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Church Chat: Nepal's Adventist Church co-founder Shrestha on reaching his fellow believers

Writing for a mostly illiterate membership; washing 'untouchable' feet

Church Chat: Nepal's Adventist Church co-founder Shrestha on reaching his fellow believers

Bhaju Ram Shrestha helped co-found the Adventist Church in Nepal. He has translated several editions of the church's Adult Bible Study Guide into Nepali, but only about 10 percent of Adventist Church members in Nepal are literate.

Bhaju Ram Shrestha was kicked out of his house nearly 40 years ago for becoming a Protestant Christian in a Hindu majority country. Despite suffering for his faith, the 57-year-old has dedicated his life to the church in his native Nepal.

Shrestha created the first known translation of the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s Adult Bible Study Guide in Nepali, a language spoken by the nearly 30 million people in the southern Asian nation. The country, he says, is enduring political strife or “AIDS”—his acronym for “acquired interrelationship deficiency syndrome.”

This week, as a new government assembly expected to abolish the country’s monarchy was sworn in, Shrestha corresponded with Adventist News Network through e-mail from his home in the capital, Kathmandu.

The witty, self-effacing assistant teacher and librarian co-founded the first Nepali Adventist church and the local branch of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency. Some excerpts have been edited for clarity.

Adventist News Network: There are some 5,400 church members in Nepal. How well do they know Christianity and the Adventist Church?

Bhaju Ram Shrestha: In some regions people are educated about doctrines and in other regions some people can only say “Jesus.” We want the believers to know where we stand in our beliefs. We find some drop out from the main church just because they don’t know what they believe. 

ANN: The church’s worldwide Bible study guide is available in 120 languages. What motivated you to put in all the work of translating into Nepali?

Shrestha: I started out just for the immediate congregation, then the lesson evolved. Currently, some lessons are also sent to Bhutan. I feel called to project the image of Jesus and the church to the best of my knowledge. As for motivation to translate, after my wife passed away, I used to lie awake a couple of hours or so before I started my day. Not having her, I felt I was wasting my precious hours just lying awake. I prayed and then experienced the impression that the Lord wanted me to use those best waking moments to translate the lesson. So in a way, I would say, God converted my tragedy and used it for His strategy.

ANN: You translated the written language for a country with a less than 50 percent literacy rate. How does one teach doctrines in that setting?

Shrestha: I admit that perhaps 90 percent [of our members] cannot read or write, yet they are the core group of believers. When I preach to them, they are the best listeners I find. Many times they thank me for the precious words that I presented from the Bible.

ANN: A few months ago you indicated the political situation could turn as bad as the recent strife in Kenya. What’s the situation now?

Shrestha: The political situation in Nepal is whole other thing. What a coincidence that you are publishing this interview at the time of Nepal being declared a republic. Yesterday, I was in the thick of a crowd when a bomb went off. I heard it but it did not effect me, except my heart pumped blood faster. Then I went outside the compound and took a photo of another bomb that the bomb squad was preparing to defuse. No one knows what is going to happen. Sometimes the security situation is very weak. I got beaten by a couple of young men recently one early evening. So far the political situation has not affected the church work, though. Though I might have painted a sorry state picture of my country, you can be sure that our life moves on as normal. We pray for the country and its leaders, and move on with God-given tasks. 

ANN: You’ve previously referred to that region of the world as a “caste and class-infected world.” What does Christianity offer such a society?

Shrestha: It’s Christianity that makes them equal. The cobbler class, tailor class and iron smith class are “untouchable” in Nepal. No person of high caste would come near them and feel himself pure. But when we go to them and wash their feet, they feel reassured in being sons and daughters of God. 

ANN: You’ve said there are some people of other religious denominations who discriminate against Adventists in Nepal. What does a new church member need to know in that country?

Shrestha: When I accepted Jesus nearly 40 years ago, there may have been total of 1,000 or so Christians in Nepal. Now there are nearly 1 million. Even so, once a person becomes a Christian, many times he is ostracized (I myself was kicked out of my house for taking baptism). He needs someone and something to hold on, to lean on and to make them feel a part of the divine family.