Nepalese Church growing fast in face of increased pressure

The Church in majority-Hindu Nepal is one of the fastest growing globally, despite increased pressure on its members.

For one Nepalese woman, becoming a Christian meant enduring her husband’s pressure to abandon her new faith. She refused, and over time some of her relatives have become Christian, too.

For a widow in ill health who shares a small house with her daughter and grandchildren, prayers that were followed by healing led her to become Christian.

The names of such women have to be protected - yet if it is still not entirely safe to be an open Christian in Nepal, it also is becoming less lonely. Nepal’s Christian population is the 12th fastest growing in the world, according to the World Christian Database.

“We estimate that Nepal is 4.25% Christian,” database co-director Gina Zurlo told the Christian Post.

“In some countries, fast growth rates of Christians are due to migration. In other countries, high birth rates may contribute more. But in Nepal, the main factor for growth is conversion from other religions,” she said.

As recently as 1951 the government census reported there to be no Christians in the country. In  1961 it counted 458 Christians among a population of just over 10 million.

“One of the main catalysts for such growth in numbers has been the widespread offer of prayer for sick people and the resulting healings,” said Rolf Zeegers, persecution analyst with Open Doors’ World Watch Research.”

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‘Destroy Nepalese culture’

Another reason for the increase: Christians have reached out to those at the bottom of the society, living in poverty and in remote areas where there is a lack of education and health services, wrote Rock Ronald Rozario for UCANews.

It has caused an itch with Hindu religious groups and government officials who say the Church is manipulating people, luring them to the Christian faith through offers of financial support and other incentives, he said.

As most converts come from a Hindu background, “state media and government officials see this growth as dangerous and think Christian faith will destroy Nepalese culture,” Zeegers said.

Nepal’s Constitution guarantees religious freedom, but its religion law forbids forcing Hindus to convert. “The very unspecific wording of this law is used by police to punish Christians for even mentioning the name of Jesus in public. Hindu radicals who attack Christians also justify their actions by saying they were only enforcing the law,” Zeegers said.

In 2018, a new criminal code came into effect, criminalizing religious conversion and giving offense to religious feelings. It drew sharp criticism from MPs and rights activists who said the law was curtailing religious freedom even further.

Nepal’s Christians experienced an increase in pressure in their private lives, as members of their church, and citizens of Nepal last year, mostly coming from radical Hindus, said the country report by Open Doors. “Violence … also increased with high numbers of churches damaged, Christians arrested, Christians physically harassed and Christians forced to leave their homes,” it said.

Zeegers said he did not expect an improvement in the situation any time soon. “Due to the current political chaos and the growing strength of Hindu radicalism, influenced by a similar movement in neighbouring India, Christians in Nepal are likely to face increasing levels of persecution in the future.”

Nepal is 34th on the World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian.

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