Ram Prasad Shrestha
Nepal is a beautiful country sandwiched between two giant countries:Tibet-China to the North and India to the South. It is shaped like a rectangle where three parts of the border are shared by India, whereas the Northern Border is shared by Tibet-China. It is a landlocked nation with enormous cultural and geographical diversities.
‘There are about 100 ethnic groups, consisting of over 300 people sub-groups and castes. Caste is often as important a distinction as ethnicity in this strongly Hindu culture’ (Mandryk, ed, 2010, p618). ‘Hindu caste system as an impetus the caste discrimination is still widely practiced, particularly in rural Nepal, where people on the lower rungs suffer systematic abuse passed on between generations’. Nepal used to be the only Hindu country in the world until 2008, but it has declared as the Secular Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, granting religious freedom in terms of practicing one’s faith.
According to government census taken in 2011, the population of Nepal stands at 26,494,504, showing a population growth rate of 1.35 per annum. There are ten types of religious categories reported in the census. Hindu is followed by 81.3 percent (21,551,492) of the population, followed by Buddhism (9%; 2,396,099), Islam (4.4%; 1,162,370), Kirat (3.1%; 807,169), Christianity (1.4%; 375,699), Prakriti (0.5%; 121,982), Bon (13,006), Jainism (3,214), Bahai (1,283) and Sikhism (609).
CHRISTIANITY IN NEPAL
Christianity in Nepal is very young compared to other South Asian countries,yet; church growth is on the high. According to the World Christian Data, Nepal has one of the fastest-growing Christian populations in the world. The country was closed until 1950 to any foreigner, but the door to Nepal opened for outsiders from 1951 and has paved the way for missionaries to get into the country. ‘Church growth in Nepal has rocketed from zero in 1950 to estimated 1 million Christians or more in 2013’ (Inchley 2014,p510)
The First Gospel Era ( 1707-1950) – Hit and Run
A group of monks from the Roman Catholic Capuchin fathers came to Nepal on their journey to Tibet. They were able to mingle with the people, preached, helped and taught them (Hawker, 1984, p18). “For about 60 years (1707-1769) these Capuchin fathers conducted their missions in the towns of Bhatgaon and Kathmandu in the Nepal Valley (Anonymous, 1974, p26).
Christianity Expelled From Nepal
Despite being impressed earlier by the Capuchin fathers, King Prithvi Narayan Shah later became an enemy. Unfortunately an epidemic broke out in the country claiming 20,000 people’s lives. They blamed the presence of the missionaries because they believed their god was displeased due to their presence and that the god has had struck them with the epidemic.
Due to unfavorable circumstances about 60 Nepali Christians along with one father left the country to reside near Bettiah in India in February, 1769. ‘For the next 180 years darkness prevailed in the heart of Nepal, as the Shah and then the Rana regime rigorously enforced a strict exclusion policy towards the Christians’ (Perry, 2000, p14). As Hedlund (1981, p 270) describes There are two reasons for excluding all foreigners and Christians. First, it was suspected that foreign influence might lead to the invasion and occupation of Nepal. Second, local leaders desired the Hindu kingdom to remain “undefiled” and the Hindu Structures of society kept intact.
Era of Silence (1769-1950)
‘For generations the attitude of the government toward Christians and Christianity was hostile. Foreigners were not allowed to live in the country’ (Duncan, et al, p12). The historical record shows that there were almost 180 years of silence between 1769 -1950 before the second wave of the gospel penetration from 1950.
Opening of the Door for Foreigners
A missionary team led by Dr Lily O’Hanlon and Hilda Steele missionaries from the U.K who were working as missionaries in India, came to Nepal once the boarder to Nepal was opened after 1950. They were praying to enter into Nepal to bring God’s message. Finally the answer to sixteen long years of prayer was granted in 1952. Their proposal to start mission work failed on the first attempt. Finally the letter came in November with permission to open a hospital in Pokhara’ with the condition that they should not preach or convert. However, they had asked permission to worship the Lord in their compound. On November 10th, 1952 came a team of 6 missionaries to minister in Nepal. (Duncan at el, p32).
Establishment of the Churches in Nepal
Dr. Lily and her group and some Nepali Christians who came along as a team and were stationed in Pokhara’. They built a thatched and bamboo hut for a church in 1952. The wooden cross fixed on the roof showed it was a Christian building. The church is known as Ramghat Church, which became the first church in Nepal. This church was led by `pastor David Mukhia (O’Hanlon and Hooker, 1957, p43).
A second church was stabilized in Kathmandu called Putalisadak Church on 8th of April 1953 by two missionaries from South India, Mr. Athali and C.G. George. Likewise Gyaneswor Church was established in August 1957 by eleven members, including Rajendra Kumar Rongong and Robert Karthak who went to Bhaktapur later.(Gyaneshwor Church, 2007, pp1,2)
The United Mission to Nepal
Dr. Bob Fleming, with a strong desire to share the goodness of Christ, wrote letters to the Nepali government requesting permission to start a hospital in Tansen. After 15 months they received a letter granting permission in May 1953 (UMN, 1974, p13).They started a women’s and children’s clinic as the first mission work in Bhatgaon (Bhaktapur), nine miles east of Kathmandu on 7th January 1954.
The Catholic Church in Nepal
After the opening of the door to foreigners in 1950, the Catholics received formal approval to establish a primary school in Godavari in March 1951. The Catholic fathers Murphy and Edwin Saxton established a school in Godavari on 1st July 1950. When the students grew in numbers they started St. Xavier’s School in Jawalakhel, Kathmandu in September 1954 and, on the 27th of January 1955 they established St. Mary’s School.
The Nepal Christian Fellowship (NCF)
From the time of the opening of the door of Nepal to 1960, a most remarkable initiative was taken by establishing of the Nepal Christian Fellowship of Nepal (NCF) as an umbrella organization to support and bring unity among the churches. ‘The purpose of NCF was simple: to keep the small group of Christians’ (Pandey, 2003, p43).
The years from 1960-1980 were the era of persecution and development of indigenous leadership in Nepal. During this time, many church leaders and members were severely persecuted and thrown out of their villages. Politically, Nepal was under the dictatorship of the Shah Dynasty, which imposed “Rastra Panchayat” system which tried to crush Christianity. ‘The gospel’s wildfire was spreading and so was the government’s subterfuge to come down with heavy hands against this unprecedented phenomenon of the growth of Christianity in a land forbidden to them’ (EHC, 2008).
The threat of persecution for Christians in Nepal continued in many different ways. Even though the government has officially allowed Christians to meet and practice their faith, there are still Christians experiencing punishment with several years in prison.
The Era of Establishing Indigenous Churches, Christian Ministries and Mission Agencies
Currently, there are two organizations sending cross-cultural Nepali missionaries throughout Nepal and the Diaspora: The National Missions Commission of Nepal (NCFN-linked) and The Nepal Mission Society (Nepal Gospel Outreach Centre). Several individual churches and Para-church organizations are sending tentmaker evangelists to Malaysia and ‘Arab’ countries, but their stories are yet to be recorded (Inchley, 2007, p. 11).
National Mission Commission of Nepal (NMCN)
The church responded to the mission of God in a larger way, becoming obedient to the Great Commission. The churches in a short period of time made a big jump in cross-cultural training, equipping missionaries and sending them to Nepal and beyond. With this vision the National Mission Commission of Nepal (formally known as the Missions Commission of Nepal) a wing of National Churches Fellowship of Nepal (NCFN) was started in 2001. At present it has become independent from NCFN to serve nationally as a collaborative effort of various church and denominational groups.
Nepal Mission Society-Nepal-Gospel Outreach Centre
The Nepal Mission Society (NMS) was established after 1990 with a vision to reach out to Nepal and send missionaries outside of Nepal. They have been running Bible correspondence courses in which some 380,000 people have enrolled. Their record says that they have planted more than 100 churches/ fellowship groups across the country.
Media and Literature
Nepal used to get most of its Christian literature and audio from India before 1990. Bible and gospel tracts were printed in India and brought in to Nepal. But the situation at present is quite the opposite. Within 20-25 years of time, Nepal has been blessed with a multitude of talented and gifted people whom God is using to create and publish new resources in the areas of literature, audio and video. Now, Nepal is supplying literature to India and around the world.
Pandey and Maharjan (2012, no page) say ‘The radio and media have played a significant role in spreading the gospel because the government allowed Christians to air Christian programs after 1990.’ The Gospel for Asia Nepal has also contributed a lot in media and literature.
Bible Colleges and Training Centre
There are more than 45 Colleges and Training Centers in the Kathmandu valley alone. There are almost 75 training centers across the country. These training centers play a vital role in preparing leaders. There are four Bible colleges accredited with the Asia Theological Association (ATA) and 3 associate members.
The Nepal Bible Society (NBS) was established in 1976 AD. It has re-produced two Nepali versions, namely, New Revised Version (1997) and Simple Nepal Holy Bible (2008). It has also produced the New Testament (with Psalms and Proverbs in different sizes and fonts sizes) and portions (such as the Gospel of Matthew-John), Psalms, Proverbs, etc. from the same–NRV translation. (Jilrel, 2011)
Rapid Growth of Denominations
Denominations are caused by doctrinal differences and sometimes clashes over the position of leadership. Whatever the reason, denominational differences are not pleasant or healthy for the body of Christ. Churches in Nepal are not exempted from being influenced by this web of denominationalist imperialism.
However, Nepal has benefited a lot from the arrival of the denominations regardless of the negative impact on the life of the church. It is quite difficult to say the exact number of churches with denominational affiliations because they do not want to disclose their affiliations.
Nepal churches are very good at self-propagation. A Nepali is more effective at preaching than people from outside. One of the reasons for the church growth is Nepali Christians are actively participating in preaching. Most converts were young and vibrant. Women are very instrumental in propagation. They would form a group and go to villages to preach, heal the sick, cast out demons. Every Christian plays the role of evangelist. Missionaries always walked alongside the native church leadership. ‘Churches were established apart from mission groups’ (Bradley, 2010,p6). Most of the churches of Nepal which are independent were planted by the locals and are governed by local people.
Nepali churches are in the process of becoming self-supporting churches. It would not be absolutely right to say that churches are fully financed by themselves. There are large and medium Churches with congregations of over a hundred that are doing well in terms of supporting pastors and evangelists but they are still finding it hard to raise funds for a church building and land. However, most of the Christian mission organizations are supported by foreign mission agencies.
Global Impacts through Nepali Mission –Globalization
Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. – Acts 8:4 (NIV)
Right after the persecution broke due to the martyrdom of Stephen, the lay believers were dispersed from Jerusalem. Wherever they went, they continued preaching the Good News of Jesus. They were quite instrumental in globalizing the Good News of Jesus beyond their boarders. Jesus Christ has already proclaimed that the Gospel must go Globalization from Jerusalem towards the end of the world.The Church of Nepal has gone through many experiences whether through poverty, civil unrest or persecution. The gospel planted in the soil of Nepal, did not remain within its geographical boundaries only. The Lord stirred the situation via different incidences for the church to leave the country and be salt and light to the rest of the world as per God’s design.
AD2000 Congress on Evangelism
The AD2000 Congress on Evangelism was organized in October 1994 in Kathmandu, Nepal where more than 1200 pastors and leaders attended the congress. The vision for the World Evangelization was birthed in the hearts of the Nepali leaders mainly Adon Rongong. Dr. Thomas Wang, International Board Chairman of the AD2000 & Beyond Movement was the main speaker at the conference. The ‘Kathmandu Declaration’ the vision was cast for extending the call for ‘the Gospel to every person and the church among every people’s the wider Himalayan regions-beyond Nepal’ To continue the fire of mission beyond Nepal, the next Himalayan Congress on Evangelism was held on January 15, 1996 in Silligury, West Bengal of India with more than 2000 delegates. Luis Bush says; ‘Silligruti which is the state of West Nepal of India is strategically located at the northernmost tip of India bordering Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sikkim and Tibet. Such observation brought consolations and inspiration to take the Gospel unitedly specially to Nepali speaking people group as well as Himalayan nations such as Nepal, Sikkim, Darjeeling District of India and Bhutan.
The Globalization of Nepal
‘As the world become a Global Village,the Ministry among the Nepali-speaking population is also becoming Global. After the 1990s many Nepali Christian were also globalized; some went to the Middle East; others went to Southeast Asia or to Northeast Asia and started Nepali Fellowship. In USA more than 100 Nepali SpeakingChurches have been planted across the country’.
Nepal is a one of the poorest country in the world with ‘GDP per capita 694.10 USD According to Asian Development Bank,
‘In Nepal, the far western and mid-western regions and the mountain districts have poverty rates well above 40%. Poverty incidence is 27% in rural Nepal, compared with 15% in its urban areas. Socially disadvantaged groups such as the Dalits experience substantially greater poverty than the rest of the population’.
Due to lack of job opportunity in Nepal, people started flooding to the overseas to look for unskilled jobs especially in the Arab world and Malaysia. Almost 1500 migrants worker pass through the International Airport of Nepal, ‘having no clue regarding those who make Delhi as their traveling route and to the thousands of those who have gone to India through different border crossing of Nepal-India’)
Nepal went to severe 10 years of political civil insurgency called by the Moist an extreme wing of Communist party. The insurgency lasted until 2008 when Moist joined the main stream political parties agreeing to resolve the issue by joining the parliamentary government. During the 10 years of insurgency almost 15000 people were killed. Most of the youth and school students were forcefully recruited as freedom fighters. To escape from this fear many young people left the country and went as migrant workers wherever they found the jobs.
Many Christians are mostly serving as Tent Makers to different countries, especially those who have gone overseas to work. While they work in their company or stay togetherin hostels, they preach the Good News of Jesus Christ. There are occasions when they have long holidays, they organize a Gospel Musical concert by inviting Nepali singers to sing and pastors to preach. They also hold sports events to share the Good news of Jesus Christ. Over the course of time, several pastors like Lok Manaen, Pastor Ashok Adhikary, Pastor Lazarus Thulung and other several pastors have gone to Dubai and other cities of UAE.
Migration as Refugees
Nepal’s 10 years of insurgency and life threatening political situation has pushed out many young people to seek either for asylum or to go as refugees. They have gone to different parts of the world such as USA, UK, Canada for and Australia but as soon as they got settled, they started witnessing to the people around especially to the Nepali speaking community and established churches. He further says ‘in 2014 seven people were baptized and eight entered into membership. Manoj Shrestha went to study at Princeton. After his graduation, he felt a strong need to minister the people in Baltimore, USA where he is pastoring a church. Ram Aryal who is ministering to Bhutanese Refugees reports that ‘some 60,000 Nepali-speaking Bhutanese refugees in America have been helped by UN Refugees Commission. At present about 1500 refugees have settled in Grand Rapid, MI. Now the Church has been established in Grand Rapid where about 100 Bhutanese are attending the fellowship.
With the short history of Christianity of Nepal, it has tremendous way of Christian growth setting up an example as one of the fastest growing nation. Despite the persecution and hardship brought by the government, community as well as extreme Hindu fanatics, the people of Nepal continue to persevere for the cause of Christ.
Due to several reasons whether because of civil insurgency, poverty, voluntary and involuntary migration, those who left the country continue to spread the gospel across the world. There is a huge potential with the Nepal Christians of going global to fulfill the Great Commission.
 Luis Bush, Mission Frontiers, Jan-Feb 1996, The Bulletin of the U.S. Centre for World Mission.
Rev. Ram Prasad Shrestha is the Director of the National Missions Commission of Nepal. He is based in Kathmandu, Nepal and is working to bring mission awareness to the churches, to provide training in evangelism, and to send trained missionaries throughout the Himalayan regions in partnership with local churches. The National Missions Commission of Nepal trains and sends out new missionaries each year to unreached areas of Nepal as well as to Bhutan, Malaysia and India. Within three years, each missionary is expected to plant at least one church.