In tiny, mountainous Nepal, the only Hindu kingdom in the world, it is against the law for a Hindu to change his religion. Those who are convicted of doing so face a year in prison. If they do not recant after serving their sentence, they may be returned to prison for an indefinite period.

Nepalese law also attempts to prohibit anyone from causing a Hindu to convert to another religion. The punishment for those convicted of proselytizing is seven years in prison.

Despite legal restrictions, Christianity has blossomed in the Himalayan kingdom of some 15 million people, nestled between India and China. The country’s Christians have grown from a frightened community of 500 just five years ago to an aggressive 15,000 today. Some 250 house churches operate in Nepal, and a Bible school that was disbanded by the government in 1982 continues to meet in private homes. Nearly all the inhabitants of some villages have converted to Christianity.

The amazing growth of the church has not gone unnoticed. During the last nine months, alarmed government officials have stepped up arrests of Christians on grounds of preaching their faith or helping a Hindu to convert.

“A total of 57 Christians are either on trial or serving time in prison,” says Steve Lawson, director of communications for Christian Response International (CRI), an interdenominational group that works for Christian freedom around the world.

Adon Rongong, of Campus Crusade for Christ, and Charles Mendies, director of the David Evangelistic Outreach, were arrested recently and charged with preaching and evangelizing. Along with three others arrested at the same time, they were scheduled for trial at the end of July. Their trials have been postponed indefinitely, however, and they are free on bail, provided they report to a court every 15 days.

“Mendies believes it is because of pressure from the West that the trial has been postponed,” Lawson says. During the months prior to the trial, U.S. Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.), U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), and others sent letters to the king of Nepal. Lantos and Nickles also held press conferences in which they encouraged the Nepalese government to display religious tolerance. Mendies says he expects the government to delay the trials until Western attention shifts away from the case.

Government pressure has been extended in recent months to Christian organizations that provide medical and social services in Nepal, says a representative of an evangelical organization operating in Nepal. “It appears that missions are being asked to sign a statement saying that the organization will not engage in any acts of proselytization,” says the spokesman, who asked not to be named. Groups that refuse to sign the statement may not be able to obtain visas, building permits, or clearance for goods received into the country, he says.

The spokesman says his organization—which has been in Nepal for more than 20 years—previously was able to hold regular meetings with believers. In addition, it was allowed to hold occasional meetings with some unbelievers present.

Most Christian organizations in Nepal serve under the umbrella of the United Mission to Nepal (UMN). Some 300 expatriates serving with nearly 40 Christian agencies work under the UMN.

“The United Mission to Nepal has an agreement with the government that there won’t be open evangelistic meetings,” says Laurence Wynne, executive director of a member organization. However, expatriates are free to answer questions and to give evangelistic tracts to those who ask.

Wynne credits the recent growth of the church to the joyous Nepalese Christians. “They love singing, and the [worship] services go on for hours,” he says. “They have real joy in the Lord.”

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