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A Steep Cost

Unexpected persecution in the growing Nepali Church
by Brooke Hartman

I had been on the ground for about two weeks in Nepal when I encountered something I never expected: covert discrimination against Christianity. I knew persecution against the Church and the Christian minority was happening overtly and violently in certain countries, and I assumed we’d find it somewhere in our travels, but here?! I mean, it’s dreamy Nepal! A democratic republic, major tourist destination, and therefore, I assumed, progressive and inclusive of just about anyone.

But discrimination is happening, and although the Church is somehow managing to burst through the seams anyway, it often comes at a steep cost.

Buddhist prayer flags fly at Swayambuhnath Temple

Buddhist prayer flags fly at Swayambuhnath Temple

Although Nepal is currently functioning under a transitional constitution that bans evangelism, it does allow for citizens to express their faith through charity work. Draft legislation for the new Nepali constitution, though, proposes a law criminalizing evangelism. It would also make it illegal to challenge social injustices like caste oppression and women’s inequality if it “threatens religious feelings.” Yikes. That’s kind of what we do as Christians.

How, then, with these restrictions, can Nepal be top on a list of 20 countries where Christianity is growing the fastest?

The answer? Prayer and evangelism. The good ol’ knocking-on-doors-approaching-people-at-temples-riding-around-in-citywide-prayer-vans kind of prayer and evangelism. People are discovering Christ for the first time through the face-to-face stories and testimonies of others.

Almost every indigenous Nepali Christ-follower has a conversion story that involves evangelism, and, many times, an alienating cost.

One friend (a staff member we met at Tiny Hands) told us he was rejected by his entire family for converting to Christianity in secondary school after a teacher shared her own faith. The principal called his parents and said the boy had been brainwashed, and his dad tried to force him to reject his conversion. But our friend said he couldn’t, because it was inside of him already. The teacher was fired, the 15-year-old grew in his faith, rejected the caste system, married a Christian woman and was excommunicated for marrying outside his caste.

Following Christ cost this man his entire family.

Another friend, a man we spoke with at one of the Tiny Hands Border Monitoring Stations, was introduced to Jesus through an uncle who would gather kids, tell Bible stories, and sing songs on his living room floor.  The kids loved this time, because the Uncle allowed all the caste levels to sit together on the floor equally. When the adults in the community found out about this, however, no one was allowed to visit this uncle anymore. In fact, the uncle was arrested and jailed. About a decade later, a co-worker invited our friend to church, and because he respected the co-worker very much, he went. During the service, he recalled his uncle’s stories and songs and his rejection of the caste system in the name of Christ. Over time, he began to believe the truth of the Gospel. He eventually accepted Christ, got baptized, quit his job and went to Bible school. Ultimately, through this man’s own example, his entire family came to accept Christ.

A sacred shrine devoted to the Hindu god Bhairab

A sacred shrine devoted to the Hindu god Bhairab

Following Christ saved his entire family.

These days, Christians in Nepal have one urgent goal: With 97% of their own friends and family enslaved to the beliefs and practices of Hinduism, their main mission is to evangelize, despite the law.

These pastors and staff believe that the anti-trafficking work we came to learn about is absolutely a part of their Christian ministry, but their overall goal is to bring the people of Nepal to Christ. Each interception exposes a girl to the Gospel.

And so the Nepali Church continues to grow. These brave believers hold tightly to words like these in 1 Corinthians 4:8-9: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”

Despite persecution, hardship, obstacles, and pain, the good news of the kingdom is spreading in Nepal.