From the Voice of Bhakti to Christian Watchdog Nepal:
The Local Church in Nepal has Lost its Prophetic Voice
By Bhojraj Bhatta
March 21, 2012
Mark Jonson started to publish the Voice of Bhakti with great enthusiasm. He may have had his apprehensions in receiving the moral support from Nepali Christian leaders for a task such as this. And, as I held the first copy of that journal in my hands in the year 2002, I had mixed feelings; I was happy to see someone out there willing to ask hard questions, but at the same time I knew his days would be numbered in Nepal. In response to his "Gauging the health of the Church", I had written that there is no individual or institution in Nepal that has the authority to Gauge the health of the church. The native pastors were busy in making money while the foreign missionaries were busy in making a name for themselves. Both of these groups had little regard for the means they were using; the end justified their means. Everything that was unethical or immoral was swept under the carpet of pseudo-spirituality and missions. As Johnson began to ask some of these hard questions, and even began to evaluate some of the contemporary Christian literature; the shallow spirituality was about to hit the rock bottom, but my gut feeling of his future in Nepal came true and soon he disappeared taking the Voice of Bhakti along with him
Even before, during and after the Voice of Bhakti, there were and have been publications of one kind or another in Nepal for the Christian community, but none have come up to the place of maturity from where they can ask hard questions to Nepali Christian community and its leaders. Most of these publications are either commercial or personal propaganda of certain mission agencies or denominations making profits in the midst of a voiceless church; Nepali church has lost its voice to the power of money and "missions". These "missions" either in the form of foreign missions or the native missions have literally strangled the local church and have robbed its voice and dignity. Nearly every local church pastor, in one way or the other, has been bought with the power of foreign donations (either as a dependent on or a distributor of foreign donation). In fact, "raising the support for the local pastors and missionaries" has become the most profiting business for many of our Christian leaders who are gifted at forging alliances with the churches and mission abroad. Some of these leaders have made a fortune for themselves through these deceptive methods and are living in lies and immorality; continue to upgrade their marketability even by purchasing duplicate degree certificates from Indian agents. Exaggerations and false reporting goes unabated in their newsletters dispatched to the donors. But no one is willing to bring such issues into the public square of discussion for two reasons; first, the foolishness of hypocrisy and second, the fear of losing money (support as they call it). The foolishness of hypocrisy is that we should not expose our dirt before the non-Christian society. There is this false sense of secrecy as if the non-Christian world does not know about our dirty games. I come from a remote part of Nepal (Doti, Jorayal) and my family is yet to come to the knowledge of God in Christ Jesus. Several years ago, after 20 years into Christian ministry, I met one of my paternal uncles for the first time in 17 years. After the greetings and the pleasantry, the first thing he asked was "why are you still a poor man? I see you have no means of transportation and living in rent, what have you been doing? Look at Mr. Om, Som, and Nom (not their real names), they were nobodies before becoming Christian, but within a few years of taking this religion, they have become very rich with cars to drive and have built beautiful houses…." Our talks went on for a while. I tried to bring some sense into my beloved uncle, but he won't accept. In fact he was so disappointed to see my condition and till today, though he lives in Bhaktapur, he has never returned to my home because he thinks that I am not a smart man to make money out of my religion while others seem to be cashing in. This story repeats all over again with any other members of my family that I come in touch with and when they really know me, they never come back, and I understand their disgust with me because if there is no God in one's life, then money is the measure of one's worth, and if you don't have it, you are not worth having relationship with. My non-Christian family, though they come from one of the remotest places in Nepal, can bring me so many Christian names that have made fortune after becoming Christian, but the Christians continue to live in denial and hypocrisy. Some of the para-church organizations that train young Nepalis to enter the ministry actually teach fundraising techniques to their new recruits. One particular organization gives to these new recruits the officially authorized letters for them to raise money for their needs. But the sad reality of human greed is that the needs are never met fully so they continue to ask donation from anyone and everyone they come in touch with. These recruits start from the scratch and continue asking no matter how much money and property they have accumulated. But the Christians think that the non-Christian Nepalis don't know about it. The non-Christian Nepalis are well aware of how Christian leaders have been making money but we, the Christians, foolishly think that such topics should not be discussed into Public Square because the non-Christians will come to know our weaknesses. We need to come to our senses and realize that our sins are open to all and there is nothing to hide…it's like the Nepali proverb "hagnelai bhanda dekhnelai laaz". Christian leaders still think with the old mentality of the non-digital age where their sins were hidden in the security of their secret newsletters and private report; where distance and time were their hiding place from the glaring eyes of their people. But the age of technology has brought all of us in such a close proximity where distance and time do not exist and the lies and the deceptions of our leaders have come out into the public square for all to see. But even though we have seen the lies and the immoralities of our leaders, the Christian community is still reluctant to talk about them and thus it has made itself a willing partner in the sins of its leaders. This is when the second reason gives us some clues as why we are not willing to face the truth.
The more convincing reason as why we don't want to bring such issues into public square is the fear of losing money (support). Since every pastor and Christian leader is dependent on foreign donations (receiver or distributor), no one wants to put the neck in the noose. Either directly or through the local agents, most of our churches, missions, organizations, ministries, orphanages, bible schools, training centers, and so on are connected with the foreign money (much of it is based on deception and exaggerations) and exposing the sins of their leaders will automatically end their life line. This strangulation of the voice of the church goes even deeper than just the leaders; most of the influential church members are given job opportunities, children's education and some social benefits so that their voice is owned by the leaders. Every dissenting voice can be silenced by the power of money and this method has been very successful in robbing the Nepali local church of its prophetic voice. Through fear or by coercion, the prophetic voice of the local church in Nepal has been silenced and as a result, our Christian leaders continue to prosper financially while the innocent Christians continue to be robbed off of their spiritual and material blessings. In order to sooth their piercing conscience, these corrupt leaders look to the numerical growth of their churches, ministries, orphanages and bible schools and convince themselves that God must be truly blessing them because something seems to be growing. In a tattered economy, money has the power to grow anything and when the power of money comes to an end, the situation may not be the same forever. They may not even imagine that the day will come when the the local church members will have to rise up to demand accountability and bring them to public humiliation should they fail to live up to biblical standard of a Christian leader.
The time has come for the local church to realize its place in the kingdom of God and demand its leaders to live with biblical standard. The Christian leaders and "missions" should return the prophetic voice to the local church; it's long over due in Nepal. The local church members should look to their immediate pastor who is over them as their spiritual leader; not to some "directors" or "bishops" or "superintendents" of missions or denominations (while they have their own values). It is the local pastor that is responsible to rise up the body of Christ that is spotless and holy in the sight of God. It is the responsibility of a local pastor to see that his/her sheep are well fed spiritually and socially within the given context where they live. Just as it is the local pastor who is to fulfill God-given responsibility over the pastorate he/she is placed in, so is also the local church to look after the needs of its pastor. The local church must take care of the pastor's financial and material needs with the best of their ability. They should leave no excuse for the local pastor to hunt for extra support because the moment a local church pastor hunts for extra support; he or she will be tempted to tell lies, exaggerate and impress the donors; even compromise the denominational and doctrinal integrity of the local church. Once the pastor tastes the power of external support, the local church's sacrifice to support him/her may mean nothing to him/her and soon, the local pastor becomes a charlatan not a shepherd; he/she will be more loyal to the one who gives him money than to the local church. If the local church cannot hire a full time pastor, the members (elders) should shoulder the responsibility of leading that congregation until the opportune time comes to support a full time pastor. Until and unless the local church members learn to take their place in Christ seriously, we will not hear the prophetic voice in our Christian society and the corrupt leaders will continue to rule over us. But when the local church members realize their place in the body of Christ, and with sincerity and humility begin to fulfill their God-given calling will we hear its powerful voice once again. A local church pastor should be a man/woman of God who is worthy to be respected, worthy to be supported with substance, worthy to be followed as a moral and spiritual guide; for that to happen, he/she will have to live an honest and transparent life before his/her congregation. The local church pastor should be given the freedom to speak as the Holy Spirit leads him/her, and the members should stand with him/her in fulfilling the purpose God has placed in their congregation.
The rise of social networking sites like facebook has provided another platform where every ordinary Nepali Christian can express his or her voice in a wider context. One such facebook account; Christian Watchdog Nepal has created a name for itself not because it has done something great, but because it has provided a place for the concerned Nepali Christians to ask hard questions about their leaders. The questions of their integrity in relation to their speech (reports of their mission work), life-style (money and marriage) and even education (buying doctoral degrees) have been posted there and a few brave ones have even attempted to express their opinions. But by and large, the 1039 (as of March 21, 2012) members appear to be confused when it comes to expressing their opinion; they have taken the "wait and see" approach. If the speed in which this page became popular has to tell something, then it is possible that we are looking at the tip of the iceberg. Who knows, if our leaders continue to fool the local Christians, the day might come when these leaders will be chassed out of their pulpits. Who knows the days of the local church to rise up to take up the prophetic mantle might be around the corner!