Looking at the history of Christianity in Nepal, we would likely find a Portuguese Jesuit person named Father Juan Cabral entered Nepal in 1628. King Laxmi Narshing Malla (1620-1641) presented Cabral with a Tamra Patra (a copper plate) and gave him permission to preach Christianity in Kathmandu valley. This is the first recorded Christian foreign alliance visit in Nepal.
In 1661, King Pratap Malla also received missionaries Albert d’Orville (Belgian) and Johann Grueber (Austrian) in Nepal. King Pratap Malla also granted them permission to preach Christianity in Kathmandu but they did not stay long in Nepal.
In 1703, Capuchin priests arrived in Nepal and stayed in Kathmandu until 1715. A small Catholic Church was established in Kathmandu in 1760, by Father Tranquillius, with a local Newar family who had converted to Christianity through his influence. Later, when King Pratap Maal was succeeded by King Prithvi Narayan Shah of Gorkha, fifty-seven local Newar Christians and Capuchin priests were kicked out and left the country along with a small group of other Christians eventually reaching India on February 4, 1769. A few Capuchin priests returned to Nepal in 1794 and Father Joseph of Rovato stayed longer and died in Nepal in 1810. Until 1951, Nepal was completely closed to Christians and mission work but some missionaries and Nepali evangelists were able to cross the border from India.
After 1951, there were Christian mission organizations, namely International Nepal Fellowship (INF) and United Mission to Nepal (UMN), came to Nepal and started social development work. Nepal remained as a Hindu nation in times of Shah regime and practicing Christianity was very difficult at that time. Many devoted Christians were harassed by police and even jailed for spreading Christianity.
After the Shah regime in the country, multi-party democracy was established in Nepal in 1990. Even though people were given some changes and freedom, the resulting constitution then declared the country as a Hindu kingdom, thus the freedom of religion was not included in this new democracy. Although it was not easy for Christian evangelism to take place, courageous Nepali Christians spread the Gospel of Jesus across the country in a rapid way. Unfortunately, the Maoist Communist Party armed forces started a civil war (1996-2006) in Nepal which disturbed the evangelism work to spread the Gospel in the rural areas.
When Nepal was declared a republic democracy and a secular country in 2007, there was a new hope for everyone including Nepali Christians. But in the real sense, practically this democracy is still not applied freely in the country. The definition of secularism in Nepal is biased against Christian believers and other religious minorities. Secularism, as defined by the Nepalese Constitution, protects and promotes Hindu religion and alienates other faiths.
Nevertheless, the Gospel is spreading everywhere in Nepal every day. God’s work is progressing effectively all over the country. According to the 2011 national population census, the population of Christians in Nepal was 375,699 adherents, or 1.4% of the total population of Nepal. But the Nepali Christians do not agree with this government data. The General Secretary of Nepal Christian Society claims that Christian population reaches more than 2 million people including around 10,000 church-based Christians in Nepal. Although these numbers are not that important, but the fact that God does amazing work in Nepal through spiritual and social gospel movement must be known to the world.
GOSPEL AND PLURALISTIC SOCIETY
According to the census data from 2011, there are about 26 million people living in Nepal. Nepal is a multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-ethnic and religiously diverse country in South Asia. There are 123 languages spoken as native languages in this small country. There are 131 ethnic groups that live in Nepal. 81.3% of Nepal’s total population is Hindu, 9.0% is Buddhist, 4.4% is Muslim, 3.0% is Kirat (indigenous religion) and 1.4% is Christian.
Communicating the Gospel of Jesus Christ in an effective way in this pluralistic society is a huge challenge for Nepali Christians. Each group has different religious, cultural and social views and values following their own dogmatic teachings. It is difficult to transform lives of people in this cultural and religious pluralistic society.
As a polytheistic religion, Hinduism believes in many gods and goddesses but it is not really concerned with one’s salvation and eternal life. In Buddhism, they believe in Karma and ritual practices. Meanwhile, Christians are viewed as religion changers and culture destroyers. These became the primary accusations other religions apply against Christians in Nepali society.
Meanwhile, the caste system is also realized as a stimulating issue and possibly the biggest hindrance to the social development in Nepali society. The system is divided into four main social classes i.e. Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Sudra. It is based on Hinduism where the Brahmin caste is seen as the high caste rulers of the others in all parts of the society and Sudra as the lowest caste subjecting them to the most discrimination in society. In fact, lower caste people accept Jesus more than higher caste people because they are discriminated and isolated. They find that in Christianity all are equal in God’s eyes, therefore they are more easily to convert into Christians.
COMMUNICATION AND MISSION
“Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ” (Romans 10:17)-NIV
Communication is a powerful way of sending and receiving information amongst people. In the old days, people communicate with each other only by verbal or face-to-face way. The function of communication was mainly only to spread the message. Looking back to the past, it was not easy to travel or communicate with people from another country because of geographical distance and the absence of information technology, but then the development of technology makes all parts of this world connected and becomes a global village. Today we even can say that communication is like breathing in our life. Communication has swift its function to not only spreading the message, but also to share knowledge and develop relationships with people.
Nepal as one of the 47 least developed countries stated in the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)’s. The Least Developed Countries Report in 2017 revealed that Nepal was included due to the presence of political instability, corruption and many other factors. On the other hand, Nepal has shown very significant growth in information and technology development over the last 10 years. Over 50% of total population in Nepal now have Internet connection and other communication technology access.
Communication is very much impacted to the history of missions in Nepal. In the first part of the history, western missionaries entered Nepal and used more communication technology as much as possible. Before 1990s, there was no freedom in terms of information and communication. All mass media was under government’s control. In 1990s, multi-party democracy system then allowed freedom to write, speak and publish. After that, evangelism grew rapidly. Missionaries learned Nepali and even local languages to share the Gospel even to the very remote areas.
In 1991, I started my journey to learn the Bible and become a Christian. At that time, I was still in my remote village in Ilam and I was raised in Hindu teachings. I received a correspondence material from Nepal Every Home Concern in Kathmandu. They sent me a gospel booklet entitled “A Way of Joyful Life” by mailing because mailing system was the only way to distance communication at that time. I remember that it took two months to get back a reply via post office from Kathmandu to Ilam and the other way around. At that time, there were few ministries such as Nepal Every Home Concern, International Correspondence Institute (ICI), Nepal Bible Correspondence Institute (NBCI), etc., doing some correspondence course by mailing. Thousands of Nepali villagers came to Christ through correspondence like me.
Afterwards, I received biblical correspondence materials from ICI and also participated in a series of biblical course from them for 2 years. By every month I learned the course only by mailing and then finally I received Bible’s New Testament. I learned the Bible by myself and prayed for this new belief. The understanding and knowledge on Jesus eventually grew within me. Finally, in 1993, I personally accepted Jesus as my personal Savior.
When I was still a new Christian, it was believed and practiced by the church that watching television, reading newspaper and listening to radio would keep away the people from reading the Bible. I was not involved yet with communication and media during that time. Eventually I realized that evangelism can be more effective by using mass media. I moved to Kathmandu in 1997 and started my work as a writer in 2004 and as a radio host and a television presenter in 2004 until now. I am able to share the Gospel and reach more people effectively through mass communication.
Accepting Jesus personally was a turning point in my life and Romans 10:17 became a solid ground of my desire to share His Words. That in what I experienced, even a simple communication method have reached a young villager like me to nurture my faith. I had no one around me to really guide me to understand this new belief at that time. I was completely learning something new. As simple as only by mailing I can even grow in faith within me. In comparison to that, evangelism should be expanding more nowadays because everyone is exposed to information and communication technology that can make evangelism work effective and more people can be reached to accept Jesus in their lives.
Mission strategies and methods change in line with the development of information and communication technology. Now we can even say that mass media plays an important role in sharing the Gospel. Nepali people even can do their mission by themselves to reach even local or remote areas. There is no need for assistance from western missionaries.
Technology accommodates people to nurture their religious beliefs every day. People can read the Bible in their mobile phones, watch a sermon video, participate in a Bible study or webinar, listen to religious song, download a Christian choral sheet music, listen to Biblical radio broadcast, create a group chat where everyone can discuss matters regarding the Bible and many other things.
SOCIAL MEDIA IN EVANGELISM
Technology and internet created the growing necessity of having social media in these years significantly. Technology makes all things possible for people to fulfill their thirst for information and knowledge. People nowadays are interested to learn something new day by day, to keep them updated about what’s happening around them, and to express themselves by using existing social media platforms.
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Blogspot, Pinterest, Snapchat, LinkedIn, and Youtube channel are very common to be used by not only younger generation, but also older generation. Moreover, there is a very little number of people around the world that has only one social media account. In Nepal particularly, Facebook, Youtube and Twitter are still ranked as top 3 social media used by Nepali people.
When it comes to sharing our faith with others, the Bible calls us to communicate the gospel in a way that will help other people to understand and receive it. This is the Apostle Paul’s attitude in 1 Corinthians 9:22 when he wrote, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (NIV). Paul was so eager to see as many people as possible to know Jesus that he adjusted his approach to evangelism depending on who he was talking to.
Christian leaders also see this potential and use social media as their platform to distribute God’s words and Bible lessons to young generation and urban people who are more exposed with technology and have busy lives.
Even though, it seems easy because everyone is on Facebook and we can preach the gospel by Facebook, in reality it is much more complex.
Social media can shape the messages we communicate and the kinds of conversation we are capable of having. But no of technology bears no risk. Social media utilization still needs be done carefully and wisely. We as users should be thoughtful in using social media and reflect on our original purpose using this. We can wind up communicating a “gospel” that is different from the gospel of the Bible. We can speak the name of Jesus in a way that drives people away from Him instead of towards Him. This is not real evangelism. It might make us feel like we have done our job in sharing the gospel, but it does nothing to advance the Kingdom of God.
The best evangelism does not happen online. Now more than ever, in our social media-saturated digital age, the world is searching for something real. They need an encounter with the Living God. If it is not anticipated, internet and social media can be the first and main encounter of people to communicate or to fill their lives with. Not only meeting personally, have a conversation with the real person standing before us. It can be dangerous if eventually our faith in social media becomes deeper than our belief in God. We believe completely that social media can connect us to other people everywhere and any time. At the worst case, our activity and our time in using social media eventually should not replace our activity and time to speak to God and learn the Bible.
If we are really serious about evangelism, we need to seriously consider how our methods influence our message. Besides its risks, social media is still a good way to convey the message of God and do evangelism. We need to be thoughtful and fully pray to revert that addiction in using social media to addiction in looking for understanding about Jesus. We also still need to reach the real people, moreover, the ones who are not exposed in technology or social media, and deliver our message in person, talk to them, pray with them, develop spiritual relationship with them, help them to overcome their difficulties so that they can see the living reflection of God’s teachings, rather than counting on social media.
MISSION IN ACTION: SAYING, DOING AND BEING
“What does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humble with your God.” Micah 6:8 (NIV)
In general, mission is understood as “saying”. That “saying” is actually a part of evangelism and communicating the Gospel. Nepali mission movement also was more focused on evangelism by saying. It was commonly understood that a mission is about sharing the gospel to all. On the other hand, in reality most of the churches did not have a good relationship with the local community because the churches only focus on evangelism rather than social responsibility. Because of that, it made such a big divide between Christians and non-Christians in the community.
About ten years ago, there was some perspective in non-Christian communities that Christians are only doing religious things for themselves. On the other hand, other communities were seen as secular people in Christians’ perspective. But today, the situation has changed and local churches are trying to be agents of transformation for the society.
Jesus said in John 10:10, “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Jesus’s mission is an integrated mission. It is not only by “saying” but also with “doing” action and living our life as Christians. The mission of the church should reflect the mission of Jesus. The local church can witness as salt and light in the community, which is more effective evangelism rather than by only “saying” the word.
Currently, Nepali churches and Christian based organizations have been actively engaging closely in integral mission. This kind of engagement showed during the response for the devastating earthquake in 2015 whereas Nepali churches and Christian based organizations engaged and worked together for the affected people. Many people came to Christ afterwards. As a result, Christians proclaim the gospel by word, practicing by action and demonstrating by life.
Case study: Changing the Church, Changing the Community
Gajendra Thakuri is serving as a pastor in Budhabare Baptist Church in Letang, East Nepal, Morang District. He had passion to work with the community and later on found lots of social challenges in his work and he wanted to address the problems.
In 2012, he participated in Church and Community Mobilization Process (CCMP) workshop organized by Micah Nepal. “After participating in the training, I understood the process and how to link the church with the community to address common issues.” he said. He strongly realized the importance and benefit of healthy relationships between church and society. He even realized that the church has a role to play as a change maker in the society.
At the first stage of the process, he envisioned the congregation and then the church identified social issues in their community. Church and community then worked together to develop road construction and planted 300 trees in the village. After those initiatives, the society has begun to recognize the presence and involvement of the church in the community.
Pastor Thakuri said, “The church has a further plan to continue to work with the community to conserve the environment. It is expected that working together will be an opportunity to be witnesses of Christ through words and actions.”
In this time, we need to rethink about our mission and the role of the church in the community. Our mission should not only about “saying” and “doing”, but as God wants us wholistically to look like Jesus, love like Jesus, serve like Jesus, and obey like Jesus. This is the real need for today’s mission in our world.
NEW POLITICAL CHANGES AND ITS IMPACT IN THE MISSION
“He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.” Daniel 2:21 (NIV)
Nepal is one of the politically unstable countries in South Asia. After the 1990s, there were 27 times the government changed over the last 28 years. This situation always affected the mission in Nepal. Some government was open for Christians and some were against. Nevertheless, Nepali mission movement did not stop and His Kingdom growers were never tired.
When Nepal declared as a secular country in 2006 from Hindu Kingdom, the minority religious groups were more hopeful to freely practice their own faith. After that many political changes happened such as new constitution came and the country became the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal. It is written in part 4 no. 26 in the Constitution of Nepal 2015: ” Every person who has faith in religion shall have the freedom to profess, practice and protect his or her religion according to his or her conviction.” But also written as ” No person shall, in the exercise of the right conferred by this Article, do, or cause to be done, any act which may be contrary to public health, decency and morality or breach public peace, or convert another person from one religion to another or any act or conduct that may jeopardize other’s religion and such act shall be punishable by law.”
The Nepal constitution did not allow to openly preach the Gospel and convert others to Christianity, And it has been regulated in the Criminal Code Bill 2017 by Parliament of Nepal on 10th of August 2017. Section 9 no 160 in the Bill stated:
Not to convert a religion:
(1) Nobody should convert the religion of other person or indulge in such act or encourage such an act.
(2) Nobody should indulge in any act or conduct so as to undermine the religion, faith or belief that any caste, ethnic group or community has been observing since Sanatana time (eternal or Handed down from forefathers) or to jeopardize it with or without any incitement to convert to any other religion, or preach such religion or faith with any such intention.
(3) Anyone committing the offense as per sub-clause (1) or (2) shall face up to five years of imprisonment and fine of up to fifty thousand rupees.
(4) If a foreigner is found to have committed the crime as per sub-clause (1) and (2), he/she will have to be sent out of Nepal within seven days of completion of the sentence as per this clause.
Even if the Criminal Code Bill endorsed by the Parliament and enacted by the President of Nepal, it is not easy to implement in the society because democratic government cannot be authoritarian towards human rights to follow their religious teachings. However, this Bill still can affect our evangelical mission movement.
In this situation, we cannot stop our mission but we have to work carefully and strategically to spread the good news of Jesus. Political situation can be changed, rulers and authority can be succeeded but God’s word and commandment are still the same yesterday, today and until forever. This is the time to spread the message of His Kingdom to the unreached everywhere. Do not be afraid to take the initiative and believe God can work beyond everything. We Christians have to prove that we are not against the nation but we are peacemakers and nation builders in society. God has massive plan and purpose for Nepal to transform the lives of people and develop the nation. We only have to follow His commandment and living our life as a good servant of the Lord Jesus.
Nepal does not have a long Christian history. It is only about six decades. The situation was not good for missionaries and mission work in Nepal before 1990s, but the first generation of Nepali Christians were very committed and devoted to the Lord including also the foreign missionaries and worked very hard to spread the Gospel in Nepal. As a result, Nepal became one of the fastest growing country in Christianity. In difficult situation, God bless Nepali Christian leaders and missionaries to overcome obstacles in doing their mission work. They were sent to prison, physically and mentally tortured, but God’s mission was not hindered and grew more and more.
Although Nepal has many diversities in religion, ethnicity, and culture, the mission of Christ still works effectively. In the past, it was not easy to communicate the Gospel because lack of modern communication technology, transportation system was not good and geographically challenged. Christian people did very good and they worked very hard to travel and to deliver the Gospel despite those challenges. Now with the developing communication technology, it is easy to share the Gospel whenever, wherever and by whoever, by using modern communication and social media, although its utilization should be done carefully.
Mission and evangelism should reflect through our personal lives wholistically, not only about “saying” and “doing”. This is the real need for today’s mission in the world. Even how rapidly political situation changes in Nepal and how difficult that is for the evangelism work, Christian people are still part of the society and have responsibility to build the nation together with the government.
Communicating the Gospel in Nepal in the past and in present time can be very different at practical level. Christian missionaries still need to find a way to strategically and wisely preach the Gospel, regardless the situation and easiness offered by technology.
Mr. Thir Koirala is National Coordinator of Micah Nepal. He is also known as a writer and a journalist in Nepal. Before that, he worked as a church planter and missionary pastor from 2000-2009 in east Nepal. He is familiar with Nepali media, as a radio and television presenter. He has been actively advocating on anticorruption issue in Nepal since 2013 and other social issues. Mr. Koirala is also well experienced in social development and community mobilization. He plays an important role in the community as a peace-building mediator amongst interfaith groups and advocator for minority and marginalized groups.