15 December 2017

What happened when…

the crowd became a mob?

The rancid smell from the river caught the back of Abhik’s throat as he sat on its grassy bank.

He didn’t come here very often now, but the sight before him helped to focus his mind on the job God had given him to do high in these Himalayan mountains that he called home. A few hours by the banks of the holy river Bagmati always increased his burden for his Hindu countrymen, who came here twenty four hours a day to ensure a safe passage for loved ones into the next world… or at least to enable them to return to this one in a better form than they left it.

The smell was suddenly replaced by a sound of wailing crossing the narrow river where Abhik sat alongside a few foreign tourists. Another funeral procession was making its way along the rear of Kathmandu’s Pashuptinath Temple. Colloquially known as the ‘Golden Temple’ it boasts the honour of being the biggest Hindu Temple in the world for the worship of Lord Shiva: Lord of the animals. But Abhik knew otherwise… it was a place of desperate darkness and spiritual bondage. Within its walls people sought blessing from the three million gods on offer, longing that the sacrifices they made would bring them good Karma – more bonus points towards the perfection they all sought. Abhik was glad that he no longer needed to go there in search of freedom, having already found it the day he trusted in Jesus as his Saviour.

But those now laying a much-loved father on the funeral pyre knew nothing of Jesus, and, as the tourist cameras clicked beside him, Abhik shed a silent tear for those who still hadn’t heard of the true freedom found only in Christ.

Dressed in mourning-white, the small group of family members carefully carried the bamboo stretcher and placed it on the pile of kindling and wooden blocks that they believed would soon be the means of releasing their father’s spirit. Altar-like, the six square stone Gnats rose from the steps to the river. Abhik knew that in spite of their great sorrow the family would thrill at the opportunity to cremate their father from such a holy place.

‘They must be wealthy’ Abhik thought, noting that they didn’t first dip their father’s feet the obligatory three times in the river. Instead, now stripped to a loin cloth and with head shaven, the eldest son filled a clay pot with water from the river. Joined by a priest from the temple, the ‘holy man’ chipped a tiny hole in the pot, and walking clockwise a trickle of river water was dripped over the corpse.

“There is none Holy as the Lord,” Abhik whispered. “None beside you, Lord,” he quoted from 1 Samuel.

The tourists didn’t flinch at the words. Nepal was a land full of strange people with strange beliefs; they simply came to the conclusion that the man sitting beside them was no different.

The clicking of the cameras rose in intensity as the ceremony reached its own climax. The man’s body was draped in red… Hinduism’s most significant colour, indicating life, purity and all that is sensual. His face was then rubbed with saffron yellow, to inform the gods of his quest for light and purity, while a white stripe symbolising peace and cleanliness was painted down the centre of his face.

To help fuel the fire, elements from the sacred cow were added last: butter smeared on skin; hay hiding the torso. Once a few more wooden blocks were placed on top, the eldest son carried out his last act of respect and honour for his father. Taking a burning torch he set fire to the face of the man who had been the head of his home… that way his spirit wouldn’t have to watch the ordeal that followed.

The wailing increased as a loving family said their final farewells. Sitting on the bank opposite Abhik also wept. It was the thought of another fire that brought his tears: the one the Bible speaks about in Mark 9:44: “the fire that shall never be quenched”!

‘It’s enough!’ Abhik’s spirit cried within him as he rose to go. He didn’t want to sit the hours it would take for the body to burn. He didn’t want to watch that son scatter his father’s ashes in the Bagmati River, believing that his sins would be washed away by its current. It was all lies! Bondage!

Someone needed to tell them… to tell them that Jesus had died to take away their sin… once for all. That after this life comes the judgement… not another stab at getting it right again in some other body.

Abhik’s eyes caught sight of the majestic mountains surrounding Kathmandu as he clambered up the bank. The same mountains he frequently traversed, in spite of the danger to himself, to tell its many tribal people that the Saviour has indeed come; to help them realize that they can be free from the slavery of Hinduism, Buddhism and animism. Soon it would be spring and he would go again, but for now Kathmandu would hear once more from the fearless little preacher with the greatest message on earth to proclaim.

“How shall they hear, Lord, without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14)

Abhik and his two friends entered Ratna Park, backpacks bulging with Christian literature that he had translated. It was cold that January day but, as the only green space in the overcrowded city of Kathmandu, the park was still teeming with people. The three men were excited: nothing made them happier than to give the ‘good news’ to people whose lives were full of anything but.

The fact that proselytising was illegal in Nepal was of little consequence to the fearless three. They had prayed, and believed that God would take care of them, as He had done on many previous occasions in Ratna Park. Sometimes Abhik would climb in the mountains for days to reach little villages with only a few dozen people, yet here in the park he had a ready-made audience of hundreds! What could be better!

Wearing a bright red jacket, Abhik was easily seen as he stood on a raised dirtmound. The crowd gathered in closer to hear what he had to say, and he felt God’s power; proclaiming boldly the news that a Saviour had come and that each person could be freed from the bondage of false religion.

But Abhik was quickly aware of the spirit of opposition that hung thick in the air that particular day. As he continued, he could see men on the edge of the crowd tearing branches from nearby trees: stripping them bare of the scant January foliage. He knew a whip when he saw one!

Fists were quickly raised in anger at the words coming from the young preacher’s mouth. Soon rebellious chants shouted him down! Louder and louder they roared! His fellow companions were being jostled by those next to them. The crowd then closed around them, drawing more and more men from the park: declaring that Abhik was speaking blasphemy against Lord Shiva.

Within minutes the crowd had become an angry mob!

They were trapped: in danger of their lives!

Slightly distant from his friends, Abhik could see them being whipped as tree branches ripped into their skin. Punches then rained down on Abhik himself, as he was pushed from one to another, hatred and venom etched on every face.

There was no way of escape! Abhjik was convinced they would die there if God did not rescue them!

Managing to retrieve his mobile phone from his pocket Abhik keyed in the emergency number, yet doubtful that Hindu policemen would help, once they knew why the crowd had turned nasty.

“Save us Lord!” was all he could manage in the surrounding bedlam. Within seconds Abhik heard the shouts of armed police clearing the mob; pushing them back from the three badly injured men. As they were thrown into the police vehicle Abhik thanked God for the immediacy of the rescue, yet wondered if they had fallen from the frying pan into the fire.

He could hear the mob shouting as it followed their rescuers to the nearby police station.

“Bring them out!” was their cry.

“Hand the blasphemers over to us!”

The police station was surrounded, yet Abhik witnessed a miracle as the Hindu officers tended to their wounds and wiped up the blood of Christians! Only God could do this!

Some time later Abhik’s two friends were smuggled safely out of the police station. Eventually Abhik also made it home to his wife and children. It would be a little while before he would visit Ratna Park again, but then there were plenty of other villages and Hindu festivals to visit with the liberating message of the Gospel!

For Abhik, every day was lived with the truth of which most of us know nothing: that we are joint heirs with Christ… “if indeed we suffer with Him”. (Romans 8:17)

Footnote: my thanks go to Gordon Stewart of AsiaLink for providing the details of this story. The real name of the evangelist concerned has been changed for safety reasons.

Catherine Campbell