In 1992 the King of Bhutan exiled 1/6th of Bhutan’s citizens. 100 years before, his own great grandfather invited Nepalese people to Bhutan to work the farmlands in the southern part of the country. Unlike the native Buddhists of Bhutan, these immigrants were Hindus. But they brought stability and prosperity to the southern part of the country and were granted full citizenship in 1958. Like Pharaoh regarding the Hebrews, this 4th Buddhist king was frightened by their growing numbers and influence and revoked the citizenship of 200,000 people, forcing them to seek asylum in other countries. The world yawned.
The refugees made their way across India and into Nepal, living in the forests made famous by Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book. They lost friends and loved ones to cobras, disease, thirst and hunger. Most of the refugees ended up in UN camps in Nepal, where they would spend the next 18 to 23 years waiting for a country. (You can read more about it here.)
Last year, I was in Nepal with Ram and Ajay, two refugees. We were at the border station on our way to the airport after a day’s journey in India. A Japanesee tourist was in line with me at the customs station and I offered her a ride with us to the airport. On the way, Ram related the story of their exile. The Japanese tourist said, “You must hate them.” Ram said, “No, we don’t hate them. We love them. We pray for them all the time. We pray for the king of Bhutan. I hope to go back some day and share the love of Jesus Christ with him.” What faith!
Several days earlier we were in one of the UN refugee camps. I met the pastor of a church there who had been a Hindu priest before becoming a follower of Jesus. I asked him what prompted him to leave the rich family tradition of Hinduism and become a Christian. He said, “When we were thrown out of Bhutan we were forced to live in the jungle. We had no food, no water, nothing. People were sick and dying. We were bitter and angry. But the Christians lived content among us and served whoever had need.”
He had been impacted by the contentment and selfless service of Christians in horrific circumstances. Isn’t this the life we are introduced to in the New Testament? Several verses came to mind…
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. (Philippians 4:11)
But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. (1 Timothy 6:8)
Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)
These are people without a country. Their national identity was taken from them. Yet those who have identity in Christ live with such power that it is transforming the people around them.
I found myself asking, “Do I live content and serve selflessly?” And what of the church in America? Are our lives marked by contentment and selflessness? Or are we forever outraged by the things that inconvenience us, sharing our discontent with those who do not know Jesus? If we believe we can tell a yawning world about Jesus, shouldn’t we bear the evidence in the lives we live among them? We would do well to reexamine our lives in light of these faithful Bhutanese refugees and to rediscover the power of the witness of content people serving selflessly in the midst of hardship.