying overseas in the West and nowadays in Australia. And a second wave of Gurkha migration to the UK is taking place as British Gurkhas

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Non-Resident Indians. Pantoja, Luis Jr, Tira, Sadiri Joy B & Wan, Enoch (eds) (2004) Scattered: The Filipino Global Presence, Manila: Lifechange Publishing Inc. (This used to be in Steve‟s office) 3 Lepchas are closely related to Nepalis. Karthaks and Rongongs are Lepcha families. 4 Perry, Cindy (1990, 1993 2nd edition) A Biographical History of the Church in Nepal; Kathmandu: Nepal Church History Project (Originally her Wheaton Graduate School MA thesis, 1989) (Available in INF) 5 Perry, Cindy L (1997) Nepali Around the World; Kathmandu, EKTA Books (Available in INF) 6 Perry, Cindy “The Nepali Diaspora and the Gospel” Dharma Deepika (July-Dec 2001) 35-44 ( I have a copy) 2


are now permitted to settle there. There are around 30 countries – apart from Nepal – in which there are significant numbers of Nepalis living today.7 The growth of Nepali churches in several parts of the Diaspora has been spectacular. Eg. There are more than 60 fellowships in Malaysia, and around 1,000 Nepalis attend fellowships in Qatar. It is well known that people uprooted from their cultural background are more receptive to change, including accepting the Gospel. Nevertheless, it does seem that this is God‟s time for the Nepali people in Diaspora. “Himalayan Peoples – Missionary Peoples!” This was the theme of the Pattaya Conference but had been used much earlier.8 In fact, between 1994 and 2009 there have been a series of Himalayan Conferences on Evangelism (HIMCoE), mostly held in NE India or Nepal, but one was in S. Korea and the last in Thailand. There has been a progression from evangelism of Nepalis in Nepal by Nepalis, to evangelism of Nepalis in the Diaspora by Nepalis, and now to Mission by Nepalis throughout the Diaspora. 10 years ago, Alma Hagen (2006:175) witnessed, “…hundreds of Nepali believers, all keen to share the good news of Jesus… No longer were the Nepalis to be a mission-receiving people but ministering, sending people.” At a Missions Conference (Oct 2005) in Shillong young people committed themselves to cross-cultural mission in NE India. Nepalis are gradually incorporating the concept of „tent-making‟ which the Filipino diaspora has been using profitably for some time. However, with the long hours and shift work required in places like Malaysia, part-time ministry alongside work is far from easy. There are at least two Nepali organisations sending cross-cultural Nepali missionaries throughout Nepal and the Diaspora – Missions Commission of Nepal (NCFN-linked) and Nepal Mission Society (Nepal Gospel Outreach Centre), and several individual churches and Para-church organisations are also sending tentmakerevangelists to Malaysia and „Arab‟. In Kathmandu there is a guest-house called Mitra Niwas that welcomes Nepali migrants passing through Kathmandu on their way to and from the Diaspora, especially new believers returning home. INF has several people involved in Diaspora work: Cindy Perry did the pioneering and is now working with DAI Associates, Dot Evans has been with CAF, based in Thailand, and Heike Priebe is studying in Kuala Lumpur and spending her spare time in Nepali ministry, and Val Inchley has visited several countries in the Middle East and SE Asia to teach Bible Yatra and encourage Nepali Pastors. Joyce Odell has also visited Nepali girls in Doha. Alois von Flue is based in Delhi and encouraging churches into holistic mission. INF/N has been involved with migrants from the Mid West and Bruce O‟Neill coordinated Diaspora work for a time. And HIMServe (Anne Herr, Marie Schimpf, Siegild Rapur and their Indian colleagues) have been working in NE India for many years. If you would like to read a one of my MA Assignments “Globalization, Migration and Mission in the Nepali Context” I would be happy to send you an email copy. Finally, there are three quotes that I would like to leave with you to ponder… “We are living in an unprecedented age of mobility and migration.”9 “Christianity is a migratory religion…”10 “Diaspora… [is] God‟s strategic tool to achieve His Mission.”11 Val Inchley (Apr/May 2009) 7

Australia, Bahrain, Bhutan, Burma, Canada, China, Germany, India, Israel, Iraq, Japan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Oman, Qatar, Singapore, S. Korea, Thailand, 5 of the 7 UAEs, UK, USA 8 Hagen, Alma (2006) Then Nepal‟s Door Opened; USA: Zondervan Publishing House p.175 9 Jung Connections 2005 Vol 4 No 3. 10 Hanciles in Pantoja et al 2004:117 11 Jung – Connections 2005 Vol. 4 No. 3.


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