In 2008, Larry R.*, a MINTS professor and president of the Global Institute for Ethical Leadership, received a call from Greg Hauenstein, the president of MINTS International Seminary. “How would you like to go to Nepal?” he asked.
That was the beginning of MINTS’ involvement in Nepal. Through Boca Raton Community Church and Rev. Bill Mitchell, Sonam, the leader of Elim Ministries in Kathmandu, heard a presentation about MINTS and came to Miami for training in how to start a study center. Initially Sonam sought to organize a class to train Nepali businessmen in ethics from a Christian perspective. Larry R.’s work in the area of business ethics was a perfect match, and 2008 was a perfect time to consider entering Nepal to teach it.
Nepal has a long and rocky relationship with Christianity. In the 1600s, before modern Nepal was even a country, Christian missionaries from Europe arrived to proclaim the gospel and plant churches. Christian mission work continued for more than one hundred years. However, things changed in 1769. That’s when Prithvi Narayan Shah united the three kingdoms of the Kathmandu Valley to form the modern country of Nepal. He also expelled Christian missionaries and their Christian converts. From then until 1950, Christian missionaries were not allowed to enter the country.
After 1950, missionaries were allowed back in, but they were not allowed to proselytize, which made it illegal to speak with Nepali citizens with the aim of converting them to Christianity. Missionaries were forced to focus on development and relief work.
In 2008, things changed again. Nepal ousted its monarchy and renamed itself the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, declaring itself a democracy and a secular state. Nepali Christians now have a greater level of freedom to speak about their faith. However, Hinduism remains the dominant religion in Nepal, with Christianity comprising less than 2 percent of the population. Christians are no longer being expelled from Nepal, but they are clearly a minority and are often treated as such.
Despite Nepal’s bias against Christianity, God has seen fit to raise up members of His body there. Numerous churches exist in Nepal, and many of them are Presbyterian or Reformed. The Presbyterian Church of Nepal includes eighteen congregations in the Kathmandu area. Other Reformed or Presbyterian denominations include the Christian Reformed Church of Nepal, the Reformed Church of Nepal, and the Presbyterian Free Church Council.
Sonam is involved with numerous Christian ministries in the country. He is the pastor of Elim Worship Center, a church in Kathmandu. His wife, Rita, runs Elim Christian School, which educates approximately three hundred children. He is also on several committees and Christian networking groups within Nepal. With the help of Larry R., Sonam also established the MINTS study center. “Above all,” he says, “my main passion is to help equip and reproduce Christian pastors and leaders by teaching and training for the edification of the body of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
In April 2015, the center Sonam developed with Larry R. expanded to become Elim Seminary Nepal, a study center for training Nepali pastors. Julian Z., the MINTS International English coordinator, flew to Nepal to formally develop the center and to teach the first theology class, a study of covenant theology. Sonam had hoped for fifteen students to attend the inaugural class, but when the doors opened thirty-two students from twenty-six different churches walked in. The class met from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. for four consecutive nights. Students now have readings and assignments to complete, which Sonam will oversee.
While in Nepal, Julian Z. also taught the same course on covenant theology at Nepal Ebenezer Bible College and the Evangelical Presbyterian Theological Seminary. These two schools in Katmandu have strong Presbyterian roots, stemming from the past labors of early Scottish Presbyterian missionaries. Plans are in the works for MINTS to continue offering classes in these two schools.
Although the growth of these ministries is exciting, the challenges for Nepal continue. Most recently, physical challenges have arisen. On Saturday, April 25, 2015, at 11:25 a.m., a magnitude 7.9 earthquake struck Nepal. The date and time are significant because, in Nepal, Christians celebrate corporate worship on Saturdays, with Sunday to Friday comprising the work week, according to the Hindu Nepali calendar. Church services usually begin between 10:00 or 11:00 a.m. and continue to 1:00 p.m. When the earthquake hit, most churches were gathered for worship.
In Sonam’s home church, the earthquake hit during the offering, just before the sermon. The congregation evacuated the building and prayed in the open field. Thankfully, the building was spared, and the congregation was uninjured. However, not all churches were spared. Sonam knows of one church where the pastor and the sixty-member congregation died when the building where they were worshiping collapsed.
Because of ongoing earthquakes, people are hesitant to enter any buildings that may have survived the first earthquake. Sonam’s home church has now begun a ministry to provide relief to those affected by the earthquakes.
Elim Christian School had one building condemned as a result of the earthquakes. Classes have been suspended until the school and the families that support it have recovered. Classes have also been suspended at Elim Seminary Nepal. However, plans are already in the works to restart the classes soon. In July, a URC missionary with ties to MINTS plans fly to Nepal to teach another course there.
*Some last names have been removed due to the sensitive nature of the work in Nepal.
Norlan De Groot is the English Communications Coordinator for MINTS International Seminary. He is an elder at Redeemer United Reformed Church in Orange City, IA.