It is the 12th of April 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1624.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, it seemed like Tibet was everywhere. If you are of a certain age, you likely cannot think of Tibet without thinking “Free Tibet,” which was a political position, I suppose. Still, for me, it was more about the Tibetan Freedom Concert with the Beastie Boys and Smashing Pumpkins headlining. Nevertheless, Christians in Tibet had their moment in the early 2000s. Outlets such as Time magazine and the Guardian in the UK started reporting on the curious case of Christians in Tibet. After all, since the 1950s, Tibet had been an autonomous region in an officially atheist China.
Furthermore, the religious freedom the Tibetans were seeking was for Buddhism, not Christianity. But it seems since the 1800s, Tibet had been something of a crown jewel for Christian missionaries seeking mass conversion. Missionary Hudson Taylor had commented on how difficult it had been to get to the region and how difficult it would be to work there. It probably read to many like a challenge. Of course, it had been a Buddhist theocracy for centuries. But there had been stories whispered about the land known as the “Roof of the World.”
There had been stories of Nestorians on the run from the church settled in Tibet. We know they settled across Asia and were probably in Tibet, but a lack of records stops us from further investigation.
By the 12th century, there is evidence of a Hebrew Rabbi making his way near Tibet. In the 13th century, there’s a record of two Franciscans, a Capuchin Monk, and Marco Polo all making their way, if not into Tibet, close. But the missionary motive for these men was different from those of modern missionaries. The modern missionaries want to find Buddhists who will become Christians, where the Medieval and Early Modern Christians thought they were also there to find the “Lost Christians of Cathay.”
This is a pervasive trope for these times. After all, the world is just opening up for world exploration and travel, and as you learn about new lands, it would make sense that there were people like us in those places, and maybe we could learn from them. It essentially what we all did with Space and Star Trek in the 60s when we were finally going to space.
Pardon me for this. The Captain Kirk of Tibetan missions in the 17th century was one Antonio de Andrade. De Andrade was born in Portugal in 1580. He became a member of the Jesuits in 1596 and went to Goa in India for education and work. In 1600 he attended St. Paul’s College in Goa and found favor with both the church and the Indian Mughal Jahangir. In 1621 he was made Superior to the Mission at Agra. In 1624 he decided to set out for Tibet to find this lost Christian tribe. Joining Hindus on their pilgrimage Andrade became the first European known to traverse the Himalayas into Tibet. Once there, he would find favor with the local king in the Western part of the country. We know about Andrade’s trip from his letters and letters sent to him from church leadership.
The story is that the king, Tri Tashi Dakpa took a liking to Andrade. Andrade promised not to use his position to disrupt trade or introduce unwanted foreign influence. Andrade believed that works of service and the story of Jesus would be enough. That, and eventually converting the king, because that is how missions tended to work. The king finally decided to allow Andrade and a few more Jesuits who made their way to Tibet to build a house of prayer on his land. And it was on the 12th of April in 1626— an Easter Sunday no less— that the king himself laid the cornerstone for the house of prayer and what can lay claim to being the first Christian Church in Tibet.
In 1630 Andrade was named Father Superior of Goa and thus traveled back to India. While he was gone, many kingdoms turned on King Tri Tashi Dakpa and destroyed the church. It was then that the Dalai Lama became not only spiritual authorities in Tibet but civic authorities. It was a Buddhist theocracy for centuries and then officially atheist. But there was a time when a glimmer of light almost became more when the cornerstone for the first church in Tibet was laid on this the 12th of April in 1626.
For the reading for this last-month-of-readings, we go back to our favorites from the past two years. This is “Jesus Was a Healer” by Les Murray.
Jesus was a healer
never turned a patient down
never charged coin or conversion
started off with dust and spittle
then re-tuned lives to pattern
simply by his attention
often surprised himself a little
by his unbounded ability
Jesus was a healer
reattached his captor’s ear
opened senses, unjammed cripples
sent pigs to drown delirium
cured a shy tug at his hem
learned to transmit resurrection
could have stood more Thank You
for God’s sake, which was his own
Jesus was a healer
keep this quiet, he would mutter
to his learners. Copy me
and they did to a degree
still depicted on church walls
cure without treatment or rehearsals.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 12th of April 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man who “Boldly Goes” wherever he goes, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis, who will not be fascinated by stories of rogue Nestorians. You can catch us here every day. And remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.