It took some getting used to, hearing myself being called 'Mama'. After all, I am a man, a husband, a father, and Christian Pastor with over 40 years of ministry behind me! In the language of the Bhutanese Refugees Community in Pittsburgh, "Mama" means "Uncle". I am thankful for the opportunity God has given to my wife and me to come alongside this displaced Hindu Community as 'Mama and Meiju' (Aunt) to befriend them, help them, spend time in their homes, and represent Jesus Christ.
Several years ago an Orthodox Jewish woman came to see me, looking for space in our Church's coffee shop to serve the needs of the Bhutanese Refugee Community whose numbers were increasing in Carrick, where Zion Christian Church is located. An Orthodox Jew was introducing a Hindu Community to a Pentecostal Pastor! I thought, 'I am either out of my mind, or this is God; but I will invite the Jewish woman to bring some Bhutanese to Church and tell their story". It turned out it was God. So began a local Mission to the farthest parts of the 1040 window, to people from one of the least evangelized countries on the earth, people who have now settled all around our doorstep. We call this outreach "The Bridge of Hope".
Bhutan is a small Himalayan kingdom that sits between India and China. In 1991 the Buddhist King sent soldiers to drive out the Hindu minority in the South. As murder, rape, and the forcible confiscation of lands was unleashed, one fifth of Bhutan's population fled the violence. They ended up in the forests of Nepal near the border of India. Even after their exodus, hundreds of dead bodies would be found every morning at gateway between India and Nepal. More died of starvation, malnutrition, and disease in the harsh conditions in the forests of Nepal. The United Nations established Refugee camps with primitive housing, schools, medical care, and food to help these displaced people without rights or citizenship anywhere. After two decades of suffering in Nepal, the United Nations began relocating the 105,000 people in the Camps to five willing nations of the world. The largest resettlement was offered by the United States Government. Some 10,000 of these kind and warm-hearted people have now arrived in Pittsburgh. Possibly a thousand of them are living in the general areas around our church. They arrive here with limited or no English language skills. Many adults have no education. They have no transferrable job skills to help them find decent jobs in America. Immediately start repaying their airfare and within months they are expected to have found full time work with benefits. It is not realistic for most of the Bhutanese.
The Beginning of 'the Bridge of Hope' An extended family of nine were living in an apartment across the street from our church. I was invited in for a cup of tea. I realized that the only furniture in the home was a small table with three chairs and a china cabinet. There were no beds, dressers, couches, or even a mirror. Within two weeks my friends at Global Reach Network in Pittsburgh and I completely furnished the house and provided the child's first toy. We have now placed over 600 pieces of gently furniture in Nepali homes (We do not accept stained or damaged furniture). Most of the furniture in many Nepali homes around us came from Bridge of Hope. Yet still many Nepali people sleep on the floor.
God Is Working in Amazing Ways - Signs and Miracles These Refugees are predominantly Hindu. Most of them have never heard of the Garden of Eden. They do not know who Joseph and Mary are. They have no Christian tradition. But Jesus is knocking strongly on the door of their hearts to introduce himself to them. He brought them here to love them into his Kingdom. I have been able to hold some Bible Studies with them and have prayed with a couple people to receive Christ.
A Dream From God. Some of the stories I hear are just tremendous. One man and his wife had just had their first child. They had left some of their paperwork at the Hospital and were very anxious about getting it. The husband asked me to drive him to the Hospital to try and locate it. While we drove toward town he began to open up to me about a dream he had about Jesus. "I have not told anyone about this but my wife" he said. "But I had a dream, and Jesus appeared to me. He was huge. He filled the whole sky. He smiled at me and held his hand up for me to see. Then the dream ended". Suddenly I knew the real reason I was in that car with him that day. "Do you know why Jesus did that?" I asked him. "No" he said. I interpreted the dream for him. "Jesus was showing you that He is the God over all gods. That is why He was huge and filled the entire sky. He smiled at you to show you that he loves you and wants you to come to Him. He lifted His hand to show you the nail print there so you will know He died for you. 'Did you see the nail print in His hand?' I asked him. "Yes" he said. "I am so happy for you" I told him. "Come and spend time with me and I will teach you about Jesus". So far he has not responded, but I know he is thinking about it.
Another dream from God. Two days ago I went up to the apartments near us where quite a few Bhutanese families live. I had heard that a young girl had a dream about Jesus and wanted to talk with me about it. I sat down in the living room and she told me the details. "I was asleep in my sister's room and suddenly Jesus appeared to me and was talking to me. He was telling me He is real and we talked about a lot of things. In my hand there was this red book. I knew it was a Bible. Every time Jesus talked, the red book would become shiny and glow. Every time I talked it did not glow. We talked for a long time about many things, and I am not lying, I know he is real". I was so thrilled to hear about this! "Do you know why the Bible glowed and shone when Jesus spoke?" I asked her. "No" she said. I interpreted the dream for her. "He was showing you that of all the things you have heard or learned in your entire life until now, that the Bible is His Words that will teach you the honest truth about God. He wants you to know that He speaks through the Bible, and wants you to get to know Him. It was red because red represents how Jesus died and shed His blood for you." "Oh" she said. "I will learn from the Bible!"
God's Anointing. A College age student from Nepal came to our church one evening before she and her family moved to Florida. She came forward for prayer, and as I laid my hand on her head to pray I saw in the Spirit that God was going to use this young woman in powerful ways to reach the Hindu Community with the Gospel. I wept as I could sense the unusual anointing upon her life. I anointed her with oil and told her that one day I would explain more fully why I prayed like I did. She was moved by the entire thing, and shortly after her family left for Florida. I received word from her several months later that Jesus had appeared to her in the night in Florida. She was awakened from her sleep by Him, and Her entire room was illuminated by His Presence. This was not a dream. She was wide awake. He made Himself real to her, and set her life on a new direction. She ran to bring her father to her room so he could see for himself what had happened. As they entered the room, Jesus was no longer there, and her room was dark. She realized her bedroom lights had never been on during the entire experience. It was only His Presence that had lit her room. She continues to learn and grow in her Christian faith. She stated that she had never experienced such love as the love she experienced from Jesus.
Miraculous Healings. In one family my wife and I have gotten to know pretty well, the wife become sick. she had suffered for seven years with incapacitating dizziness. Even in the Refugee Camp she had hardly been able to get out of bed for two entire years. Her husband invited me to come and pray for her many times. The sickness progressed until she was hospitalized for ten days or so. Having heard about this, I went to the hospital with my Nepali Audio New Testament on an MP3 player to leave with her and see if I could pray for her. We prayed. Two weeks later a friend of mine and I went to her family's apartment to see how they all were. "How are you?" I asked. "My head is hot" she replied. "What do you mean, your head is hot?" I asked her. "Well", she said, "when you came and prayed for me in the hospital you put your hand on my head and prayed. Something like fire came through your hand and went all through my head. When the fire left, the dizziness was gone, and I am well. But my head is still hot." "Oh", I told her, "I did not do anything for you. Only Jesus could do that. He did that to show you that He is real, and that He loves you.
He is the all-powerful God who is showing you He is real".
Other healings have taken place also when we have prayed for some of the Bhutanese. A woman whose knee was injured in a car accident was instantly healed at our church altar when she was prayed for and anointed with oil. The Gospel is spreading with signs and wonders.
Hunger for the Bible. In one of the families we helped with a lot of furniture, the wife said to me, "If you get me a Bible, I will read it night and day". So I gave her the entire Bible in the Nepali language. We had already ordered a box of them from the Nepal Bible Society in Kathmandu, Nepal. She was thrilled. A couple of weeks later I stopped to visit the family. The husband said to me as soon as I entered the home, "Since you gave my wife that Bible she has not stopped reading it night and day!"
The Need Continues And so the work goes on. So the ministry develops. The Refugees still need a Bridge of Hope to help with furniture, food, and the Gospel. The Holy Spirit keeps showing them in signs and wonders that Jesus Christ is the only Savior of the world. And more and Nepali parents are trusting our Sunday School with their children. Next door to us and all around us are these gentle, kind people who have been brought here from the least evangelized country on earth through the most horrible circumstances to be loved into the Kingdom of Jesus.
Not everyone in America treats them well. Some of their children have been beaten by other children in schools. Racial prejudice is expressed in a whole variety of awful ways. Their shop windows are targeted for acid graffiti more than other shops. Some adults have been struck in the head by the fists of people walking by them as they wait at bus stops. But they are taking root here in America. They cannot deny that Christ and Christians are making their lives better. If you would like to help provide funds for food and furniture, contact us, or visit our Church some Sunday. You can be a part of the Bridge of Hope that helps this Refugee Community adjust to life in America, part of the hands of Jesus extended to them. Maybe one day they will call you Mama too.
This is Pastor Dan Cramer from Zion Christian Church in Pittsburgh.
1 John 3:17 (NASB95) But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?