Nepal cracks down on Christianity

July 17, 2016 by  
Filed under newsletter-asia

Nepal, July 12, 2016: When most people think of Nepal, they think of Mt. Everest. But in the shadows of the Himalayas, Christianity is growing rapidly.

The land-locked nation of Nepal between China and India was, until 2006, the world’s only officially Hindu nation, with 86 percent of the population being Hindu and only 0.6 percent Christian. Today, according to government estimates, Christians make up 1.5 percent of the population while Hindus account for more than 75 percent.

However, in reality, Christianity is much larger in Nepal and the government is cracking down.

Now the country has one of the fastest-growing Christian populations in the world, according to the World Christian Database, which tracks global trends in Christianity.

According to Bishwa Mani Pokharel, news chief at Nepal’s Nagarik newspaper, Nepal had no — zero — Christians in 1951 and just 458 in 1961. By 2001, there were nearly 102,000. A decade later that number had more than tripled to more than 375,000. Pokharel and others think the increase is really much higher but inaccurately reported.

As reported by NPR, much of this growth can be attributed to Nepal’s internal changes. Before 1950, Nepal was closed to foreigners. Mountain climbing changed that. And starting with the Maoist Civil War of the 1990s and culminating with the end of the monarchy in 2008, the country has transitioned from a Hindu kingdom to a communist-led secular republic with greater freedom of religion. Encouraging someone to convert to another religion was always illegal, but as Nepal eased away from its official Hindu status, the rules lightened up.

Churches now mushroom throughout the Kathmandu Valley and across the terraced hills. Proselytizing remains illegal, but with political instability and weak law enforcement, that doesn’t stop it from happening.

However, a CFI coworker in Nepal (whose identity must remain anonymous for security reasons) reports that the government is beginning to crack down on Christian activities in two ways. First, officials from the Nepalese government are targeting Christian-run orphanages:

“I would like to update you regarding the recent news that the government in Nepal is trying to prohibit the teaching of the Bible to children in orphanages. Government officials have visited orphanages yesterday in Chitwan District. They have found Bibles and Christian activities in the orphanages operated by pastors and missionaries. They warned the pastors and caregivers to stop the teaching of the Bible to the children. If any Christian activity is repeated again in the orphanages, then they said they will take action. We need strongly your prayer and support. Please continue to pray for Nepal.”

Secondly, Nepal is taking a hard line now on the issue of proselytizing as our CFI coworker reports:

“I would like to inform you that some staff members of Christian ministries and two Christian principals in two private, Christian schools have been recently put in jail in Charikot. They are accused of the crime of ‘evangelism’ among the students and the local people. Charikot is the district headquarters of Dolakha District where we have two churches. Another sensitive news is that our Vice Prime Minister, Kamal Thapa, has also declared to take action against any religious conversion from Hinduism to Christianity. He said action against converts and those who try to convert Hindus will be swift and these criminals will be put in prison. Please pray for Nepal.”

Christianity Growing Despite Persecution

According to a report by the International Institute for Religious Freedom, Nepalese Christian leaders believe that this last figure underestimates the number of Christian by a factor of six: instead of 375,000 Christians there are closer to 2.3 million.

That would put the percentage of Christians at nearly 10 percent and rising, as opposed to the government’s claimed 1.5 percent.

Protecting Hinduism

By way of protecting this Hindu identity, Nepal’s interim constitution states that “no person shall be entitled to convert another person from one religion to another and shall not take actions or behave in a way that would create disturbance in another’s religion.”

This of course effectively outlaws evangelism. Yet Nepalese are converting to Christianity in large numbers.

The Growth of Christianity

According to CNS News, Christianity is growing, in part, because the law against proselytizing is difficult to enforce. A larger part is that Christians have stepped into areas of need that neither the government nor the Hindu majority can or even will serve.

As is the case in India, many of the converts to Christianity come from the lower castes. Even though, as in India, discrimination on the basis of caste is illegal, centuries, if not millennia, of custom and practice aren’t reversed by the action of a parliament sitting in the capital.

What makes a difference in the lives of these people is other people whose own faith not only rejects the idea of caste but also insists that in ministering to the “least of these,” they are ministering to God himself.

God Works in Mysterious Ways

The devastating earthquake last year may have strengthened the Christian surge. Where the government — long mired in political instability — has failed to help poor villagers, Christian aid groups such as CFI have trickled in to fill gaps, some of them carrying a message of salvation. CFI repaired several churches and Christian homes following the quake and supports indigenous pastors in the country. Time will tell how brutal this new crackdown on Christianity may become. Please pray for Nepal.

– christian freedom

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