Christianity's growth in Nepal includes celebrity convert

Persecution
by Julia A. Seymour
Posted 10/06/14, 02:47 pm

In the former Hindu kingdom of Nepal, nine out of 10 people have never heard the name of Jesus, according to Greg Kelley of World Mission. But the gospel is spreading and the revival has sparked some high profile conversions to Christianity.

Nepali singer and actress Anju Panta recently converted from Hinduism and has faced criticism for changing her music to reflect her new faith. Critics also harassed her on social media after rumors spread about her unwillingness to sing a Hindu hymn referencing a Hindu goddess.

Asia News reported that Panta declined to sing at a Hindu festival on Sept. 4, provoking outrage among Hindu radicals.

“My faith does not allow me to worship the Hindu deity through song,” Panta said, according to Asia News. “Moreover, in those days I was not well. Though I was offered a large amount of money, I declined the engagement.”

A columnist with the Nepali Times said critics continued to “hound” Panta online even after she issued a tearful clarification saying she did not mean to insult anyone.

Panta is one of the biggest celebrities in Nepal, so the reaction to her conversion was not surprising. William Stark, International Christian Concern’s regional manager for Asia, said persecution in the country is not severe, but there is “general discrimination” against non-Hindus. Some converts are turned out of their homes by family or struggle to find work, but violent persecution is rare.

Stark said Christians are primarily concerned with the lack of constitutional protections for religious minorities. Since the Hindu kingdom became secular in 2008, the transitional government has not been able to create an official constitution, leaving minorities in limbo. At the same time, some Hindus want the constitution to give their religion preferential standing, or to declare Hinduism the official religion.

“There is definitely a tension between different parties about what the country should become,” Stark said.

Speaking of the uncertain politics, one Nepali pastor told Stark Christians feel “anything could happen.”

The existence of Christians is generally accepted in Nepal, Stark said, but conversions from Hinduism are viewed negatively. “Just as in India there are Hindu nationalists who see Christianity as a foreign religion that shouldn’t be there at all,” Stark said, Hindu nationalists from India also are trying to influence Nepal to move in that direction.

The Center for the Study of Global Christianity measured the annual growth rate of Christianity in Nepal at more than 10 percent per year.

Scott Thunder, senior director of communications for Bible League International (BLI), said there is an excitement on the part of Nepali Christians to evangelize and disciple others. BLI partners with local churches to provide Bibles, Bible study materials, and training, as well as Bible-based literacy programs in Nepal and other countries.

On a recent trip, Thunder visited a newly planted church in rural Nepal and learned it was the first Christian church ever established in that village, which was more than 100 years old.

Julia A. Seymour

Julia has worked as a writer in the Washington, D.C., area since 2005 and was a fall 2012 participant in a World Journalism Institute mid-career class conducted by WORLD editor in chief Marvin Olasky in Asheville, N.C. Follow Julia on Twitter @SteakandaBible.

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