This month, we are happy to spotlight the transformative work of The Anglican Relief and Development Fund, a partner of the Imago Dei Fund in our “church as change agent” work which seeks to equip and empower wise and trusted leaders within the church to design ways to improve and change their communities as they share the love of God with their neighbors. This article was originally published in the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh’s TRINITY Magazine Summer 2017 issue.
Can you imagine being raised believing God is not for you because you were born into a lower societal station? “Because of the caste system, there is the belief that they do not deserve the life that God desires for them to have,” says Rev. Lewis Lew.
In the highly stratified caste system in Nepal, the lowest, most “worthless” caste is called “Untouchables.” As Americans who threw off the caste system several hundred years ago, it can be difficult to understand a whole community’s identity is rooted in the idea that their lives are not even worth a touch from a member of another, higher caste – including wealthy, American visitors.
These people live in “a kind of darkness that requires a breakthrough. It requires them to see that God’s love is not just for the rich and powerful, but is for everyone in this whole country,” recounts Rev. Lew. He is the Dean of Nepal working with 7 clergymen and 802 pastors to oversee 82 churches.
However, Christianity is spreading faster in Nepal than almost anywhere else in the world, and a group of “Untouchables” have given their lives to Jesus. This “sight” Rev. Lewis describes, this understanding that they are worthy of God’s love is not “cheap grace,” as many who confess their faith in Christ are ostracized from their families.
This past February, a group of North American Christians visited this community on a vision trip sponsored by the Anglican Relief and Development Fund. The group found villagers worshipping under tarps in spaces we would hardly call a church due to damage of the 2015 earthquake compounded by ongoing poverty. Amid these conditions, the group also found God moving hearts in surprising ways, not least of all their own.
Rev. Lew describes the group’s response,
“It was amazing when the team from America came and related to them as brothers and sisters – as fellow people at the same level. And when the [American] team came and laid their hands on the locals – that broke a huge barrier in terms of how they relate to people who are believers. That allows them [the Untouchables] to experience the love of God. And this truly is what the gospel is all about.”
Rev. Lew told us that for these Untouchables, it was the first time anyone of a “higher” caste had physically touched them. It became clear to them that should Jesus himself come back to Nepal, he would touch these Untouchables.
While the Americans at first had no idea of the impact their interactions were having, Rev. Lew knew immediately that this was a unique event. When he gave the context to the group later as they debriefed on the day’s events, everyone was as deeply moved as the “Untouchables” had been earlier. “You see these people – they are happy, they are thankful – and now suddenly, your heart opens up in ways you were not even thinking about,” said George Connors, ARDF US Trustee and Vision Trip Participant.
Jennifer Collins, a member of the Nepal team, reflected on the “oneness” experienced in this moment.
“I tended to put God in a box. But seeing the body of Christ around the world, working side by side, it didn’t matter if you were American, Asian, male or female, high caste or low caste. Working together for a common cause? This is what the body of Christ really is. And this oneness was so special and sweet. Paul says in Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Jennifer concluded, “I finally saw that This Is Real!”
The goal of these vision trips is to create encounters between North American Christians and Christians living in very different contexts. Using our church relationships developed over the years of partnership in community development projects, ARDF takes North Americans to areas where ARDF has been partnering with local church leaders on the ground.
ARDF believes that local church partnerships are the best way to positively transform our world. All of our community development projects are initiated by the local church, under the authority of a local Anglican bishop. Now we are using these same relationships to create opportunities for North Americans to engage with the global church in a deeper way.
These trips are a chance to see the worldwide Anglican Church in action. Participants visit, encourage, pray, resource, and serve our global brothers and sisters implementing ARDF projects.
Come with us to Rwanda (January 2018), Ghana (October 2018), Brazil or Kenya (TBD in 2018). Or join a team returning back to Nepal in October 2018. For more information visit our website, www.ardf.org, or contact Christine Jones, Director of Mobilization, email@example.com or 571-499-2256.
Help ARDF Help Churches in Puerto Rico to Rebuild post Hurricane Maria here!
Thank you to our partners for your patience and support during this time of transition at the Imago Dei Fund. We are enjoying this time of re-envisioning and preparation for future growth. We will do our best to stay in touch about new directions and grant-making schedules but if you have any particular questions, please email Jennifer Oakley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Enjoy this beautiful fall season!