Sandwiched between the two giant countries of China to the north and India to the South, Nepal is a country with more than 100 ethnic groups, and about 300 people sub-groups and castes. It has a rich diversity of natural resources and eight of the ten highest mountains in the world.
Until 2008, when it was declared a secular state, Nepal was the only Hindu country in the world. Since then it has remained heavily dominated by Hinduism in government, cultural practice and worldview. According to the 2011 census, 81.3% of the Nepalese population is Hindu, 9.0% Buddhist, 4.4% Muslim, 3.0% Karat (indigenous ethnic religion), 1.4% Christian and 0.9% other religions or no religion. The population in 2011 was 26.5 million (now estimated to be nearer 30 million).
The first Christian missionaries came from the UK in 1952 after Nepal opened its borders to the rest of the world in 1950. This missionary band was led by Dr Lily O’Hanlon and Hilda Steele whose medical mission paved the way to start a church in the Pokhara valley. This group is known today as the International Nepal Fellowship. The second church was established in Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal, in 1953.
The second missionary group, United Mission to Nepal, arrived in 1954 and invested their resources in the areas of medicine and education. Despite harsh persecution, Christianity took a deep root in the country and grew exponentially. Although considered as a foreign religion and enemy of the country, according to the World Christian Database Nepal has one of the fastest-growing Christian populations in the world.
After a democratic system was established in 1990, the country become slightly more tolerant towards Christianity but proselytising and conversion remained illegal with the punishment of imprisonment. Also, at this time, the country became a fertile ground for different denominations and cults. The National Churches Fellowship of Nepal, which was established in 1960, remains the major indigenous council of churches. Churches are not registered and are allowed to meet on Saturday (a public holiday) but without any official recognition and privileges.
Unfortunately, the government introduced a harsh new law in 2018 which means that sharing the gospel by any means, whether in verbal or written form, is a criminal offence. It has also restricted NGOs and INGOs with Christian values and ethics if their projects include Christian teaching. However, Churches are still pushing to fulfill the great commission even though they are risking their lives and jeopardizing their ministries. There is a sense of being privileged to share in suffering with Jesus for the cause of the gospel in Nepal.
Article by: Ram Prasad Shrestha
National Mission Commission of Nepal, Kathmandu