By Megan K. Mertz
“Jai masih!” — “Praise the Lord!” — the group of Nepali immigrants and their American friends repeated in celebration, as 21 of the immigrants approached the font one by one to be baptized.
Their baptisms took place Sunday, Jan. 12, at Ascension Lutheran Church, an urban congregation in St. Louis. Also gathered around the font were more than a dozen sponsors from Ascension and Christian Friends of New Americans (CFNA), an LCMS Recognized Service Organization that has been working with members of the Nepali community as they transition to life in the United States.
During the same service, Gagan Gurung, a pastor from Nepal, was confirmed in the Lutheran faith.
Since coming to the United States in July, Gurung has found new ways to serve the Lord. He currently works as an outreach facilitator for CFNA and shares the Gospel with the 2,000-strong Nepali community in St. Louis.
Following the church service, Bema Gurung, a young woman who also arrived in St. Louis last summer and who was among those baptized at Ascension, said, “Today we are baptized, all my family. We are very happy. We love Jesus.”
During the last three years, members of Ascension have partnered with CFNA to reach out to these immigrants from Nepal, where it is estimated that only 1.4 percent of the population is Christian. Members offer transportation, provide Bible classes, assist with health screenings and participate in other ways in the lives of the new immigrants.
“It’s not always comfortable, but it’s a blessing,” the Rev. Matthew Clark, pastor of Ascension, said about the congregation’s work with this group. “I think it gives our members the idea that the church is beyond just Ascension or the St. Louis area or even the United States, but it’s really that worldwide Christian church.”
“This really is a day of celebration for us as a congregation,” he continued.
Since 2010, CFNA has participated in 31 other baptisms as well as several confirmations among the growing Nepali immigrant community in St. Louis.
In addition to providing for the physical needs of immigrants and refugees new to the area, CFNA works to connect them with local LCMS churches like Ascension to provide for their spiritual needs. CFNA also has a scholarship-assistance program that enables these families to send their children to Lutheran schools. This year, 23 students are receiving scholarships from CFNA. Many of them attend Word of Life Lutheran School, of which Ascension is a member congregation.
“Schools have strong mission outreach potential,” said the Rev. Dr. Allan Buckman, chairman of CFNA. “I think of the 40 students we’ve had over the years, [and] about 80 percent are still in LCMS congregations with their families.”
“My opinion is that we have not seen the last of this by far,” Buckman continued. “It’s all in God’s hands.”
View more photos of the event here.
Megan K. Mertz is a staff writer with LCMS Communications.