RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Shangri-La: a hidden utopian paradise, tucked away in harsh Asian mountains.
Shangri-La, dreamed up by author James Hilton in his 1935 novel, “The Lost Horizon,” has captured the imagination of readers and explorers for years. And Bhutan, a peaceful country bejeweled with glacier-fed streams and the highest original forest cover of any country, fits the bill.
Known to its people as “Druk-yul,” or “Land of the Thunder Dragon,” this tiny dot on the map is only about half the size of Indiana. Bhutan has been isolated from the rest of Southeast Asia by the jagged peaks of snowcapped Himalayan Mountains to the north and India’s arid plains to the south.
The Bhutanese also have existed in self-imposed isolation for centuries to preserve their culture and historical identity. Among its 600,000 people are the Drukpa, or “people of the dragon,” Bhutan’s majority group.
Television and radio are almost non-existent, and outside influences (including Christianity) are considered disruptive and unwelcome. The Bhutanese continue life in the footsteps of generations before them, using the same ancient farming methods and techniques that were used hundreds of years ago. Electricity and running water are limited.
What could disrupt this image of Shangri-la paradise? For Christians, the greatest concern is the souls without Christ that dwell beneath the amiable Buddhist exterior.
In Bhutan, the world’s only Tibetan Buddhist kingdom, an overwhelming 99 percent of its population have never had a chance to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. The Drukpa worship a pantheon of Buddhist gods and demons who are depicted graphically in every business, building and home.
They adhere to ancient folk practices of shamanism, magic, ancestor worship and divination. Altars and shrines dot the mountains, and in every village and on every hillside, prayer flags — tall poles with streamers of imprinted material — snap in the cold mountain air, delivering prayers to the gods at every moment.
While a handful of Drukpa Christians maintain their faith, the strict Buddhist climate does not allow for variation in religion. In larger cities, Christians may lose jobs, even their citizenship. In remote areas, Christians have been physically harmed. Children whose families follow Christianity are ridiculed and denied further education.
“Dorji,”* a Drukpa who embraced Christianity more than 20 years ago, says the Bhutanese hold to a fatalistic view of life.
“Everything is determined for you within the law of karma,” he says.
“Everyone is stuck in the wheel of life, and while you can’t control your ultimate destiny, you can make the best of what you have.”
The task is great for Dorji and Christians around the world who want to see the Bhutanese know Jesus Christ, who can deliver them from the meaningless “wheel of life” and give them “a hope and a future” (Jer. 29:11, NIV).
Southern Baptists will unite their prayers for the Drukpa of Bhutan from 6 p.m., Friday, June 1 through 6 p.m. Saturday, June 2, during the annual Day of Prayer and Fasting for World Evangelization.
“One of the reasons it’s so important we pray for the Drukpa is we know the love of God and they don’t — and when we pray for those who don’t, we’re expressing the very essence of love,” said Randy Sprinkle, director of the Prayer Strategy Office of the International Mission Board.
“For most of us, the first verse of Scripture we learned was John 3:16: ‘For God so loved the world … .’ God’s heart is for all the world. Jesus’ sacrificial death was for all the world, and He has revealed to us that this is a divine moment in which He wants to reveal Himself to the Drukpa of Bhutan. He’s saying to us, ‘Ask of me, and I will surely give this nation (Psalm 2:8, NKJV).'”
In our age of cell phones, workdays and maxed-out schedules, Southern Baptists certainly wonder how they can devote one hour to prayer, much less an entire day.
And to pray for a people they’ve never met, probably never will?
Sprinkle said self-sacrifice is the nature of a Great Commission Christian whose own heart beats in sync with God’s.
“When we deny ourselves and instead give that time to fervent prayer, we’re not only agreeing with God, we’re expressing the very heart of God,” he said. “So why is praying for the Drukpa so important? So that they, too, will know how much He loves them and how much He’s already done for them through Jesus, the Savior of the world.”
Like Dorji, Christians who desire to see salvation among the Drukpa can plead for the people of Bhutan.
“Being a Christian hasn’t lessened my patriotism and love for my country at all,” he said. “But finding the personal God made the difference for me. There are no more ‘pujas’ to be done, pilgrimages to go on, amulets to wear, no more mantras to be chanted.
“Jesus Christ has done it all.”
To participate in the Day of Prayer and Fasting for the Drukpa of Bhutan, order a free video resource kit or request a copy of the April issue of “the Commission.” Call toll-free 800-866-3621, visit www.imb.org/resources or e-mail [email protected] (include name, church name, shipping address, city, state, Zip Code, e-mail address and daytime phone).
* Name changed to protect his identity.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: RACE FOR FORGIVENESS and WHERE THE RIVERS MEET.
— Watch the video: “Land Under the Thunder Dragon”: http://www.imb.org/tconline/Stories/April01_Bhutan_video.html
— Read “Unmasking the Dragon: The Drukpa of Bhutan”: http://www.imb.org/tconline/Stories/April01_Bhutan.html
From the Rankin file — It’s still about lostness: http://www.imb.org/learn/news/story.asp?id=646
Prayer profiles of Bhutan’s unreached people groups: http://www.bethany.com/profiles/c_code/bhutan.html
Bhutan map and country information: http://www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/bt.html