Nepal's New Peacemakers
When Jyoti Adhikari became a Christian, her husband, who came from a traditional Hindu family, could not stomach the thought. But Adhikari didn't flinch, even though her husband divorced her.
"I have no regrets. I am rejoicing in the Lord," said Adhikari, who looks after her teenage son now. Since her conversion, Adhikari has become a local evangelist, bringing 90 people to faith in this Hindu-majority nation of 27 million sandwiched between India and China along the Tibetan border.
In other cases, new Christians wait years before they are reaccepted into their families. In 1984, Jit Ghale, now a senior pastor, told his parents he wanted to become a Christian. His parents disowned him. He waited four long years before being welcomed back.
In 1999, Uttam Kumar Pariyar, a member of Nepal's now-abolished royal privy council, stunned national leaders when he made public his conversion to Christianity. "They started looking at me like an outcast," said Pariyar. Hostile council members launched a public campaign to oust him.
"I was determined not to give up my faith in the Lord," recalled 64-year-old Pariyar. "But King Birendra did not bother about my conversion and never asked me why I gave up Hindu faith." (The current king is Gyanendrabrother of Birendra, who was assassinated in 2001.)
Last April, Nepal faced a national crisis with growing protests for restoration of democracy. One day, Pariyar handed a personal note to the king, quoting from 1 Peter 5:711: "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you." Eventually, the king gave up all political power. Maoist rebels and the so-called Seven Party Alliance stopped fighting. Political leaders declared Nepal a secular stateit had been a Hindu stateand began peace talks.
Christian leaders believe these huge changes will increase religious freedom. Now numbering 250,000, Christians have the opportunity to become voting citizens, not just subjects of a king. In June this year, a national election will take place.
Seeking Equality and Freedom For All
For decades, Nepalese Christians focused on planting churches and ending religious discrimination. But they now have an unusual chance to play a growing national role.
"Although the declaration of a secular state did not come with sympathy to Christians, we consider this a God-given privilege," said Simon Pandey, general secretary of National Churches Fellowship Nepal.
"We organized an open-air evangelistic meeting in a public place for the first time on July 1," he said. "There were over 10,000 people. It was a big celebration." Previously, it had been impossible for Christians to convene large public gatherings.
Pandey said Christians are still eagerly waiting for the day "when all religions will be treated equally," giving Christians and other minority groups the right to register religious organizations, build churches, and preach freely.
Before 1960, Nepal had officially banned Christians from living inside the country. But reformers changed the legal code. The first Christian group began in 1959 with 29 members. During the next five decades, Christianity grew by 10 to 20 percent annually, especially among Dalits at the bottom of Hindu society, making Nepal one of Asia's most stunning church growth stories.
Leaders admit this young church faces major challenges, because seasoned local leaders are rare. Purushotam Lal Manandhar, president of the National Christian Council of Nepal (NCCN), told CT, "Most of our members are first-generation Christians and have faced opposition and even harassment for their conversion from their dear ones."