KP Devkota (1964-2015)
As a teenage communist, KP Devkota burned Bibles and shut down churches. Yet after converting to Christianity as a student, he committed his life to helping other students discover and follow Jesus. And during his evangelistic ministry with NBCBS Nepal he saw hundreds become Christians.
Perhaps because of his own dramatic testimony KP had a particular passion for pioneering student ministry in difficult contexts. In an email six months before he died he wrote about the ‘hard lands’ that the Lord had given to Caleb in the Bible: ‘When I became a regional secretary, that is what I asked the Lord: give me the hard lands so that I can declare your salvation to the people who are in darkness.’
IFES General Secretary Daniel Bourdanné paid tribute to this aspect of his life. ‘He carried a personal vision to build bridges and establish contacts in countries that did not yet have any student ministry. He wrote to me [recently before his death] to tell me of the official founding of an IFES movement in one of those countries. Quietly but persistently he has been encouraging the church leaders there to come together to set up a student ministry. The establishment of that new movement will be remembered as part of his legacy in IFES.’
KP Devkota was born in the Gorkha district of Nepal, in a village many hours’ walk from the nearest road. Before moving to Kathmandu at the age of 16, he had never seen a bicycle, motorbike or bus.
His initials stood for Krishna Prasad and his family were Hindus from the highest Brahmin caste. As a child he was proud of that caste and his faith. He actively worshipped its gods and goddesses and had a personal Sanskrit mantra that he repeated daily. Apart from at school he was not allowed to mix with children from lower castes so had to clean himself ritually when he came home each day.
At secondary school, however, he encountered Maoist ideology. He became critical of the caste system and viewed all religion as an instrument of oppression. Christianity in particular he saw as a Western imposition that corrupted his nation and culture. He wrote: ‘I was instrumental in stopping the small church nearby my school and burning Bibles and Bible-related books. I enjoyed doing so.’
Yet despite his public fervour, he was privately unconvinced by atheism. The question of what happened after death frightened him and he instinctively felt that there was something in control of the cosmos.
He was also touched by the tearful witness of an old woman who always spoke to him when he demonstrated against her little church. She told him why she was a Christian and what Jesus meant to her. It made him ask himself why he was so opposed to Christianity despite not knowing about it properly.
To counter his ignorance he read the first few chapters of Matthew’s gospel and a biography of Indian Christian missionary Sadhu Sundar Singh, both of which impressed him deeply. He thought: ‘Even if I become a famous political leader or an engineer earning lots of money, ultimately I will die. If there is nothing beyond the grave, what is the meaning of life?’
In 1980 KP went to Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital city, to prepare to study science at university. Although still an active communist, he made the decision to go to church and struggled with the choice between the two. The tipping point came when a fellow student – the son of the old woman who testified to him - invited him to a student camp organised by NBCBS in October 1981. Due to the political situation, the camp was held in secret.
Over three days KP wrestled with scientific and political questions, gradually realising that Christianity was neither contrary to science nor to the pursuit of a just society. Again the question of death raised its head. KP was greatly moved that Jesus didn’t come to found a religion or speak wise words but instead gave his life that others might have life. He saw this in stark contrast to communist leaders who he felt used the lives of the younger generation for their own goals. On the third evening he accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour. ‘I told my Lord if he needed a martyr for Nepal, I will be one,’ he later wrote.
When his mother died, he returned to his village for the funeral and spoke publically for the first time about Christianity. Communist friends put him under pressure to renounce his new faith but he stood firm, knowing that this message was worth living and dying for.
Through the continued witness, Bible studies and nurture of NBCBS, KP grew as a Christian and also in his commitment to student ministry in his generation. He joined the underground movement as a volunteer in 1988 and as staff two years later. After studying theology at the Union Biblical Seminary in Asia he returned to NBCBS and was then made General Secretary in 1999, overseeing the purchase of a new headquarters for the movement in 2006.
In 2009 he was appointed Regional Secretary for South Asia, travelling widely around the region to encourage students and staff, despite the difficulties that many movements faced in countries hostile to Christianity.
KP died unexpectedly of a heart attack on 3 June 2015 in Kathmandu. He was 51. Although living in India, he had travelled back to Nepal with his wife Maya to support NBCBS and assist with relief efforts in the wake of the recent earthquakes.
Tributes flooded in from shocked friends and colleagues across the world. Chris Collins, Chair of the IFES International Executive Committee, remembered KP as a truly ‘gentle man’ who was passionate about his service and mission. Martin Haizmann, IFES Associate General Secretary, spoke of his strong evangelistic zeal and desire to see people follow Jesus. Others referred to the depth of his prayer life and of the deep respect and love for him in Nepal.
Many from the IFES family commented on KP’s devotion to his own family. Maya had also become a Christian as a student and worked as part-time staff for NBCBS until their marriage. Their son, Anand, is currently a student in India.
‘KP loved his wife dearly and was so proud of his son,’ said Daniel Bourdanné. ‘He was always concerned for their welfare and it was not easy for him to have to travel away from home so much in the course of his work. They have both made many sacrifices over the years and I want to express my thanks to them for the part they played in the ministry.’
An IFES book, published soon after KP’s death and first distributed at World Assembly 2015, is dedicated to KP and incorporates a photo of him on the front cover. The book is about the influence IFES has on people who then go on to influence others – a fitting summary of KP’s lifelong ministry.
Daniel gave thanks for that ministry at the packed memorial service for KP in Nepal. He also shared comforting words from 2 Corinthians 4. ‘The paradox of our nature is that we carry God’s treasure in a fragile body,’ he said. ‘Death is at work in us but we do not lose heart. There is hope that we will be raised by Jesus and to be brought into his presence.’
It is thanks to KP’s life and work that many in South Asia can claim that hope for themselves.