19 Sep 2016
The small landlocked nation of Bhutan, cradled between India and China, is home to the Bhutanese people group, the Drukpa. Bhutan only spans about 300 km at its widest point, but with its mountainous landscape, travel within the nation is not for the feint-hearted. The Drukpa inhabit the hilly terrains at high altitudes enduring extreme cold, high rainfall, snowfall and dense forests.
For over a hundred years there has been a monarchy in Bhutan. In 2008 the first Bhutanese parliament was elected and the king ratified the country’s first constitution. The language of the Drukpa is called Dzongkha, dzong being the word for fortress. These dzongs dominate the Bhutanese hills and have traditionally been both centers of military power as well as centers of learning.
The Drukpa do not refer to their country as Bhutan, but rather as Druk-yul – ‘land of the thunder dragon’. King Wangchuck like his predecessors is known as the dragon king. Bhutan has long maintained a policy of strict isolationism, both culturally and economically, with the goal of preserving its cultural heritage and independence. Foreigners are only allowed to visit the country in limited numbers.
Bhutan has a national dress code for business hours, which is even stricter when visiting to a dzong or temple. Men wear a heavy knee-length robe tied with a belt called a gho. Women wear colourful blouses over which they fold a large rectangular cloth to form an ankle length dress. Their diet includes lots of rice, cheese, butter and chillies, and they drink salty butter tea (suja). Popular sports include archery and darts but these days Drukpa are most passionate about football.
Some of the younger generations are becoming disenchanted with the traditional ways and their lack of opportunities. There are a lot of problems that stem from globalisation, rural-urban migration and the ensuing youth unemployment. These problems include drugs and alcoholism.
The Drukpa believe that they have been Buddhists since AD 746, and Buddhism is so interspersed with Bhutanese identity and culture that it is difficult to separate the two. Young men are required to make an oath of allegiance to Buddha at the age of 15. There are many Buddhist temples across the nation, locals will often tell you their favourite places are to visit are their local dzong or temple. While religious freedom is legal in Bhutan and there has recently been a Hindu temple built in the capital, the government remains hostile to Christianity.
Only in recent years has the gospel started to gain a foothold amongst the Drukpa. Today, between 500 and 600 Christian Drukpa people live in Bhutan, where they face many hardships such as ostracism from their family and friends, and difficulty obtaining jobs and further education. The young church struggles with disunity and are hesitant to share their faith.
One Drukpa living in India recalls how he came to faith in Christ: ‘In 1992 I was riding my motorbike on a very clear sunny day. Suddenly, my vision went blank followed by a gripping sense of darkness. I crashed my motorbike and could not move half of my body. I was a devout Buddhist and faithfully served our god. I sent my wife to ask the lama (Buddhist monk) concerning my condition. The lama told my wife that some people had sent an evil spirit to kill me and that I would die within a week. My sister-in-law was already a Christian. When she heard of my condition, she brought along her Christian friends to my house. They started praying and applied oil on the paralyzed part of my body. Immediately I was able to move. I was completely healed. They preached Christ to me and I readily gave my life to Jesus.’ He later went on to help translate the New Testament into the Dzongkha language, and he has personally led more than 100 Drukpa people to faith in Christ.
Would you commit to pray with us for the Drupka for the next 7 days?
- Pray that the dark spiritual forces that have oppressed Bhutan for centuries would release their grip and allow the light and truth of the gospel to be revealed.
- Pray for the Drukpa youth, that their discontent would set them on a path seeking spiritual truth. Pray for protection from the traps of alcohol and drug use.
- Pray for the church in Bhutan to grow strong in understanding the word of God and what it means to follow Jesus. That they will look for wise ways to share their faith with others. That God would protect them from the lure of prosperity doctrine.
- Pray for God to redeem this ancient and complex culture, that Drukpa will worship Jesus with all the colour, vibrancy and passion that they display in their festivals but with their hearts surrendered to the risen Christ.