INDIA (BP) — “Prabuu. Prabuu. Prabuu,” the Nepalese man chanted with force in his lungs as the walls began to crack and the earth beneath him shook violently.
He stood from where he knelt in a door frame when the shaking subsided in northeast India, checked around his business to see if there was any damage and tried to contact his family.
A week later, the man shuddered as he remembered that night’s 40 seconds of terror in India’s Sikkim state when a magnitude 6.9 earthquake hit Sept. 18.
The Nepalese word “prabuu” means “god” or “lord.” The man screamed out — as many Nepalese in the region did that night — to a generic god.
Most Nepalese are Hindu or Buddhist, adhering to works-based religions. In northeast India, it is commonly believed that the gods were displeased with their worship and sent the earthquake as punishment.
Chase Tozer, a Southern Baptist representative working in northern India, said most people remain in shock. Several hundred people in the area are immigrants who work on road and construction projects that were hit by the earthquake or landslides that followed. The workers are leaving in droves to return to their hometowns.
Astrologers in Sikkim have told everyone another earthquake is coming, Tozer said.
According to Timothy, a national partner, people are living in fear that has intensified since the earthquake.
Posted on several roads in the affected area are signs that read, “Post disaster precautions: 1. Don’t panic. 2. Don’t listen to rumors. 3. Drink only water, no alcohol,” as if the basic lessons would help suspend or tame the fear and hopelessness that dwells inside people.
Instead of opening a door to reach the region’s Nepalese with the Gospel, fear may hinder efforts as people believe they have to work harder to please their gods and be more devoted following the earthquake, Tozer said. It’s another spiritual barrier.
Joseph Silwal, a pastor in Sikkim, said society and tradition play a major role in the rejection of the Gospel.
“Some people know the name of Jesus,” Silwal said. “They know the Gospel, but the problem is their fear of society.”
For a Hindu or Buddhist, choosing to become a Christian is synonymous with choosing to abandon family, friends and culture. New Christians often are shunned, persecuted and left to fend for themselves.
Religious traditions have been evident as people try to deal with the earthquake’s aftermath.
At one village, Buddhist monks read, chanted and worshiped for 10 hours. A normal worship time lasts only an hour.
People would like to cremate the dead, but countless bodies buried beneath homes and mud are unrecoverable. Traditionally there is a special ceremony in which monks pray for the soul of the dead and then proceed with a cremation service. If a body is never found and given a proper ceremony, then the soul is never set free, according to Nepalese beliefs.
But Tozer and national partners know how they can lead the hurting to comfort.
“[I want to share] about God’s eternity … and His role as Shepherd in our lives,” Tozer said.
He and his family witnessed firsthand the Lord’s protection as they changed travel plans and arrived at their destination one day earlier than anticipated. If they had traveled as planned, they would have driven on a road that was wiped away in the landslides.
Tozer hopes to share this testimony with people in the days to come.
“[God] will put us in the right place at the right time,” he said. “He knows what tomorrow brings, and He supplies our every need — all as our Shepherd.”
Neisha Fuson writes for The Alabama Baptist, online at thealabamabaptist.org. Some names were changed for security reasons.