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Reaching the Nepali Bhutanese in Harrisburg, PA

By Robin Luftig

With the Nepali Bhutanese refugee community growing each year in the Harrisburg Pennsylvania area, Kevin Brown, Pastor of Lighthouse Church, prayed for years to see a way to reach them for Christ. He tried entering their tight-knit communities, only to be greeted with fear and skepticism. So, he continued to pray.

On the other side of the world, Dawa Tamang, a young Bhutanese pastor in a Nepalese refugee camp also prayed for God’s favor. He asked God to somehow…some way…bring him and his family to the United States. He promised to continue serving God with the Nepali / Bhutanese communities, but getting to the United States was the luck of the draw. So, he too, continued to pray.

“God just opened a door for us. How often do we get to reach another country—another culture? These people are in our own back yard.”

Time passed. Denish Rai, a previous refugee from the same camp as Dawa who had come to Rochester, New York and pastored a church there, heard of the young Bhutanese pastor’s desire to come to America. Denish contacted International Organization for Migration and told them about Dawa. And he too, prayed.

After time—and some effort from Denish—had passed, Dawa and his wife, Grace, were on their way to the United States. They met Michael Nerger, from Multiplying Church Planting Center of Pennsylvania, and soon were placed in Harrisburg. They didn’t know the language, have any friends, or know anything about the area. But they knew one thing—God had heard their hearts and had blessed them. They were to build a church and reach their Nepalese and Bhutanese communities. For two years, Dawa studied English as he reached out to his neighbors.

God honored Kevin’s and Dawa’s prayers. Soon after Dawa arrived, Michael Nerger and his wife began calling all the churches in Harrisburg, looking for one that would connect with and mentor Dawa.

It was Michael’s wife who reached Kevin and told him of Dawa’s need. Kevin immediately shared the opportunity with the Lighthouse Church community. “God just opened a door for us. How often do we get to reach another country—another culture? These people are in our own back yard.”

So Dawa spoke slower and Kevin learned to offer a slight bow. They both pushed through their discomforts because they had a common desire—to reach the lost Bhutanese and Nepalese for Christ.

He continued sharing the young Bhutanese pastor’s needs. “They need a place to meet. Right now, their group gathers in a small two-bedroom apartment. Let’s offer them our building—we’re not using it after the services—and they can meet here. God has blessed us. Let’s share that blessing.”

So began the relationship between Kevin and Dawa. In the beginning they had their challenges. For Kevin, understanding Dawa’s broken English took time and patience. And Dawa, who is slight in stature, had to explain to this boisterous six-foot American pastor that hugging Bhutanese people—especially women—wasn’t such a good idea.

So Dawa spoke slower and Kevin learned to offer a slight bow. They both pushed through their discomforts because they had a common desire—to reach the lost Bhutanese and Nepalese for Christ.

Today, both church groups work well together. Lighthouse Church finishes their last message and are out of the building by 12:30, and Dawa’s people come in at 1:00.

Dawa encourages those who ask for additional ways to reach other displaced people. “Talk to us. Teach us the English language. All my people want to learn, but there are few classes available.”

Kevin Brown is thankful for the opportunity to be a part of a ministry that reaches people from the other side of the world. “Jesus tells us in Matthew 28:19 to go and make disciples of all nations. How many opportunities does a person have to do that without dealing with traveling … the shots … and upheaval of leaving home? A nation has come to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. And we have the opportunity to reach them for Christ.”

He challenges other church leaders to do the same. “Look around your city. You need to decide what you’re willing to risk … because it is a risk. Are you willing to allow people you don’t know to use your building and equipment? Dawa and I needed to trust God to make this work. Dawa trusted him when he arrived in America, and I trusted that he had also brought Michael Nerger and Denish Rai to us if we had any questions “

It’s possible to be a missionary and never leave your hometown. Look around. You may be surprised who you see.

If you have any questions, you can reach Kevin Brown at lighthouse.harrisburg@gmail.com and Michael Nerger at centralmcc2@gmail.com.

About the Author
ROBIN GILBERT LUFTIG, founder of Renew Ministries, is a writer/blogger and national speaker. Her first book, From Pain to Peace: The Journey of Forgiveness After Divorce, promotes the act of forgiveness that lies at the heart of the process of healing after a divorce. She’s been published in Leading Hearts For Christian Women Magazine, and is scheduled to appear in CBN.com in July 2019. She’s an active participant of Word Weavers International where she also serves as a mentor for writers. Robin is represented by Hartline Literary Agency.

Article first published on Philly Christian Voice

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