Essentials of Bible Storying among Bhutanese & Nepali People

(There's a surprise for you at the bottom of this article!)

Has God placed Nepali or Bhutanese-Nepali people in your life? Well, that alone is cause to rejoice! Nepalis are some of the greatest, most complex, and rewarding people on the planet.  I welcome you to the encounter and challenge you to go deep in your relationships.  But more on that in a bit.  What we're really here to talk about is sharing with our precious Nepali friends the life-giving message of God as revealed in the Bible.  And, more to the point, the particular method of doing so known as Chronological Bible Storying (CBS).

Chronological Bible Storying (CBS) is a method of communicating the Biblical message that has been greatly blessed by God as He's used it in a wide variety of contexts to draw people into His family.  And since Nepali people generally love great stories and story-tellers, CBS holds much potential among them.  However, as you consider utilizing this approach with Nepalis (particularly those of Hindu backgrounds), I must offer a word of caution.

If you've been reading me for a while, it will come as no surprise that in my opinion CBS approaches must always be contextualized so as to maximize their potential for effectively communicating spiritual truth to people of various cultures.  Effective communication means that a message is both faithfully delivered and received with correct understanding.  That is, if I feel I say something clearly but my listener doesn't understand it in the way I intended, effective communication hasn't happened.  Unfortunately, CBSers have often taken an approach that has proved highly ineffective. Remember the rocky soil of Matthew 13. The problem is not that they didn't hear the word of God, but that they didn't understand it (v. 19). Contextualization in preaching or Biblical story-telling is the tedious process of taking rocks out of soil.  So when utilizing CBS among Nepalis (and many other Hindus as well), it is critical that the storyteller take time to understand how certain stories, ideas, and phrases will be received and understood.  Here are a couple "rules of thumb" that I have found to be extremely helpful:

1. Do not begin your CBS process at the beginning! I recommend that with Nepali Hindus, you begin by telling stories about Jesus Christ.  We suggest spending as much time as possible focused exclusively on the person and work of the Lord Jesus.  Very often, when storying begins with creation and the Fall, Hindus can be quickly turned away due to miscommunication regarding the issue of sin (see #2).  I personally spent more than a full year just telling stories of Jesus before doing anything from the Old Testament. Once I began bringing Old Testament stories into our weekly study times, I was still careful to bring us back to stories of Jesus at least twice per month.  Another friend of mine has spent a full three years almost exclusively telling stories of Jesus to the same group. Whatever your approach, make Christ the clear center and starting point.

2. Before storying from the Old Testament, take time to carefully understand the issue of sin and "fallenness" within the Hindu worldview.  Again, it is the issue of sin and guilt that trips up many efforts to communicate the good news of Christ to Hindus.  When you say something like, "We're all sinners," such a statement simply doesn't enter the ears of your Nepali friends in the way you intend.  I've heard examples of well-meaning CBSers starting from the creation account with a good-sized group and ending up with no one after telling the story of the Fall.  The problem isn't usually that Nepalis have a view of sin that is so unbiblical, but rather that the storyteller doesn't know how to start with what the Nepali already believes and go from there to the fuller Biblical revelation.  
     Nevertheless, in order to share the Good News with people, we must share the "bad news."   With Hindus, however, this is an especially delicate process.  We have therefore created a couple resources to help you to begin to understand how to do this.  This is, of course, only a beginning. Still we strongly recommend reading these articles prior to telling your friends stories about creation and the Fall.  The first article is the brief "Repentance, Sinfulness & Hinduism", which provides a good introduction to the subject. The second is "Holistic Spiritual Conflict in the Context of Folk Hinduism" which provides a more in-depth look at the "bad news" as Hindus often understand it. (Note: Many other concepts present potential communication stumbling blocks for Gospel-sharers. As a general rule, it is a good idea to seek familiarity with your listeners' pre-understanding of various ideas so as to more effectively build communicative bridges to Biblical truth and avoid building walls of misunderstanding.)

3. All storying should be done in the context of real relationships!  You might think that it goes without saying, but it unfortunately does not.  Everything you communicate from the Scripture should be accompanied by a life of loving and reciprocal relationships with your Nepali friends -- relationships that they perceive to be close.  It is often the case that naturally individualistic and monochronic Westerners perceive a cross-cultural relationship to be much closer than do their Nepali friends. I once heard a sincere American Christ-follower almost boasting about the depth of their friendships with Nepalis. "We spend an hour or two with them almost every single week," they declared.  I laughed to myself when I heard it because while I know that to an American this is tantamount to a close relationship, to a Bhutanese-Nepali it simply isn't.  
     I've tried to challenge my fellow Americans on this front.  We must go beyond our comfort zones, well past our American 15-30 minute visits.  We must stay past 1, 2 cups of tea and a meal or two.  Till all our Nepali words and all their English words are long gone--we must stay.  Till we've looked at every photo album and watched a film or two--we must stay.  Till our "namastes" become "kasto chhas" and our "kasto chhas" become full sentences--we must stay.  Till their bedbugs become our bedbugs--we must stay.  We have to just keep staying.  We must take massive amounts of time to be with people, to observe, to learn, to listen to their stories. And when your Nepali friends are convinced that your story and theirs are truly interwoven -- when they can no longer conceive of telling their life story without you in it (and vice versa) -- then God's story will seem as much a natural and essential part of their lives as it is for yours.  Remember Paul who said to the Thessalonians, "So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us." (1 Th. 2:8)

Well, that's about it.  Happy storying. I would love to add a point number 4, 5, 6 and so on, but I'll hold back.  Now for the surprise.  If you follow the link below, you will find a page on our website that has a full Chronological Bible Storying set for you to download free of charge.  There are MP3s of all the stories in Nepali along with a PDF featuring the text of each story with an English translation. It is a truly helpful resource that we ourselves use, but please take the above warnings seriously.  

Nepali Chronological Bible Storying Set

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