Tek Dharnal – From Persecuted to Planter
By Jim Burton
TUCKER—When the Indian government deposited Tek Dharnal’s family on the banks of the Kankai River in eastern Nepal, Georgia wasn’t on his mind. Nor was church planting. The Dharnal family just wanted to survive.
Ethnic fighting that began in 1989 forced this Bhutanese family to flee their small country, which is wedged between India and China. Like thousands of other Bhutanese, Dharnal’s parents fled to India, a country that is not only their neighbor, but one that shares their predominant religion of Hinduism. But India would not accept these desperate refugees and bused them to Nepal, leaving them beside the river with no food, water, medicine, or shelter, Dharnall recalled. His younger brother died there from influenza and hunger.
The Bhutanese refugees of Nepal became known as the Forgotten People. Having fled their homeland and rejection by a neighboring nation, they were suddenly in one of the most isolated places on earth. And no one seemed to know or care.
Eventually, non-government organizations created refugee camps and some degree of stability. Within the camp, Dharnal eventually married his wife, Kaushila, in 1998. Following the birth in 2002 of their daughter, Roshni, both mother and child were lifeless. Witch doctors, Buddhist monks, and medical doctors told Dharnal that his wife and daughter would die.
Then a man came to Dharnal’s home and preached a gospel of peace. The family learned about Christ, eternity, and hope.
“You need Christ right now,” the preacher told Dharnal. “If you kneel down right now the Lord Jesus is going to save your daughter and wife.”
For about an hour, the preacher spoke about healing and salvation. As the preacher proclaimed God’s word, Dharnal felt deep conviction as God’s spirit come over him.
“Are you serious?” Dharnal asked the preacher.
“Can you give a guarantee?”
Dharnal knelt and accepted the claims of Christ in 2002.
The Lord kept the preacher’s promise.
“I saw the glorious wonderful work of the Lord in my wife and my daughter,” Dharnal recalled. “Both of them got healed and committed their life to the Lord.”
His father, a witch doctor, soon accepted Christ. Eventually, more than 300 family members became Christ followers.
Georgia was still not on Dharnal’s mind, but it was on the Lord’s. Dharnal began seminary training in Katmandu. During that training, he felt a definitive call to church planting. He went to China for one month and planted a church that now has more than 300 members.
His church planting journey had begun.
Eventually, the Dharnals resettled in Georgia in 2008. He now pastors First Agape Baptist Church, which meets on the property of Rehoboth Baptist Church in Tucker. The church primarily services other Bhutanese refugees. However, his vision for church planting doesn’t end at First Agape. Since arriving in the United States, Dharnal has planted or helped to plant Bhutanese churches in Nashville, Cincinnati, Dayton, Louisville, Kansas City, and Memphis. None have been easy.
” Our Bhutanese people basically believe in 3.33 million gods and goddesses,” Dharnal said. “They are 75 percent Hindus, 10 percent are Buddhist, and the remaining are other religions. Christians are very few.”
Dharnal’s vision is for that to change with more church plants, including intercultural church plants. His multiplication plan included recently hosting 40 students from around the world—most from the U.S.—in a month-long church-planting seminar. For fifteen hours each day, these students immersed themselves in worship, study, and planning for future church plants.
“We are creating new leaders in this nation,” Dharnal said.
Georgia Baptist Convention State Missionary An Van Pham, recognizes a recurring pattern in Georgia.
“Among immigrants, God calls and uses many church planters to serve His kingdom,” Pham said. “They know the people’s languages, hearts, needs, and cultures.”
Despite the challenges of church planting and the personal persecution he has faced, Dharnal shows resolve to press forward and start more churches, particularly
multi-ethnic churches in Atlanta.
“In God’s eye nothing is impossible,” he said. “God will make it happen.”
– Jim Burton is a photojournalist living in Cumming, and the bivocational pastor of Suwanee International Fellowship, in Suwanee.