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Tibetans in the Neighborhood

Kora lives in a Tibetan neighborhood where she serves as a youth worker. It’s where she first encountered a Tibetan boy named Champo. They met when Champo was about twelve years old. “He was kind and friendly,” recalled Kora, “but he was also filled with self-loathing and convinced that no one liked him. He told us repeatedly, ‘Everyone hates me.’”

Kora and her team of youth workers kept speaking truth over Champo and asked if they could pray for him. “One day he said yes,” she said. “We prayed over him, and he began to change. Over time, we noticed that he stopped talking about hating himself. Then he told us one day that he knew God was real because he felt his presence inside him.”

When Kora asked him to share more about his newfound faith, Champo was hesitant. He was nervous about how his parents would respond. He thought they would likely perceive his relationship with Jesus as a rejection of Tibetan Buddhism and kick him out of their home. It was difficult for Kora and her teammates to know what to do. They understood that for most people within this immigrant community, to be Tibetan was to be Buddhist, even if they lived in North America. 

That’s right, Champo and his family don’t live in Asia—they live in one of North America’s largest cities, where there are, according to some estimates, as many as 10,000 Tibetan immigrants spread out across the city. 

“There are over 4000 Tibetans in my neighborhood alone,” said Kora, “all within just a few city blocks. To my knowledge, that’s the densest population anywhere outside of Asia.”

Kora grew up in Southeast Asia as the daughter of Multiply global workers, but when she moved to North America, she began to learn about immigrants from all over the world living in the city where she settled. She was especially intrigued by the large Tibetan population and saw both the needs and the opportunities within this unique Buddhist community. “Of those ten thousand Tibetans in our city, we know of only ten that are followers of Jesus,” she said. “They make up a very small fellowship, but they are meeting together regularly.”

According to Kora, only a handful of Christians in the neighborhood are reaching out to the Tibetans among them. With some disappointment, she said, “In the whole city, I know of only one church among hundreds that is actively engaged in outreach to their Tibetan neighbors here.” 

“Most churches in North America still have the mindset that cross-cultural ministry is overseas,” concluded Kora, “it’s somewhere else, and it’s something only a few people are called to.”

Kora hopes that this ministry among Tibetans will challenge churches in North America to embrace the idea that all believers are called to reach out to their neighbors, wherever those neighbors are from. “Because no matter where you live,” she continued, “most of us have neighbors now from other cultures. Maybe God brought them to our streets so they could hear the Gospel from us!”

Kora is passionate about encouraging other believers to engage their neighbours who come from different cultures around the world. She hopes that they will be more adventurous in trying different foods and communicating across language barriers. “Ask your neighbors about their festivals,” she pleads, “and learn about their values, their worldview, so you can effectively communicate the Gospel in a language they will understand.”

Kora and her teammates are not asking Champo to reject his Tibetan identity or heritage. They understand that his family is still very attached to their Buddhist traditions and practices. “Some of the youth that I work with tell me that their parents make them pray to the spirit shelf in their apartment every night before bed,” she explained. “When I go to some of their events here in the city, it’s like walking into a Buddhist temple in Asia. Their religion is still very much a part of their identity, even here in North America.”  

That’s why it was so significant when Kora introduced Champo to two other Tibetans in the city who had embraced following Jesus. “They shared their testimonies with him and prayed for him in a Tibetan dialect,” said Kora. “It was powerful. Champo was blown away, because he had never heard someone pray to Jesus in his own language before. He thought he was the only Tibetan in the whole world who was interested in following Jesus.” 

Since meeting those other Tibetan believers, Champo has continued to grow in his faith. “We’ve seen him become more confident, and at the same time more humble,” explained Kora. “He’s becoming a leader
within his community.”

Kora resolved to provide Champo with as much encouragement as possible and then waited patiently for him to talk about his faith in Jesus with his peers and his family. “We don’t rush this process,” she said plainly, “because we know the cost is real and it has to be led by the Holy Spirit.”

Clearly, the Holy Spirit is at work in Champo’s life. This past summer, at a week-long camp for Tibetan youth, Kora and her teammates watched in amazement as the young Tibetan took the next step. “At the start of camp, in front of all the youth,” Kora shared, “Champo stood up and prayed for the leaders and for the camp participants. He was obviously nervous, but it was so sweet. Some of the other youth were shocked, but Champo continued to declare his faith in Jesus throughout the week.”

Pray

Please pray for Champo’s faith in Christ, that he would continue to grow in strength and wisdom. Pray for other Tibetans like him who desire to follow Jesus. Pray also for Kora and her teammates as they work among Tibetans in North America. Pray that many more churches will begin to support this work and become involved in local cross-cultural outreach.

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