[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?
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.