LIFESTYLE AND CULTURE
The richness of Tibetan culture can be seen in their recognizable styles of art, architecture, rugs, clothing and music. Religion under-girds the expression of each of these traditions. Their numerous festivals, too, are based on Tibetan Buddhism and always highlight religious rituals; sporting events, music, dramas, dance, horse races and more can also be included as integral components of these celebrations.
Known globally for their steadfast desire to pull away from China and once again become an independent nation, Tibetans have been under China’s control since the early 1950s. By the end of that first decade of Chinese rule, tens of thousands of Tibetans were dead and 100,000 had fled to the surrounding nations of Nepal, Bhutan and India. The Dalai Lama, seen as both their religious and political leader, escaped to India during this time. Over the years tensions have flared time and time again as revolts rise up and the Chinese government moves in to quash every effort. Accused of numerous human rights violations, the Chinese government is widely believed to be systematically obliterating Tibetans and their culture through policies which move ethnically Han peoples (the majority ethnic group in China) into traditionally Tibetan territories.
HOSTILE TO THE SPREAD OF THE GOSPEL . . .
The one thing Tibetans and the Chinese government can agree upon is Christianity. Both are hostile to the spread of the gospel. Spiritual beliefs control every aspect of life for Tibetans. Key components of Tibetan Buddhism include: a belief in reincarnation; high status for lamas (teachers); a recognition of many gods, saints, and demons; and a piety of followers seen through offerings, meditation, pilgrimages, and repetition of prayers. Prayers are written on flags that are strung together and hung outside, sometimes across great distances. The prayers are considered prayed each time the flags flap in the wind. Similarly, prayers are “prayed” each time wheels containing written prayers are spun. It is important to note, however, that Tibetans are a highly superstitious people, and, in reality, their practice of Tibetan Buddhism is a thin veneer over an ethnic worship of village deities and spirits.
In 1892, Hudson Taylor, the famous missionary to China, declared, “To make converts in Tibet is similar to going into a cave and trying to rob a lioness of her cubs.” It is true that there are only a handful of fellowships among Tibetans, but many believe that the time has come when the Holy Spirit will move mightily over the highlands drawing the Tibetan peoples home to God.
WHERE DO THEY LIVE . . .
The high, jagged peaks of the Himalayan mountain chain are home to the roughly 6.2 million Tibetans of China and Nepal. Within this number are 57 unique people groups, most of which have their own distinct languages. These Tibetans are nationless peoples, minorities in the countries in which they dwell.
All Tibetans are high altitude people. By necessity these altitudes produce a hardy and hard working people. In the mountains most Tibetans are herdsmen for sheep, goats, pien cattle and yak which are all native to the area. Known as the “boats of the plateau,” yak are particularly important in Tibetan society for transportation, medicines, religious ceremonies and, of course, for milk and meat.
In the valleys they grow apples, potatoes, turnips, walnuts, rice and qingke, a type of highland barley used in making their staple food, a porridge called tsampa. As Tibetan Buddhism has risen in popularity among Westerners, the tourism industry has increased in economic importance as the devout and merely curious seek out the religion’s birthplace.
HOW YOU CAN PRAY
- Pray that God would raise up people of prayer to intercede on behalf of Tibetans.
- Tibetan areas are difficult to access for foreigners. Pray both for creative access strategies for foreign workers and for local believers of the majority people groups to be obedient to God’s call to make disciples of every nation.
- Pray for the Tibetan diaspora in India and across the globe. Being away from their homeland has made them hold on to their traditional beliefs with great zeal. Pray that they would find where they truly belong in Christ and His Kingdom.
- In the past several years, translations of the New Testament have become available for different Tibetan languages, and many more will be complete in the coming years. Pray that access to these NTs would be widespread and that as people experience the living Word of God, lives will be changed.
- Pray for the Beyond teams working among Tibetans. Pray that God will sustain them and provide them with every good gift to be able to continue their work.
- Pray that the Lord raises up many teammates to join in the mission of reaching the 6.2 million Tibetans who do not yet know him as Lord.