Kapil, the administrator of Chaurjahari Hospital, says there was no Christian message in Rukum before TEAM started the hospital. But once the Christian doctors began serving the people, the church started to grow along with the hospital. Kapil converted from a Brahmin (high caste) family about eight years ago.
The church in Rukum is connected with the hospital and was started about 16 years ago. It was difficult in the beginning because the community did not accept Nepali Christians and did not believe Christianity to be compatible with Nepali culture. Today, however, most think it is good, and the church has grown substantially. Just five years ago, there were four or five churches in the Rukum district – now there are forty. Two hundred people attend the church in Rukum, and there are another four house fellowships in the area, each with 15 to 30 people attending. They also hire pastors to visit rural villages and teach the Christians who live there.
This growth is not unique to Rukum. There were about 30,000 Christians in Nepal in 1990. A survey of Nepal published in 2006 found 250,000 to 300,000 Christians in the country. Today, estimates are around 800,000 to one million Christians in a population that is more than 29 million. It is said to be the fastest growing church in Asia, if not the world.
TEAM’s Steve Regnault first came to Nepal in 1997. He has seen a lot of growth in the church that has not necessarily been a result of evangelism.
“In a way, people are coming on their own,” he said. “It’s the non-Christians that send them to the hospital because they have a certain disease or sickness. So God is using healing in Nepal in general. Lots of people have been been through the witch doctors, they’ve spent a lot of money going to different places to get healed, and in the end everybody says, ‘Oh, just go to the Christians.’ It’s kind of the end thing; they don’t want to do that, they don’t want to change their religion, but that’s how they become Christians. There are a lot of healings, and so there’s a draw to Christianity because of that.”
The growth of the church in Nepal may have been affected by recent political events and newfound religious freedoms. Beginning with its unification in 1768, Nepal was a Hindu kingdom ruled by kings many believed to be incarnations of Vishnu, the Hindu god of protection. Eighty percent of Nepal’s population is Hindu. Under the Hindu kings, it was illegal to be a Christian in Nepal. Foreign missionaries were not permitted to enter Nepal until the 1950s, when the government allowed them entry but only to run hospitals and schools; proselytizing was forbidden. In 1990, King Birenda approved a new constitution that created a constitutional monarchy in Nepal. Though some restrictions remained, the constitution of 1990 allowed Nepalis greater freedom of religion. Six years later, however, the Communist Party of Nepal – known as the Maoists – began a violent attack against the government in an attempt to create a socialist republic. The ensuing Nepalese Civil War lasted for ten years and caused more than 12,000 deaths. During this time, Maoists persecuted religious institutions in areas under their control. The Dadeldhura church was burned by Maoists in 2005. After the war ended, the Hindu monarchy was abolished, and Nepal was declared a secular state. All these years of conflict and heavy-handed governing have left many Nepalis disillusioned.
“I think Nepal, on the whole, is a searching country,” Steve said. “They’ve been through a Hindu king that wasn’t good for them, and they’ve been through the Maoists that weren’t good for them, and so they’re looking for something that is good for them, and God is obviously good for them. So the church is growing on its own.”
-Written by Megan Darreth
-Photography by Robert Johnson
[Originally published in TEAMHorizons, March 2011]