The author serves as a Bible teacher and missionary to Buddhist countries.
Bhutan is a small Himalayan kingdom, known as the ‘Land of the Thunder Dragon’. As merchants developed a trade route between India and Tibet through Bhutan, the influence of Buddhist practitioners from Tibet led to the spread of Buddhism and, more recently, this isolated nation has begun to open up to the rest of the world.
Bhutan has an estimated population of 780,000. Most inhabit the capital city, Thimphu, which is a hub for trade despite having no traffic lights and being an hour’s drive away from the nearest airport. This mountainous country is only connected by roads and two small airlines. Most Bhutanese people belong to the Ngalop or Sharchop ethnic groups. The Lhotshampa are primarily of Nepali origin. The official language is Dzongkha, while Lthompas and Sharchop are more commonly spoken in the south and east respectively. Vajrayana Buddhism is the state religion, 22% practise Hinduism and the remaining 3% other religions. Christians officially comprise less than 1% but their number is growing.
Gaining a Foothold
In the late 17th century Portuguese Jesuits reached Bhutan but their teachings failed to gain traction among devout Buddhists. The Jesuits started a leprosy hospital and a school, which closed in the 1990s. In 2005, we were commended and sent out from India as the first Brethren missionaries to Bhutan. We worked as teachers while learning the local language and culture, and befriending people. Christianity was officially banned and we were not allowed to preach or give out gospel literature. We secretly shared the good news when we could. In 2008 the constitution of Bhutan granted freedom of religion although many restrictions remain. After four years of labour, the Lord gave us our first new believer: a student accepted the Lord as his personal Saviour and was baptised in 2009. The first Brethren assembly was established in 2010.
The Lord helped us to plant four house churches. These first-generation believers are from Buddhist and Hindu backgrounds. As a result of their faith, they face humiliation and are deprived of many facilities in their villages. In spite of persecution and challenges, they are growing strong in the Lord. Former drug addicts, alcoholics and smugglers are now following Christ.1 In February 2021, nine more people were baptised and added to the assembly.
Providing a Home
Polygamy is common in Bhutan and as a result of this terrible practice, there are many broken families and deserted children. We started praying for these vulnerable children. Although we have had financial challenges and days when we had nothing to eat, we walk by faith. We prayed for seven years and, finally, in 2014, we took a step of faith and started an orphanage with seven children. Now, we have 17 children in our home. Pray as we seek to provide suitable facilities, proper care and education. Two of these young people, Sonam and Suman, share their stories.
‘When I was a baby, my mother left my father and married another man. Years later, my father started drinking and he too left and remarried, leaving the responsibility for raising us on my grandmother. She was very old, so my brother and I worked to help her. We had no chance to go to school. From the age of seven, I worked as a labourer or looked after cattle. I wondered why my life was like this. No parents, education, food, care or love from anyone. My friends were all studying and the other children ridiculed me. I was broken and discouraged.
‘When I was 14, a neighbour brought me to the children’s home. They took me in and admitted me into Class 1. I was the only older student among all the small children in my class. But they gave me extra teaching to help me to progress. I realised that God, who loves me, has a plan for my life. I accepted the Lord as my personal Saviour and was baptised. If I had not been brought to the hostel, I would not have become a Christian. Pray for my parents. I have no idea where my father is. One day, I saw my mother in the market. She asked, “Do you know I am your mother?” Then she just smiled and walked off. Now I am 19 years old and I am in Class 10. I thank God, I have new parents, a church family, an education, good food and accommodation. This is far better than my small hut but this is not just a hostel, it is home for me.’
I realised that God, who loves me, has a plan for my life.
‘My mother is of Indian origin and I have two younger sisters. My father worked as a cook until he fell sick and was diagnosed with cancer. My mother had to sell our small house to pay for his treatment. Despite all her efforts, my father died. Then my mother fell sick and died. We went to stay with my grandmother but she was very old and not able to feed us; many times we were starving. So, at the age of seven, I was sold and taken to work in a house and look after cattle. My sisters were also sold to work as maidservants. After three years I returned to my grandmother’s but then she died and there was no one to take care of me. My life was miserable and frustrating, and I started smoking and taking drugs.
‘In 2015 I came to the children’s home. When I realised that they were studying in English, I thought of running away. But they encouraged me and as I started developing an interest, they admitted me to the English medium school. They taught me about the love of Christ. Slowly I realised that my life is full of sin and bad habits. The Lord transformed me and gave me new life. I never feel that I am alone at the hostel; it is a home where they treat all of us as their own children. We enjoy love and care, good food, teaching and facilities, which I never had before. People from my village now respect me because I have changed. I accepted the Lord as my personal Saviour and was baptised in 2020. I am very happy. Pray for my two sisters, and for my life and studies. I want to serve the Lord.’
Training in the Word
As we are not allowed to teach the Word of God openly in public, we started a small Bible school to teach believers. Due to the expansion of the ministry, my wife quit her job as a teacher and we moved near to the India-Bhutan border to provide training and develop local leadership. We have since trained 125 students and, by the grace of God, some have accepted the Lord, been baptised and a few are in full-time ministry. The Bible school has a vital role in expanding the work among students, schools and villages.
Translation of Resources
The Bible has been translated into a few Bhutanese languages but no other good Christian literature is available. We prayerfully decided to translate the Emmaus courses into the national language. We translated three books into Dzongkha: The Bible Tells Me So, Men Who Met The Master and The Greatest Man Alive. We have been able to promote these courses in eight of Bhutan’s 20 districts. So far, 168 students have studied the Word of God and completed the first and second series.
Going Out with the Gospel
Five full-time evangelists are focusing on reaching the Bhutanese people. Among the challenges we face is a lack of religious freedom; no official church buildings or Christian graveyards are allowed. There are many broken families due to polygamy, drugs and low moral standards. Access is restricted by the mountainous terrain and a lack of proper transportation. We need more full-time local evangelists. We hope to build permanent facilities for the orphanage and Bible school, and a studio to record Bible stories, audio and video messages, and songs. Pray for Bhutan and that many will come to know the saving grace of our Lord.
- for Sonam and Suman, the ministry of the children’s home and for the provision of permanent facilities
- for the Bible school and the recording of Bible stories, messages and songs
- for religious freedom, to witness, distribute literature and to plant churches
- for the establishment of assemblies in all 20 districts of Bhutan
- for more full-time evangelists
- for the Bhutanese people to hear the gospel and be blessed.