Nepal (MNN) – In 2015, Nepal changed its constitution to become a secular nation with the freedom of religion. However, in October, Nepal’s President Bidhya Dev Bhandari signed a Criminal Code Bill into law. This law, known as the anti-conversion law, makes religious conversion illegal and punishable by five years in prison and a fine of 50,000 rupees.
The law technically prohibits any person from sharing their faith or converting to a different faith. Furthermore, the freedom of religion in Nepal was already restricted by the 2015 constitution in Article 26 (3) where it states,
“No person shall, in the exercise of the right conferred by this Article, do, or cause to be done, any act which may be contrary to public health, decency and morality or breach public peace, or convert another person from one religion to another or any act or conduct that may jeopardize other’s religion and such act shall be punishable by law.”
It’s questionable if this law was influenced by Nepal’s relationship with India, a country where many of its states also have anti-conversion laws. With that said, when Nepal declared itself as a secular nation, India essentially blackmailed the nation by blocking supplies from entering.
Because Nepal is nestled among the Himalayas, India is the main route for supplies and trade. The country also receives all its oil, petroleum, and gasoline from a single supplier in India: the Indian Oil Corporation. For Nepal, staying on good terms with India is nearly a must for survival.
However, despite Nepal’s relationship with India, this anti-conversion law became a campaign point when Nepal held elections in November for the first time in 20 years. Some candidates began promising Christians positive change to this anti-conversion law if the said candidate was elected. And not many Christians in the country wanted their vote to be baited by promises of change.
Instead, many Christians in Nepal have signed a petition urging the government to remove this anti-conversion law, but there’s been no word yet of how the petition is being received. Pastor Chhatri*, a pastor in Nepal explains:
“This decision made by [the] government made a great discouragement and brought fear in the life of Christians. But, we Christians leaders [and] families stand and encourage our people to adapt to any situation and to continue [to] share Christ and continue [to] encourage each other and support each other.”
Despite the law being in place, there hasn’t been much action from the government to enforce it. Chhatri explains this could be because the government is simply focused on other things. Still, many Christians in Nepal have been taking this opportunity to continue sharing Christ, equip God’s people, and plant churches.
Growth Under Pressure
Nepal has one of the fastest growing churches in the world. But, as the Church grows, it’s been running out of leaders. The Church in Nepal is actually in the midst of a leadership crisis because there aren’t enough leaders for the number of people turning to Christ in the country. Chhatri shares some pastors have committed to seeing the number of church leaders doubled in their lifetime.
“As the Church grows, the Hindu fanatic groups are challenging us and threatening us. Also, some particular groups are raising their price to suppress the Christians. But Christians do not worry about it, they continue following the calling of God…with a passion they’re engaged to fulfill the vision that is from God.”
Some Hindus even claim the reason why Christianity is growing in Nepal is simple– because of money. However, Christians have argued the idea Christianity puts forth about all people being equal is appealing. This is especially true in a society where the caste system still rules.
Please, pray for the Church in Nepal. Pray for Nepal’s leaders to serve with boldness and without fear, especially in the hopeful repeal of this anti-conversion law. Ask God to guide and encourage these Christians and to provide the resources needed for their ministries.
And finally, pray for more people to come to know Christ, for leaders to be raised in the Church, and for the Christians in Nepal to have the mentorship they need.
“I think the whole world needs Jesus. So, we have to work together and support each other, encourage each other. And reach the world, let the world know that Christ loves them,” Pastor Chhatri says.
*Name change for security reasons.