Saturday, 12 November 2011

Learning from Nepali Baptists

What are we learning from NBCC?

Since our engagement with PMC (Partnership for Missional Church), ‘what are we learning’ has become a favourite question for some of us in WEBA? What, especially, has staggered me is how little we asked the question before as it is so simple, but helpful, in nurturing the habit of reflection and embodying the results (or at least offering the potential).

So, what are we learning from the Nepal Baptist Church Council (NBCC)?

1.    We’re too quick sometimes to insert the disclaimer: ‘this is such a different culture, we’re in such a different place’. All true mission is cross cultural, unless we live somewhere other than where the UK was (in people’s minds, more than reality), if you believe post Constantine Christianity is something to return to, it is, therefore, essential we do the work necessary to ask the question both ways. We don't assume what we have learned in our context is relevant to others & neither do we assume what seems to be a great idea here, is something we must take on board back home. However, I’ve heard far more reasons why what God is doing elsewhere is not relevant for us than seeing practice influenced and enriched.

2.    Discussion about doctrine and theology is an essential contributor to building foundations. One of our group commented ‘we don't do this anymore’. So, at a time, when a growing number of people (not just Neil Brighton and me, I’m heartened to say!) are questioning what are we doing and why, we must ensure the conversation is rooted. The Nepali’s are allowing the Bible to question them and their practice in a way the western church (not merely a UK, or Baptist, issue) seldom does. We question God, not the other way round.

3.    Intentionality, rooted in purpose, is a more likely way of hitting the target than doing nothing. I didn't catch the figures, but the gist of it is, next year, the Nepal Baptist Church Council are looking to God:

-         To increase the number of baptisms significantly (from already significant number) to 500.
-         To see 1000 people come to Christ.
-         Start 4 new Churches, but declare 20 new ‘preaching points’ (house church?).
-    To build more church buildings.
-    To plant more churches (20 people as ‘members’ before they can be considered).
-    To establish more groups in fellowship.

Currently, they have 124 Churches, 16000 members (WEBA has similar number of churches, but only 6600 members!) , 32 supported Ministers (we have three times that number).

Back home, whenever I talk about looking to intentionally reach people and help them find Jesus, I’m met with, what feels like, a barrage of excuses and reasons why it just doesn’t happen like that. I fully appreciate we are in a very different place culturally, but when in local ministry, we simply planned a baptismal service once a quarter, at least, and it happened. It’s not the whole story, but next week I hope to visit William Carey’s grave: ‘expect great things from God, attempt great things for God’.

4.      When you love Jesus you don’t waste time arguing over the social/evangelistic divide we specialise in. Our BMS missionaries are still not allowed to come here on a visa other than for something, which makes a valuable contribution to the society of one of the poorest nations on earth. When persecuted and oppressed, as well as now in freer times, social projects and numerical growth have gone hand in hand. We visited Greenpastures Hospital, met Leprosy patients, heard about their award winning spinal injury treatment work and also heard how ‘every month several people turn to God’. We’ve also been swapping stories of our churches where people are finding faith – the commonality is significant community engagement. The thing is, here they had learned how to love people in Jesus’ name without talking, because it was not allowed. It’s a better training ground than a theological College.

5.    ‘Jesus is Lord’ is still the primary reason we are Baptist Christians. There was no denomination here in Nepal until very recently – this is only the seventh congress. Prior to this Christians, supported by various mission agencies from around the world just got on with telling people about Jesus, gathering them together to worship and shape discipleship and not worrying about structures. As in China, one of the ‘benefits’ of an oppressive regime is you don't concentrate upon structures. Of the present 150, or so, member Churches of the NBCC, only about half identified themselves as ‘Baptists’ beforehand. They’ve recognised the benefit of associating with like-minded others, but few of them, even among the other 50%, were planted intentionally to become ‘Baptist’ Churches. One cannot but help see the contrast with our way of being in the UK. It seems our structures are set up to vet people, before we allow them in, rather than facilitate the centripetal movement of the mission of God. When we talk in WEBA about how we can orientate towards a focus upon counting those who go out of the doors as disciples, more than the ‘footfall’ (interestingly a retail term) of those who come through the building, people break out in a hot sweat. Nepal has a long way to go, but we have that much in common.

I’m sure there’s more, but I hope the plane’s arriving soon!

1 comment:

duffett said...

Brilliant! I love these goals... I have 2 light project friends who have just been in Nepal sharing the good news of Jesus, trekking for days and days to reach places that have yet to have a long term christian witness. it humbles me that they would do this, give up their lives for such a purpose...