Text and Context in Dialogue

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Book Review

Nepal and the Gospel of God, by Jonathan Lindell, Kathmandu: United Mission to Nepal and Pilgrims Book House, Reprint Ed. 1997, Rs 400, 279 pages (first published 1979).

Reviewed by Mark Johnson

This book is the story of the United Mission to Nepal authored by one of those who played a key part in its inception and development. As such it is at one time both historical and personal. The author paints the historical and geographical context in which Christian missionary effort has been attempted in South Asia over the past three centuries, focusing on the endeavour that brought about the unique mission of which he was a part.

The first chapter is a fascinating account of the mission of the Capuchin fathers to the Kathmandu Valley in the 18th century. The fathers, we are told, lived and worked in each of the kingdoms of the Valley and had close dealings with all three kings (p. 8). Often the status of the missionaries was uncertain. Suspicion of all things foreign was a common feature of such sequestered kingdoms at this time of growing colonial power. What was the aim of these missionaries and how did they go about their labours? Lindell reports that the fathers 'endeavored from the start to gain a hearing from the ruling class, expecting that if the rulers would covert to Christ the rest of the populace would readily follow' (p. 23). We learn, however, that there was no great turning of the people to Christ during their fifty-five year stay though a few citizens did convert.

The rest of the first half of the book takes us through the subsequent years in and around Nepal documenting the growth of Christian mission largely in Darjeeling and other border areas but also describing expeditions by the likes of Sundar Singh into the country itself. The uncomfortable relationship of mission to colonialism is not skirted: 'As the people of Gorkha-Nepal looked from their mountains onto the Indian plains', writes the author, '? they saw European colonialism and Christian missions. To some extent they were mixed ?' (p. 43). But, Lindell contends, 'in other major respects they were separate and two entirely different things'.

A good deal of the narrative is given over to the events of the middle of the twentieth century with the overthrow of the Ranas and the opening up of the country to Christian missions. The negotiations that led to the setting up of the United Mission are detailed. It is the manner in which the UMN was established that gives the mission its distinctive character. As the plans for the mission began to take shape, reports Lindell, 'a wide circle of world missionary opinion ? felt that the mistakes that had come to light in the missionary movement in India and other countries, resulting from competition, possessiveness and independent action by denominational and separate organizations, should not be repeated in Nepal' (p. 144). So the decision was made to create an ecumenical mission - a decision that would have repercussions in Nepal for decades to come and create, in UMN, a model for interdenominational and inter-agency co-operation around the world.

Nepal and the Gospel of God does not offer an analysis of the way Christian mission has been conducted in Nepal. Rather the work functions as a apologia for the mission's existence and as such glosses over many of the thornier issues. As a personal account of the development of a mission, however, Nepal and the Gospel of God is a good read.

bhakti. bhakti, nom. devotion, love, loyalty