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Photos by Jim Nowlin


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Mission: Nepal

Trip Report: Sherpas, Buddhism, and the Way (Forward)

By Jim Doenges
Trip Leader, Climbing For Christ


Trekking into Everest Base Camp in a snowstorm. (Photo by Jim Nowlin)

On the airplane to Nepal I read a news story about the Dalai Lama. The exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader was in America giving a series of lectures as the Climbing For Christ (C4C) team was heading overseas. People were flocking to hear. The Associated Press quoted him from a speech he gave in Michigan: “I always believed since all different religious traditions have the same potential to bring inner peace, inner value… it is important to keep one’s own tradition.”

Lakpa Tshering Sherpa would not let go of my hand. With a huge smile and tears of joy he was thanking me profusely. It was nine days after I read the Dalai Lama’s words and the C4C team had hiked high up to the village of Thamo. We were in the Khumbu region – near Mount Everest – where there are no roads or other infrastructure. This is home to the Sherpa people, an area dominated by Tibetan Buddhism. With the help of an interpreter I had just shared the Good News of Jesus Christ with Lakpa, whom I had met that day. Lakpa had confessed to God that he was a sinner, accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior, and prayed to live in obedience to God. I talked to him about prayer as well as the Bible he had just received. Lakpa was excited. He explained that he had once been taken to visit a church, but everything had not been explained to him. He understood now. He believed now. There was no doubt that his conversion was real, heart-felt, and powerful. I reached into my pocket and gave him a small wooden cross that had been given to me as a gift before our mission began. He explained that he would make a necklace and hang it around his neck. My time with Lakpa Tshering Sherpa was one of many special moments during Mission: Nepal. I will never forget it.

If I adhered to the Dalai Lama’s teaching I would not have shared with Lakpa, and he would not have the love, joy, peace, and hope that he experienced for the first time. Lakpa would not have been made new, would have no relationship with the personal God, and no future in heaven. We will return to the Dalai Lama and Buddhism below.

Powered by prayer and the Great Physician

The C4C team was buoyed, girded, lifted, and powered by the many prayers from the righteous around the world. Thank you for your support! Prayer is the work of missions. Pastor Erica Zeiler, another team member, commented later that, “one of the primary ways that God used me was to constantly be praying for the team and the mission.”

The team also prayed together frequently, including:

  • For Light to shine and restoration to occur in the Sherpa villages of Gokyo and Lobuche in the Khumbu;
  • For tiny Kangri Church in the village of Lukla, and it’s young Pastor Sangi Sherpa;
  • For healing for people who attended medical clinics, and for team mates suffering from sickness or injury;
  • For the darkness to recede from the Hindu temple of Pashuputinath.

Our Great Physician hears our prayers. Shortly after I twisted an ankle above 15,000 feet, the pain I thought might last for a week suddenly vanished. People had prayed. Bodies do not generally heal well at high altitude, but some of our team had bouts of diarrhea and other maladies vanish after prayer. At 18,000 feet team member Todd Jenner had excruciating pain from a kidney stone. After being evacuated to a hospital in Katmandu via horseback and helicopter, he recovered immediately. People had prayed for him. Nothing is impossible with God.

Todd Jenner being evacuated by pony. (Photo by Jim Nowlin)

Medical clinics and sharing

It is still illegal to work openly as a missionary in Nepal. So the C4C team grew tense and quick in prayer as armed soldiers approached the field medical clinic where we were making Gospel presentations and handing out Bibles printed in the local language. It was only the second of our 16 days in the Khumbu region. What happened next typified how God answered prayers throughout the mission.

After getting wounds on their feet tended to, the soldiers were presented with the Gospel. The soldiers said yes, they wanted to receive this free gift and be reconciled to the God of all creation through Jesus Christ! With their automatic rifles by their side they prayed for this, and with smiles left the area with their new Bibles in hand.

Soldiers receiving Jesus at a medical clinic. (Photo by Jim Nowlin)

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news, the good news of peace and salvation, the news that God reigns! — Isaiah 52:7

I had changed our plans on the way to Nepal when God introduced us to an understaffed group of Americans planning to provide medical clinics in the Khumbu. The two teams first met on the airplane on the way to Nepal. God wove us together as we provided much needed medical care to over 450 people in three villages. We prayed for the sick as well, and there were some dramatic healings among those we came to serve. And 245 people received Christ and a Bible printed in Nepali. All honor and glory to God! The C4C team also distributed other books in Nepali: 20 that explained the life of Jesus, and 20 that explained the Bible.

“We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.” — Proverbs 16:9

Thank God for how He brought us together and led us. As team member Kyle Austin later reflected: “It was great to see how God was leading this trip. We were open to Him and changed our plans often.” Erica Zeiler added: “God taught me to plan hard and prepare for serving Him, but to really wait on Him, watch for where He is at work and then join Him.”

Most Christians seek to share their faith over time within the context of relationships. Rightly so. But given the opportunity, believers also need to be able to share the Gospel in three to five minutes. The basic message of the Gospel is inherently simple. We do not need to be highly trained theologians to share Christ, and be bold enough to ask for a response. All one need do is create an encounter with Jesus; that is the heart of conversion.

Our Sherpa friends

The reputation that the Sherpa people have within the mountaineering and trekking communities is well founded. They are indeed a kind, peaceful, and generous people. Every morning Pemba and Tashi waked us as they visited each of our tents to serve hot tea. Our Sherpa crew worked hard to support the C4C team: they carried loads, set up camps, cooked our meals, and looked out after us. Some carried the packs of team members who were tired or sick. Several invited us into their family homes along the trails we traveled. Just as no one climbs Everest without the direct or indirect help of Sherpa people, our trek was made possible because of the work of Sherpas who helped us. We would not have had the trip we did without them. And we let them know it as we frequently articulated our thanks.

Pemba and Tashi delivering daily tea. (Photo by Jim Nowlin)

At the start of the trek there were no Christians among our Sherpa support crew. They watched us pray and praise God. We hiked with them and laughed with them. We provided them with first aid and drinking water along the trails. Team member Dan Stewart wrote that, “we were kind to our support staff, and open to them about our faith so they could see a difference in us.” Like God, we sought to love them as they are. But also like God, we do not want to see them stay just as they are. We pray they are transformed through the love of Jesus. We rejoice that Tashi visited us in Katmandu after the trek and attended a church for the first time. We will not soon forget him, Kami, Pemba, Nawang, and our many other new friends among the Sherpa community of the Khumbu. As M. Tshering wrote in his book, Jesus in a New Age Dalai Lama World: Defending and Sharing Christ with Buddhists: “Christian missions is not an act of cultural imperialism perpetrated by fundamentalist zealots, but a practical manifestation of God’s love for the world and its peoples.”


Throughout the Khumbu we saw many ‘prayer wheels', which are large cylinders inscribed with mantras – repetitious phrases such as “hail to the jewel in the lotus flower” (referring to Buddha). Local Buddhists believe that they gain merit as these wheels turn. Some prayer wheels are handheld and streams perpetually turn some as water wheels. We saw one large wheel along a trail in the Khumbu with a sign below it written in English from a local lama:

“Please turn this prayer wheel thrice. You get rid of sin. You can obtain religion and a period of life. Please take part and use.” (Photo by Erica Zeiler)

How does turning an inanimate object pardon or remove sin? It doesn’t. In fact, Buddhism does not offer any relationship with the God of all creation. Buddhism does not even allow for any mediator or cosmic accountant to keep track of merits and demerits, or administer reincarnations. Buddhism focuses on an ‘enlightenment’ or incremental spiritual progress that is achieved through ethical conduct and reincarnation to another state of existence. The ultimate goal of Buddhism is spiritual annihilation. The longed for summit is nothingness –  where there are no more illusions (like love) and no more deaths to experience. There will also be no more truths to be learned and no more life to enjoy with the God who created you and calls you into relationship with Him.

Kami with prayer wheels. (Photo by Jim Nowlin)

The Dalai Lama is a recent recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal in the U.S., and a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. He is revered as an international symbol of peace and tolerance, and his tours in America draw large crowds. He enjoyed a famous friendship with the Catholic monk, Thomas Merton. The Dalai Lama wrote that such interactions, “have helped me develop a genuine reverence for the Christian tradition and its capacity to create people of such goodness.” Apparently he has never directly addressed the claim of Jesus to be the one true God. (More on this below.)

Despite all the evidence to the contrary, the Dalai Lama teaches that, “love and compassion predominate in the world.” Despite the sign in front of the prayer wheel described above, there is no sin in a Dalai Lama world. He has written that, “we do not need to become religious, nor do we need to believe in an ideology. All that is necessary for a happier and more successful world is for each of us to develop our good human qualities.” The Dalai Lama teaches that suffering is caused by a distorted mind, which is one that is not in tune with reality; enlightened minds result in happiness. He teaches that if you love, you are biased and cannot grasp reality and this will cause problems for yourself and others. This is not compatible with what Christianity teaches as truth, and our experiences of life in Christ.

The perception that Buddhists are always peaceful people who eschew violence is also a misnomer. For example, Sri Lanka is an island nation south of India where 70 percent of the population are Buddhists. Christians have been violently persecuted there for more than a decade and many churches have been burned.

There are hundreds of millions of Buddhists worldwide. In the west, more profound that the number of Buddhists is the effect of influences related to or indirectly spawned by it such as transcendental meditation and New Age spirituality. Many are deceived and kept from the Truth.

In the America today it’s cool, hip, and progressive to be spiritual – as long as you do it without God. The concept of truth has fallen out of vogue and a God-free spirituality is all the rage. That is what the Dalai Lama offers. Many people praise him because he proclaims a new tolerance and peace without religion. But what is our basis for ethics? From where does it well up? (Hint: not from ourselves or best selling books by lamas and Buddhism-influenced New Agers.) A growing number of Americans, including some Christians, are attracted by Buddhism's buffet of no-commitment, no-cost, touchy-feely beliefs. It is false, and it is not new. In the 1930’s G.K. Chesterton observed that, “we hear much about new religions; many of them are based on the latest novelties of Buddha and Pythagoras.”

Reincarnation is not born again

According to the Buddhist doctrine of reincarnation, people are trapped in a cycle of births, deaths, and rebirths. This Buddhist view of history often leads to much fatalism and acceptance of injustice. The C4C team learned how disabled people in Nepal are considered the lowest caste of people and are often mistreated, so great must have been their misdeeds in their previous life. In contrast, the Bible teaches that history had a beginning and is moving towards a glorious conclusion. Linear time is real; it is the unfolding of God’s providence (see Galatians 4:4). This is a hopeful worldview, and the pursuit of justice is part of the obedient Christian life. 

Many Buddhists and New Agers argue that the Bible teaches reincarnation. They claim that Matthew 11:14 and Luke 1:17 indicate that John the Baptist was the reincarnated Elijah. They err in interpretation of meanings of speech, theology, and the author’s intended meaning.

Reincarnation has no roots in the history of either Judaism or Christianity. The Old Testament teaches resurrection, not reincarnation (see Job 19:25-27 and Daniel 12:1-2). Jesus affirmed the Old Testament. In teaching the Sadducees about resurrection in Matthew 22: 23-32, Jesus quotes Exodus 3:6 to them. He also teaches resurrection in Matthew 25:31-46. Resurrection is not synonomous or compatible with reincarnation. Statements that the Bible was sanitized of references to reincarnation during early Christian councils are false. These lies have been repeated so often they have become canonized in culture.

Praying with new believers. (Photo by Jim Nowlin)

Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (John 3:3). This does not refer to entering a mother’s womb a second time, and it not about reincarnation. As Peter wrote, “blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:3). When you accept Jesus, the old self dies and you are given a new life. You are made into something altogether new. I understand this as true because it happened in my adult life.

The Christian alternative to Buddhist and New Age beliefs is the truth of a personal God – and the Incarnation! God is the personal and holy Creator of humans (Genesis 1 and John 1). God is the moral lawgiver from whom ethics flow (Exodus 20). And Jesus Christ – God incarnate – is the Savior of sinful humans (John 3:16-18 and Romans 5:1-8). Rejoice!

The One Way

We are not spiritually blind people deceived into thinking that our limited perceptions see only partial aspects of a bigger cosmic god – like blind men encountering different parts of an elephant. It is not possible to be both a religious pluralist and a professing Christian who understands the truth that the Bible is an authority on spiritual things. Neither Jesus nor the Apostles were pluralists. As Christians we are subject to criticism, disdain, or worse in today’s western culture when we proclaim that only through Jesus Christ can people be reconciled with God, forgiven their sins, and have access to true love and noncircumstantial peace, joy, and hope. We are narrow minded, we are told. But people need to take this up with the One who proclaimed that the path was indeed narrow, that He was the only way: Jesus Christ. As C.S. Lewis proposed, people must decide for themselves if Jesus was a lunatic, a liar, or is indeed who He claimed to be: Lord and Savior. Buddhism and Christianity cannot both be true. There is no ‘middle way’ – only one true Way.

A Nepali child peers into one of our team's tents. (Photo by Jim Nowlin)

In my backpack during the many miles we trekked in the Khumbu was a booklet written by Greg Koukl that he gave to me in Colorado about 10 years ago: Jesus The Only Way – 100 Verses. Koukle reminds us that, “from the very beginning God has been narrow in His demands. In Exodus 20:2-5 He said, ‘I am the Lord your God…. You shall have no other gods before Me…. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.’ God showed His utter contempt for other religions by pummeling Egypt with plagues, each one directed at a different Egyptian deity (Exodus 12:12).”
The book of Acts teaches us that the first name given to early followers of Jesus was ‘the Way’ – not ‘a way,’ ‘one of the ways,’ or ‘their way.’ (See Acts 9:2, 19:9 and 23.) Jesus taught in Matthew 7:13-14 that we are to, “enter by the narrow gate…. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it.”

Koukl reminds us that, “Jesus is the source of salvation for the world. The Father Himself chose Jesus for this purpose. That’s why rejection of the Jesus is actually a rejection of the Father Himself. Such a rejection is met with God’s wraith, while belief in Jesus rescues from wrath. Rescue is possible because Jesus is the one who provides forgiveness from sin. Many imposters will claim to provide an alternate form of salvation, but there are no other alternatives. That’s why the church’s solemn commission is to make sure that all nations are given this Gospel. On the last day Jesus will be man’s final judge.”

The following verses cannot be reconciled with Buddhism, New Age spirituality, or any other religion:

John 14:6 – Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through me.’ [And per Mark 9:7 and Matthew 17:5, God said, ‘listen to Jesus.’]

John 3:36 – [Jesus said] ‘He who believes has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.’

Luke 10:6 – [Jesus says] ‘he who rejects me rejects the one who sent me.’

1 Timothy 2:5 – For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Jesus the Messiah.

1 John 2:23 – Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also.

2 John 1:7-9 – For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus the Messiah as coming in the flesh. …Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of the Messiah, does not have God….

As Koukl explains, “God has appointed a day of judgment when all of the accounts will finally be settled. On that day, one man will hold the gavel. It won’t be Buddha, Krishna, or any other religious leader. They will all be in the dock with the rest of us. All men will be judged by the only perfect man, Jesus.” If this is news to you, review Mark 8:38, John 5:22-23, Romans 2:16, and 2 Timothy 4:1.

The last command Jesus gave before ascending into Heaven was the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-19). It’s been the central focus of His worldwide church for two millennia. As Koukl notes, “it’s an odd command, though, if Jesus is a pluralist. Why cover the globe with a message no one needs if each person’s native religion already serves him well. The command to go to all nations makes sense only if all are lost without Jesus.” C4C went to Nepal to share the love and truth of Christ out of obedience. We do the same in other mountainous places where God is using us: Haiti, Kilimanjaro, Denali, Indonesia, Philippines, and other places.

The way forward

The staff of C4C is in prayer and discernment as we wait on the Lord to determine our next steps in Nepal. We learned much and we met new friends who are motivated to live out the Great Commission for Nepal. There are poor people in mountainous areas of the country not being reached by other mission agencies. So we are called there. As team member Jason exhorted during group worship in Namche: “We need to hold fast to the promise of God. God is going to reach this nation for Christ. It is just a matter of time until the Kingdom of God spreads throughout Nepal.”

Pachanga leading a worship in Katmandu. (Photo by Jim Nowlin)

One way C4C may further God’s Kingdom in Nepal is to provide funding for Sherpas from the Khumbu to attend a Bible college in Katmandu. New believers would then return to the Khumbu to start or help lead new churches there. Disciples would be equipped to make disciples. Perhaps God will use C4C to build a church further up the Khumbu, where none currently exist.

Stay tuned. The mission continues.

Posted June 3, 2008

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