KATHMANDU, Nepal (BP) -- Chiijik Lhomi has never been a big fan of Christians. Everyone in her community knows it. The 51-year-old woman -- who makes and sells rice beer -- once loved to poke fun at those who believe in Jesus.
"Then my lost daughter was found," says Chiijik, whose last name indicates the name of her ethnic Tibetan people group. "After that, I started to believe just a little bit."
That was nearly eight years ago, and despite countless conversations with Christians -- including Sonam, her runaway daughter who returned home -- Chiijik still isn't quite sure what it means to be free from sin.
"I believe in my heart about Jesus," Chiijik says. "But I cannot be baptized."
Jewel Deckard,* a Southern Baptist worker in Kathmandu, believes that Chiijik doesn't want to be baptized because she feels guilty for persecuting those who shared Jesus with her in the past.
"Even though she insists that she believes in Jesus in her heart and is telling her friends and neighbors that Jesus is the one true God, Chiijik does not count herself among the Christians in the community," Deckard explains. "She continues to say, 'You are Christian. We are not.'"
Sonam was 13 years old when she ran away from home. The family had moved from their village in the mountains to Kathmandu after Sonam's younger brother lost his arm in an avalanche.
Sonam was angry -- angry because her brother lost his arm, angry with her mother for moving the family to the city and angry with her father because he was absent from the family, trekking Everest with foreigners to earn a living.
Her solution was to run away.
"I was lost from my family for nine months," Sonam says, who lived in another village during that time. "My mom was very sad and searching for me."
Sometime later, Sonam caught chicken pox and required hospitalization. It was there she met a Christian woman named Hillie.
"Hillie came and prayed for me. She showed me the love of Jesus," Sonam says.
"I said, 'I don't want to trust your God, because if there is a God, then I this problem. If there is a God, my brother wouldn't have . If there is a God, my father would care for us,'" Sonam recalls.
But Hillie was patient and helped Sonam understand that the things that had happened to her and her family were not punishments from God. Slowly, Sonam recovered and was released from the hospital. Hillie invited her to return home.
After trusting Christ, Sonam's life began to change. She moved home with her mom, who saw the beginnings of change in her daughter's life.
Then an amazing thing happened.
"My father came back," says Sonam, noting that she had not seen her father since she was 2. "I thought my father was bad, but he is good. He is a good father."
Sonam recognized her father's return was a gift from God, and she began to seek ways to learn more about the Lord. That's when she met Lane and Jewel Deckard,* Southern Baptist workers in Nepal.
"We had been praying for a national partner," Jewel Deckard says. "We heard about a young Lhomi girl who was a Christian but had not been discipled."
The couple asked Sonam to serve as a translator for volunteers. Sonam agreed. As she began to grow in her faith, she most wanted to share Jesus with her mom.
Not feeling worthy
Chiijik acknowledges that the consistency of the stories she heard over the years and the change she saw in Sonam convinced her that Jesus is real.
"No one forced me to believe in Jesus," Chiijik says. "I just started thinking, 'Is this true or not?' One night I realized there is a God."
Chiijik also saw the JESUS film at the church in her community. She credits the film with helping her understand who Jesus is.
Although Chiijik doesn't attend church and refuses to be baptized, she seems to understand the difference between following Jesus and following other gods like the statues her Buddhist neighbors worship.
As a result, the woman who once persecuted Christians now shares stories she is learning from the Bible with others in her community.
But when the discussion turns to baptism, her tone changes.
"I'm not taking baptism and I never should," Chiijik says.
Deckard says, "We have this conversation every time we come. She says that she is a Christian and she believes in Jesus, but she doesn't identify herself with Christians.
"It's really hard," Deckard continues. So Deckard and her team continue to pray for Chiijik and patiently share God's Word with her.
In the meantime, Chiijik has her own prayer requests.
"Pray for me to get a new job," Chiijik says. The process of making rice beer requires her to stand over an open fire for hours at a time. "The smoke burns my eyes. Pray that God will give me another job."
Tess Rivers is an IMB writer.
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