Above - A Summer Palace of the King of Bhutan
This message was spoken at our Thanksgiving / Christmas Festival at Zion Christian Church in December, 2015
to the Bhutanese Refugee Community. It was well received. About 110 Bhutanese were present.
The Story of Two Kings
In Late September of 2014 a team of four men from Pittsburgh traveled to Nepal and Bhutan with a singular purpose. We wanted to better understand the story of the Bhutanese refugees who have settled all around us at Zion Christian Church in Pittsburgh. We made our way halfway across the world to the heart of the 1040 window – landing in Himalayan Nepal.
After getting our bearings in Kathmandu, we flew east to meet the refugees in their Refugee Camps in Damak and see the conditions ourselves. After four days of meetings in the camps we headed across part of India to visit the country they had been forced to flee from some twenty years earlier, the majestically beautiful country of Bhutan.
Bhutan is a clean, beautiful country that is called “The Last Shangri-La”. Shangri-La refers to an earthly paradise where people live extended lives in good health, peace, prosperity, and natural beauty. Bhutan is half the size of Indiana – a landlocked country – some 18,000 square miles.
Bhutan ranges from Subtropical Southern jungles to the unforgiving Glaciers of the Northern Himalayas. Bhutan is a last refuge for many of the world’s rare animals. In terms of natural beauty and how clean it is, it truly is a Himalayan paradise – a land of happiness and beauty – peace and serenity.
Nepali people were brought to Bhutan in the 1800’s to help build roads and infrastructure through the mountains. We have travelled on some of the roads our new friend’s ancestors built in the mountains of Bhutan. Building these roads was a tremendous and time consuming feat. These Nepali’s became Bhutanese citizens and settled primarily in the Southern jungles of Bhutan, worked hard, and became known as “Lhotshampas”, or, “People of the South”.
The Wangchuck family ascended to take power as hereditary kings of Bhutan in 1907. In 1972 Jigme Singye Wangchuck became the fourth king of Bhutan. He ruled until 2006. On January 6, 1989, this king issued a royal decree called “One Nation, One People.” This decree was made to force the Hindu Bhutanese to conform to the Buddhist majority’s ways. It sought to control the smallest details of their lives; their food, their dress, and their language. Furthermore, Tax Documentation from 1953 was required to be produced to prove Bhutanese citizenship.
Protests to these hardships brought a fierce and terrible response from the King and his governors. The King considered the Hindu Community was a threat to him. I have both heard from survivors and have read the stories of others describing these terrible times. This terrible “ethnic cleansing” became one of the largest atrocities of the 20th Century. Most of the world did not take notice at the time. A wave of violence and intimidation was furiously unleashed upon “the people of the South”.
At times villagers were run over by soldiers driving trucks. Army Officers in some settings arrived in the villages to announce that this was now a hunting ground and they would be killed like monkeys. People were imprisoned, tortured, killed, and raped. Many families I know lost one or more family members during this horrific time.
One older woman where I live in invited me into her home where she showed me an old, torn photo that was the only memory she had left of her son who died in the trouble. It contained only half of his face. She asked me to make an enlargement of this torn photo so she could see him better. I made her about ten enlarged copies.
I found one man's story of these terrible times. He described it like this: One winter day in 1991, my mother was in the kitchen, my father was shaving and my siblings and I were gathered for snacks. It must have been noon — I remember the buzzing of bees leaving for their routine forage — when uniformed officers burst into the house and seized our citizenship documents, birth certificates and other papers. They accused my father of waging war against the government.
They ordered him to put on his bakkhu, the Drukpa national outfit, which was still wet from the wash that morning, and then dragged him out, kicking him and slapping his face. He was taken with dozens of our neighbors to a high school that had been converted to a military camp. My father was held for 91 days in a small, dank cell. They pressed him down with heavy logs, pierced his fingers with needles, served him urine instead of water, forced him to chop firewood all day with no food. Sometimes, they burned dried chilies in his cell just to make breathing unbearable. He agreed eventually to sign what were called voluntary migration forms and was given a week to leave the country our family had inhabited for four generations.
King Wangchuk did not want the Lhotshampas in his kingdom. Fully one fifth of the population of Bhutan fled for safety from the land they love, making this the largest percentage of refugees from one country in history. The Refugees fled in fear and sorrow across India to a location inside the border of Nepal at the Mechi River.
My friends and I visited this spot at the Mechi River during our trip. I tried to imagine what it must have been like for the people we know and love twenty years earlier, picturing them as younger men, or as children, Banished to the jungles of Nepal, crying in fear and sorrow. There they faced additional harsh conditions from disease, no santitation, starvation, cobra bites. These conditions added regularly to the death toll. For quite a while following their arrival at the Mechi River, dead bodies would be stacked at the nearby gate between India and Nepal each morning. No one knows who was responsible for this. I wept at the Mechi River location, thinking about different families I know, and how they suffered here.
On to Bhutan for four days. What an amazing and beautiful place! And the current king is working to bring democracy to his country. I stood in Bhutan overlooking the Paro valley from our Hotel on the night before we flew from Bhutan to begin our trip home to Pittsburgh. I could not help thinking about this former King all that has happened to these people I have come to love dearly.
I thought about another King. How different He is! His name is Jesus. This King created everything and has always existed. How different this King is! This King loves you. This King rules in the real and permanent Shangri-la. The Bible calls this place Heaven. Everything is perfect there, and there are no tears. It is a beautiful place where people live forever with God. God saw another kind of danger facing your people, and all other people on the earth. It is the danger of ending this life without our sins forgiven. King Jesus sees you as valuable. This King loves you.
While King Wangchuk sent soldiers to torture and kill your Community – King Jesus was Himself tortured and killed to save your Community. Jesus was betrayed, whipped with rocks and bone by Roman soldiers until the flesh was gone from his body. His beard was pulled from his face. He was beaten with fists and sticks. His hands and feet were nailed to a cross. He died by the most feared and brutal form of torture and death possible in the ancient world. Hanging on a cross to die in the hot sun, all his bones were out of place. People who should have known better made fun of Him as he was publicly shamed. What no one knew at the time was that He was dying to forgive us our sins and welcome us into His kingdom.
God’s only Son, Jesus, came to this earth to offer Himself as a sacrifice for our sins so we can be forgiven. God watched His only Son die this terrible death. All other sacrifices find their true meaning in His death for us. This had always been God’s plan of love. This King wants you in His Kingdom. He loves you, and He sent His own special army to show you this.
This army is not made of soldiers with weapons. This army cares for you and helps you. This army is made up of people like my wife and me. It is made up of people who love you from Zion Christian Church, from Heaven’s Family, from Youth With A Mission, from International Teams, from New Community Church in Wexford, from The Mission’s Dept. of CCOP, from South East Asia Prayer Center, and from various individuals who care and support this effort. The soldiers from King Jesus come to heal and help. These are people who show this King’s love to you.
We love and take good care of your children, teach ESL, give food, have placed over 600 pieces of furniture in your homes and we have never asked anything in return. Like the love of God, it is all free. He sent people like us as a ‘healing army’ to you to show in visible and practical ways that He loves you and wants you in His Kingdom where people live forever in a perfect place. This powerful King, the living God, wants to have a relationship with you. That relationship is possible when we ask Him to forgive our sins and understand that is why He was crucified. He brought good out of something evil. His death was the perfect sacrifice for sins.
If you trust Him and begin a relationship with Him, He will bring something good out of all the evil you and your Community have faced too. The first king brought torture and death to drive you from his kingdom. The second King was himself tortured and killed to welcome you into His eternal kingdom. Why not come? You have nothing to fear from Him. He would never cause you harm.
He loves you, and we love you too.