Nepalese Christian leader sees hopeful signs in war-weary country

There are growing signs of peace and religious freedom in Nepal, according to Dr. Tirtha Thapa, a Nepalese Christian leader.

Nepal’s civil war appears to be ending peacefully after a decade of violence between Maoist rebels and Nepal’s royal government, Dr. Thapa reports. Additionally, Nepal’s Christian minority, which makes up about 2 percent of the population, is gaining greater acceptance after facing persecution in the 1980s, Dr. Thapa says.

Dr. Thapa directs Human Development and Community Services, a Nepalese Christian organization supported by Mennonite Central Committee (MCC).

Human Development and Community Services operates five community hospitals that served people from all sides in the civil war. Sometimes, one of the hospitals was threatened by the conflict, such as when Maoist rebels demanded money from it to finance their operations.

“Quite often, I used to be threatened for my life,” Dr. Thapa says.

However, Dr. Thapa repeatedly persuaded the rebels to let the hospital operate without any interference — sometimes by going to their jungle hideouts to plead his case. Dr. Thapa argued that the hospital served the entire community and would need to close if any funds were taken.

“They said, ‘OK, you should continue,'” he recalls. “They said, ‘As you are not making any discrimination in the hospital, just continue the service without discrimination.'”

MCC supports Human Development and Community Services by providing one worker who serves as a consultant to the organization.

Over the past 10 years, the Nepalese Civil War has caused more than 13,000 deaths. On Nov. 21, Nepal’s government and its Maoist rebels signed a peace agreement, promising to end the conflict and paving the way for national elections.

Nepal has long been known as the world’s only Hindu kingdom, Dr. Thapa says, but this may be changing. Not only is the future of Nepal’s monarchy uncertain, but there is a growing acceptance of faiths other than Hinduism, Nepal’s official religion.

During the 1980s, Nepalese Christians were routinely imprisoned for evangelizing in their country. Dr. Thapa recalls that the penalties were six years’ imprisonment for converting someone to Christianity, three years for attempting to convert someone and one year for becoming a Christian oneself.

However, this is no longer the case, Dr. Thapa says. Nepalese Christians are now able to practice their faith more openly and are gaining respect for their work in health care and other social services.

“From such bad persecution, we are coming to be recognized as a community that is making a difference for the poor and needy and sick persons,” he says.