By BosNewsLife Asia Service
KATHMANDU,NEPAL (BosNewsLife)-- Native Christian missionaries in Nepal say they will continue evangelism despite unrest over a newly constitution that enshrined a long-time ban on proselytizing.
The new constitution signed by Nepal's president on September 20 outlaws "any act to convert another person from one religion to another or any act or behavior to undermine or jeopardize the religion of another," with violations punishable by prison and/or fines.
The ban fails to allow choosing one's faith to be seen as a matter of individual rights as required by international treaties that Nepal has signed and ratified, said advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
Yet, Christians were relieved that framers ultimately did away with a reported concession to Hindu groups to ban all religious conversions, said Christian Aid Mission (CAM), which supports native missionaries.
The government instead approved a constitution defining the state as secular and neutral toward all religions, “over rancorous objections and violence that included attacks on three church buildings”, CAM told BosNewsLife.
PART OF TRANSITION
Nepal’s new constitution is part of the transition the country began in 2008 from the world's only Hindu monarchy to a secular, multiparty, constitutional republic. Hindu groups opposed these developments and a mission leader based in Nepal warned of a possible backlash.
"There could be some reaction," he said in remarks obtained by BosNewsLife, "though not so much in the majority-Nepalese-speaking areas. But in other areas where there's not been much gospel work, there could be some reaction. We'll just see how things go."
Ethnic demands, along with violence that killed more than 40 people, overshadowed the religious concerns in the constitutional framing process, he said.
Despite the turmoil, Christianity has flourished in recent years, the mission leader added. Originating during a harsher period in the 1980s and '90s, he said his “ministry” learned from the outset how to “proclaim [Jesus] Christ” is Lord in discreet ways.
Bible correspondence courses were primary.
PEN-PALS FOR LOVE
"It started with my mom copying down 100 names and addresses from the back of a magazine of youths looking for pen-pals – basically, they were looking for love," said the ministry director, whose name is withheld for security reasons. "My mom started writing letters to them, and she would say, 'If any of your friends would like to read my letters or would like to read more about
Jesus, then please send me their addresses.'"
People sent addresses of their friends and relatives, and the current director's parents officially began the ministry in 1992. When students began completing the courses two years later, however, those who had earned certificates sent them back to the ministry leaders.
"Some were torn to pieces," the director recalled. "They didn't accept the certificates. Basically, the problem was they wanted more of the Gospel. That was their way of protesting."
Some of the students showed up at the ministry office demanding more knowledge, while others waited two days at its Post Office box to accost the leaders and request more instruction, he said.
NEW FAITH DISCOVERED
"It was new; so many had never even heard the name of Christ before,” the director added.
“They wanted to know who these people were that were sending all these gospel materials. Except for one person, all of them were college graduates. Some were in the police and military, some were judges and professors. That's when the ministry of discipleship training started. We realized it's about time we start a face-to-face."
For the first on-site training session, the ministry sent out 50 invitations; 265 people showed up.
"We thought 10 might show up," the director explained. "It was a seven-day class, and at end of the training, more than 100 took baptism."
Since then, more than 500,000 students from Nepal's 75 districts have enrolled in the Bible correspondence courses, with 50,000 completing them, he said. The Bible correspondence courses are tailored to reach Hindus (75 percent of the population), Buddhists (16 percent), animists and communists, CAM told BosNewsLife. After taking the Bible courses, more than 10,000 students have participated in the “ministry's discipleship training process”, according to missionaries.
75-DAY LEADERSHIP TRAINING
“With a philosophy of ministry geared toward quality rather than quantity, the ministry then provides a 75-day leadership training for potential Gospel workers, as well as pastoral training,” said CAM which supports the project.
Taking place at different church halls every three months, the pastoral instruction involves nine, week-long sessions over two years. “The ministry is training two groups of 25 pastors each, at a cost of $15,000 to $20,000 per year for each group,” the mission director said.
"When there was persecution, professing the name of Christ was very costly, but since the government became secular there's freedom,” he explained. However freedom has also brought “a lot of false teaching coming in, so it's imperative that they know what true teaching is," the director said.
"With Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, prosperity gospel and others coming in, that problem is increasing, and the people that they are shepherding need to get fed the truth of the Scripture."
As unreached peoples are a high priority, he said his “ministry's strategy is to reach out first to those who know both Nepalese and a tribal language.” These new, bilingual Christians would then reach their own people in their own local language.
MORE TRAINING NEEDED
“Ideally we would like to be training 100 people – four groups," he said. "But we need teachers able to do that, so we're working to get them, and of course we need finances to get that going. The teachers are paid, and we use local pastors. We do have pastors with just Biblical degrees, but ideally we're looking for guys who have a master's of divinity and are pastoring local believers.”
Five years ago the Operation World handbook estimated the Christian population of Nepal at 2.85 percent, or 850,801 people, most of them evangelicals; that figure is now estimated at about 1 million.
With 309 unreached people groups, Operation World estimated 55 percent of Nepal's people had never heard the Gospel.
After a period of reported persecution in the 1990s and more freedom since a transition to a secular democracy began in 2008, “the ministry that has quietly proclaimed Christ as Lord claims to have planted hundreds of churches,” CAM said. It is currently helping 66 churches, 13 less developed fellowships and 14 incipient cell groups.
"The harvest is plentiful, the workers are few," the director added. "We need the people capable of taking the work forward."
(With writing by Amie Cotton. BosNewsLife's MISSION WATCH is a regular look at missionaries working in the two-thirds world and other difficult areas and related developments).
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