One of the Biggest Missionary Blunders in History?

Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes in missions history took place in 1627 when two missionaries from Portugal first traveled to Bhutan. The two missionaries known as Cacella and Cabral were believed to be the first westerners to enter into Bhutan. Before that, there is no evidence that anyone from Europe had ever laid eyes on the nation.

Cacella and Cabral experienced a harsh reception in India. The Hindus did not take kindly to their message of the Gospel. Even though the Hindus seemingly accepted every religion and worshipped thousands of gods and goddesses – they did not allow Christianity to be shared, but when they arrived in Bhutan, the situation quickly changed.

The king of Bhutan, Dharma Rajah [Shabdrung], who was also considered to be the senior religious leader or “chief Lama,” welcomed the foreigners with open arms and rolled out the red carpet for them.

The king of Bhutan was so amazed by what the foreigners were teaching about Jesus that he offered for them to stay in the country at his personal invitation and to be in charge of instructing all of the top officials in the nation. His hopes were that the amazing teachings that he had just heard would help make the laws and teachings of his country better.

It was an offer of a lifetime! The king was personally asking for missionaries to teach all of the top officials about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Here is a letter from one of the missionaries in 1627. Some parts of the letter have been left out for brevity.

This King, known as Dharma Rajah [Shabdrung], is 33 years old; he is both King and highest lama of this kingdom of Cambirasi [Bhutan], the first kingdom of Bhotanta [Bhutan/Tibet] in these parts – it is very large and well populated.

They took us to the place which had been prepared for us, a very well made tent lined with Chinese silk with a canopy and area where we could rest; shortly, the King sent word that we could go to him and we found him in another tent well decorated with silk – he was sitting on a high platform dressed in red silk trimmed with gold; to his right and quite close to him, in a corresponding position, there was an image of his father with a lamp in front which was always kept burning; there were two high places for us, but no place for any lama however important, except on the mats on the floor. The King received us with great affability, showing that he was happy to meet us – he wanted to know where we came from, from which kingdom or nation and asked us many other questions as is usual on a first encounter; we told him that we were Portuguese, and as strangers never come to these mountains, no one could remember ever having seen or heard that similar people had passed through that land, and therefore had never heard the word Franguis which is the name the Portuguese are known by, throughout the East.

We told him that we had been sent here to preach the religion of Christ our Lord, in the belief that it had been practised in the past although forgotten for lack of teachers and the passing of time, and that some elements of it still existed; he showed pleasure in our coming and said that we should learn the language well so that we could speak to him, and that he could not refuse to accept our teaching for it could only be for very good reasons that we had come so far.

The missionaries though, were determined to go all the way to Tibet. Instead of taking the request, they traveled to the town of Shigatze, a town just south of Lhasa, far to find him; he therefore immediately released the lama of Tsaparang from his ordinary duties and ordered him to give us (language) lessons daily.

We asked if he would graciously give us permission to continue our journey towards Tsaparang and to provide us with guides. The King was very embarrassed with our request and deferring his answer for a few days made efforts via the other lamas to persuade us not to go; we persisted in our request but he gave us the same answer saying that it would be a discredit to him if we left.

He added that we should continue to read his books and talk more deeply about the law with him; in the meantime we should start to make Christian converts and preach our faith which was a very good one, he believed, and we would soon have many Christians as was our wish, and that to begin with he would give us, and indeed he did in his presence, a twenty year old lama who was close to him and first cousin of another lama who is the whole government of the King; he would then give us two more, followed by many others and he also said that he would build a house for us and a church in Paro!

Seeing the resolution of the King we said we wanted to please him as it was his pleasure that we should stay in this kingdom and because of the hope he gave us of spreading the faith of the Lord here; we thanked him for the lamas he gave us who wanted to become Christians and for the church he wanted to build in Paro.

In the end, the two missionaries insisted on traveling onward to Tibet and did not remain in Bhutan. The king was saddened, but gave them safe passage all the way to the border.

The missionaries eventually arrived in Shigatze, Tibet, where they decided to set up a mission. The environment was harsh and the people were violent towards the Gospel. The effort did not last long and the people rejected the teachings. One of the missionaries died in Tibet and the other died in Goa India after escaping Tibet.

Was this a missed opportunity or did God have a different plan?  Was it God leading the missionaries to Tibet or was it the agenda of man?  Today, Bhutan remains almost 99% unreached. BTJ is working with missionaries in the nation to bring the Good News to the dark nation of Bhutan.

Dr. Eugene Bach is a known trouble-maker with an active imagination and sinful past. He has a PhD, but is not a real doctor, so please do not call for him during a medical emergency on an airplane when someone is having a heart attack. Eugene started working for Back to Jerusalem in the year 2000 after a backroom deal involving Chinese spies, the NRA, Swiss bankers, and a small group of Apostolic Christians that only baptize in Jesus’ name. He spends most of his time in closed countries attempting to topple governments by proclaiming the name of Jesus and not taking showers. From time-to-time he pretends to be a writer. He is not good at it, but everyone around him tries to humor him.

One Comment

  1. John

    Another missed opportunity. it was repeated after WW2 General McArthur requested 10000 missionaries come to Japan because the people were open to the gospel. Very few missionaries actually went. and all heaven just weeps.


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