By Anthony Gutierrez and Mark Ellis
Bowing to pressure from hardline Hindu groups, the Nepalese congress banned any acts leading to conversions from one religion to another in the country’s new constitution. It also prohibits acts that undermine or jeopardize the religion of another.
At the same time they declared the nation to be secular and neutral toward all religions.
The change concerns Christian missionaries in the region who reportedly have seen greater openness to the Gospel than ever before, especially following the April 2015 earthquake that killed 8,000 people.
“Christianity is increasing rapidly. Doing outreaches is easier than before,” said Nepalese Pastor Sanjay Tripathi. “We are seeing souls getting saved. Living for Christ too. Majority of people have heard the Good News of Christ. God is moving for our nation.”
Tripathi said the greatest barriers until now have not been presented by the authorities, who voted against declaring Nepal a “Hindu nation,” despite protests by radical Hindus. He said the main barriers have been in the family.
“To come to Christ, I had to leave my family,” Pastor Tripathi said. “They don’t accept me. Nor my old friends.”
Still, international observers have voiced concern that the Nepalese government flouted international treaties to guarantee freedom of religion for all its citizens.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide has criticized the ban on evangelism. “The freedom to choose and change one’s faith is a fundamental right which must be upheld as an essential part of any constitution which adheres to international human rights principles,” said Chief Executive Mervyn Thoma.
“Nepal is a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including the freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his or her choice.”
The new constitution, signed by Nepal’s president in September 2015, is part of a transition from monarchy to democracy started in 2008. The constitution stipulates fines and jail time for “any act to convert another person from one religion to another or any act or behavior to undermine or jeopardize the religion of another.”
Hindu radicals staged rowdy protests outside the congress demanding a full-blown return to the “Hindu nation” status of the monarchy, but congressmen inside the chambers rejected such extremism. In response, protesters attacked and damaged three churches in their rage, but greater backlash has not yet been seen.
The ban, if enforced, would affect equally Muslims, Christians, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and any other religion.
Missionaries and pastors are continuing the sort of “quiet” evangelism they have done for years during a time of much tougher restrictions. In the 1980s and ’90s, they worked to advance the gospel despite staunch persecution and cultural entrenchment, they reported.
One ministry skirted the evangelism prohibition by using penpals to write to Nepalese, who longed to feel connected with people around the world.
Another ministry offered Bible classes by mail. The correspondence ministry parlayed into personal face-to-face teaching, reported Christian Aid Mission (CAM). For their first on-site training, 50 invitations sent out netted 265 people.
“We thought 10 might show up,” a director said. “It was a seven-day class, and at end of the training, more than 100 took baptism.”
More than 500,000 students from all over Nepal have enrolled in the Bible correspondence courses, and 50,000 have completed the studies. The Bible correspondence courses are tailored to reach Hindus (75 percent of the population), Buddhists (16 percent), animists and communists. After taking the Bible courses, more than 10,000 students have taken part in the ministry’s discipleship training process, CAM said.
Operation World estimates the Nepalese population to be approximately 1 million.
Pastor Tripathi said that hearing about Christ is not a problem for most Hindus because they just add Jesus into their pantheon.
“Many people take Jesus as any other Hindu gods. They believe in so many gods,” he said.“
Anthony Gutierrez is a student at Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica, California