By the Rev. Lewis Lew
The episcopal visit by the Bishop Rennis Ponniah and the Archbishop Foley Beach (ACNA) to Nepal was meant to be a straight forward one, but the Lord in His humour decided to add in some excitement for the team. It began with a 3 hour flight delay in Delhi for Bishop Rennis and his chaplain Revd Bertram Cheong, followed by another 2 hour flight delay at the Kathmandu domestic airport. As the clock ticked away, Archbishop Foley who was already in Pokhara with his chaplain, Canon Jack Lumanog quickly familiarized himself with the liturgy of our Confirmation Service, while we waited for news of Bishop Rennis’ arrival. When we learned that Bishop Rennis’ flight would not arrive on time, we decided to proceed with the service with Abp Foley presiding. Meanwhile, Bp Rennis had sent a text to Abp Foley to invite him to officiate the Confirmation Service. It was heartwarming to see how the two Bishops, even though separated by hundreds of miles, were of one mind and were so ready to serve one another.
The Confirmation Service was held in Maranatha Church, which is situated in a slump area in Pokhara City (Western Nepal). A total of 317 confirmands packed the worship hall. This was a historic moment for the Anglican Church in Nepal as these confirmands were its first batch of Anglican members from the Western part of Nepal to be confirmed. As we obey the Lord’s call for us to focus our work in the western part of the country, this group of newly confirmed members were reminded that they will be the ones sent to reach the lost, just as the Lord has commissioned us to go and make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19-20).
The second Confirmation service was held the following day in Lappa village of Dhading. Lappa consists of 3 villages with a population of 6,000 people and sits at 2650m above sea level, on the remote northern tip of Dhading, near the Manaslu ranges, not too far from the Tibetan border. One way to get to Lappa village is a four-day hike on foot. We chose the easy way by helicopter from Kathmandu. Bp Rennis and Abp Foley had the joy of confirming 219 members at a special service held in the temporary makeshift church building of Lappa Church. The original building was destroyed in the earthquake and its members are still waiting for a new building to be constructed.
At our debriefing session, Abp Foley commented that he was humbled to witness the spiritual hunger of the local believers and the powerful move of the Holy Spirit at the two Confirmation Services. His sentiment reflected everyone else’s who was on the team. Not only did we witness the spiritual hunger of the people, we could also attest to the earnest faith of the believers despite the reality of their harsh living conditions, and their need to face adversity while receiving so little help after the quake. It was amazing that despite all they have been through, Lappa Church has grown to a size of 1,300 members.
While the confirmation service was going on in Lappa Church, Canon Jack and I hiked the half-hour trail across a ridge to a remote part of the village. Here, I had the joy of baptizing 18 new believers, in freezing water, in a ‘baptism pool’ that is actually a stream from a waterfall. I was overjoyed to see the faith of the new believers, many of whom are in their late teens. They know very well that when they choose to follow Christ, they will face severe persecution from fellow villagers of other faiths. The pain from the freezing water that I had to bear for the 20 minutes pale in comparison to what these people have to suffer for their faith in Christ. My prayer for these candidates is from Philippians Chapter 1, that their faith will serve to advance the Gospel of Christ in Lappa and beyond. My only regret was that we were unable to stay longer, to wait for 15 others who were 2-3 hours’ journey away who also wanted to be baptized. Perhaps this is a good reason for me to return to Lappa soon.
We ended our day in Lappa rejoicing and filled with gladness. But while we waited for our helicopter to arrive to take us back to Kathmandu, the weather changed rapidly. Half the team, including Bp Rennis, got stranded in Lappa and had to wait for the weather to improve. We soon realized why God wanted us to stay. A line of local believers formed quickly to seek prayers from Bp Rennis. They included the elderly and babies who were sick but had not access to medical help. Their nearest health post is a 12-hour journey on foot through very difficult and dangerous terrain, manned often by staff who have little or no medical experience.
Our helicopter eventually arrived about an hour later to pick us up. It did so in the nick of time because Lappa village was engulfed by very thick fog within minutes of our departure. We had come unprepared and ill-equipped to brave the near zero temperatures of Lappa after nightfall, and were glad to be airborne and on our way back to Kathmandu.
For the next two days, Bp Rennis, Canon Steven Asirvatham and I taught at the annual ACN Leadership Training Conference from the book of 2 Timothy. About 60 of our clergymen, School of Ministry graduates, district coordinators and pastors attended the conference.
This was followed by another historic event for the Anglican Church in Nepal, where Bp Rennis consecrated the Living Hope Church building, which was fully handed-over to us from the builders in April 2016. It was a joyous and emotional occasion for the members of Living Hope Church, as they recounted the Lord’s faithfulness and blessing to their mustard-seed-faith when they set up the church under Revd Prem Tamang three years ago with just 12 members. Today, Living Hope Church has a membership of 300 and is running 2 services – in Nepali and in English.
As we wrapped up the week of ministry in Nepal, we were awed by the wind of the Spirit that is blowing in this nation. God is certainly moving in amazing ways. My prayer is for the Church in Nepal to be caught in this wind of God.
You may have guessed correctly that by this time, our Silkair flight back to Singapore was delayed and subsequently cancelled, but our spirits were not dampened even though we were physically exhausted, and had to spend an extra night in Kathmandu. This was because we were riding on a high of God’s presence with us and with the Anglican Church in Nepal.
The Rev Lewis Lew is the Dean of Nepal in the Diocese of Singapore.