In April, the world watched as a massive earthquake in Nepal killed more than 9,000 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless. Recovering from this recent disaster, however, is not the only struggle this country faces.
Around 1 million Christians live in this nation of 28 million. The growing church now faces increased persecution and their religious freedom is at risk.
After nine years with an interim government, Nepal is now just days away from the finalization of a new constitution. A group of political leaders, the Constitutional Assembly, rushed the draft through while most people’s attention was on the reconstruction efforts. This rough draft, submitted to the public on June 31, has raised concerns with the Christian minority in the majority Hindu nation and has church leaders calling for action from the international community.
As the collective Body of Christ, those of us in the Western church should be concerned about what their Nepali brothers and sisters are facing. The Bible tells us as one Body “if one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). While the situation in Nepal may not affect the daily lives of Christians in the West, as followers of Christ, it should affect our hearts and prayers for the people of Nepal.
In 2006, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the communist Maoists and the government of Nepal ended the 10-year civil war. Nepal became a secular nation, no longer the world’s only Hindu Kingdom, and the lack of government brought new freedom to groups previously restricted in meeting together and sharing their faith.
Nepali Christian leaders had been working with the government on changes in the constitution that would bring full freedom of religion to Nepal. They were encouraged with progress until leaders from the major political parties met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in July.
John*, an American Christian who has served in Nepal since before the Peace Agreement, says, “When they returned, the promises of a secular nation and a nation that upheld religious freedom quickly evaporated. Instead of religion freedom, they have written in increased restrictions.”
Neighboring India has seen political changes in the last year since the new Hindu government, led by Modi, came to power in May 2014. Reports have been streaming out of India in the past year detailing increased persecution, especially for converts from Hindu backgrounds.
According to Open Doors, who publishes the annual World Watch List that ranks the 50 countries “where Christians face the most persecution,” a spike in persecution has raised India’s ranking from 28th in 2014 to 21st in 2015.
After Nepali leaders met with Indian leaders, the draft of the constitution was released with a clause that has some Nepali Christians worried about the future of religious freedoms in the country. The clause states that “No one shall attempt to change or convert someone from one religion to another, or disturb/jeopardize the religion of others, and such acts/activities shall be punishable by law.”
Protests have already broken out in the capital, Katmandu, after the release of the draft when it became evident that some major parties have shifted their support of secularism to a push for a pro-Hindu constitution.
In the past few weeks, Christians have already seen an increase in persecution in the village areas and on the Indian border that has churches scared about the effects of the coming changes.
If the constitution is passed with this clause intact, John says, “This would make it illegal for a Christian to share their testimony, to hand out a Bible, and some worry that it would even restrict Christians meeting together.” The clause could actually allow the government to prosecute two groups—both those sharing their faith and those converting to Christianity from Hinduism.
The vague wording of the clause leaves room for the government to put as much pressure on minority groups as they want.
“The day after the constitution passes,” John says, “every Pastor could be thrown into jail if the government so decides.”
The leaders of the religious communities who have been speaking with the political leaders about the future of the constitution have sent recommendations for changes to the draft. The changes would give full freedom to convert from one faith to another and for all religious denominations to have a legal identity.
With the intended date for finalizing the constitution proposed for September 1, the Nepali church is calling on the Western world to help and pray. Here’s how:
Contact Your Leaders
Nepal is still dependent on Western aide, and as a member of the United Nations, the country is subject to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Article 18 of the UDHR states that “everyone has the right to the freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
You can contact your congressman or political leaders and urge them to put pressure on the concerned Nepali leaders immediately. International and diplomatic agencies could put pressure on Nepal to grant its citizen’s religious freedom, but they need people to speak up and make the need known.
Pray that any future constitution will not limit anyone’s freedom to express their personal beliefs or share it with others. Also, pray for safety in these coming days as some groups are rallying people up against Nepali Christians.
After the Constitutional Changes, Keep Praying
As John says of the resilient Nepali church, “This will not prevent them from sharing their faith.” If the feared changes do come, there will be challenges and perhaps even the jailing, beatings and killings seen in India in the recent days. But that won’t stop the church.
Pray for boldness and peace for Nepali believers if they have to endure such hardships. The Nepali church is asking the global body of Christ for wisdom in how to support, encourage and train believers to endure persecution if need be.
*Name changed for security reasons.