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My Recent Trip 
to Kathmandu, Nepal

I was invited to attend and present a paper on 'Poverty in South Asia and its Challenges to Christian Missions' at the South Asia Regional Assembly of IFES from 29th Jan. to 2nd Feb. 2006 at Kathmandu. There were about 80 delegates from five different countries of South Asia, namely Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. This was first of its kind in the region and the aim was to expose the needs and challenges of the work of individual IFES movements to each other, and to fellowship, learn from each other, network and share resources for the growth and witness of the movements in the region.  

In order to fulfill this aim, the program was organized along the lines of IFES strategic priorities, such as evangelism and mission, leadership development and formation, organizational and fund development. Besides these, there were worship and Bible exposition in the morning and plenary sessions in the evening focusing on poverty, consumerism and transformation. Everyone felt that the time was well spent and the purpose of the Assembly was fully accomplished.

However, we all left the Assembly with some real concern for the region not just for evangelism and mission, but for the transformation of the society in this region through what we are doing. One of the major concerns was poverty. About one-third of the population, that is about half a billion people in this region, live in utter poverty, and another one-third live in desperate living conditions having no access to clean water or modern medicine or primary capital or sustainable jobs or work. We have also realized that 90% of this region's population is dominated by three major world religions, namely Hinduism (India & Nepal), Islam (India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) and Buddhism (Sri Lanka). It is not certain if religion has any link with the poverty of these nations. Though Christianity entered some of these nations long, long time ago and transformed millions of lower strata of the society, it still remains a minority in the region. What could be the reasons for these circumstances?

We have identified the following problems which seriously cripple the economy and thereby the living conditions of the people: First, population explosion (India, 1 billion; Pakistan 163 million, Bangladesh 144 million; Nepal 28 million, Sri Lanka 20 million); Secondly, irreconcilable and costly border disputes and cross-border illegal trade and terrorism that costs millions of dollars in terms of military budgets and loss of life; the place where India, China and Pakistan share their borders is said to be the world's largest and most militarized territorial zone on earth. Thirdly, unstable democracies and continual ethnic strife (Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka) plague the nations. Fourthly, inefficient state owned-enterprises and corrupt leadership that functions for its own survival.

It is observed that one of the most important reasons for continual poverty in this region is illiteracy (India 40%; Pakistan 52%; Bangladesh 57%; Nepal 55%). On average, only 50% of this region is literate, but this does not mean much because most of them, including our leaders, are under-educated, and un-informed about their own national resources and how they are spent, and how their own votes could make a difference for a fair government. In fact most of them spend all their time to earn just for their survival and have no time to think about national issues, much less about international issues, such as globalization, environment, and international trade that affect their economies.

So the remedies we thought were continual evangelism of the educated (IFES), raising a voice for social justice, and continual charity through micro-enterprises.

I thought I would illustrate the desperate plight of this region through my own reflection of the prevailing situation in Nepal where we held the Assembly. To begin with, two weeks before the scheduled dates of the Assembly, the King of Nepal declared a state of emergency owing to the boycott call of the Mao-rebels to the Municipal elections countrywide. It was a year ago that the King dissolved the democratic parliament as inefficient, and took over the reigns of power. We had almost cancelled the Assembly, but through a bold decision of the local student leaders we went ahead with the program in spite of 'bands' by political groups, and curfews by the government.

When I arrived in Kathmandu, the international airport, a small bungalow, nowhere near the standards of an airport, looked as though it were haunted by ghosts, and the military were posted all over with automatic weapons. With fear and trembling we the passengers walked to the arrival point, where we were asked to fill out some old fashioned cyclostyled disembarkation forms, whose print at some places was hard to decipher, which we then submitted to the lonely officers. There were no computers or scanning of our passports, nor are there customs checks. For a moment, I thought to myself, hey, I had never been through such a 'no-nonsense' entry to any country so far! Afterwards, my local friends told me that there would be no records of the form we filled out, as they all would be destined to the dustbin!

Well this was not all. My ten kilometer taxi journey from airport to a hotel took more than half an hour due to horrible roads. Every taxi and the most other vehicles on the road were the Indian Maruthi Suzukis which were already well tested on equally horrible Indian roads! The roads were dusty and un-tarred at many places with enormous rubbish all over, a common sight I suppose in South Asia! I expected Kathmandu, the capital of a nation, ideally located on a mountain valley, to be lush green surrounded by beautiful Himalayan Mountains. Alas! That was not the case because it was not the monsoon season and it was a long time since the seasonal rains stopped.

But the place we held our Assembly is a different story, a total contrast. The place is beautifully built with red bricks on the terraced mountain slopes just at the edge of the city. Well furnished rooms with a meticulous care to details of matching curtains, furniture, wardrobes, duvets and hot water bottles on the bed in the night, the like of it I have not seen even in the west! The dining table is a veritable haven for international, Chinese and even continental cuisine. Of course, it's all for a price. I was mystified at these contrasts, but it is true in South Asia.

The next day I picked up the local newspaper that reported that more than 50% of the candidates for the local elections withdrew their nominations not because they did not want to contest but because they did not know who nominated them! In one constituency, the only nominations were a truck driver and a sweeper for mayor and deputy mayor posts! It appears that the Mao-rebels threatened with death punishment for anyone contesting the elections. In fact, I am told that they control 80% of the rural life in Nepal. The following day the local newspaper reported some serious allegation over the King's extravagant African safari where he spent over a billion Nepali rupees! The editorial said that the people are willing to forgive him even now if the King is willing only repent and return the government to the people. And there were desperate calls from the public and the international leaders for the King to restore the government to the elected leaders. The irony is that in spite all these, the King celebrated the first anniversary of his rule on the next day, the 2nd of February, with many sacrifices in local temples!

Hearing all this, we were at loss to know whether to laugh or to cry. But I was reminded of God's vision to Ezekiel concerning Jerusalem in chapter 9: 3-4: 'The LORD called the man clothed in linen, who had the writing case at his side; and said to him, "Go through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of those who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it"'. We are not to be surprised at what's happening to Nepal. Such things had happened time and again to Jerusalem, Israel, the so called God's people who had the Law and the Prophets to guide and to call them back to God. But the rulers and leaders of Israel utterly violated God's Law and insulted and persecuted his Prophets, and finally rejected his Messiah. Well, that's not all. Even the Church, the New Israel, did no better. The Church time and again in its long history conformed with the world and instead of raising a voice against the unjust structures, joined the oppressive rulers and justified their rule, and forgotten its mission to the poor and the needy. While we need to pray for the nations like Nepal, we need even more to pray for the Church worldwide that it would remain faithful to its God-given mission.  

Dr Augustine Pagolu

CHAPEL NOTES

Rev Ng Seng Chuan on February 22, 2006  

 

Chapel today was a service of hymns, prayers and readings commemorating St Matthias' Day, which some churches observe on the 24th of February.  Matthias is, of course, the apostle numbered among the Twelve, and chosen to replace Judas Iscariot.  His election raises profound questions for faith and discipleship.

  1. Did Jesus make a mistake in enlisting a "traitor," i.e., Judas Iscariot?  If the presence of Jesus Christ for three whole years did nothing for Judas' sanctity, what hope would Matthias have?

  2. Did the church make a mistake with its "replacement therapy"?  Do we elect leaders simply to "fill up the ranks" - installing nondescript characters like Matthias who, in the words of a commentator, "...is never heard of again" (NBC: 1071)?

  3. Is decision-making using a chance device, i.e., casting lots, an acceptable or responsible act of Christian discipleship?  Do we not still use the element of "chance" for determining God's will for our lives?

  4. In any case, there was no genuine democratic process in this EGM with a quorum of 120 (Acts 1:15).  The Exco (11 apostles) came up with a couple of short-listed candidates.  Such "fail-proof" methods are still being used today in both church or society.  It's an efficient way of doing things.  Is it the best?  Might they have waited till the winds of the Spirit blew through the congregation?

  5. Some Bible teachers argue that the church was too hasty in its co-option of Matthias, and that God's choice was Paul, or perhaps Barnabas.  Are they serious?  Choose as apostle from the only two missionaries who fought publicly with one another (Acts 15:39,40)?

Hard questions these. There are more unanswered and unanswerable questions in Scripture than we dare raise.  What does that have to say to the practical wisdom we so pretentiously exhibit in the conduct of the affairs of the churches entrusted to our care?

The service ended with the singing of "For All the Saints" - a reminder that we still have yet our battles to face.

Chapel speaker on 8 March will be Dr Philip Satterthwaite.

NEWS BITS

Intensive Courses to be conducted in March 2006

@       Spirituality for Christian Formation (CE263, 1.5 credits). Lecturer: Mr John Chong Ser Choon. Dates: Mar 7, 14, 21, 28; Time: 7.15-10.15pm.

@       Counselling Skills: Working with Children (CO235, 1.5 credits). Lecturer: Mrs Christabel Hong Seok Ai. Dates: Mar 23, 30, Apr 6, 13; Time: 7.15-10.15pm.

Visit our website for course descriptions. For registration, call 62276815 or email bgst@pacific.net.sg

A BLESSED BIRTHDAY TO....

Mr Wilfred Leow  6/3

Mr Caleb Low  6/3

Mr Oliver Chia  6/3

Mr Liew Cheng San  7/3

Ms Grace Tan  7/3

Rev Yoon Jeong Yong  8/3

Mr Benedict Cheng  8/3

Mr Winston Chong  8/3

Ms Loh Hong Hong  9/3

Mr Ng Kai Seng  9/3

Mr Christopher Loh  9/3

Mr Neo Eng Chye  9/3

Prof Lim Kian Guan  10/3

Ms Yap Foon Lyn  10/3

Mr Daniel Liu  10/3

Ms Eunice Ong  10/3

Dr Timothy Ng  11/3

Ms Eulian Lee 12/3

 

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This page was updated on 2 Mar 2006. 
  2006