The following stories and resources are some of the exciting
Mission Moments that are taking place throughout the Eastern District, LCMS.
These stories of God at work through the people and congregations of New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. The people and congregations involved in these stories covet your prayer and support!
Summer 2016 Nepali-Bhutanese update from Pittsburgh
From Pastor Bob McCandless.
On Sunday August 7, I was pleased to attend the local
Nepali-Bhutanese VBS graduation service here in the South Hills. This is the third year now, in which my friend Binay has invited me. And as this was the fifth time I’ve attended one of their worship services, I am beginning to understand their culture and worship enough, to start asking (hopefully!) intelligent questions!
EVERY worship service has a liturgy to it, even if it is not written down, or known as such by those in worship. As Lutherans, we know that we are shaped BY worship (the five great pillars of the divine service), even as we have shaped worship by prayer, preaching (the contemporary part of worship) and hymnody from various cultural contexts. This is Day 1 material of Introduction to Worship Practicum at the seminary. But understanding someone else’s liturgy can take time – particularly when it’s not written down in a hymnal or bulletin, and is in a different language.
Even though I don’t speak Nepali yet, I am catching repeated phrases in their songs/hymns, recognizing certain songs and phrases repeated from service to service, and where they occur in the service. The antiphonal call and response of “Hallelujah! – Hallelujah!” between the preacher/liturgist and the congregation is a prominent part of their liturgy. How gladdened is the heart, to hear our Nepali-Bhutanese friends share this Easter morning-style greeting always in their worship, and personal interactions!
With the exception of Binay’s preaching (he shifts back and forth between Nepali and English), all the songs, scripture readings, and congregational responses, are in Nepali. And after reading the new Concordia Journal, and Pastors Seying & Okubo’s articles in particular, I have begun to formulate some questions for Binay, to help me better understand not only their worship, but also the role their culture plays in their liturgy;
Given that the Nepali-Bhutanese people are eager to learn English and become Americans, do they see a Christian identity in America as a way to preserve their language (and culture), or do they anticipate worshipping entirely in English, in another generation or two?
If they eventually move to an all-English worship service, what are their thoughts about the effect that will have, on their current traditional cultural worship forms?
Are the cultural elements of their worship (particularly of this graduation program, the singing, dancing, and other presentations by their youth this year – a new element from previous years) Hindu in origin? If so, has Christianity “rescued” these forms from their Hindu origins, and ‘re-purposed’ them for a Christian context? Does this, in any way, cause confusion among the very young (born and raised in America) or the very old (who spent most of their life and experience in Bhutan), and how are both groups adjusting to that?
Now that I’ve seen their worship, and these cultural elements through it, I’m curious as to how THEY perceive them, and where they think the future is heading in their faith and worship. I look forward to the next time I can sit down with Binay, and talk about these things – to get a better sense of where they are in the shifting sands of culture – both their own, & the new prevailing culture around them – and what they see this leading to.
“VBS” is a bit of a misnomer, vis-à-vis our Lutheran experience of VBS. Because it’s older youth involved (high school aged, and possibly a little older), and because it’s done as a three week long, on-site experience (youth participants this year came from OH, MI, TN and TX, as well as PA), it serves also as a time of catechesis, albeit a much simpler form than Luther’s Small Catechism. As noted, the graduates’ role in the service was greatly expanded this year, which led to these new cultural observations, and the genesis of my questions.
They are still deeply immersed in American evangelicalism, informed by televangelism, Pentecostalism, and probably some other “-isms” that are foreign to Lutherans. For as I noted with their frequent use of “Hallelujah’s” in worship, we do share together the joy of Easter morning always – as all Christians have for almost 2,000 years now. But as Lutherans, we live in dialectical tension between the joy of Easter morning, and the solemn observance of Good Friday, for we CANNOT have one, without the other; the very heart of the theology of the cross. I rejoice with Binay and our Nepali-Bhutanese Christian friends, that Christ is risen – He is risen INDEED – Hallelujah! And this we can legitimately celebrate ANY time during the year… but what I want to better understand is, “Where is Good Friday in your worship, & in a Nepali-Bhutanese Christian’s understanding of the faith?” I hope this question, sparks a rich discussion to follow.
My ten year old daughter Katie accompanied me this year; I decided she was ready for the cross-cultural experience as well. We had a serious talk on the drive over, about how she might see and hear and smell and experience things she NEVER had before, but that we were going to be their guests, and everything would be fine. Having been twice before, I thought she could handle the experience (even though I’d forgotten that Binay’s services are always advertised as two hours long, yet they always run THREE hours instead!). Their guest evangelist – whose name I failed to catch – was a rather loud Samoan gentleman, whose exegesis of 2Kgs.22 and Joel 2 left much to be desired. The “loud” element stood out to Katie more than the exegesis however, such that it scared her. Otherwise, she learned quite a bit that day – which we discussed over McDonald’s afterward (she starts Catechism I this fall). I could not convince her to stay for the roast goat stew afterward (I had some last year, & was rather looking forward to it again), so I had to settle for McNuggets. She did end up helping out in the nursery, once the exhortations got too loud, so she even found a way to participate that day in a way that neither of us had anticipated!
In other news, particularly cultural, a recent article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, has reminded me to be more specific, in how I note and address our Nepali-Bhutanese friends. Specifically, by NOT forgetting the “Bhutanese” part of the equation. A local Nepalese professor at Robert Morris University recently detailed his relief work in Nepal, following last year’s devastating earthquake - http://www.post-gazette.com/local/city/2016/08/14/Nepalese-folk-concert-meant-to-raise-awareness/stories/201608140086. In the article, he states that he “…estimates Pittsburgh’s Nepalese population to be about 100 to 150, with many still having family in the country.”
One of my good members here at Concordia pointed this out and said, “I thought YOU said there were 9,000 of them here!” And indeed, there ARE 9,000+ Nepali-Bhutanese refugees here… but it points out an interesting cultural observation, between the Nepalese of Nepal, and the Nepali peoples who spent the last 100+ years in Bhutan as sharecroppers (essentially); that even though they lived as a separate people within Bhutan – maintaining their Nepalese heritage, language, culture, and Hindu religion (the Bhutanese are Buddhists), when the Communists stirred up ethnic tensions in Bhutan in the mid-1990’s, the Nepali farmers became people without a country. They were too poor to return to Nepal (the reason they’d become sharecroppers in Bhutan – they had no land or homes in Nepal after 100 years to return TO), and the Nepalese in Nepal look down at these separated cousins, as, ‘less than’ Nepalese!
And as Binay has been quick to point out to me in our interactions, he NEVER leaves off that “Bhutanese” element of their background, when he talks about them here in the South Hills. So as to avoid any more cultural faux pas than I’ve probably already made, I am more careful to distinguish the Nepali-Bhutanese folk around us, from the Nepalese of Nepal. Because, for better or for worse, they clearly make that distinction themselves.
When you are immersed in another culture, you learn fairly quickly – especially the younger generations – the language, customs, quirks, and eccentricities of those around you. We at Concordia are endeavoring to better understand our Nepali-Bhutanese friends as well. This summer has given us much to consider, and I pray, some new points of conversation – to better move forward – in our mission work here in Pittsburgh.
+ In Christ name +
Pr. Bob McCanless
got some free advertising inside the book covers (and on the back of the DVD cases) as well (SEE PIC#2).