KATHMANDU, Nepal – The Tibetan men and women begin to weep as the believer’s hands slide over the guitar strings. It’s their hearts’ melody – put to music in their own language.
The gospel came alive to these believers when they realized God speaks to them in their language and culture, said James, one of 12 leaders in the Tibetan church among the Lhomi people group.
“When we sing the song in our own context, and own style, people start to cry in our church,” James said. “They found the message of God in their own melody.”
Today between 250 and 300 believers worship among the Lohmi people group in Nepal. The International Mission Board’s Global Research reports a total Lhomi population of nearly 5,000.
The Lhomi believers love to worship, and their worship is an expression of the freedom from dreams and demons they’ve found in Christ. When they worship, it paints a picture of their rich cultural heritage.
James remembers when the gospel came alive for him.
His mother had an illness everyone attributed to demons, and he was possessed with a fear of demons. But when he and his family believed in Christ, they learned Jesus was stronger than demons. His fear evaporated and his mother was healed. Today, he expresses his freedom in Christ in his music.
“The Lord gave me the heart to create the song,” James said.
Between 250 and 300 believers worship among this Tibetan people group who live in Nepal. James, one of their leaders, plays an indigenous instrument. He wrote the first praise and worship songs for the Lhomi Tibetan language.
James, a singer, songwriter and worship leader, plays the Tibetan guitar and has composed between 60 and 70 hymns.
The gospel came to the Lhomi through Finnish Bible translators. Portions of the Lhomi Bible first were printed in 1976. As the Lhomi became believers, some like James began writing music in their own context.
James studied ethnomusicology at a university in Thailand. He has produced several CDs and his music already has been translated into Dzongkha, one of the languages in Bhutan, and Managi, the language of another Tibetan people group in Nepal.
Lhomi culture, language and worship are very different from that of the surrounding Nepalese culture. Tibetan music is based on the pentatonic scale, meaning they use only five notes per octave instead of the standard seven.
The Lhomi and other Tibetan people groups have tried to worship in Nepali, but they say it doesn’t feel authentic.
Worse, “Many … just [become] really confused because they don’t know the melody,” James said. “They come from the mountainside and they never try to sing the Nepali song.”
Non-Christians enjoy the Christian music, too, James said, “because we borrow the tune from the southern culture and language. Melody is very important in our culture.”
Because most Lhomi have heard the gospel, Lhomi believers are planting churches among other Tibetan people groups, partnering closely with IMB representatives and Tal and Janice Bratcher* and Kendrick and Jewel Deckard*.
The Bratchers and Deckards came to Nepal to see the gospel saturate the other 25 Tibetan people groups as it has the Lhomi.
“God has done something amazing in the Lhomi people. They are really an anomaly among the Tibetan Buddhist peoples in the Himalayas,” Bratcher said.
“We’re trying to tap into the Lhomi people and encourage them, to mobilize them to go and reach culturally similar groups in different areas in the Himalayas,” Bratcher said.
“Working with the Lhomi people has been incredible for us because they don’t have some of the barriers that we have going into some of these remote, isolated villages that it takes days and days and days to get to.”
U.S. churches also play a role in reaching the Himalayas with the gospel. Several churches partner with the Bratchers, Deckards and the Lhomi to reach Tibetan people groups who have yet to hear the gospel. Some churches adopted people groups and committed to see the gospel penetrate hidden Himalayan villages.
Many times, James Lhomi and other Lhomi believers travel with short-term teams from churches in the United States. The short-term teams and Lhomi believers work to each others’ strengths to make sure the gospel reaches all.
Short-term teams draw an audience and cultivate an interest in the message that James and other Lhomi believers bring. Most Americans that these people groups meet are more interested in Nepal’s mountains than they are in the people. When Americans come and want to hear about their lives, it creates an opportunity for Lhomi believers to share their faith.
James focuses much of his time on sharing the gospel with the Managi people group, which has only two families of believers. He’s writing music in the Managi language so they, too, can hear the gospel in their hearts’ melody.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Caroline Anderson is a writer for the International Mission Board who lives in Asia. For more stories specific to Asia, visit AsiaStories.com. Pray for James as he brings his music and the gospel to Tibetan men and women among the Managi people group. Pray for the Tibetan people groups who have yet to hear of their Creator.)