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South Asia Highlands May 2017

Undisclosed Location April 28 - May 7, 2017

Training Leaders International is working with a partner ministry to train pastors in a sensitive location. These pastors will be equipped with TLI's non-formal curriculum in order to train other pastors in their district. Course: Galatians

Follow along as teachers in the field offer their experiences as they share theological training with local church leaders.

May  9th,  2017Final Reflections from the Highlands

  Teaching in Nepal    Acts 17:22, “So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious.”

  The heart’s yearning to know and experience God confronted our senses in the city of Kathmandu: from the pervasive smell of incense to the bindi [red dot] on the forehead of Nepalese women, to the many bronze statues of humanity and gods, to the celebratory parade of priests and people on the city streets. Like Paul, our hearts were provoked within us at the idolatrous spectacle.

      In the midst of this religious people the word of Christ is penetrating to the division of soul and spirit. Hungry hearts—especially among the lower castes—are finding grace and peace with God through faith in Jesus Christ. An NPR report in early 2016 quoted a Nepali church leader, Pokharel, that "Before, when the Christians had a party, they slaughtered a chicken. Now, they slaughter a goat.” The growing church needs more meat to feed its people.

      I felt it was a great privilege for myself and our TLI team to serve a group of nineteen Nepali pastors and church leaders who have experienced God’s grace and call to service. They came from Kathmandu and surrounding environs, some traveling as long as eight hours by bus. They came with minds and hearts quickened by the Spirit to understand the gospel of grace from Paul’s letter to the Galatians. They came not just to know the truth but to be equipped to discover the truth for themselves from the riches of God’s word.

      Long hours of preparations and travel were rewarded. On day two of the training we pondered together from Galatians three our sonship in Christ through faith. This truth resonated deeply in hearts that were previously oppressed by Hinduism’s impersonal and distant God. The glory of Christ filled the room, transposing Biblical truth into worship and praise for new found freedom in his mercy and grace.

      Pray for these pastors and leaders that they would faithfully fulfill their calling. Their training was previously interrupted by the Gorkha earthquake of 2015. They are now back on track and pressing forward to complete their course with another team later this year. The Nepali church needs trained pastors who can open to Bible books like Galatians and help their people understand and remain faithful to God’s gospel.  

Tracy Singleton

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May  6th,  2017The Gospel in the Highlands

KathmanduThe more of the world I see, the more I am assured that God’s image bearers are more alike than most can even imagine. Too often we only see the language, cultural, and political barriers, but if we dare to slow down and pay attention, we begin to see the shared rhythms of life. 

Over the last week I was honored to be part of a team who took that time in Nepal. Time to spend with fellow pastors who want to better serve their churches by being faithful to the Word.Men who love Jesus in a country wrought with the darkness of false gods at every turn. But isn’t that the truth in every country? 

You see, that’s what brings us together on this mission of sharing the Good News of Jesus. Each day we would begin with worship and prayer, then spend hours pouring over Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia. Their passion for sharing the gospel was tempered and honed with the study of God’s Word. The doctrine of justification by faith alone was clarified and became a second breath as they long to further share the security of grace in their churches. 

This city is a bustling flow of some of the kindest and most endearing people on the planet. This fact propels these pastors to contend for them in every aspect of life. They live with their church each and every day, and want nothing but the reality of Jesus’s love to reign in their lives. These amazing Himalayan shepherds will forever be an inspiration to me. 

Mike Berry

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May  3rd,  2017Jesus as Temple in Hindu cultures

Looking out over the many temples.

It takes about 2 days of travel for our teachers to reach Nepal. Many of the trainees here travel for 8 or more hours for the training. For that reason, what is usually a 5 day training is condensed into a 3.5 day training. That means our teachers here need to walk through the book of Galatians in about 2.5 days so that there can be enough time on Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning for the students to preach expository messages from this book of the Bible. We’re not just here to teach the important theological content of Galatians like the role of the Law or justification by faith alone, but we want to train these ministers of the Word to preach the Word.

With the condensed schedule there’s a not-so-subtle feeling of stress as we attempt to faithfully communicate the message of Galatians and interact with the students. Oh, for an extra day or two!

Mike and Tracy each have between 8 and 10 students in their classes and over the first two days have enjoyed getting to know these men and see them interact with the book of Galatians. Yesterday, I (Josh) skipped out so I could attend another meeting. You can read a full account of Suraj’s story by clicking here. It’s a pretty amazing story. Suraj’s dream is to start a seminary in his hometown of Bakhtapur, part of the bustling Kathmandu metropolis. He’s exploring a partnership with TLI and since I was in town, we found some time to meet.

We walked through the center of the city, surrounded by Hindu and Buddhist temples, and dodging motorcycles. As we drank Cokes on the roof of a café, we watched a processional proceed beneath us as part of the festival Bu?ga Dya? J?tr?. A cart with a 60 foot tower constructed on it was slowly making its way through the city, celebrating a time when Avalokites'vara, the god of compassion visited the city ending a devastating drought. As throngs of festival-goers gather their energy for another pull, the crowd encourages them as a priest stands on the cart directing those pulling the giant cart. Inside the cart is a miniature statue of the god that’s been removed from its temple for a tour of the city.

The ancient Israelites had their ceremonies and rituals to honor God. Sacrifices at the temple, feasts, and obedience to the Mosaic Law were how God was present with his people. But in Jesus something radically changed. To the Jewish people, Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). Two verses later, we’re told that “he was speaking about the temple of his body” (2:21).

Earlier in John’s gospel we read, “And the Word [Jesus] became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (1:14). So rather than us going to the temple and performing various rituals to merit the favor of God, God took on flesh and came to rescue his people. Jesus is the temple where we meet with God.

Nepali society is built around a caste system. At the top are the Brahmin, the priests, and at the bottom are the Dalit, the “untouchables”. In Nepal, Dalit make up 10-20% of the population and are barred from various acts of Hindu worship. Specifically, they’re not allowed to enter temples.

Enter the gospel. The Good News of Christianity says that the death and resurrection of Jesus means temple rituals are no longer necessary. Jesus is the true temple where God is present with his people and rather than calling us to journey to him, he came to us. No one is excluded from Christ. All that is required is faith in Jesus.

Nepal is experiencing a rapid growth of the church and much of it started with the conversion of the Dalit. While excluded from the Hindu temples of their hometown, they are welcomed into the Christian church. Rich and poor take the Lord’s Supper together, united to Christ and to each other. Some early estimates of the Nepali church say that 80% of the church is made up of Dalit. It makes sense, doesn’t it?

Nepali Hinduism says, "You’re not worthy. Stay out of the temple."

The Christian Gospel says, "You’re made in the image of God. Christ, your temple, has made you right with God. Join all who believe in being united to him."

The idea of Jesus as our temple has particular—and glorious—relevance here in Nepal, where so many have been kept out of participation in worship.

We’ve got a day and a half of teaching left here and I’m currently listening to Tracy teach Galatians 3. The students are asking a multitude of questions on the mode and methods of baptism. They’re good, practical questions, but Tracy is trying to move things back to the centrality of the gospel that Paul is so intent on communicating in his letter to the Galatian church. Faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection alone makes us right with God.

I’ve never doubted the relevance and beauty of the gospel. Seeing it’s particular impact within a culture so foreign to me has been an amazing experience.

Josh Montague

Tracy teachingTracy Singleton Teaching

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Apr  30th,  2017Galatians

There’s a wealth of international travel experience among our team of three. Tracy lived in Zambia for nearly a decade. Mike’s been to Central America and Uganda. Josh has been with TLI for three years and has about fifteen trips under his belt. None of us, however, have been to South Asia before.

So as we touched down in Indira Gandhi International Airport after a long flight to Paris and another long flight to Delhi (not to mention short flights from Denver and Chicago to Minneapolis for Mike and Tracy), everything was new.

We spent the night in a comfortable airport hotel in Delhi, met our host, Vijay, in the morning, and then boarded for a short flight to Nepal, where we bounced onto the runway, and soon after checked off a new country on our travel lists.

Urban poverty and congestion look similar whether you’re in Nepal, Africa, SE Asia, or Central America. The busyness of street life here was no surprise. Small shop owners displayed their fruits and vegetables. Motorcycles and taxis weaved in and out of congested traffic, seeking to deliver their passengers and pick up the next fare. School children in their uniforms walk on the sides of the streets. Dogs roam about looking for a fight or a meal. Steel rebar extends out of half-finished concrete homes and businesses. There’s a rhythm to a city like this and as you drive from the airport to hotel, you quickly become part of it.

Between the three team members, we’ve taught in Muslim-majority contexts, in secular contexts in the US and Europe, in areas of Africa where the church faces false teaching and syncretism, and in Asian, American, and African contexts where radical Pentecostalism subtly shifts the focus of the faith from the gospel of Jesus Christ to the accrual of prosperity and “blessings”. While we were familiar with those contexts, a Hindu-majority context was new for us. This is unfamiliar—and surprising—territory. From where I sit and drink my Starbucks Via coffee this morning, I can quickly count a dozen statues of various Hindu gods. Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva are here alongside multiple others I can’t identify. Their representations are strange fusions of power, eroticism, violence, and happiness.

In two hours, we’ll gather with 25-30 church leaders and begin teaching the book of Galatians. For three and a half days we’ll soak in Paul’s stern letter telling the Galatian church that “a person is not justified by works of the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 3:16)

In a context where millions of false gods demand faithfulness and service, we’ll lift up the free gospel of Jesus Christ and call these dear servants of Christ that because “Christ has set us free”, we must “stand firm therefore, and … not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (5:1)

While Galatians was written to those who were tempted to add ritual Judaism to the free gospel of grace, the following words of Paul seem to fit particularly well here in Nepal. Please keep us in your prayers this week as we savor wonderful truths like this from God’s Word:

“Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now … you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God…” (4:8-9) IMG_3989

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