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Bhutanese refugees hear Christmas story for first time during cultural Christmas event

December 18th, 2009 at 2:31 pm

HOUSTON – Many in the world have never heard the story of Christ’s birth and His offering of hope. That was true for a group of 250 Bhutanese refugees living in Houston until Dec. 15.

For that evening, Bhadra Rai, an emerging Bhutanese Christian leader in Houston, along with the Texas Baptists intercultural ministries, Houston Baptist University and several churches in the area, planned an assembly of cultural performances and presentations to share the Christmas story with more than 250 Bhutanese who arrived in Texas this year.


“Several months ago Bhadra had the vision to present Christmas to his community,” said Mark Heavener, Texas Baptists intercultural ministries strategist. “Bhutanese are from a Hindu background, and many have never heard of Christ or Christmas.”

In 1990, the Bhutanese government attempted to create a unified society by forcing all citizens to become Tibetan Buddhists, limiting freedoms and cultural expression within Bhutan. Many Hindu Southern Bhutanese protested but were met with violence, forcing more than 120,000 to seek protection at refugee camps in Nepal and India. Now, many are immigrating to the United States.

Since their arrival in Houston earlier this year, the Bhutanese refugees have been attempting to assimilate to Texas culture. Each day can be a struggle for these men, women and children who are used to living in bamboo huts with no running water as they face barriers of language, unemployment, health needs and education, Heavener said.

Because of this, the leadership for the Christmas event wanted to give the refugees a night to join with Bhutanese across the city to celebrate their culture in their Nepali heart language while receiving hope from hearing the Christmas story.

“Our God reveals himself to people in their heart, and this provided space and opportunity to celebrate in their heart language,” Heavener said. “With the introduction of Christ being in their heart language, it gets deeper into their hearts than if it was presented from an American perspective.”

Margie Randall, a member of Kingsland Baptist Church who many Bhutanese call “mom” because of the way she cares for them, said that the evening was about creating a loving, family atmosphere for the group amidst an unsettling time.

“We wanted them to have fun because they have been persecuted [in the past] and scattered here in Houston in several apartments,” Randall said. “They are community minded, and they haven’t had a place where they could all come together. As the mom of the group, it is important to me to have my family together.”

To get the Bhutanese families to the event, the planning group rented two charter buses and First Philippine Baptist Church of Houston, the Chinese congregation at River Oaks Baptists Church and the YMCA International donated the use of their van.

The night included cultural dances from the Bhutanese after Deana Severance, the curator of the HBU Bible museum, told the Christmas story while Linda Renz, an HBU graduate student, illustrated the story on several large canvases. Afterwards, Alex Kennedy, pastor of Kingsland Baptist Church, shared a gospel presentation.

The Christmas party was an additional way to reach out to the Bhutanese, letting them know that many  people and organizations want to help them succeed in their new life in Texas and show them God’s love. HBU showed its support by providing refreshments and allowing the group to host the event in the Dunham Theater on its campus.  Additional refugee ministries and agencies provided Christmas gifts for the children who attended the event.

“When Mark first presented the idea of this partnership, what first grabbed my heart is the fact that there are many people within five miles of the university who have never heard of Jesus Christ,” said Rick Ogden, HBU assistant vice president of church and community relations. “What an opportunity, and I was compelled to say yes.”

Ogden also said that the effort embodies Texas Hope 2010, an evangelistic emphasis by Texas Baptists to pray for the lost, care for the hurting and hungry and share the gospel in ways those in Texas can respond to the hope of Christ in their own way and language by Easter 2010.

“We know that the gospel was presented and that was the goal,” Ogden said. “This is a wonderful partnership that demonstrates the institutional support for Texas Hope 2010.”

Randall, who has also began the Loaves and Fishes Ministry for Bhutanese refugees, said she hopes that the Bhutanese walked away from the night knowing they are loved by Texans and by God Himself. But she also hopes that the churches involved walked away seeing a diverse opportunity to reach the world for Christ right within the city limits.

“The main purpose is about the relationship first with the Lord and then with the Bhutanese,” Randall said. “Once they know that God is love, they will want to know the God of love. My greatest heart’s desire, since Houston is number two after New York City in diversity, is that the church will not be afraid of the people – not be afraid to love them. My heart’s desire is that people will see Houston as a mission field. We have the love, resources and knowledge to share and help.”

Randall said that she doesn’t know all the results from the night, but she knows that God was glorified as many Christians in Texas and in South East Asia petitioned the Lord to be known during the event. Several Bhutanese Christians gathered to pray the weekend before the event to ask for God to reveal himself to the Bhutanese during the event. Several missionaries and Bhutanese believers in South East Asia also were praying for the event while it took place.

Also, a lady from Kingsland Baptist Church came to prayerwalk the auditorium before the event, praying that God would prepare the hearts of the Bhutanese to hear the story of truth and that no distractions would take away from the focus of the message of Christ that night.

It was awesome and God was glorified,” Randall said. “I don’t know what God did and we won’t know until eternity, but it could have been a disaster if people were not praying. [God] promises, ’if I am lifted up, I will draw men to Myself.’ And He was, so I am waiting on the fruit and to see what He will do.”

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