Nearly a year after three earthquakes devastated Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, and surrounding areas, Tej Jirel, General Secretary of the Nepal Bible Society, has been reflecting on how Christians have coped with the tragedy.
“I was in the middle of preaching at a church on April 25 when the first earthquake hit,” recalls Mr Jirel. “I stopped preaching, held onto the pulpit and prayed for the earthquake to stop. Some people dropped to their knees in prayer, and others stood to call out to God.
Shaking really violently
“That first quake went on for a while. The pulpit fell over and hit the Communion table. The pillars in the church were shaking really violently. As soon as it was over we evacuated the whole congregation and made sure everyone was standing safely away from the building.”
The congregation joined hundreds of people who had come out onto the streets. Some were weeping as aftershocks continued. Mr Jirel and other church leaders reassured people as best they could.
“I felt that, in the midst of all this, we should honour God by going ahead with taking Holy Communion, as we had intended. Between aftershocks, some of us went into the church to bring out the Communion table. So there, outside the church and beside the river, we took Communion in remembrance of what our Lord did for us.”
Powerful and memorable moment
For those present it was a powerful and memorable moment, and typifies the reaction of many Christians to the tragedy caused by the earthquake. Scores of churches were damaged or destroyed in the earthquake, and there were around 500 Christians among the 9,000 people who died. Those who survived have remained strong in their faith, according to Mr Jirel and his team, who have travelled to many of the affected districts.
“Church services in all the affected districts resumed almost immediately, despite the fact that they had nothing to shelter under,” comments Mr Jirel. “A lot of them still haven’t yet been completely rebuilt, due to lack of funds, and services are held with no roof, using tarpaulins or roofing sheets to protect worshippers from the sun or rain.
“But people are holding onto their faith. I remember one elderly man I met, Padam Bahadur Bhujel, who had been buried alive, along with other worshippers, when their church building collapsed on them. They were all eventually rescued. Mr Bhujel told me he’d remained calm because he had complete faith that God would save them. He said, ‘If you have great faith in God, He will do great things for you.’ I felt very inspired by that.
“It was quite a shock to see that church reduced to rubble, along with the rest of the village. We’d run two programs there a few years back, one for leaders and another for youth and career development, and I remembered how nice the church building had been. When we visited after the earthquake we found the pastor and his family living in the middle of a field, with no proper food to eat.”
Having witnessed the urgent humanitarian needs of people in the various affected districts, the Bible Society began working to bring them the items they most needed. Over the past year, they have helped provide roofing, tarpaulins and other materials to hundreds of families who lost their homes, most of them non-Christians.
“We as a Bible Society are seen as a neutral platform, and we had excellent co-operation with all sorts of different churches, parachurch organisations and government officials,” notes Mr Jirel.
Much of this material was delivered to people living in remote areas that are hard to access, with Bible Society staff and volunteers walking up mountainsides with the materials on their backs, or transporting it across rivers on small rafts.
“So many people were thankful for the help we brought, because they hadn’t received any other relief materials like this,” says Mr Jirel. “I remember one widow in particular, who thanked us with tears in her eyes. We told them we were Christians. We pray that one day all these people will come to know and accept Christ.”
In addition to offering practical help to everyone who needs it, the Bible Society has also been helping Christians to replace the Scriptures that they lost in the earthquake. Many hundreds of Bibles, Children’s Bibles and Scripture booklets have been distributed to churches and individual Christians.
“We didn’t want Christians to be without their Scriptures as they came to terms with what had happened,” says Mr Jirel. “They greatly appreciated the Bibles and other materials we brought them, which helped them to hold onto hope in the midst of their grief and struggles.
“Without God there is no hope, and we continue to pray for the many people in Nepal who still don’t know Him. Please join us in praying that many good things will come out of this disaster, and that many more people will come to know the true God and Creator.”