In the last few months, the whole world had come to almost a standstill battling the global pandemic, COVID-19. The world is fighting with an unprecedented crisis and Nepal is not spared. The whole country had been in lockdown for two months now. Nepal has to date four hundred plus confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 3 deaths, and new positive cases are increasing day by day. The government, health department, security and armed forces, and civil society at large are trying their best to control the rise in the number of COVID-19 cases in the country but with the extended lockdown, it is affecting all spheres of society, i.e. different sectors of the economy, industries, transportation, education and more.
In these difficult times, Nepali Christian society also faces many challenges. For two months now, all churches had been closed and regular services had been switched to online services, where possible. Not only the churches are affected, but Christian development work, missions and the business sector had also been greatly affected. Many of the believers were working as daily wage laborers in brick factories, construction, agriculture and other industries. However, due to the lockdown, they became unemployed overnight for the past two months. Food supply is also becoming a major challenge for many of the urban poor and marginalized communities in the city area.
In most of the crisis in the past including the 2015 earthquake, Nepali churches and Christians had always been at the forefront to respond to the relief work among the different communities in need. With this pandemic, churches had been closed, believers are facing real challenges themselves, and pastors as well as leaders are in lockdown. Prayer is and continues to be the key in all our journey at the moment. Nevertheless, some Christian organizations, churches and local leaders are actively responding to the communities in need living amongst them, doing every bit they can to support and share the resources they have.
I had the privilege to interview three Nepali Christian leaders concerning their views on the current crisis and how we should respond to this pandemic situation. They represent three of the key areas in Nepali Christian society. Rev. Dr. Mangal Man Maharajan spoke with me on the matter of Mission and the role of Nepali churches in a pandemic situation. Similarly, I interviewed with Dr. Krishna Man Shakya on the Christian response to the crisis from an NGO perspective, and with Mr. Ram Chandra Timothy about business in Nepal. Their views will provide us a better picture of the present situation of Nepal in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
REV. DR. MANGAL MAN MAHARJAN
Reverend Dr. Mangalman Man Maharjan is the Senior Pastor of Koinonia Patan Church in Kathmandu, Nepal. He has been serving as a pastor since 1985. In the Nepali Christian community, Dr. Maharjan is a well-known and respected leader. Koinonia Church is a mission-focused church in Nepal.
The world is suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic and fighting hard against the spread and devastating consequences of COVID-19. What is your view about this situation and how do you describe this pandemic from a theological perspective?
According to the teachings of Jesus Christ, this kind of pandemic situation will come at the end of the age. This is a fulfillment of His prophecy. We have been watching all kinds of pandemic in the world for years now. There are great famine because of locusts, drought, flood, earthquake and war (Matthew 24:4-25). These are signs of the end times.
God will continue to demonstrate His power and authority over nature and man. Today, just like in the past, people are becoming godless and immoral. People are claiming they are better than God. (The world is embracing new religions, atheism and the new age). Men are proud of their achievements and success in technology, science and medicine. Now this COVID-19 pandemic is proving that men are nothing and their wisdom-knowledge is useless (without knowledge of the one true God). God is breaking all kinds of pride in men.
God is also proving that men are more important than anything else (money, science, technology). God wants people to repent from their sins (immorality, pride) and return to God with humility. God loves us and wants to save us from our sin and give eternal life through Jesus.
Due to the COVID-19 and lockdown imposed by the government, all church services are closed in the country and most churches are doing online fellowship in the city area. However, a large population of Nepal has no access to the internet. How does this situation affect the worship and fellowship in Nepal, especially outside of the main city area?
Due to the lockdown, there is great effect in worship service and all kinds of fellowships. It is because we cannot meet together (physically) in one place. Hence, we are conducting services and fellowships online. We are facing financial constraints because there is no collection or offering and tithes.
We have informed our village churches to conduct family fellowship and worship at home until lockdown is lifted. We have told them to sing hymns or songs and read from Psalms. They can worship and collect offering as well. They can also read The Bible portion from one book (like Ephesians, Philippines) regularly and explain it to the family and end with a closing prayer. The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown really affected a lot of the village churches. Church finance is also adversely affected due to low or no collections of tithes and offerings.
Nepal is one of the fastest growing mission field in the world. Koinonia Church is also a very mission-focused church. How does this pandemic affect the mission movement in Nepal? This pandemic is affecting the mission movement, our mission work and plans in Nepal. We had a vision of 500 churches by 2020. With the COVID-19 crisis, we could not move around to preach the Gospel and establish churches at present. This pandemic has currently put a stop to our mission work completely but God is showing us new ways to reach out. We are encouraging our believers to pray for our mission vision and also for their neighbors. The Lord may have a different plan for us, both believers and non-believers. The Lord has given us this time to be prepared and equipped for the future ministry. It is an opportunity for us to spend more time with God in prayer and the study of His Word.
In this critical pandemic situation, how can the Nepali church worship God and provide the fellowship for the people effectively? Is our God working differently and how can we change or adapt our strategy for mission in the future?
A) In this crisis, we will have to change and adapt how we reach out. In Koinonia, we have utilized social media (YouTube, Messenger, Viber, Whatsapp, Zoom, IMO etc.) to lead (run) the Saturday Church service and provide fellowship for the people effectively. We continue with our Youth Fellowship, Women Fellowship, Men Fellowship, Early Morning Prayer and different groups using Zoom, Facebook and YouTube.
We have created many Messenger groups for small house fellowships. If there are more than 8 in numbers, we encourage them to join Zoom for worship service because more than 100 families can join in Zoom online with videos.
Where there is no internet, we have told them to meet at home with their families for Saturday Service and house fellowship. If they are living nearby and no sickness reported, two or three families can meet at one home and worship together. They can tune in using the data package provided by mobile providers as well. We are encouraging them (Church leaders) to call church members often to ask them about their situation since we are not allowed to move around during this lockdown. Until the COVID-19 situation is stabilized or situation improves, we will not be allowed to meet together in one place. Therefore, in every household, we encourage the fathers to lead their family members during this time.
B) Yes, God is at work in this season. He is showing man what is truly important, not wealth nor possessions. Man is weak and can do nothing apart from God. We have placed trust and priority in science, technology, medicine and human knowledge, but nothing can save our lives apart from God. Today scientists, doctors, technologists are confessing that they can do nothing; only God can make a way out of this coronavirus pandemic. Many people are repenting and coming back to God.
C) We need to change or adapt our strategy for mission in the future according to the situation. We need to evangelize and disciple one-on-one, reaching out to our neighbors and relatives. We may need to use different media like; radio, television, phone calls, Facebook, Messenger, Viber, Zoom, IMO, email etc. Nowadays, most villagers have a mobile phone and data (for mobile internet). We need to encourage our church members to use the above media and social networks.
Finally, what is the key message you would like to share for people living in this current pandemic crisis around the world today?
I would like to tell the whole world that God is in control of everything. God is teaching a great lesson to people around the world that man is nothing without His grace. Man is made of dust by God during the creation. God reveals the pride of men in our wisdom and knowledge, and men needs to acknowledge that God is ultimately sovereign above all.
God wants people to repent from their sins and humble themselves before Him. God wants people to come to Him and enjoy life here and beyond this earthly life. That is why God sent Jesus Christ to be sacrificed on the cross for our sins. If people could believe Jesus as their Savior, who died and rose from the dead on the third day, they will have everlasting life.
We should know that God has all the power and authority over everything (nature, disease, death, etc.). Therefore, let us put all our hope and trust in Him and be at peace in this pandemic crisis that He is ultimately in control. May God bless and protect you from the coronavirus.
DR. KRISHNA MAN SHAKYA
Dr. Krishna Man Shakya is the Chairperson of Micah Nepal and Network of Christian Organizations Nepal (NECON). He is also the Executive Director of Shanti Nepal, a local NGO which facilitates sustainable social development by mobilizing and empowering poor and marginalized communities in partnership with local governments and other NGOs. He is a public health specialist by background and has a long experience in integrated community development.
Faith-based organizations have always played a very vital role in any crisis, especially in the current pandemic where the whole world is suffering from COVID-19. Nepal had also been locked down for more than a month to contain the outbreak of the coronavirus. How would you describe the present situation in Nepal?
The current COVID-19 pandemic is really a critical situation in Nepal as it is everywhere in the world. Due to the need to maintain social distancing, there is restricted mobility and all the government, schools and businesses are in lockdown mode. There is an adverse effect on the lives of the community and all the development functions. Besides the health and socio-economic effects on community lives, there is a psychosocial effect due to mental stress and fear of the pandemic among the people at large. This is very different from most of the past emergency situation in Nepal, such as the earthquake disaster in 2015 and other epidemics which happened in localized areas or part of the country. With COVID-19, this pandemic had affected all spheres of society in Nepal and across the world. Therefore, it is an extremely challenging situation for organizations to function in Nepal and around the world.
How does this pandemic situation affect the work of development and community transformation in Nepal?
In the current situation, majority of the development function and services had been stopped. The service providers are restricted due to the lockdown. In most of the community disaster situation, Christian organizations and churches would be very active to serve the people in need. This pandemic had equally affected the faith-based organizations and churches who are at the forefront of providing relief services. Additionally, mobilizations of national and international resources are stopped as most of the countries that mostly provide resources in such critical situation are also greatly affected themselves. Therefore, development and community transformation work are totally halted. The minimum effort that had been done by certain organizations had been diverted to COVID-19 interventions.
How are faith-based organizations working to respond to the COVID-19 situation in Nepal? What do you think can be done further by NGOs?
The functions of most of the faith-based organizations are limited in the current situation due to continuous lockdown for the past two months. However, it had been observed that some of the faith-based organizations are extending their support to the communities and the government to address some basic needs of the most vulnerable groups and to the local health services. Some organizations have supported health materials like Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to local health facilities where there is a shortage. They have also remained active to raise awareness to prevent coronavirus transmission. There are some organizations who have provided food relief to poor and vulnerable families who are most affected by the lockdown. Besides these organizations, the local churches have also provided some relief support to the poor and needy Christian and non-Christian families in their community.
As the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to remain for a longer period, there is much that the organizations can and should do. COVID-19 pandemic needs more public health approach than curative interventions for containment. There is still much to do to raise awareness in communities. The faith-based organizations should work in their respective communities to facilitate social network for fighting against COVID-19 pandemic. The local government needs much technical, material and social support in their functions to respond to the pandemic situation. The most vulnerable families need specific livelihood support in this critical time. Massive awareness on sanitation and hygiene is very important at this stage as one of the important measures to contain the pandemic. Similarly, technical and financial support to communities for boosting agriculture and income generation is very important for food security of the poor people and for employment. The NGOs have to develop longer term strategic plans to respond to the effects of the COVID-19 in the communities.
Due to the corona virus outbreak many non-governmental organizations’ activities had been affected or cancelled. What are the key challenges to overcome and opportunities that are present for the body of Christ in this current pandemic crisis?
There are serious challenges for the NGOs to function. There is restricted mobility, shortage of materials in the market and due to lack of supply, the prices are rising. From the community perspective, their lives are seriously affected due to the extended lockdown and all economic activities coming to a halt. This puts enormous pressure on NGOs to support them. Moreover, due to the worldwide effects of the pandemic, most of the funding agencies are going to reduce their funding for relief or development projects.
Despite these challenges, the faith-based NGOs and churches have opportunities to remain active to serve the affected communities in this situation. The lives of the poorest people are seriously affected by the effects of the pandemic. With the basic safety measures, organizations can facilitate to build local community networks so that they can address their issues more effectively.
There is one model adopted in the western part of Nepal which is called Local Action Unit. This is an effective model for local community network involving all the stakeholders and to work in a close network. The NGOs and churches can facilitate local campaigns, mobilizing local resources to address the multiple issues. The poorest families should be identified and provided with basic health and livelihood support. People in the community also need much psychosocial support and counseling. This can be better managed by faith-based organizations and churches. The NGOs can also play supporting roles to the local government who are under enormous pressure at this time.
Finally, what is the key message you would like to share for NGOs and INGOs to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic today?
Christian faith-based organizations have unique opportunities to be salt and light in this crisis. We need to go beyond our comfort zone to reach the communities, journey with them and to serve them, in spite of our limitations. The organizations need to develop immediate, shorter and longer-term response plan with strategies to address the effects of the COVID-19. Organizations need to be innovative to study the community situation and government intervention, and develop strategies to address the gap. In the context of Nepal, the government had announced that the next year’s budget will focus on agriculture, building livelihoods and employment generation. With reference to these strategies, the NGOs can innovatively develop local strategies and plans to not only contain the COVID-19 pandemic, but have multiple positive effects in the communities.
MR. RAM CHANDRA TIMOTHY
Mr R.C. Timothy was born in Katunje, Bhaktapur and brought up in Kathmandu. He married Salomi Lepcha in 1988 and have three daughters. The eldest is Upashna and she is a Medical Doctor, the second one is Subhekchya and she joined in the business and the third and the youngest one is Subhashna and currently pursuing Bachelor in Business Administration.
His parents were from Hindu and Buddhist background. He was baptized in 1972 by Ps. Robert Karthak in Suryabinayak, Bhaktapur Village. He started his career in 1974 at Patan Book Shop and began his business in 1976. His first business institution was Hyssop Book House and then after some years in 1982 Ekta Books was established. Since then, he established more than a dozen companies in Nepal and India such as in the publishing and printing industry, import and export, trade and logistic, hospitality, schools, department store and so on.
All around the world, people are fighting against COVID-19 and more than 70% of the world is in a lockdown situation. The business arena is an important part of all economies and had been badly impacted by the pandemic. From a business perspective, how do you view the current situation?
As we know, globally people are fighting against the COVID-19 pandemic. The whole world is in a lockdown and almost all businesses are also shut down as a result. With this pandemic, the global economy will suffer severely. We know that in the business sector, every minute counts and time is directly proportional to money. Businesses and industries are very important, they are the backbone of every nation. A country without business and industry is like a fish without water.
We can say that the business is the lifeline of the nation and its people as it directly affects the economy. COVID-19 will not only damage human lives, but it will also damage the whole world economy, more so in the days to come. It is not just about the current situation but the future of the whole world that will need to deal with the huge losses.
If we look at our country Nepal, there is not much damage to human life till today. However, if we look at the business sector, then the pandemic had already started to badly impact all sectors of the economy. And this is not just the case of Nepal but of the world as a whole. There is a high probability that we might not be having any tourists from other countries for at least two years, and the domestic tourists will also most likely not travel for some time. As such, one of our major sources of income will be severely hampered. (One third of the GDP of Nepal comes from the tourism sector.)
At the same time, there is high possibility that the millions of Nepalese migrant workers will come back very soon, as employability is seriously affected in the global markets where millions have already lost their jobs. On coming back, they will not get jobs as easily. This will be another big challenge and problem for both the society and the country. Not only will our economy suffer a decline in remittances but we will also have an increase in unemployment which will adversely affect the economy. Hence, the situation will be very different and it will be a tough time for everyone. All businesses are still closed and it will still take more days and weeks before business owners can reopen. It will take quite a long while for the situation to normalize.
Today most of the business are not operating and had shut down. Main concerns are business loss and many that will go under with the extended lockdown situation. With business closing, it will result in more unemployment and loss of livelihoods. It will also directly and indirectly affect all areas of giving to mission and charities. With the current situation, how can we mitigate or overcome the key challenges in business?
Almost all businesses are shut down and the nation faces huge losses. If the lockdown will extend even further, it will damage the economy and the situation will indeed get worse. One of the major areas the COVID-19 pandemic would hit is unemployment and it will cause major problems and affect many livelihoods. I see that the employees must be ready to work more than ever before and they must take ownership of their work.
If the employers or business owners may provide services during this pandemic, in such case, the unemployment might be reduced. We should also look at new dimensions. To reduce the unemployment in Nepal, we should go for agricultural reformation and cottage industries and domestic tourism prospects which has the potential, if developed properly. For this, the government must have a clear vision, strategic planning and clear goals where good governance is a must. The government must have public partnership and provide guidelines for development with a proper system of analysis.
The present situation will definitely affect all people in all areas. It will also be difficult for missions, charities and non-profit organizations. If they do not get a deposit or any income, how will they survive and support others? It will be a hard time for them as well. Hence, they will also have to adapt to the changes and focus on survival.
As for the business sector, there will be high competition and it will need to run in a low margin scenario. The market size will also decrease. Another factor that can be expected is the decrease in investment where funding will be very difficult to manage.
Here are some things that might help to overcome the key challenges:
1. We must change the business style and system to adapt to the upcoming changes. Agility is a must.
2. Businesses have to be service-oriented rather than profit-oriented.
3. Businesses must adopt low cost management.
4. The workforce must be strongly motivated and the administration of the business also needs to update itself.
5. Businesses have to adapt to the updated technologies and should also practice good governance.
6.Businesses should hire skillful and knowledgeable human resource, build up a good team.
As we understand, businesses should have focused on making an impact from an economic, social, spiritual and environment perspective as we pursue business to bring about good and positive changes to our communities and country. However, during this pandemic and lockdown, if the economic impact cannot be achieved, how can businesspeople focus on the other 3 areas of making positive social, spiritual and environment impact to their communities?
Business plays a pivotal role to provide people with sustainable livelihoods. Businesses and industries are major factors to bring about change and development in communities and countries as a whole. As Christian business owners, we will not be able to focus only on economic impact, but also on social, spiritual and environmental impact; what God has called us to do in the marketplace. Business is our platform to reach and touch the lives of the communities He has placed us in.
With the current unprecedented crisis due to the pandemic and lockdown, the consequences are costly. I believe that businesspeople need to focus on the following matters to make positive social, spiritual and environmental impact to their communities:
Virus can plague the world economy. Hence, we must be very careful. In such crisis, businesspeople have to play an important role in supporting some of the social services and development of their communities. Business organizations must provide best services to the society, not just focused on profit-making alone. Business owners need to think about how they continue to manage their staff and different stakeholders in the wake of the pandemic, the many lives that continues to count on them during a crisis.
Businesspeople must be aware of the local resources and how to utilize them effectively. We must cooperate and support each other with love and care. Do encourage business owners to get involved in business fellowships, find a business mentor and support one another in prayer and in the business network to be able to go for the long haul as the entrepreneurial journey is not meant to be travelled alone. Look around to support one another that we can continue to reach others for the kingdom.
All businesspeople have to be aware of the social imbalance and possible violence as well. After the pandemic, the next severe situation that the world may face might be a fight for survival, and the prevalence of mental health trauma or disturbance in the society. Out of desperation, people might be willing to do anything, causing possible rise in crime and social mishaps. Thus, it has to be managed properly so that the local businesses can be resources to develop their own community. Then only can there be positive impact in the society from a spiritual and environmental perspective.
In addition, businesspeople must take risks. High risk means possibility of higher profit. Realizing possible opportunities that come along with the challenges, businesspeople should plan and be ready for the future. However, at the current moment, businesses should focus on contributing to the development and growth of the society and make possible efforts to uplift the society from its current situation. Surviving and sustaining in the society now will be a stepping stone for the future. Businesspeople must focus on sustaining their business, providing job opportunities to make positive impact to the community. And as the society uplifts economically, socially, spiritually, and environmentally, business can also grow along with them.
What are the possibilities and opportunities in business for future after this pandemic situation?
Nepali people are known to be honest and hardworking. Hence, I see a lot of possibilities and opportunities in the business world. But we have to change and upskill ourselves with the present context and situation; we need to build up our self-esteem to face the upcoming challenges. Though it is difficult, it is also a chance for us to survive and sustain on our own, based on the resources and manpower we have. Nepal has so much potential, be it in water resources, agriculture, horticulture, herb harvesting, local tourism and others. It is a good opportunity to tap on these possibilities of development and empowering our human resources. There can be possibilities by updating the traditional system of living and blending it with new technology that brings about positive change. We have to believe that it is possible and we need to believe in ourselves. To add on to this, I would like to share a few thoughts by the following individuals.
“We live in a world of nearly endless possibilities and have more opportunities at our fingertips than any generation before us. Every place can be travelled to, every adventure can be lived and every industry can be disputed. We just have to do it. Everything seems possible and yet we dream big and do little” – Simon Lieberum.
“Life is filled with endless opportunities; you must search for the opportunities. Seize every opportunity and make it great.” – Lailah Gifty Akita
“Every morning, the sun rises with endless possibilities that give you endless opportunities to begin again and to create a brand new life” – Debasish Mridha
“With a positive attitude it is possible to turn situation of failure into success” – Dan Milter
Finally, what is your key message or advice for businesspeople in this situation?
Finally, I would like to say that business after the coronavirus will be different, so we have to be proactive about it. Small business trends and cottage industries can be developed and updated with digital transformation in mind.
In such a time, maintaining cash flow and cash on hand would be difficult, so we need to be careful about balancing the income and expenditure. Hopefully, the government will address the unemployment issues and will initiate public partnership approach.
Running a business individually may invite problems. The manufacturers are going to suffer losses. People can come up with new business ideas after surviving the coronavirus crisis. New business may sustain if people work with networking and partnership efforts, and projects have a strong financial or funding partner. It is crucial for businesspeople to be proactive and plan ahead without losing hope.
In conclusion, while most of our ministry, business and daily life had come to a halt in the wake of the pandemic except for our dedicated frontline workers, our God is sovereign and in control. He is still at work. It is easy to lose all hope and joy when we are faced with a crisis, to feel isolated and anxious during lockdown, but may we continue to find hope and trust in God alone. The Lord said in John 16:33 (NIV) – “….In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
When all our endeavors fail; human intelligence, science and technology can no longer provide the answers, we have the hope in Christ. For centuries, God had shown His fingerprints in the way He shaped the world, to turn things around for the good of those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose. Let us take heart that in this pandemic, many learned to value what is truly important in their lives beyond work and material wealth. Family relationships had been restored, the earth and the ozone layer repaired itself, the skies have cleared once again and the animals are repopulating in their natural habitat. May we turn to God in repentance, silence and solitude; spending quality time with our family and be the hands and feet of Jesus to our respective community. As one pastor shared, when we look back after this pandemic, may we see the footprints of Christ with us. May He grant us wisdom and discernment to use this season wisely for His ultimate glory.
Mr. Thir Koirala was born in a Hindu political family in east Nepal. He received Jesus as a personal savior by correspondence at his young age. After receiving Jesus Christ, he moved to Kathmandu and join church and bible study. Mr. Koirala served as an ordained pastor and church planter from 2000 to 2009 in east Nepal. Simultaneously, he actively involved in social action and media.
Mr. Koirala is working as a National Coordinator of Micah Nepal since 2009. He is also known as a writer and a journalist in Nepal and He is familiar with Nepali media, as a radio and television presenter. He has been actively playing a key role in the area of advocacy and justice, peacebuilding, Integral Mission, Disaster response, community transformation and leadership development in Nepal. His focus is to develop church and community leaders to transform society and the nation.