by Pastor Bruce Cromwell, Central FMC, Lansing, MI
Basundhara Pokhrel was the matriarch of a large Bhutanese family that began attending our church in the fall of 2010. Relocated to Lansing from refugee camps in Nepal, she and her family first connected with our ministry through our midweek ESL* program. Gradually the love and acceptance she experienced led her to make a decision to accept Jesus as her Lord and Savior. When Basundhara renounced the Hinduism of her homeland, many in her family followed suit. She was baptized on Easter Sunday, 2011, along with her youngest son, Mitra, and his entire household.
Barely one month later, I was called to Basundhara’s bedside. She was dying. Asked by her family to wear my clerical collar so all would “know which God I stood for,” I arrived at the apartment complex and was greeted by hundreds of persons gathered inside, outside and around her house. This woman, this matriarch, was clearly respected by the community and all had come to pay respects.
Not everyone, however, embraced Basundhara’s Christian faith. One of her sons, Bishnu, the oldest one living in the U.S., was still avidly Hindu. He consistently called the Hindu priest to come pray for his mother. I was called by Mitra to come and give Christian prayers every time the Hindu priest visited. Although the Hindu priest hastily left every time I showed up (four times in two days), Bishnu declared to his younger brother that their mother would have a Hindu burial, not a Christian one. If the family did not renounce their Christianity and become Hindu again, they could not attend.
Given his older brother’s demand, Mitra asked me if it was okay for them to become Hindu for a week or so and then change back to Christianity. As we talked and prayed, Mitra’s 13-year-old son spoke up. “I became a Christian and was baptized by pastor as a Christian. I will not deny the Lord Jesus.” That’s all the family needed to hear. They decided not to convert.
When Basundhara died, I was called again to come (since the Hindu priest had come and prayed). The family was very concerned about cremation, so we talked about that, as well as about the eternity that awaits us all. As more and more questions were asked, more and more people began to come to listen. For one entire week following Basundhara’s death, her small apartment was filled with persons eager to learn about heaven and hell. Openness to Christ and the truths of Christianity fell on that apartment complex in the wake of Basundhara’s passing.
God’s spirit of reconciliation continued to spread. Bishnu relented and allowed his mother’s life and faith to be remembered and celebrated in a Christian service. People from India, Bhutan and Nepal gathered to worship the Lord together, despite the cultural strife that still strongly exists between those nations. And the leavening of the Spirit continued to work its way through the international community in the days to follow. In the past year alone, we have baptized nearly 75 Bhutanese; I am sure this is because of the witness of this woman who chose to follow the Lord Jesus and the love the body of Christ extended to all who mourned her passing, whether they were Hindu, Christian or other.
* English as a second language
This article originally appeared in the April-June 2012 issue of Free Methodist World Mission People magazine