If you’re relatively new to Faith Bible Church, you may wonder why there’s a “Nepali Service” marked on our calendar for every Saturday evening.
To make quite a long story short, this community began with ethnically Nepali people who had previously lived and farmed in Bhutan. After being forced back to Nepal, they lived for as long as two decades in refugee camps there before being resettled in Spokane and many other places.
The first Nepali refugee families arrived at Faith in 2006 from connections made through Dan and Pam Ubaldo’s local outreach to international students. As more and more families arrived, the church became a place for Nepali Christians – along with many Hindus and Buddhists – to gather as a community.
Faith sought to respond to their arrival with meaningful gospel outreach and Bible teaching for them. Buses were sent to bring Nepalis to church, and eventually a service in their language was set for Saturday evenings because many have jobs working Sunday mornings.
Pastor Bimal Rai has been leading the Nepali congregation several years. He came to Spokane from the refugee camp in 2009. Though he was already a believer, he had no inclination to go into dedicated ministry at the time. But with repeated requests from Faith leaders for Bimal to lead music, to translate their sermons into Nepali, and eventually to preach himself, God led him to a place where he felt like he had no other choice.
“Someone like me who didn’t even want to read the Bible regularly, God put me in a place where I had to. … I praise the Lord now for how I ended up being in a position where I translated.”
During the recession that began in 2008, many Nepali refugees struggled to get jobs and moved frequently to find work. When Bimal felt like he had to move as well, Faith offered him support and paid for vocational training so he could secure a job and continue to minister with the Nepali believers here.
That was how Bimal ended up being discipled by older believers from Faith. He remembers meeting regularly with Dave Seim and Jim Moore, who had a profound influence.
“After meeting with him, my perspective about God and the church – ministry, I think – changed. … When he was going through the attributes of God, I thought, ‘Wow, the God that I believed, I didn’t even know how great [He is].’”
Bimal is happy to see the Nepali congregation, which now consists of about 20 families, growing in studying the Bible. In the Nepali churches he has seen, people come to weekly services but don’t read or discuss the Bible at any other time.
“Telling them [to read the Bible] is not enough for our culture. I need to teach them how to interact, how to read the text.”
“We don’t have a reading culture,” he says. The act of reading, studying and meditating on any book or text doesn’t come as naturally as it does to Americans, for whom it’s a big part of the education system. But as Bimal observed the small-group Bible studies at Faith, he saw the value of meditating on God’s Word in helping people grow. He knew that skill needed to be developed in his congregation.
“I realized telling them [to read the Bible] is not enough for our culture. I need to teach them how to interact, how to read the text. What are the things you should look for when you’re reading the text?”
The shutdowns of 2020 contributed to making that happen. As their congregation began to meet on Zoom, Bimal figured, “Well, we’ve got a lot of time, why don’t we learn how to interact and talk and just study? That’s how we ended up doing this Bible study.” He gave out passages of Scripture to read and study to guide their interactions. They still have a men’s and a women’s group that gather midweek on Zoom to talk about an assigned Bible book or passage.
And he's seeing growth in people who apply themselves to study the Bible. For some of the men, the change is evident in their families, in how they interact with their wives and children and seek to follow God’s Word rather than male-dominant cultural traditions. For others, it’s in resolving not to marry unbelievers.
The church is also teaching God’s Word to its fast-growing number of children and urging families to discuss the Scripture together at home using their memory verses. “I see families growing that way, and the kids are growing in a different way. I’m thankful.”
With more Nepali men maturing in faith and God’s Word, Bimal and the Faith elders are working on a transition in which the Nepali church is becoming officially its own church. Bimal was formally ordained in 2019, and he is meeting with about eight men to train them as elders to provide oversight and help Bimal in preaching. The church will continue to meet at Faith, with Faith supporting Bimal as an outreach partner.
Bimal hopes that growth in the Nepali leadership will free him up to increase his outreach to other Nepali churches around the world, helping others also grow in studying and applying the Bible.
Nepali culture in general is community-minded; nearly everything is done all together. For example, Bimal explains, when someone dies, the bereaved family will have everybody else in the community in their house for days or weeks following the death. People support each other by being together.
So one of the greatest challenges for the Nepali church is the cultural and generational divide between older people and the youth who are growing up with a more individualized American education and mindset. Bimal’s wife Rachel, an American, has been instrumental for him – and the rest of the church – to understand the differences and bridge them, but they can still be difficult.
For example, as older Nepalis look at how older Americans often go to live in retirement communities and care homes, they fear that they will be sent away instead of being cared for at home by their families as is the tradition. “What if they do that to us?” they ask Bimal. “What do we do?”
He points them to the comfort of Christ, rather than culture. That’s where it helps to be studying the Scriptures. “Ephesians says bring it to the Lord. Philippians says that. Just bring it to the Lord. He knows. He’ll take care of you.”
Bimal says Faith’s outreach across cultural lines still excites deep gratitude in their church. People from the church have made a huge impact by giving rides, helping with needs, and showing hospitality. “How people love them, how people welcome them, helps them to rethink, ‘What is church? What is actually Christianity?’
“I’m so thankful for how Faith helped us and is still helping. … The love of Christ was pretty clear.”