Torie Speicher

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‘Outcasts’ find hope in U.S.

ATLANTA (BP) —- Hari Rasaili knows persecution. He was 14 years old when he was kicked out of his country. Now 36, Rasaili spent 18 years in a Nepali refugee camp, after being forced to leave Bhutan. Today, Rasaili is one of 70,000 Bhutanese refugees resettled in the U.S. within the last four years. And he, like many Bhutanese, has found a freedom in Christ that he could not have imagined before he left his homeland. Bhutan is a small and often forgotten corner of South Asia that prides itself on its unique oral traditions and heritage. Prior to 1974, tourists from other countries were not allowed inside Bhutan. Even now, tourism is limited. There Buddhism is more than a religion; it's a way of life -- and a source of ethnic conflict. The country is home to almost 700,000 people, of whom 75 percent are Buddhist. The rest are Hindu, many of Nepali descent. Conversion to Christianity is forbidden. Because of ethnic conflict in the late 1980s, Bhutanese refugees have resettled around the world in places like Atlanta, Ga., and Oakland, Calif. The refugee resettlement agency tried to resettle Rasaili's family in Bhutan before they came to the U.S., but the Bhutanese government wouldn't allow it. From a Hindu background, Rasaili has seen Jesus work in miraculous ways through the healing of his wife Pabitra. He believed in Jesus because of this experience. "I have a heart to do something in the kingdom of God," Rasaili said. "My wife and I have a burden to change our community for Christ -- even go as a missionary to Nepal, India and Bhutan." In spite of the persecution he has received from his country for being Hindu as well as the persecution from his Bhutanese-Hindu community in Atlanta for becoming a follower of Jesus, Rasaili wants to make a difference for Christ. He now serves as associate pastor of First Agape Baptist Church in Tucker, Ga., one of five Bhutanese churches in the Atlanta area. Chase Tozer,* an IMB representative in India, works closely with unreached people groups in South Asia, but has also partnered with North American Mission Board representatives to distribute English-Nepali Bibles around the U.S. "We're continuing to hear reports of refugees and people who've migrated outside Bhutan becoming believers," Tozer said. "(These refugees) were never welcomed in Bhutan. They are seen as outcasts." Refugees from Bhutan often feel like they have no culture and no country. Today, Bhutanese people are getting more freedoms, but it's been at great cost. Tozer says he's seen more reports of believers coming to faith and churches growing in Bhutan than ever before. The government works very hard to maintain its culture and customs. It requires the Bhutanese people to wear the national dress to work and school. Buildings must be built in a certain style. Television broadcast wasn't available in Bhutan until the late 1990s. And the government strictly prohibits conversion to other faiths.

In India, songwriter nurtures worship for a diverse culture

INDIA (BP) -- Jeff Bourque made his way to India from Music City USA to share the basics of songwriting. His mission: to help musicians from several churches in India write songs that speak to their highly diverse culture. In a nation where only one of every 70 people believes in Jesus, Indian Christians are surrounded by Hindu temples full of idols and such sounds as the Muslim call to prayer. Ethan Leyton*, an ethnomusicologist, and Mani Dutta*, an Indian pastor, invited Bourque, worship leader for Grace Community Church in Nashville, to conduct a songwriting workshop for 18 young men and women from several Indian churches in urban settings. Leyton and Dutta "dreamed and prayed," as Leyton put it, "that instead of [English-speaking] Indian believers singing Hillsong and Chris Tomlin songs all the time, perhaps they could begin writing their own English songs for worship." These believers have much to offer Christian music, with their distinctive identity in living out their faith in India, Leyton said, voicing a hope that their songs also might be used in American churches one day. Leyton has organized 20 songwriting workshops for believers around southern Asia during the last seven years. Bourque's workshop, however, is unique because it's the first one in English. In mega-cities where multiple languages are spoken, many Christians and young professionals are more comfortable communicating in English because it's the language they have in common. Bible college student and church worship leader Amit Dhawan* had struggled to write songs long before the workshop, where he worked with three others to write the song "The Lord is Good." "Many times I came to know the truth about God through worship songs, and it encouraged me to come closer to God," Dhawan said. "[As a songwriter,] I want people to understand that God still saves, heals and delivers people from darkness."

Clinics help prostitutes see Jesus

INDIA (BP) — The smell of cooking okra wafts out to the streets, greeting the colorfully dressed women and children streaming into the backyard where a free medical clinic is being conducted. Fresh-cut flowers decorate the pharmacy table in one corner. Woven mats and plastic chairs cover the rest of the dirt yard. Prostitutes and […]

Slums in India spur musician’s witness

MUMBAI, India (BP)--When Micah Watson came to India for the first time, he never thought he would be back, let alone recording a music video with his band there one year later.       The daunting task of sharing Jesus with the 22 million people of Mumbai -- India's largest city -- haunted him so much that all he could do was talk about it for a year after his first trip to India. He shared with his family and friends and even his audiences at Micah Watson Band concerts.

In India, church ‘on the street’ is pastors’ vision

KOLKATA, India (BP)--Shiny, yellow Ambassador cabs wait in a queue and dirt-stained, homeless men sleep on benches at the airport in Kolkata. The odor of toilets permeates the baggage claim area. Walk into the city formerly known as Calcutta and marvel at how the British colonial architecture blurs the Hindu temples into the background. The former capital of British India, Kolkata offers both traditional chai (tea), sold on the narrow street corners in disposable cups made of unglazed clay, and Subway sandwiches, consumed inside a new, glass-and-steel-structured mall. Next to tall buildings that cost millions of dollars to build, families bathe on the street and hang their clothes on a railing to dry. Most people in Kolkata's slums live on 80 cents a day, while billionaires live in mansions with hosts of servants. Welcome to Kolkata -- a city of drastic contrasts. No one who comes here will leave unaffected. International worker Lonnie Tepper* points out the endless needs -- economic, social, infrastructure and ecological -- of this seemingly endless city of 14.3 million people. The most important struggle, however, is for the souls of the people of Kolkata. "The greatest need of the city is for the church to boldly share about Jesus in their daily lives," Tepper says. Christianity is not new to Kolkata. For more than 200 years, the roots of faith have struggled to penetrate hard spiritual soil. William Carey, the father of modern missions, came to West Bengal in 1793. It was 10 years before Carey finally baptized his first convert.

Pakistani students ponder their future

PAKISTAN (BP)–For Americans, the name Osama bin Laden conjures images of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11. In Pakistan, it is the same for many Muslim university students. They’re not proud of bin Laden. They don’t align themselves with militant Islam. They’re concerned what the future will bring and are ready for […]

Pakistan relief gifts lagging, group told

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--More people have been affected by the flooding in Pakistan in August than the 2004 tsunami and the Haiti and Pakistan earthquakes combined. Yet money donated for the recent tragedy's relief efforts continues to lag.