Inside, pews were filled with worshippers clothed in colorful ethnic dress who celebrated as some 30 men and women made professions of faith during the joint service.
An excited Samuel Cho, 72, pastor of both The Nepal Baptist Church of Baltimore and The Bhutan Baptist Church, welcomed the diverse congregation of 170, a mixture mostly of Nepali and Bhutanese as well as some Korean, Filipino, Indian, white and African Americans. The First Secretary for the Nepali Ambassador for the United States, Ananda Sharma, was an honored guest and speaker.
"I'm going to give you one of the best messages of the Bible, because I love you so much," Cho said from the pulpit.
The sermon, "You Must Be Born Again," taken from John 3, is Cho's favorite for inviting people to know Jesus. And Cho, a North American Mission Board missionary, is no stranger to giving that invitation wherever he goes, wasting no time sharing the Gospel and praying for a harvest.
After worship, the group joined in with about 80 others who had come for the Nepali festival and free medical fair. Volunteers from the church served traditional Nepali food while festival-goers could choose to receive haircuts and clothing, along with blood pressure checks and other tests, dental exams and doctor referrals.
During lunch, Cho presented Nepali Bibles to those who accepted Christ that morning. Twenty-three-year-old Hari Karki, who had arrived in the United States only 25 days earlier, received a Bible. She beamed and said, "I'm so happy."
Baltimore is home to about 3,000 Nepalis and about 500 Bhutanese refugees. To serve this growing community, the medical fair was launched five years ago by The Nepal Baptist Church of Baltimore along with Global Mission Church, a Southern Baptist church in nearby Silver Spring, Md., which provides medical volunteers for the fair.
In 2005, Cho planted The Nepal Baptist Church, the first Nepali Baptist church in the United States. The medical fair helped introduce the new congregation to the community and allowed the church to provide some much-needed medical service.
In 2008, Baltimore began receiving some of the first wave of Bhutanese refugees coming to the United States. Cho went to the airport to meet some families and invited them for fellowship.
In the next couple of years, he said, the city likely will receive another 500 Bhutanese out of the 60,000 total refugees who eventually will immigrate to the United States from Nepal. In the 1990s, more than 100,000 ethnic Nepalese of Hindu background were evicted from Bhutan. Many have lived in refugee camps in Nepal for the last 18 years. In 2008, they were allowed to immigrate to the United States and other countries.
In Nepal, outside a Bhutanese refugee camp while on a mission trip in 2008 with his wife Young, Cho began reaching the Bhutanese people. Not allowed inside the camp, Cho said he would sit under a tree outside and talk and share the Gospel with the refugees one by one.
He said mothers would ask him, "How can we protect our children if we come to America?" They had heard of the high crime rate and of sexual assaults and were fearful and concerned about their daughters, he said.
That summer 200 people made professions of faith, Cho said. The next year when he returned to the camp, another 500 accepted Christ. As a result, Cho planted three Baptist churches in Nepal with support from The Nepal Baptist Church of Baltimore.
Cho has been busy planting churches ever since he finished seminary in 1999 at the age of 66. When he accepted Christ at age 40, the former accountant said he bargained with God that if He would let him pass the CPA exam and heal him from his debilitating headaches, he would be about the Lord's work. Little did Cho know, though, how God would use him after accepting his offer.
In 1999, Cho first planted a Korean church, begun in an apartment complex in Baltimore County with Global Mission Church, where he served for five years as pastor.
At the time, he and Young frequented a Korean restaurant where they soon met a Nepali waitress and her husband. The Chos became friends with the Hindu couple and led them to Christ. The friendship seemed providential as it sparked an interest for Cho in the Nepali people, though he said "it's hard to explain how the Spirit moves." Cho also had been reading articles about the Nepali and the plight of the Bhutanese refugees. Cho, who at 15 had to leave his home in Korea for some months during the Korean War, said he could somewhat identify with the refugee life.
Later in 2005, the waitress, Nina Shrestha, helped Cho start the The Nepal Baptist Church by opening her home in an apartment complex in Baltimore County -- where many Nepali lived -- for fellowship and Bible study. Sometimes just a few would come and then small groups of 10 or 12 began coming weekly, she said.
"Once I believed in Jesus, I told my friends and family," Shrestha said.
"What Jesus sacrificed for us really touched my heart. As a Hindu, there are lots of gods, and we didn't have any god like that," she said.
The church grew and later met in the conference room of the Baltimore Baptist Association, officially forming in 2006. Today, Cho said the church has about 50 members and meets in the chapel of Govans Boundary Methodist Church.
"Right now," Shrestha said, "people are understanding the difference between Hindu and Christianity, and the church is growing."
In 2008, Cho planted The Bhutan Baptist Church. Small groups first met in homes in the apartment community where the incoming refugees first settle. After Sunday morning worship with The Nepal Baptist Church, the tireless Cho heads over for an afternoon service at The Bhutan Baptist Church which meets at The Moravia Assembly of God which is within walking distance of its members. The church has grown to about 70 members and works with the Maryland Food Bank to distribute food to the community.
Cho helps members of the Bhutanese congregation look for work and gives them referrals when he can.
Together both churches are supporting Cho's new free-of-charge Bible school, The International Bible Study of Baltimore, which held its opening session in September at The Nepal Baptist Church. Cho says his dream is to disciple and educate the Nepali and Bhutanese so some can become missionaries or pastors and spread the Gospel in the United States as well as in their native countries.
Cho said he teaches them, "When you were a refugee, you were mistreated. But now you are equal and made in the image of God."
Laura Sikes is a photojournalist in Alexandria, Va.
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