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by Gyalsang Tamang
For the protection of believers in Jesus who still face opposition to their faith, and to keep it possible for more to come to Him, most names and places in the following text have been changed or removed.
I eagerly waited for the arrival of the disciples of this Jesus, whose name had steadily risen in rank among the gods I worshiped. Since that time in 1986 many have asked my story, questioning why I left Buddhism, the religion of my ancestors. I'd like to share with you the amazing but true account of how God lovingly reached down to me, my family and our Tamang and Sherpa people in perhaps the only way we would have listened.
My story really begins with my ancestors and my father. Ten generations ago the Tibetan border was moved after a war, and our citizenship changed to Nepalese. At that time our ancestor, brought in a gold-covered Buddha idol for the temple in the forest. My father, like his forbears, was guardian of the key to this temple and faithfully carried out his duties as the temple's main keeper. At thirteen he went to another town, hoping to become a lama, but he served there two years without reaching his goal. Zealous to learn all he could of Buddhism, Father then lived as a monk, studying with a great lama on the Tibetan border. When they learned of fighting starting up between Tibet and China they moved south. Life was often austere and in times of famine they subsisted on wild grasses and nettle soup. By age nineteen Father realized he would never become a lama himself and sadly left the group.
Father is from the Tamang group, so when he displeased his family by marrying a Helambu Sherpa, his family gave him a home where only one other house had been built. It was on the least desirable land around, a hillside near the temple where ghosts and demons were said to live. A village idol, where chickens were sacrificed, stood on the other side of the house. It wasn't surprising that Father usually held out his big, curved Gurkha knife in fear as he entered the house, and like others in the area, he drank a lot of millet and wheat whiskey. At that time Father's major religious duty was to lead the worship songs at Gyawa festivals, rituals held 49 days after a person has died. For income, our family also kept jomos (females from a yak-cow cross). When Father was 20 and Mother was 24 my oldest brother was born. He was followed three years later by another son, then a sister who died and finally, after seven years, I was born. Originally I was named Khaji, but I was named Gyalsang when, after a serious fall, I stopped breathing for a time. My new name, meaning "Fainting," was fitting, for I passed out very easily as a boy.
Rather than living in the stone and wood house on the hill, we usually stayed in a woven bamboo A-frame shelter which could be moved up and down the mountain as we followed our jomo herd. Sometimes our house was rented to Tibetans who ran a lodbe for the budding tourist trade. However, from the time I was eight until I was ten years old we did live in the house and I was able to attend the school just above us.
Like twenty or so other village boys, I attended school but learned little. Our languages at home were Sherpa and occasionally Tamang, not Nepalese, the language used at school. What's more, I was careless about attendance--we all were--making it to class about once every eight days. Usually we just played around, hiding from Nepalese speakers who happened along the trail and begging from the trekkers for gum, pens or "one rupee please."
In 1983, when I was ten, we moved back to the portable shelter. My oldest brother, had gone to India to work in a coal mine, and my other brother lived and worked at a cheese factory, a half-day's walk away; so I was the only one free to help my parents. Mother and I went out daily to graze the jomos and protect them from the wolves and snow leopards.
One partly cloudy day in May of that year we were out with the herd, Mother in front and the stragglers and I bringing up the rear. At midday I lay down in the grass to doze a few minutes. I felt I woke up, but I could neither see nor hear because it seemed that two black shadow-men kept surging back and forth in front of my face like lightless lightning. They wore crowns and wing-capes stretching from their shoulders to the upturned points on their feet. Mother said she heard me shout and came running. She couldn't shake me to consciousness, and splashing me with cold water didn't help, as it had when I was a baby. She called others who were also grazing animals nearby, but in the evening she had to carry me back to the shelter, still unconscious. It was too dark to go for a witch doctor, so Mother and Father slept, one on each side of me, on the shelter floor.
During the night the shadow-men stopped their surging and they spoke to me in Sherpa, "Don't worry. We want to use you. We want to show you the Buddhist Way. Your parents are very afraid, so tomorrow they will want to call a witch doctor. Tell them to not call such a person. Tomorrow you will be better, but from now on you must sleep alone. Tell your parents to make a separate sleeping place for you and instruct them to never wake you when you sleep." Having said that, the shadow-men left and it was morning. What I had seen was other than a dream.
I was hungry. While I ate, Father and Mother bombarded me with questions; "What happened?" "Are you well?" "What did you see?" I reported all that happened and what the shadow-men had said. My parents thought much on what I had told them. They didn't call a witch doctor, and they made a two-foot-high plastic wall to separate my sleeping area from theirs.
The following night the shadow-men returned, wanting to take me somewhere. As we flew I felt them touching me, one on the right and one on the left. It took some time and was as if I had left this world. Then we were in a dark, unnatural place where no other living things seemed to exist. From the right hand of each of my escorts shone a light so tiny that, though I could feel their bodies beside me, I could see their fingers but no more. Then we went on to another place. Here was light. It was a place more beautiful than anything I'd ever seen. The shadow-escorts retreated and there in front of me I dimly saw a Buddha image. A voice spoke, "From today I want to use you. I'll teach you about my way."
The shadow-men emerged from behind and took me back through the dark place to the world. They said, "From today you are not to mix with others. Stay alone with your parents. Whenever your father and mother enter the shelter they must first cover themselves with incense." After that, every night for three years, I slept with a butter lamp by my head. While I slept I had to go to the place of light to learn the Buddhist teaching. My father was amazed as I reported all I learned: it corresponded precisely with what he had learned from the lama years ago. As directed, we bought the religious dress, drums and bells. Father was further amazed that though I'd never been taught, I could play the instruments.
One night the shadow-men told me to get a special pot we had in the family. On the night of the full moon I was to clean it and set it, empty, on a shelf near my head. The following morning it would be brimming with water. Using that, my parents, my brother (who had to come home from the cheese factory to do so) and I were to wash our heads and each drink as much a we could. Normally the pot held only two glasses of water, but on mornings after a full moon it always provided plenty with which we would all wash and drink liberally. After three months a green tree branch sprouted from the pot's spout. There was no soil in the pot. The shadow-men ordered that Father should make a box of fragrant wood for the pot, which he did. Thereafter, we would sometimes find, upon opening the box, new sprouts or flowers coming from the spout. Once a branch came from the top.
After some time of receiving teaching and witnessing such wonders, the shadow-men took me to the Buddha image, but this time a plate similar to a computer screen was attached at the knees. Letters were etched on it, and a voice explained the meaning. I couldn't even read Nepalese or write in straight lines. Nevertheless, every day I wrote clearly and neatly in a notebook the messages from Buddha's "screen." I wrote in another language which, to this day, no one has been able to identify. I could always read what I had written and from these writings I could also tell Father and Mother amazing things, such as their present thoughts and their past sins. I also gave them instructions concerning how they could atone for those sins: They had to daily bow down before the box 108 times, first on their knees, then prostrate with their foreheads to the ground. (Mother did this so diligently she developed a callus on her forehead.)
They also had to buy strings of 108 seed beads and go through them saying the traditional Buddhist chant. At one point we were given ten days to go to Kathmandu in order to buy Buddhist idols. Having done that, we were then to put two idols in the box in place of the pot. Every Saturday we had to perform a special ceremony in which I walked with a five-foot trident, followed by Father, who held the idol-box. As time passed we had to carry out more and more rituals. I was given a list of 35 gods' names. Each night all of us -- my eldest brother was back, too -- had to prostrate ourselves three times for each of the gods, saying that god's name as we bowed. The Dalai Lama was number 35, the lowest in rank among the gods. Then one day my notebook said, "After the Dalai Lama bow down to Yesu." I didn't know that Yesu is Sherpa for Jesus. In fact, I had never heard of Yesu (Jesus) before.
Every Saturday we opened my notebook for teaching and week by week, month by month the name Yesu rose higher in rank. With the name of Yesu came teaching about this unknown God. We learned of Adam and Eve and the first sin, Yesu--the Son of God--and his crucifixion and resurrection, and much more. We were also told that God will come to judge the world.
It was now 1985. As usual in the autumn, we moved the shelter down closer to the main town for the coming cold months. Father was glad to be able to bring a gift and again visit his good friend, the owner of the hotel. While there, Father noticed a Tibetan tract lying on the table an was immediately interested, not only because he reads Tibetan, but more so because he saw the name "Yesu" on the cover. Father asked the owner about the tract. It had been left behind by some tourists and he didn't want it. Father brought it back to our shelter and I looked in my special notebook for guidance regarding the tract. I read, "Keep the tract--it is good. Read it." We did. We also bowed down to it when we would bow down to the idols.
Two months later my brother wanted to quit his job at the cheese factory in order to reopen our house as a lodge. He asked me to look in my notebook for guidance in this matter. I bowed down three times and began to read, "If he wants to open a lodge that is fine, but don't sell alcohol. When the lodge is opened followers of Yesu will meet you." My brother happily opened the lodge, and six months later the disciples of Yesu came.
By this time many lodges had opened along the well-traveled Trek, and the lodge and hotel owners had a system of lining up for chances to meet the trekkers on the trail in order to invite them to their own places. On that particular day my brother was late in the line so he opted to just stay home. But while at home he spotted three foreigners on the less-traveled trail. He ran out to meet the young men, asking them to stay at his lodge.
The previous night the three men had stayed at a tiny lodge run by two young women who had eagerly requested, "Please stop at our cousin's lodge in the next town." Jon Rulison, his brother Dan, and Jay intended to go farther than just to our town, but they hadn't wanted to hurt the women's feelings so they said nothing. However, the following day it was slow walking: snow and rain had made the mud paths slippery. They were wet, cold and tired, so at my brother's invitation, they decided to stop for the day. They didn't know yet that this lodge was the very one my cousins had recommended the evening before. They also didn't know how God had gone before them to prepare the way for Sherpas to hear His Good News.
Actually, the trekkers, Jon, Jay and Dan had been praying earnestly for the Helambu Sherpa people for two years. (It had also been about two years since the name "Yesu" first entered my visions.) They had been sent to Nepal by Gospel Recordings to learn Nepalese and then make Gospel message tapes for evangelism in the lesser kno wn languages and dialects of the land. Knowing that there were not yet any Christians among the Helambu Sherpas, they had contacted a translator working with that people group with the hopes of making a recording. But, their Sherpa friends refused.
Arriving at the lodge, the three men changed into dry clothes and ordered instant noodles and hot lemon drinks. As usual, they bowed for a prayer of thanks in Jesus' name. My brother noticed.
Later Dan and Jay went out to explore the village and Jon stayed back at the lodge, settling on a bench by the mud and stone stove in the narrow dark kitchen off to the side of our big sleeping room. He pulled on a thicker pair of socks and warmed his hands over the fire as my brother started to organize things for the evening rice meal.
"What religion do you observe?" Jon asked.
"Buddhist," he answered, giving his full attention. "Is that all right?"
"What's really all right is what saves your soul," Jon told him. Then Jon continued, telling him about God, creation, sin and finally about Jesus--His life, death and resurrection, which had made the Way for us to God.
"The things you've told me and the things my brother has told me differ not even in one area!" my brother exclaimed.
"Where is your brother?" asked Jon, "Can we meet him?"
"He seems to have gone crazy," was the reply. "I can take you to where he lives in the jungle, about a three-hour walk up the mountain from here."
Jon, Dan and Jay were thrilled and curious about what my brother had told them and they wanted to meet me, but Dan had a plane to catch in Kathmandu. They couldn't take the time to hike all the way to where our shelter was. Later however, when he realized the importance of what had happened, Jon promised to return as soon as possible with a Nepalese friend.
Just two weeks after this Jon and Barnabas, a Nepalese Gospel Recordings worker, came to us. Recently the name of Yesu had moved up to second in rank on the list of gods we were bowing down to. I was also told that when the followers of Yesu come they should be allowed to enter our shelter without the customary waving of incense over their bodies. We had beautified the shelter with fresh ferns and flowers all over the floor and walls and as usual, I had on my white clothing. We were ready. It had been exactly three years from my first vision to that afternoon when my brother and the two arrived, about 5:00. Father, Mother, my brother and I began to take our turns bowing down before Jon and Barnabas, but they stopped us saying, "Don't bow to us. We are people just as you are."
I still couldn't speak Nepalese, so my brother and Father translated as our visitors talked with us. Barnabas began by telling how Yesu was born, lived, was crucified and three days later, rose again. They also played a Gospel tape in the Tamang language for us. (Incidentally, we knew the speakers.) Most of the evening I sat quietly, intent to hear every word, but finally I was so excited that I jumped up and got my notebooks. Flipping through the pages, I found and read some sections corresponding to what we had heard.
(During a later visit from Jon and a Nepalese co-worker, I read from one of my notebooks the complete accounts of how sin entered the world in the Garden of Eden, and of Yesu's life, death and resurrection. Jon, amazed, said I had confused Pilate's name with Caesar's in the part about the trial, but everything else was just as recorded in the Bible, God's message to the world.)
It grew late. After giving our visitors milk-rice to eat, I offered them my sleeping place. "We have good sleeping bags," they assured us, asking instead, that we spread out the pine-bouth bedding a bit away from me. Jon later explained why: He said he would have felt uncomfortable sleeping just where we were because of the ever-burning butter lamp, idols and ruffled cloth canopy. It looked too much like a monastery.
That night the shadow-men came as usual and escorted me to the Buddha image. A voice came, "Today my kingdom is finished in you and you no longer need to serve me. One comes after me who is greater that I. You must do what the men say and follow Yesu." I had no power to question. The dark men took me back. It was my last vision. Morning came and I felt as if a heaviness was gone.
The day was warm and relaxing with plenty of time to talk further. Jon told us that God doesn't want us to bow down to the idols--nor even to things written about Yesu--as we'd been doing. Barnabas explained more about why Yesu had to die in our place, how he fulfilled all of the requirements of righteousness, ritual and law. He also clarified that believing in Yesu means entrusting ourselves to Him. Barnabas and Jon played a cassette tape in Tibetan as they flipped through a corresponding set of forty pictures. These went over some Old Testament stories and told of Yesu, and they also showed what new life in Christ is like. Though no one suggested I do it, I yanked the charms and beads from my neck and we told Yesu we would follow Him. Mother had been out milking the jomos, so Jon and Barnabas gave her the Good News, too. She also wanted to follow in faith and by herself she prayed a beautiful prayer: "From now on you are my Lord. I don't know much, but you are my Lord."
Leaving the Buddhist way, the way of our ancestors, was a struggle at first, especially for Father. After Jon and Barnabas had left I saw him light some coals and incense in a pot, bow down three times, then sob uncontrollably. I hated to hear him cry and went to him, telling him the words I'd heard from the Buddha image in my last vision, two nights earlier. He calmed, and when peaceful again, agreed to stop doing the rituals. A few days later I got chicken pox. Though I was seriously ill for seven days, we knew that this time we couldn't call a witch doctor.
By now, the weather was getting too warm for the jomos so we had to move the shelter higher. Before doing that we burned our religious things, including most of the notebooks. I saved only the smallest notebook in which were the messages about Yesu.
From that time, what I had written in the notebook became to me as a completely foreign language usually, though I was able to still read parts of it from time to time. I understood that the ability to read it occasionally would last only until I could read a Bible myself and my faith was stronger. The last time I could read it was during the monsoon of 1993, the day my mother went to be with the Lord Yesu after a long battle with cancer.
Mother is perhaps the first Helambu Sherpa standing before the throne of God in praise. Father composes Sherpa and Tamang hymns and leads in worship when the believers from our area gather. My brother and his wife have been able to go to Bible school. God has helped me learn Nepalese and made it possible for me to record Gospel message cassettes in Sherpa and do the translation of the New Testament into that, my heart language.
Maybe this is difficult for you to accept. I can show my notebook as proof, and if you ask, I'll also give you the names and addresses of those I've mentioned in this account. Many who have stayed at my brother's lodge, or at another lodge, which my wife and I run, have heard our story. What's more, my whole village can testify to the three years in which I received visions while living in the shelter.
God can do anything if it's his will--this is my strong belief. Nevertheless, there is much opposition. The lamas consider me their enemy, a bad example for Buddhists. If you are a believer in Jesus, I ask you to pray for us, the Christians in our area. Pray also for our people who don't yet follow Yesu. Just as it was impossible for me to become a follower of Yesu and yet I have, please pray that others will also follow Him. One day you may hear that according to God's will, everyone in our village has begun to follow Yesu, the Name above all.
By Gyalsang Tamang, as told to C. Gurung. With special thanks to Gyalsang's father, brother, Jon, Dan, Jay and Barnabas, who added details and verified the account.
The following was provided by Jonathan Rulison in July 1998 as an update on Gyalsang:
The family is still running a lodge for tourists. Most of the family is Christian through the influence of Gyalsang and the recordings. Gyalsang's mother and brother have died. Gyalsang and his wife have one child.
Gyalsang and his father spend much of their time visiting the surrounding villages explaining what it means to be a Christian. Many people are wondering and asking about their unfamiliar faith. Gyalsang also leads the services where local believers have built a church. That building is in plain view of the village, and there are no photos or statuary, emphasizing the fact that God is a Spirit, not a graven idol. This is a testimony to the Buddhists, showing how Christians worship God.
Most of all, Gyalsang's desire is that people would praise and glorify God for saving his family. He would appreciate our prayers for the continuing spread of God's kingdom in Nepal - a hard place for Christians to visit, but the home of many whom God loves.