Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of International Nepal Fellowship; A reflection on Missional Impact

[ 2 ] November 11, 2012 |

Janak_B.C50-60 years ago in Nepal the words “Christian,” “Bible,” “Church”was not found in the usual vocabulary. Now almost a generation has passed by and, here we all stand together with a grateful heart, remembering the legacy of our heroes of faith who endured hardships and struggles, despite the government’s opposition and hostility at that time.  They established a platform from which those who came after could follow in the tracks they had set. How marvelous is He who has saved wretches like us! This paper tries to give a brief history of International Nepal Fellowship and its impact in the country and finally tries to evaluate the strides of Mission from the early days until now.


The history goes back to1936 when Dr. Lily O’Hanlon and Hilda Steele arrived in Nautanwa for medical work, since Nepal at that time was closed to the gospel.  However, it would be unfair to overlook the legacy of Dr. Kathrerin Harbord, who had worked for many years in Nautnwa, before the arrival of Dr. Lily and Hilda.Therefore, Nautanwa can be considered as a springboard for early Nepali missionaries to prepare for a greater height. People like Philip Gurung, DaudMasih, David and Premi Mukhia (from Darjeeling), Tir Bahadur, Buddhi Sagar and Putali Gautam were the pioneers and the heroes of faith who counted “Prayer” and “Trust in the Lord” as their tools for the Missions. Tom Hale vividly writes in his book “Light Dawns in Nepal” that “It is essential to emphasize at this point that the INF story and indeed the development of the entire church in Nepal has not been the worked solely or even primarily of foreign missionaries.” The work in India continued even though it was not registered with the government. The group consisted of a team of ten expatriates and nineteen Nepali volunteers by the end of 1940. Eventually the team took up the name as ‘Nepal Evangelistic Band’ which was registered in Lucknow on the 22nd February 1943. The political scenario in the world was changing. There were two major historical events occurring during the early of 50s. Firstly, the Rana’s rule in Nepal collapsed in 1951 and, secondly Britain subsequently granted independence to India. Of course by then the World War II had just concluded. Into this perfect timing, the whole team of Dr. Lily and Hilda along with Buddhi Sagar trekked into Pokhara, Nepal on November 10, 1952.The Christian mission in Nepal was then started by Buddhi Sagar and Putali with the five Nepali members of the Band, forming the first early church (Ramghat Mandali) in Nepal. A transition took place in 1972 changing the name from Nepal Evangelical Band to International Nepal Fellowship,officially for three main reasons; 1. It reflected the increasingly international flavor of the mission, as not only from English-speaking world and Europe; but also from Asia, 2. There was a transition in the leadership of the mission and, 3. The mission was becoming more and more involved in cooperative ventures with the Nepal government.(Tom Hale, 2012)

INF arrived in Nepal at the exact moment when there was a need for somebody who could perceive needs. Fortunately, the NEB was just waiting at the door step and looking forward to seeing the doors opened.The International community invested in the development of the country as a whole. Due to the link with Buddi Sagar, Dr. Lily O’Hanlon and Hilda Steele and the team landed in Pokhara. I wish Buddhi Sagar’s home would have been further West of Nepal. However, INF did not confine its territory to the developing cities but instead ventured into the remote parts of Nepal. Recently INF is pioneering in Bajura as well. Moreover INF plans and objectives have not strayed far from those first ideals as it looks to help those who are in need as physically and spiritually both.
History tells us that when there was no organization in western Nepal, INF missionaries could see the needs of the people. Having based themselves in Pokhara, they reached out toKaski, Kapilbastu, Dang, Banke, Surkhet, Jumla, Mugu, and Bajura as well. Health, Human Development, rehabilitation and community development were some of the projects that INF has been doing in the Western and Mid-Western parts of Nepal. Therefore, we cannot forget the contribution that INF has invested in the lives of poor and marginalized people in West Nepal.
Missions were vivid and fresh then. Those young women had never searched for a comfort zone. There were no vehicles, no internet and computers, no transportation, yet people had a passion and a zeal for service and could not withhold the God’s unfailing Love. Their hearts were restless for the gospel. They were always desperate for people. I always use two key words whenever I talk about community development work, viz., People andRelationship. This is the essence of the INF organisational set-up.
I however find difficult to equatesuch things to this generation. There are two great pitfalls that I have observed among the National workers as we undertake the job cycle; starting at 10 o’clock in the morning and ending at 5 o’clock in the evening. We are more concerned with salary than with the service we provide. We are very worried about our rank or post and, give much priority to the hierarchy which is not positive at all, as far as we are concerned, for the Mission. In fact, this is not limited to INF employees only but in general with other Christian organizations, be it World Vision or United Mission to Nepal. Secondly it was due to the lack of the heart of God. I do not believe that we serve better when we are ignorant of the heart of God. And this detracts from the motives of working with INF or any other christian organization. Why do we work with INF? Is it because I would have better serving opportunity and God wants me to be there? Or is it because my career is safe and sound. This is a challenge to the national workers.
Let us look back at the history for a moment. What sustained INF? “It was prayer more than money that sustained the Band during those difficult days, and the same has been true of INF ever since.” (Tom Hale, 2012)
What can we do then? We should remember our history now when we celebrate the 60th anniversary. The International community has always had a positive concern for the Nepali churches. However it is wrong to say that Nepal’s churches were dominated by foreign missionaries, unlike India where church administration and leadership were controlled by foreign missions. Nepalese churches have had their independence from the earliest stages. Moreover, Churches of Nepal had their freedom in leadership and decision making from the time the missionaries came to Nepal after Nepal became accessible to foreign nationals. However the International community assisted and empowered in terms of the capacity development in both the secular or and spiritual.

By highlighting this, I would like to suggest to the International community to encourage the churches to engage in the community more. The fact is, that in the most of the organizational set up, more than 50-60% of the finance goes to the administration costs and only 30-40% towards the community work. I think this is neither fair to the donor agencies, nor to the target groups. I assume that this can be improved if we apply the aspect of partnership with the national churches and let the churches take the mission to the community, rather than being a separate entity or body from the community development work.

In conclusion, I marvel at looking the beginning phase of NEB and current phase of INF. NEB mission started with the Nepali migrants who were in Nautanwa and now, INF is reaching out once again to the Nepali migrants in India. INF’s India Migrant Initiative (IMI) serves among Nepali migrants in partnership with the local Nepali churches in Delhi and NW of India. I think we are also on the right track today.

Note: Janak BC works as a Senior Diaspora Assistant with International Nepal Fellowship’s IMI programme in India. The idea expressed in the paper belongs to the author himself and he is responsible solely. This has nothing to do with INF.

Republished in new layout 20-May-2013

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