“Light in a Land of Mystery,” Liahona, July 2003, 36
To most of the world, Nepal is a land of mystery. On a map, it can be hard to find, wedged as it is between Chinese Tibet and India. Nepal is a land of kindness, beauty, and vibrant colors. It is the land of Sagarmatha, as Mount Everest is commonly called.
It is a land of Hinduism and Buddhism and a land where everything that is worshiped—rocks, trees, stone statues with many arms—has been smudged with red powder and worn down by ceaseless rubbing. Rubbing powder on such objects is a form of respect, and by rubbing the powder the Nepali people are praying to the god represented by the rock or tree. The Nepali greeting, namaste, means, “I bow to the god within you.”
Below the ridges of terraced rice paddies, in the middle of the crowded capital city of Kathmandu, is a small branch of the Church. In a country where missionaries are not allowed to teach, this branch of 50 active members is thriving. Much of its success is due to the young people who have become pioneers for the Church and Christianity in Nepal.
How have they been so successful, averaging 12 baptisms a year, when there are no full-time missionaries to spread the gospel? Once converted, Nepali people can teach each other, and these young people have not been afraid to speak about their new faith.
If you ask 13-year-old Manita Maharjan about the Church, she will happily tell you her story in beautiful English. As a seven-year-old, she lived near two friends, sisters Usha and Sabita Thapa, who had joined the Church. They brought her to church regularly, and Manita says she was always happy there. “I got such love from the branch members as a little girl,” she says. “As I grew up, I learned to play the piano, lead music, and share my talents. I learned to pray and study the gospel. I thank Usha and Sabita for bringing me into this happy world.” Manita has become the top student in her class at school, and she regularly brings her school friends to church.
This same love soon brought another young lady to the gospel. Monika Gurung, now 14, also came under the wings of the Thapa sisters. Her family was already Christian, but she says she felt such pleasure when she joined the Church. “Here everybody loves me, and I love them too,” she says. “I am still the only member in my family, but I bring my little brothers with me every Sabbath day.” (In Nepal, the Sabbath is on Saturday.)
Monika is also one of the top students in her school class. She was permitted to give a talk in school about the Church and the Book of Mormon. This is unusual in the schools, but Monika was allowed to make her presentation because she is such a fine student.
To demonstrate their love for their culture, Monika and Manita both perform Nepali folk dances in native costumes with professional grace and ability.
The day after the baptism of Veswengal Gharti Chhetri (known as G. C.), a political group in Nepal called a bund (strike). This meant that no vehicles were allowed on the roads. But G. C., who lives a great distance from where the branch meets, knew people were counting on him to be at church to be confirmed. He walked 2 1/2 hours one way on roads that, empty of the crushing traffic, were now crowded with people and wandering animals.
He first learned of the Church at the school where he teaches when he overheard a young Latter-day Saint teacher discussing the gospel with the school’s principal. He quickly approached Ramesh Shrestha and began asking questions. Now, age 21 and a member of the Church for only a few months, he has been called as Young Men president. G. C. says, “The Church was something more than I expected.” He loves the concepts of eternal marriage, agency, the Word of Wisdom, and the plan of salvation. G. C.’s talents are the warmth of his personality and his great love of people, which make him a natural for his second calling as a branch missionary. When asked why he likes to teach the gospel, he says, “It is not good to have something so delicious and not share it.”
Love seems to be the central key for the growth of the branch in Kathmandu.
Like the rugged Himalaya mountains in the north, which are geologically young and constantly being changed by nature, these young people’s lives are being changed by the gospel. Sixteen-year-old Suman Shilpakar says the Church has made a wonderful difference in his life. He no longer feels shy and uncertain. He knows the scriptures have the answers to all his questions about life.
Preeti Khadgi says that she has become more kindhearted and she enjoys talking to people more since she became a member of the Church. Preeti is one of the few whose entire family joined the Church, starting with her father, who was the first Nepali to be baptized in Nepal and is now the branch president.
Before joining the Church, Preeti’s mother had a dream in which she found a way “to make all of her children good children.” The Khadgis feel the Church is fulfilling that dream. Preeti’s brother, Pratik, is now serving in the India Bangalore Mission.
In Nepal, students must pass 10th-grade exams to continue in school. Failing the exams ends their education. “One of my teachers,” Preeti says, “wanted me to come on the Sabbath to a study session for the exam. I explained that I could not; I had to go to church.”
“Is that necessary?” he asked.
“Yes,” Preeti answered. “I have a teaching responsibility.” She later passed her “iron gate,” her name for these rigorous tests. “I prayed that whatever I had learned, Heavenly Father would help me remember,” she says.
For Nepali families, drinking tea with milk first thing in the morning is an ingrained tradition. In every home and every tiny shop along every narrow street, small stoves brew tea. To begin to follow the Word of Wisdom has been difficult for many of these young converts.
When Deepak Shrestha’s older brother, who was the first missionary to serve from Nepal, told him the Church was the greatest thing in the world, Deepak was interested. Then his brother challenged him to live the Word of Wisdom. Deepak quickly felt the wisdom of this advice because “it affects the future.” The result of that decision has been the start of Deepak’s strong and continually growing testimony of the gospel.
Seventeen-year-old Bikki Sahi has recently been baptized. And like many of the other Latter-day Saint youth here, he is the only member in his family. He feels strongly that he has “chosen the right way.” Bikki has a new but beautiful testimony to share. “When I first came to the Church, I felt peace in my heart,” he says. “I also felt that my tensions and sadness were driven away. The brothers and sisters showed me their love and taught me about Jesus Christ and the Book of Mormon. When I obeyed the commandments, it helped me improve my habits, and I felt good. I know that Jesus is the Christ and that the Book of Mormon is true.”
The only thing these youth lament is not having the Book of Mormon in the Nepali language. For those who do not speak English well, it is difficult to study the gospel. They must accept on faith alone and learn what they can in class. Even for those who are quite fluent in English, it is a struggle.
Though they lack a Nepali Book of Mormon, these youth fill their lives with school, Church, and cultural activities. They sing, perform Nepali dances, and play the piano. They go bowling and rock climbing and have tried golf and tae-bo exercises. They do service projects and enjoy their friends both in and out of the Church. They face life with enthusiasm.
In the midst of the incredible mountains and valleys of Nepal, a clear voice is sounding. It is young, vibrant, and full of faith. These teens are pioneers in the truest sense of the word. They are leading the gospel forward in their native land. These young converts will continue to love their people into the gospel until that day comes when this country opens its welcoming doors to the missionaries.