Deep in the mountains of central Asia, a small village clings to a rocky slope, dwarfed by the 18,000-foot peak nearby. At first glance, there is nothing remarkable about this particular town. The houses are humble wood and stone dwellings, with Buddhist flags fluttering from their roofs. Shrines dot the area, adorned with countless more flags, each bearing a written prayer.
But one house is different: it is missing a flag. After bumping along twisty mountain roads for eight hours, we know we have reached our destination.
“Welcome! Welcome!” exclaims Yonten*, as he ushers us into his cheerful home. “We have been waiting for you!”
A Passion for the Truth
Yonten is a gospel worker and the speaker for AWRs Tibetan programs. Since his baptism in 2006, he has bravely survived as a Christian in this border town, striving to share the message of God’s love in both Nepal and Tibet.
We have come here not only to encourage him, but also to fulfill one of his deepest desires: to baptize his wife, Jamyang*. Together, we carefully make our way over the boulders beside a deep river, and Jamyang and Pastor Kumar Adhikari slip into the rushing current. The water is freezing, but the day is incredibly joyful for these isolated young believers.
In the beginning, he had to run away from his village and go underground.
Back in their home, about a dozen visitors crowd into the living room and turn it into a place of worship on this special Sabbath. Several of the visitors are former Sunday-keeping Christians, who have walked more than four hours to reach Yonten’s house.
They were led by 82-year-old Choden* and his family. Choden has a good knowledge of the Bible and is very interested in seeking the truth. His journey through the steep mountain terrain in search of that truth is highly commendable, and we discover that he tries to make the journey every Sabbath, along with his wife, daughter, and grandchild. After worshipping, the family make the long trip back to their home. Those of us who live in cities feel that we should think twice before making excuses to miss church.
Tibet is still a forbidden place for public evangelism, but Yonten is passionate about sharing the gospel. From his home on the Nepalese side of the border, he travels frequently to visit relatives in Tibet, about a day’s journey away. He cannot preach openly there, but he speaks privately with friends and family about Jesus. He also shares Christian stories and teachings through DVDs – again, only in private settings.
A few years ago, I had the privilege of printing the Book of Proverbs in the Tibetan language. Yonten says this has been widely circulated. As the radio speaker for AWR, he has been receiving isolated responses from his listeners. Yet he has a burden to spread the news of salvation even further. Although it may be hazardous, he is willing to venture out, supported by our prayers and brotherly encouragement.
The nucleus of believers now meeting in Yonten’s home is a flickering light that will grow as more people are exposed to God’s love for them.
In the beginning, when Yonten first accepted Christ, he had to run away from his village and go underground. Although Buddha forbade killing, the villagers wanted to kill Yonten in order to protect their religion. In those days, he had a hard time surviving.
Today, he has secured the friendship of the villagers, and the community accepts him and allows him to live as a Christian. During our visit, there did not seem to be any tension, and he freely interacted with his neighbors. Of course, open preaching is still not acceptable, but having a meeting in his house did not appear to raise objections.
Relationships have improved to the point where Yonten is hopeful that the Christian presence he has brought to the village and his corner of Tibet can become more visible, and he is full of ideas.
He has already been made a youth leader for his community. In this role, it would be appropriate to share Adventist health programs with the villagers. Liquor is part of the culture, and older people cannot function without it, but young people are receptive to changing their lifestyle habits.
The community hall accommodates more than a hundred people, and would be an ideal location for health lectures. Adventists could come as “health messengers,” Yonten says, and through their example could share the gospel message without making people feel threatened.
Education is another significant need, particularly for the Tibetan children living on the Nepalese side of the border. They need better schooling, as well as care and love. Even the children of some of Yonten’s relatives and friends would benefit from a proper education program.
Hopes for Growth
Despite its apparent remoteness, Yonten’s town is slowly becoming built up. Since it lies on a commercial and mountain-trekking route, visitors are becoming more frequent in the area … after they pass through numerous checkpoints. Yonten envisions the day when a church could be built. For now, the cost of land is very high, due to the village’s location near the border. But Yonten is smart, active, and living the gospel commission.
“Tibet has always been on the top of our priority list of countries we wanted to reach with the gospel message,” says AWR president Dowell Chow. “Even though it is a small step, the nucleus of believers now meeting in Yonten’s home is a flickering light that will grow as more people are exposed to God’s love for them.”
There are a few countries in the world where God’s message has not gone, and Tibet is one of them. The famous book by Allan Maberly, God Spoke Tibetan, outlines the story of how the Bible was translated into the Tibetan language and presented to the Dalai Lama. Its saga still rings in the minds of those who have read it. Today, through AWR and people like Yonten, we are seeing the evidence of God speaking Tibetan. What we are going to do with it is our challenge.
“Adventist World Radio is uniquely poised to reach into the homes and the hearts of the Tibetan people, through our daily radio programs prepared and voiced by one of their very own,” Chow says. “With the baptism of his wife, Jamyang, Yonten’s work is doubly blessed as they both continue to share the love of Jesus with their neighbors and friends. Please keep these dear people in your prayers!”
by Bhaju Ram Shrestha
* Names have been changed.