Persecution in an Unlikely Place…

[Disclaimer: Real persecution has been happening since the beginning of time all over the place.  All sorts of people are discriminated against for all types of reasons, and I don’t like any of it. Christians can sometimes discriminate against others, too.  I wish we had a different name than those guys. Sometimes those guys make the rest of us look like we deserve it.  All this acknowledged, the following is info about the Christian minority in Nepal.]

We’ve been on the ground for about two weeks here in Nepal, and I was dumbfounded to discover covert discrimination against Christianity here.  I knew persecution against the church was happening overtly and violently in key places, 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.

We quickly saw, though, the tricky and delicate operations of our host ministry and the risk they are currently facing in renewing their registration because they are a Christian organization. Right now, although it’s a secular state, the Maoists have political control, Hindu has the religious majority, and the Christian minority sits just below legal status in terms of recognition of churches as registered organizations and in legal access to burial land.

Jeff was last here in 1999 during the Hindu monarchy (the world’s last constitutionally declared Hindu state, btw)  and at that time, evangelizing was illegal. Jeff got arrested. JUST KIDDING!

In response to Christian protests for equal rights, the government signed an agreement in 2006 promising to include legal recognition of their churches and land to bury their dead. Seven years later, these things still have not been enforced, because officials want to protect the sacred Hindu land within the city that Christians would need to use for burials. Although Nepal is still 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, however, proposes a law criminalizing evangelism, and, per certain clauses in the legislation, challenging social injustices like caste oppression and women’s inequality would be illegal if they threatened religious feelings. Yikes. That’s kind of what we do.

Here’s what all that means to us and the organization we are working with: when government staff recently walked through one of the organization’s children’s home during worship time, the organization’s NGO registration renewal was mysteriously frozen. If only the organization believed in bribes, they could clear all this up real fast! But they don’t. So instead they are waiting patiently and letting the homes and kids speak for themselves.

After spending time with the pastor-dad of one of the Children’s homes this morning and talking about the Christian environment of the homes, discrimination against Christian NGOs and religious intolerance, I found this in one of Tiny Hand’s newsletters:

Every child has the right to choose his/her religion. This is one point at which both true Christians and secular child-rights activists are in agreement. To simply assume that children are Christians because of the home they grew up in, or, still worse, to make in any way our love for them contingent on their becoming Christian is (a) a violation of children’s rights, and (b) a way to create religious hypocrites. Doing so can make the free choice required for true faith almost impossible. Each individual has the right and obligation to choose for himself.

 It is true that children growing up in Christian homes usually end up being Christians, and insofar as children are either explicitly or implicitly (by social pressure and conditional love) forced to become Christians, these criticisms are valid. But just as children have a right to choose their religion, parents have a right to teach them about the things they believe. To deny this is the height of religious intolerance. And though it is very important to us not to make our love conditional on their becoming Christians, it is still more important to do all we can to model, teach, and encourage the faith expressing itself through the love that we find in the New Testament.

On an individual level? Here is what it looks like for the indigenous Nepali discovering Christianity for the first time.

One friend (a staff member) 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 he’d 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 Christianity, rejected the caste system, married another Christian woman and was excommunicated for marrying outside his caste.

His Christianity cost his entire family.

Another friend, a pastor we spoke with at one of the Tiny Hands Border Monitoring Stations, was introduced to Christianity through an uncle who would gather all the kids and 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, no one was allowed to visit this uncle anymore, and the uncle was arrested and jailed. About a decade later, a co-worker invited this pastor to church, and respecting the co-worker very much, the pastor went. He recalled his Uncle’s stories and songs and his rejection of the caste system in the name of Christianity. Over time, the pastor began to believe the truth in the Gospel. He eventually accepted Christ, got baptized, quit his job and went to Bible school. Ultimately, through the pastor’s own example, his entire family came to accept Christ.

His Christiany saved his entire family.

Despite all this, where do you suppose Christianity is growing the fastest in the world right now?
Nepal!

 

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.

 

What can you do? 
Pray for the local church and other Christian organizations in Nepal.

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Final Thoughts on Rwanda…

Hey!

Before the Cambodia Issue comes out in a few days, I wanted to link to some of the articles I wrote for the Rwanda Issue, because many aren’t posted on my personal blog.  They live on the World Next Door magazine app, but are also available online.

Life_mainLife After Death

“There is just no place for me in Africa.  Through friends and textbooks and CNN, I understand Africa has complicated needs and a million qualified people already… read more

 

normal_mainRedefining Normal

This is forgiveness, I thought. Not emotionally safe at all. Against all the “normal” forgiveness rules, right in the middle of his broken heart. Why? Because God told…  read more

 

memorial History Lesson

“Well, hello there! So you’re interested in learning about Rwanda’s history? Great! Have a seat, pour a cup of something hot (or cold?), and let’s chat! I’d love… read more

 

Ask_WND_mainThe Advice Column

“What are your favorite travel apps? Why help 3rd world countries instead of those in need here? What do you see missions organizations doing wrong?” read more

 

umuganda_2-385x255 Umuganda

“When I think of the phrase Community Service, I picture chain gangs in orange jumpsuits, kids on probation, and/or Lindsay Lohan. I also think of church and… read more

 

GorillaCulture Guide

Fact #1: Gorillas > Humans It costs $750 USD to see the gorillas here. The joke in Rwanda is that gorillas make more than the humans. In fact, they say, if the… read more

 

coffee_02-675x449

The Coffee Process
A photo album

see more

 

PLUS! There a bunch of other fun elements: Language Lessons, Jeff’s articles about a professional Rwandan Basketball player and a unique coffee plantation community, maps, interactive photos, lost in translation moments, must-have items for travel, the many uses of cassava, an info page about our Partner ministry ALARM, the personal story of the founder of ALARM and reviews of the book and movie As We Forgive. It’s jam-packed, and all right here. And it’s Rwanderful.

A Personal Narrative of Rwanda’s History

Nobody quote me! This is the history as I understand it from interviews, memorial sites and literature, and this post was written to supplement the previous post here. So! Grab a cup of something hot (or cold?) and settle in…

Centuries before colonization, the country was united for centuries under a kingship rule: one people, one language, one history, one king.

Although Rwanda was already Rwanda, the Germans showed in 1985 up and said, Yep. This looks good, then claimed the land. After WW1, the League of Nations said, Uhh… nope, took the land from the Germans and gave it to the Belgians. Belgium was granted governance of the land and maintained a colonial occupation in the country until Rwanda’s independence in 1962.

Benefits of colonization: Schooling, medicine, infrastructure, export markets and Christianity.

Drawback of colonization: The institution of a primary identity to all Rwandans by the Germans and reinforced by the Belgians. Rwandans were categorized by height, facial structure and socioeconomic status (i.e. how many cows a person has) and given an identity that applied to the current generation and his descendants. There is some controversy about how closely the Hutu and Tutsi are related. The memorial book from the museum in Kigali says,  “In 1932, anyone with ten cows was a Tutsi, and anyone with less than 10 cows was a Hutu, and this also applied to his descendants.”  What isn’t disputed is that the European colonizers blew these differences way out of proportion for their own gain. Belgian authorities then introduced physical ID cards, and each person’s imposed identity began to determine his opportunities. The 15% Tutsi were perceived as elite, and the 85% Hutu as disadvantaged. The key here is perceived, because although many Tutsi were in power thanks to a purposeful promotion of Tutsi leaders by the Belgian authorities, only a minority of Tutsi actually received direct benefit from elevated status. Still. Discrimination was already internalized, Hutu felt oppressed and resentment grew. When the second-to-last king died in the late 1950s, massacres of Tutsi were organized and thousands were killed or fled the country.

A year later, with pressure from the colonial powers to democratize, Rwanda held its first elections in 1961, and the Hutu majority elected Prime Minister K, founder of the first party for the emancipation of the Hutu. Rwanda gained independence a year later in 1962. Now. Don’t emancipation and independence sound good?

Unfortunately, as one friend in Rwanda put it, Just because the rest of the world is ready for democracy doesn’t mean our country was ready to handle majority power.

Because the power had shifted into the hands of the Hutu, Rwanda became a repressive single-party system intent on ethnic cleansing of Tutsis. Between the 1950s and 1970s, 700,000 Tutsi were exiled from the country—they were forced off their land and farms, lost their jobs and bank accounts and animals, and were denied peaceful attempts to return to their country.

A group of exiles joined together in bordering countries to form the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and invaded the country in 1990 for the purpose of reclaiming the land that was rightfully theirs and to re-establish equal rights. President H, who had taken control of the country in the 70s during a coup, used this “invasion” to instill fear in the Hutu majority. See?! They’re attacking us! He and his regime used the radio, newspapers and TV to issue a propaganda campaign aimed at persuading the Hutu majority to see their compatriots, their neighbors, even their own families as power-hungry enemies who were planning a secret war against the Hutu. Civil war erupted, and again, many Tutsi fled after intense discrimination— unjust jailing, unequal opportunities, and waves of massacres in different sections of the country. Here is an example of the propaganda used: The Hutu Ten Commandments.

In 1993, a peace agreement was signed between the Rwandan Government and the RPF trying to establish equality. A neutral force was to be deployed (the French) to assist Rwanda in their plan to integrate, demobilize and disarm. Refugees were allowed home, and an RPF battalion was established in the capitol city. President H and his extremists saw this, though, as a surrender to the RPF, and they weren’t real happy about it.

Meanwhile (nothing good comes from this phrase) President H entered into the largest-ever Rwandan arms deal with a French company for $12 million with a loan guaranteed by the French government. Whaaa?!

While the propaganda was working to convince the Hutu that the Tutsi were out to get them, in reality, a secret war was being planned by the Hutu against the Tutsi. A group called the Interahamwe had been training in Rwandan army camps, and the training was taking place at a rate of about 300 people per week. The group was also registering all Tutsi in every city—literally names and addresses on a piece of paper—for an extermination plan.  Weapons were being provided by places like South Africa, and training was facilitated by—guess who?  The French Army.

And all of this was pre-genocide!

On April 6th 1994, at 8:23p, President H’s plan was shot down on its approach to Kigali City airport, and it’s widely understood that the Interahamwe staged the shooting and blamed it on the Tutsi, telling the country: If they can kill our president, they can do anything! So. Plane went down at about 8:30p, and by 9:15p roadblocks were in place and houses were being searched. The shooting started by 9:30p with death lists prepared in advance… The genocide was instant. Roadblocks were the primary method of control.  No one could pass without a Hutu ID card.

The government used the school and churches to lure people out of hiding under the pretense of safety, then locked people inside and killed them. Hundreds of thousands died inside the walls of a these “safe places.”

The structured genocide lasted for 100 days and almost 1 million Tutsi and Hutu moderates were killed. Although the RPF was able to establish control in Kigali in July 1994, attacks from Hutu insurgents continued for years after.  Friends told us they didn’t feel entirely secure in Rwanda until 2000 or 2001.

Many of the perpetrators fled the country, but the ones who were captured were tried and jailed. Between 2004-2005, because the jails were overcrowded, about 40,000 perpetrators who had confessed to their crimes were released from jail back to the community through Gacaca courts (tribal courts) a village-based system designed to promote justice and healing at the same time. Through reconciliation work and the Gacaca courts, many offenders have sought forgiveness from the survivors and their families and are making efforts to amend by building houses, harvesting and processing their crops, etc. Even more unbelievable are the survivors who offer forgiveness freely and who accept this gesture in the name of the forgiveness they themselves received through Christ.

The current president K was elected in 2003, re-elected in 2010 and will end his term in 2017. He has maintained steady development, growth and reconciliation with goals of Rwanda becoming a middle-income country by 2020 and highly emphasizes Rwanda becoming self-reliant. There is no longer a distinction between ethnic groups, and, in fact, categorizing as such is illegal.  The government and churches continue to work hard toward forgiveness and reconciliation…