The church in Nepal

Church Growth

History tells us that in the 17th century Cappuchin monks made Nepal a transit place while they travelled to Tibet from India. Later in the century they were allowed to stay in one of the little kingdoms (modern-day Bhaktapur) by a local king. Their stay did not last long – they were driven away from Nepal due to their faith. Thereafter, Nepal was closed to Christians until much later; the doors of Nepal opened only in the early 1950s as a result of the prayers of Christians around the world.

The life-giving news of Christ came into Nepal with Western missionaries and Nepali expatriates who had come to faith outside Nepal. The warmth of God’s love compelled them to come back to their own people so that they, too, could have eternal life in Christ. The spread of the Christian faith was slow as open Christian evangelism was illegal, and many of those who turned to Christ in the 1950s through to the late 1980s suffered social ostracism, were cut off from parental inheritance, and were the victims of ridicule. There were many who suffered jail terms as well. Despite physical and mental torture, many Nepalis came to accept the good news of Christ. Since our God is a God of mercy, his mercies never failed and gave people courage to pray and witness to others about their newly-found life-giving faith. We Nepalis need to recognise and appreciate the role played by missionaries in encouraging Nepali Christians to come back to their ancestral home to preach the gospel.

When democracy dawned in 1990 it brought an explosion in the number of people becoming Christians due to the freer political environment. Many denominations which were unknown to Nepali Christians until 1990 took advantage of this freedom and founded churches, which also contributed to the growth and variety of the church in Nepal.

The recent political changes have made Nepal a secular country but a new constitution has not been written yet and so nobody knows what kind of coverage it will give to various faith communities, particularly Christians. The political situation is so fluid that no one can guess what is going to happen, but it is expected that things will go in a positive direction. Time and again we have seen God’s sovereign power and his intervention over Nepal’s politics, so we therefore have faith that God will bring about his will.

As the church is growing into maturity she is beginning to understand the intention of God’s heart for mission. The Nepali understanding of mission is to “proclaim”, and not “proclamation” and “demonstration” together, so there is some way to go until we reach a wholistic understanding of God’s intention of mission. The Nepali church is stepping out to reach the unreached, especially our own people. Quite a few churches have already placed missionaries in other parts of the world and plan to send short-term or long-term missionaries within Nepal and further afield.

God has been good to us. Without his grace and love we would not be what we are and where we are now. May God be glorified.

In the New Nepal

Around the time when we first went to Nepal in early 1976, we heard things like: “Praise God, the Nepali church has doubled in size recently and now numbers 1500 believers!” Whether those numbers were accurate or not, I don’t know, but if we compare to current figures (anywhere from 500,000 to 700,000 depending on your source) we can see how God has built His church in Nepal in the intervening 30 years. In those days, there were only three or four main churches in the Kathmandu valley. Now churches and fellowship groups number over 350 in the valley alone. A visitor to the city on any Saturday morning around 10am will hear rousing worship coming through windows and doors of some most unlikely rented rooms – as well as the more traditional church buildings. And this is not just in big cities, but in towns and villages right across the country.

However, numbers aren’t everything! We all fall into the trap of asking, “How many….” and ignoring the more vital question of “How is the church affecting their community?”. A South African church leader was quoted as saying, “The church here is twenty miles wide and one inch deep.” My constant prayer is that the Nepali church will not be described like that, but will demonstrate a living and vibrant faith that reaches out in compassion and love to its neighbours.

And there are some encouraging signs. An increasing number of pastors and church leaders are becoming convinced about the wholistic nature of the Good News. They are then translating this into action in their local communities where there are real identified needs. It is not a question of simply increasing numbers (though that happens), but of sharing the values of the Kingdom of God where their church is located.

In the last couple of years there have been huge changes in the political landscape of Nepal. It is no longer “The only Hindu Kingdom in the world” as travel guides loved to promote. Nepal officially became a secular state in 2006 and this year, after voting the King out of power, the country was declared “The Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal”. This raises different questions:

What does federalism really mean?

How democratic will the Maoists turn out to be?

What does “secular” mean and how will this affect the Christian church?

There are still religious fundamentalists around who try to cause trouble. There are a significant number who are still unhappy about the demise of the King who was regarded as a figurehead of Hinduism. Some look over the border to India where there has been a recent spate of anti-Christian violence and wonder “Why not here too?”.

However, although the future is not totally clear, I believe that God will continue to build His church here in Nepal and that the church will also more and more play a part in the rebuilding of the country. The message of forgiveness and reconciliation is one that is desperately needed in Nepal and one that the church has a unique responsibility to share.