Nepal church, though tearful, starts singing again
Two dozen voices gained momentum, clapping hands, dancing and raising their faces to heaven in song: "Still I will love You and spread Your love to the people."
The congregation breaks into prayer, for this is the moment when the song was interrupted by Nepal's 7.8-magnitude earthquake a week earlier, on April 25.
A lone voice gently leads the Kathmandu congregation back to the present by finishing the song: "Heaven has seen me. The cloud of testimony is surrounding me. Soak me with Your anointing power."
A feeling of thankfulness washes over Tamang as he looks at the congregation. They survived not just the earthquake but the week since. God has taken care of them -- from finding an old tarp with holes for shelter that first night to a friend's offer of a room for the church to meet this day.
Still, the aftermath of the trauma is evident in their tired eyes.
The death toll has risen past 7,500, including 20 members of one church in the countryside that had weathered intense local opposition. More than 8 million in Nepal are affected by the massive quake, including at least 2 million who are displaced and millions more in need of food aid. An early estimate lists 130,000 houses destroyed but this doesn't include many villages off the beaten path that officials haven't made it to yet.
Tamang's family is among them. His home, which hosted the church, is not structurally sound so they spend nights displaced under a tarp. Church members struggled to find food those first days and did not have money to purchase what was available in stores; their money was buried.
One number, though, pierces Tamang's heart and won't leave –- the death toll. This is where the pastor starts his sermon.
"This song we finished today kept going through my head all week, as my heart grew heavier and heavier with the rising death count," he tells the congregation. "It would have been better for us if we had died last week in our house. We would have gone to a better place ... to join our Father in heaven.
"Think of the thousands who died. Many didn't have the chance to hear. They didn't have a choice of joining us in heaven or not," Tamang continues. "Despite our great loss, I feel God wants us to do as the song says -- share with the thousands. God is at work."
Heads nod in agreement. Christians are a minority in this country; less than 1 percent of Nepal's 28.8 million profess faith in Jesus Christ. Most adhere to Hinduism. But in times like these, doors once shut for this church are wide open.
A physical therapist sees a chance like no other to share about Jesus in her workplace, where survivors with head and spinal cord injuries will be treated in her therapy room.
Another member tells of four families still in tents. They have been forgotten by large-scale aid agencies. He wants to reach out to them.
Tamang nods encouragement and says, "Our church may be small but we can do important work for the Kingdom. Now is the time. People will ask why are we doing this. And we will simply say, 'Because our God loves you and so do we.'"
The pastor begins the Lord's Supper to end the service. It's 11:56 a.m. He didn't plan to have it at the same time as last week's earthquake, but it's very fitting.
"Sorry," Tamang says, pointing to the dinner plate of torn paratha (flat bread) and bowl of grape juice. "Everything in the church was destroyed.... We have no communion glasses or plate. We will make do with this spoon."
He holds the symbols of the "new covenant" and prays that millions of Nepalis will soon learn of this great sacrifice. Then, eerily, the chairs begin to shake and the earthquake alarm beeps.
It's an aftershock, more of a hiccup compared to the quake that abruptly ended the previous week's service. This one, however, goes mostly unnoticed.
20 killed at countryside church
The April 25 earthquake has claimed the lives of 20 members of Living Word Church in the Nepali countryside, up from 17 deaths in earlier reports.
The pastor, Jayesh Bipali*, and his family survived, a Christian worker who once visited the church reported.
Bipali was leading a growing congregation that had weathered local opposition. Nevertheless, he has planted more than 50 churches.
Recounting reports from the scene, the worker said the church had recently moved to a new location -- a building that wasn't as sturdy as the old one.
"As they worship, the floor begins to shake and the concrete ceiling starts cracking and crumbling. Screams. The ceiling gives way, burying men, women and children. A sickening silence follows," the worker wrote.
Bipali has a calm demeanor and a wizened smile, seasoned in part by "a rebel political group [that] bombed his church 10 years ago," the worker recounted from a trip three years ago, navigating narrow, winding roads through mountainous terrain, then walking up tiered and terraced rice fields to visit the church.
"Brahmin priests and witchdoctors had a presence in the area, and people started turning away from them and going to church," the worker continued. "This angered the priests and witchdoctors ... and they helped incite a rebel political group." Bipali "received threats from the rebels that if they continued to meet, they would kill him and all of the believers. He built a new church anyway."
The worker urged prayer "for healing for their cracked and bleeding hearts" at Living Word Church. "[P]ray that out of the rubble, resilience will rise. I've seen the resilience of the believers before; they've survived bombings and witchdoctors and chose to cling to Christ.
"My heart hurts for the people of Nepal -- they unconditionally welcomed me into their hearts, homes and lives," the worker wrote.
See part of Sunday's worship service and watch Pastor Tamang talk about the events of the previous week: