In March of 1959, 100,000 Tibetans fled from Tibet into Nepal, Bhutan, and India as a result of the communist Chinese occupation. Today many Tibetan refugees still live in these countries. A small group of the Tibetan Bhotia people found their way to Nepal. The large majority of Tibetans reside in China and India. Tibetans are proud of their distinct heritage. In fact, most of them have not assimilated culturally into the nations where they have settled but have maintained their traditional practices and language. However, many Tibetans, especially the youth, have been influenced by Western cultures. Tibetan Buddhism dominates the culture of the Tibetans who live in Nepal. They worship and serve the Dalai Lama, considering him a god. He serves as both their spiritual and political leader. Tibetans are dedicated to their religious beliefs. Prayer flags, stupas (dome-shaped monuments used to house Buddhist relics), prayer beads, and prayer wheels are a common sight all over the Himalayan region. The Bhotia speak the Central Tibetan language. Both the JESUS Film and a complete Bible are available in Central Tibetan.
What Are Their Lives Like?
The traditional occupations of the Bhotia in Nepal are animal husbandry and agriculture. Most Bhotia of Nepal live in villages high in the Himalayan Mountains. Women weave and sell woolen blankets and carpets for cash. During the short mountain summers, the Bhotia grow potatoes, barley, wheat, and vegetables. The meat and dairy products of their yaks and goats are eaten or sold to buy items they cannot make for themselves such as cell phones. Tibetan women usually wear chubas, or striped aprons, over ankle-length, wrapped dresses. Their responsibilities include caring for the children, preparing the food, and tending to other domestic duties, while the men do the bulk of the work outside the home. They raise and protect the animals belonging to the family and village. The extended family, which often consists of three generations, is the most important functioning kinship group among Bhotia. Although they tend to dote on their children, they believe in strong discipline and religious instruction. Tibetan society is patrilineal, which means that inheritances and family names are passed down through the males. Family names are also used to differentiate those of noble origin from others. A man may have up to three wives. Most men have only one wife. The Bhotia generally marry within their group. Traditional Tibetan art focuses on religious worship and includes sculptures, statues, scroll paintings of deities, carved altars, and religious texts.
What Are Their Beliefs?
The Bhotia follow Tibetan Buddhism, also known as Lamaism. This branch of Buddhism was developed in Tibet during the seventh century. It eventually spread throughout the entire Himalayan region. Some of the characteristic features of Tibetan Buddhism include: its ready acceptance of the Buddhist religious writings as a true revelation of the Buddhist way; its emphasis on the master/disciple relationship; its recognition of a huge number of gods, saints, and demons; and finally, the marked piety of its followers. They express their devotion by giving offerings, spinning prayer wheels, making pilgrimages to holy sites, and chanting spells called mantras. Tibetans have reverence for their ancestors and believe in animistic spirits in nature. Tibetan Buddhists believe in reincarnation meaning that when the body dies, the soul is reborn as either an animal or a human. They also believe that every action influences how the soul will be born in the next life. Such teachings have caused them to live their lives in bondage and fear. If the spirits of nature or their ancestors are offended, these spirits may bring avalanches or disease to the Bhotia people or their animals.
What Are Their Needs?
Nepal has long been hidden away and forgotten by most of the world. The government of Nepal is opposed to any form of evangelization so there are high level restrictions. There are more problems from family members than from the government for those who decide to follow Christ. Although many of the Nepali Tibetans have heard the name of Jesus and have some awareness of Christianity, they still do not have a clear concept of the gospel. As a whole they remain antagonistic and resistant to any type of witness. The demonic side of Tibetan Buddhism is very real and can only be battled through prayer.
Pray that the doors of Nepal will soon open to missionaries. Ask God to encourage and protect the few known Tibetan Christian believers in Nepal. Pray that these believers will have opportunities to share Christ with their families and neighbors. Pray that God will set these Buddhists free from the bondage of fear of evil spirits. Ask the Lord to raise up a network of strong local churches among the Tibetans of Nepal.
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