As globalization and diversity across the U.S. has spiked in the last decade, reaching the nations has come to mean, for many, reaching their backyards. This has certainly been the case for churches within the Triad (Greensboro, High Point and Winston-Salem). From 2008-2013,
North Carolina accepted 2,345 Bhutanese Nepali refugees, the second largest group any state received.
This people group experienced ethnic persecution in the 1980s, forcing them to flee the country of Bhutan and end up in UN refugee camps in Nepal. Since 2008, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has resettled almost 100,000 Bhutanese people in the United States.
Enter Mike and Julie Lee. The couple left for South Asia in 2002 to serve with the International Mission Board among the Bhutanese Nepali people for 11 years. During that time, Mike worked as a sports consultant to help build inroads to relationships and evangelism among the Bhutanese.
Upon returning to the States in 2013, Mike connected with another Bhutanese Christian couple they had known overseas, Khare and Esther Basnet, to begin a nonprofit called Refuge Sports. Khare, now the Sports Director for Refuge Sports, was formerly Bhutan’s national soccer coach for 25 years.
Refuge Sports is a ministry that serves refugees, specifically the South Asian population, through soccer camps and other services like ESL and citizenship classes.
N.C. Baptist Great Commission catalyst Russ Reaves had worked tirelessly to see churches started among Bhutanese Nepali people, but with little traction. After those early efforts, Reaves connected with Mike at a Triad monthly meeting of leaders and was determined to see ministry move forward among this people. Connecting with Mike was a step toward seeing a Nepali church plant finally come to fruition.
Further connection came through pastors Micah Ray and Chad Grayson at Life Community Church. LCC staff was praying through and developing their mission strategy for 2021 when they met Mike at a prayer meeting for unreached people groups. LCC believed the Lord was calling them to reach Nepalese peoples both overseas and in their community. The connection with Mike served to further that mission by partnering in the work to see a church plant started in the Triad among Nepali-speaking people.
LCC has partnered with Mike by providing facilities for soccer camps and other events organized by Refuge Sports. Most importantly, LCC plans to host the new Nepali-speaking church plant on its campus for services once it begins.
LCC is also providing required documentation for a religious work visa to bring a Bhutanese Nepali pastor to lead the church plant. He is a man who lived with the Lees for seven years and worked with them for nine years while they served with the IMB.
“He was like a son to us in many ways,” said Mike, who noted that he has been attending one of our Baptist seminaries online and pastored a church started in South Asia while they were living overseas.
The Lees have prepared to launch the church plant with Ralph Garay, international church planting strategist for N.C. Baptists. This included an initial assessment of Mike as a church planter, hearing his vision and helping the Lees understand the process for how N.C. Baptists could help support this work moving forward through funding and partnerships.
“I’m excited to see how the Father will lead Mike to reach lost Nepalis, to disciple new believers, to equip leaders for missions and send them as missionaries to plant gospel communities locally, nationally, and internationally,” said Garay.
Lee noted that he hopes to launch the church plant early next year.
“Our goal is to grow a kingdom focused, biblically solid, faithful, obedient Nepali church that will help take the truth of the gospel to their people everywhere.”
Reaching the nations is important to God and should be important to us. Whether we go to the nations or if they come to us, the church has a responsibility to come together and accomplish God’s intended mission for His bride.
by Lauren Pratt, NC Baptist Contributing Writer