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Home > Volume 1 > Number 2: May 2002
Operation World (sixth edition), by , Paternoster Lifestyle, Carlisle, 2001, 798 pages, Rs 800.
Reviewed by Mark Johnson
It has been eight years since the last edition of Operation World was published so one comes to the new edition with a heightened sense of expectation. As with previous editions the material in the latest one is both encouraging and challenging. Patrick Johnstone and his team have scoured the world for the most up-to-date information available on the state of the planet and especially of Christ's church. it is impossible for such a project to be free from factual errors but these have largely been excised by careful cross-checking. As with the fifth edition the countries of the world are arranged alphabetically with geographic, demographic, demographic, economic and political statistics heading each entry. then follow various data to quantify the adherence to various religions and the state of the church and mission in that country. The bulk of each entry, however, is a list of various points for thanksgiving and prayer. And this s the burden of the book - to get Christians praying for the world. As such, statistical data take second place. With this in mind the following points of detail are not so much a criticism (since the authors are largely at the mercy of politically motivated government statisticians) as a correction.
The data on Nepal's peoples (p. 469) are presumably based on an extrapolation from that os the census of 1991. The main problem with that information is that linguistic data has been passed off as ethnic data - a problem that HMG tried to rectify in last year's census by asking questions of ethnicity as well as of mother tongue. Linguistic data, though useful, can mask the fact that large numbers of a particular group may not speak the language of their parents but be at home only in the national language (o, increasingly, in English). Another result of this typology is that a community such as that of the Newars is counted as Tibeto-Burman even though it has complex a caste system as that of the Tarai communities whose linguistic roots are not even close. The authors attempt to point out the importance of caste in a small paragraph but one is left wondering whether some of the groups listed are castes of tribes. A sociological analysis of the various groups in Nepal is badly wanted in a book that will likely heavily influence mission strategy for a least the coming decade. Furthermore, no mention is made of the Indigenous Peoples (Janajati) and Dalit movements that will surely have a growing impact on Nepali self-identity. It is important for church and mission to have a deep understanding of these movements and their likely impact if they are going to continue to scratch where it itches in the opening decades of the twenty-first century.
Coming to the following page and the information on Christians it is surprising to see an innovation in this edition that was not present in the analysis offered by previous ones. The authors have split the Protestant category into Protestant and Independent. So we learn that in 2001 there was 141,000 Protestants and 292,000 Independents in the country. Where do such categories some from? the authors explained that the new categories were adopted to bring the work in line with the World Christian Encyclopedia (pp. xix, 761). It is understandable that a work of this sort must use some sort of analytical tool in order to compare across countries and this is what the authors have done. But to divide denominations in Nepal in such an arbitrary way makes one wonder whether there is really any meaning in such an analysis. it has been reported to the reviewer that one denomination listed as independent has been, in succession, Methodist, Lutheran and Baptist over the last decade! So statistics can be misleading. But they can also be helpful in pointing out areas of neglect. The peoples of Tarai continue to be seriously neglected in outreach efforts. How many do you know working among, for instance, the 1.2 million Muslims, 1.2 million Maki/Lohar people or the 1 million strong Yadv/Ahir community? If such nuggets do not drive us to our knees what will? Finally, one searches in vain for the so-called people movements of Newars and Tamangs to Christ that the fourth edition of the book reports. The dropping of those reports must lead is to wonder whatever became of those movements. Has the 'Newar movement' turned out to be nothing more than wild unrealised optimism and the 'Tamang movement' too fragmented and compromised to now consider a movement at all?