Demas Kharel (second from left) helps baptize in a lake.
(Photo Courtesy of The Southern Baptist Texan)

Nepalese refugee’s road to ministry a story of God’s grace

Demas Kharel knows what it feels like to be a refugee, culturally rejected and far from home.

Born in Bhutan of Nepalese descent, he spent the first two decades of his life living in squalor inside a refugee camp in Nepal before coming to the U.S. Now, through God’s leading, he is serving the Lord as pastor of New Life Family Church in Watauga, Texas.

A global community 

Like many Texans, transplanted and otherwise, Kharel can look around his community and see a rising number of men and women from around the globe.

According to the latest numbers released from the people groups department of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, Texas is home to 420 people groups who speak more than 300 languages. SBTC missions strategy associate Dan Acharya, who leads the convention’s people groups department, says there are 59 language groups in the five-square-mile 75231 North Dallas zip code alone.

With increasing international diversity comes higher numbers of those who are lost and unchurched. In the “Reach Cities” of Austin, Houston and El Paso — where the SBTC has heightened its church-planting efforts to respond to growing numbers of lostness — the percentage of lost and unchurched is 41 percent, 68 percent, and 98 percent, respectively.

“I want to come closer to them and tell them what I have in me,” Kharel said, “and that Jesus can change their lives.”

Jesus changed Kharel’s life in 2008, near the end of his time living in the Nepalese refugee camp. Two years later, in December 2010, he and his family were relocated to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex by the International Organization for Migration. Though they had envisioned a change in their fortunes after coming to the U.S., they were resettled in a high-crime apartment complex.

Even so, God was at work.

At that time, Acharya was New Life’s pastor, and he and his wife, Narola, would often visit apartment complexes to connect with people groups. That’s how they met Kharel, who, in turn, was excited to meet a Christian pastor. The Acharyas continued to minister to Kharel and his family, and he eventually joined the church and began to do ministry there.

The Acharyas spent many hours investing in the lives of Kharel and others, knowing that God might use one of them to one day lead the church. In Kharel, Acharya said he saw someone with a “kingdom-sized mentality.”

“Don’t call yourself a refugee,” Kharel remembers Acharya telling him on one occasion. “You are a new creation in Christ.”

Passing the baton

So when Acharya was ready to hand over the reigns of the church in 2021, the congregation called Kharel to lead them into the future.

“He knows the mission,” Acharya said of Kharel. “He knows the DNA of the church.”

In 2015, New Life Family Church — which had been meeting in a Methodist church — began praying for a building of its own. Those plans were slowed in 2020 with the arrival of COVID–19, which hindered in-person attendance and eventually resulted in more than half the members of the church being laid off from their jobs. Despite those setbacks, one thing didn’t stop.

“We had been praying for five years,” Acharya said. “We were not going to stop now.”

Eventually, one of the church’s newest converts alerted church leaders to a building for sale in Watauga. Though its original price tag was far out of range, the church continued to pray for God to provide. Through negotiations, the owner of the building decided to sell to New Life for several hundred thousand dollars less than the asking price.

New land for New Life

Today, New Life is meeting in the facility, which sits on three acres of land, has 220 seats in the sanctuary, and includes five to six rooms that can be used for education space. Nearly 50 families — most of whom are Bhutanese, Nepalese and Burmese — are either members or are regularly attending.

“I thank God that He brought us here,” Kharel said. “I became a citizen of the U.S. and people here listen to our voice. We had been fighting for our rights [in Bhutan and Nepal], but we didn’t get it. But here, they hear us. They listen to our voices. That gives me great joy.”


EDITOR’S NOTE — This story was originally published by Jayson Larson for The Southern Baptist Texan.

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