Note! The introduction to this story is at the end of under the headline R.K.’s CORNER, where you also will find many more pictures from Dawa’s ministry.
I was born into a middle class family in a small town in Bhutan. My family is Tibetan, and staunch followers of Tibetan Buddhism, which is a pantheistic religion promoting non-violence, family honor with a strong emphasis on preserving national religion and culture.
I excelled in school and displayed leadership abilities, so after my 10th final, I was sent to attend a military defense academy. One day, Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet in exile, came to visit the school. While he was inspecting the students, he suddenly pointed me out, and said, “When you have finished your education here, I will send for you!” I was stunned and deeply honored. I studied and worked very hard, as I was good in academics, but also at sports and different kinds of martial arts. After two years, I graduated from 12th grade. Shortly thereafter, Dalai Lama did indeed send for me!
In 1950, China invaded Tibet and by force incorporated the nation into the People’s Republic of China. Nine years later, due to a number of death threats, Dalai Lama, the spiritual head of his people, fled Tibet, and was given residency by the Indian government in Dharamsala in the northern part of the country where he established a democratically based shadow Tibetan government, which includes an army.
The travel cost from my home town to India was paid for by Dalai Lama, and he also gave me a free scholarship to train as his personal security guard. While in the security department, my duty was more than just guarding him, but I also spent a lot of personal time with him. It involved meetings and planning. I traveled to 40 countries with Dalai Lama, and met many worldly dignitaries, and rich and famous people, especially among film stars in Hollywood, from whom Dalai Lama receives huge amounts of donations – in the billions! I accompanied Richard Gere on some of his travels to Dalai Lama’s headquarters in India, and stayed in his home several times when Dalai Lama visited Hollywood. He is a well known film star who has embraced Buddhism and is an ardent spokesperson on behalf of Tibet’s freedom movement.
I found Dalia Lama a gentle, kind, and a sincere person who takes his religion seriously. He lives a simple, ascetic life, is not involved in politics, but spends much time meditating in high mountains. In contrast, as military personnel, we had no restriction. As head of security, I was a tough guy, a troublemaker who was proud of my fighting skills. I respected nobody, but demanded that everybody respect me. During my days off, my coworkers and I we were carousing, fighting, and gambling. I earned a bad reputation, which came to my family’s attention and made them ashamed of me. None of us took the Buddhist religion seriously. The religious rituals were rote with no conviction, no satisfaction, no peace. I was like a candle in the dark.
There was just one problem. My roommate – he was different. During the two years we roomed together, I never heard him say a bad word, or do a bad deed. There was a purity in him, and a peace that exuded from him which I did not have, and I was drawn to that. I admired him, but he irritated me immensely, so I began watching him carefully and testing him, just to see if what he had was real. He never gave in to the temptations presented.
One day, embarrassed by my own life, I asked him, “You are a nice guy, you don’t drink, you don’t gamble – why are you different from me? Why don’t you just enjoy life?” “Because of Christ,” he replied. I was baffled, “What?” “Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He has forgiven my sins. If you believe in Christ in your heart, confess Him with your mouth, you will be saved.” I had never heard of Jesus Christ, had never seen a Bible, nor did I know anything about the Christian faith. “Your life has been talking to me all the time,” I confessed, “I see in you what I must follow.” He then said, “I will bring you to my group.”
After a week of talking to him about these new ideas, he brought me to a secret group meeting of 5-6 young men, from different ethnic backgrounds; Indian, Nepalese, Tibetan. One had been a high priest.
When they began singing, I was overwhelmed by a great sense of harmony and peace which I had never experienced before. After a cup of tea, the high priest guy shared his testimony; while I listened, I was struck by a great fear and began shivering. The Lord was convicting my heart of my sin. I had a flask of alcohol in my pocket, so I quietly went to the bathroom and emptied it into the toilet. When I returned and sat down, I burst out, “I don’t know how to say this, but I am with the right people for the first time in my life. I want to become like my friend – I have never before had this kind of feeling of peace and harmony. What must I do?” The high priest guy said, “I will pray – it’s very simple. Jesus Christ will come and stay unless you reject Him. Simply give your heart, mind and body to Him; the Truth will set you free and you will stop being a man-pleaser.” With sincerity I prayed the sinner’s prayer. After that, I went back to the camp. I was changed!
I began longing for this kind of fellowship and for people who could teach me more from the Bible. I wanted to live a different life; to go away and study the Book. But I took some time to contemplate and filter through my thoughts and my life. God is the caller and qualifier. I hung onto the scripture verse in Hebrew 11 and kept it in my heart – God is the author and finisher of our faith, and – who can separate us from Christ? I decided to leave my job, but gave no reason to Dalai Lama for my resignation, and he accepted that. I decided to go home. I had a message. I was the prodigal son!
When I arrived home, I was warmly welcomed. My family had been ashamed of my bad lifestyle, but proud of my position with Dalai Lama. The entire community came together, and when they were gathered, I began speaking, “I want to say that I have not been a very good son, and I am sorry. But from now on, I will be a son you can be proud of. I have a testimony to share – I am now a follower of Jesus Christ!”
A long, stunned silence followed. Then, my uncle exclaimed, “What are you doing? You are a Tibetan, and as such you are a Buddhist. A Tibetan must always be a Buddhist – Jesus is a foreign, Western God!” I protested, “My home god never gave me peace and joy. This God has given me peace and deliverance. I am happy to tell you about this God.”
Not in my wildest dreams would I have expected the chaos that followed. I thought my family would be proud that I had changed for the better. Instead, the negative, emotional reactions were profound, but I felt God’s word to me, “Stand firm. Open up and speak from your heart with kindness and grace about your life– I will speak through you.” So I stood firm, strong, and steady and continued sharing my testimony. That evening, everybody was very upset, so the Elders decided we would talk collectively the next morning.
This time, the community leaders met with me. My uncle began, “You are our son, our community will accept you, but we have our own gods and culture which we must follow very strictly. If you continue to be aggressive with following this Western god, we will excommunicate you from our society.” I answered, “This Jesus gave me peace, happiness and deliverance. He is the only powerful god I have known.” “Think twice, this is a matter affecting a whole generation,” they said. I stood firm, “I am following Jesus!” They gave an extra day to consider my options.
The third day as we gathered again, the elders asked me, “What is your final decision?” “I stand firm as yesterday,” I replied. “Do you know what the consequences are?” “No.”
“We will excommunicate you from our family, and from our entire community. We will consider you as dead, like a broken egg. You will have no part in our business, and you will not be given any inheritance from our family. If you leave now without anything, where would you go? Let the Christians take care of you! But if you return, we will welcome you 24/7, but only as long as you come without your god.” Since that day, I have never been permitted to return home to my family.
I was ordered to leave my home and community. I was not even allowed to take my suitcase, so I walked away with only the clothes on my back and a few hundred rupees (approx. $15) in my wallet. I had learned that there was an Indian Bibleschool 12 hours away by bus further to the North, so I bought a ticket and arrived there.
I knocked on the door of the Principal’s office. I shared my testimony with him, and told him I wanted to study the Bible. “What church do you belong to?” the Principal asked. “I do not have a church, and I do not have any money.” “So, who will pay the $300.00 a year tuition for your studies?” he inquired. I admitted I had no one to support me. But I was insistent, “Sir, please give me a chance!” Finally, I was permitted to enroll in the school with the condition that I would work in the school kitchen and do the gardening during weekends in return for tuition.
While I was in school I had no spending money, but I knew I was not to ask people for help – God was to be my provider! I had one set of clothing, so every night I would wash my underwear and hang it in front of the fan to dry. I would squeeze toothpaste from tubes the other students had discarded, and collect nearly used up bars of soap. But I buried myself in the studies, deeply motivated to learn more about God! In between semesters when the other students went home to their families, or took vacation, I stayed, as I had no money to go anywhere.
After three years, I became part of a church. One day, and older church member, a retired doctor, came up to me and said, “Will you be my son?” She shook my hand, and invited me home. There, I celebrated my first Christmas. Eve, my new “mom” gave me 20 rupees (app. $1.00). It was huge!
After the graduation from the school, I started out as evangelist from my church. During this time, I met my future wife. I did not even have a ring for my wedding, but a friend bought it for me. There were lots of ups and down and struggles during this time, but my Heavenly Father never left me! In 1994, Campus Crusade came to India, and I worked with them for three years before I received a salary, but it was a good time when I received international training.
In 2002, I left Campus Crusade and founded Himalayan Good News Network Ministry. At an international conference, I had met Kaj Holte, a Norwegian minister. In 2004, Kaj and his friend, Ole came to the Himalayas to pursue the story of eight young Finnish women who in the late 1800 traveled to these mountains as missionaries. They were totally rejected by the local people who locked them out of their lives, so they ended up starving and freezing to death. Kaj and Ole found one of their graves, and worked on erecting a stone in their memory. The Free Church of Finland Mission has now 200 home churches throughout the Himalayas. Kaj and I became good friends, and Kaj recently helped finance the building for our ministry’s Leadership Bible Training school. We are also partnering with Troens Bevis who are sponsoring a number of our pioneer church planters.
Today, our ministry has 260 graduates from our Bible Training School who have been sent out to remote and rural areas in the Himalayas to evangelize and plant home churches. We have just started a new semester at the Leadership Bible Training School with 50 attending students, both men and women. When they graduate, like the others, they are ordained as Ministers of the Gospel and are then sent as ministry partners all throughout the Himalayas, to do pioneer church planting mostly in rural areas. There will then be will 310 of them. There are regional leaders to whom the missionaries are accountable, and twice a year, HGNNM brings them together for Alumni Ministry Partners Retreats.
We encourage the missionaries to be tent-makers, that is, they keep their jobs, so that they can support their families. The medium expense for a family of four in the city is $300 per month, and in rural areas $150 per month. We add $60 per month to cover some of their ministry expenses.
FROM R.K.’S CORNER
Last month, I reported from my July trip to Norway, where, among other things, I attending the annual Summer Festival at Troens Bevis, one of the largest and most effective mission organizations in Europe, with whom we have partnered for over thirty years. They sponsor over 1000 indigenous missionaries around the world. In the last issue, I focused on their ministry, the Festival, and Rune Edvardsen’s gift in bringing the Gospel afresh to a new generation, both at home and abroad.
During the Festival, there is always an appeal for missions funds for their indigenous missionaries. This year, the focus was on the Himalayas. The guest speaker, Dawa S. Bhutia, is an ethnic Tibetan and former Buddhist from Bhutan, who is founder and leader of Himalayan Good News Networking Ministry with hundreds of pioneer evangelists and church planters. They serve the Lord in some of the most remote and inaccessible places in the Himalayan mountains among Bhutanese, Indians, Nepalese, Tibetans, and more obscure tribes.
Dawa shared his testimony — a vivid demonstration of the cost of being a disciple of Jesus Christ in a Buddhist society. I sat down with Dawa, confident he had been well vetted by the leaders at Troens Bevis, and interviewed him for the following story. It is a stirring account of the loss of all things for the gain of the Peace that passes all understanding!
Guess my surprise when, at the end of August, I received a phone call from Dawa, who was in the States! He was visiting Nepalese believers he had mentored in refugee camps in India. Steve and I flew him down to Florida where he stayed in our home for a few delightful days! We came to know him better. Dawa, and Steve with kindred hearts for the world, became friends. The Bridge gave a generous gift toward his Leadership Bible Training School. We believe support of his ministry and pioneer missionaries are a valuable contribution to the Kingdom of God!
Please look to the top right to find ways by which you can sponsor his church planters!