The leader of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Nepal has called for prayers amid a state clampdown on evangelistic outreach, including the distribution of religious literature and even having a Bible in a Christian orphanage.
All evangelistic activity is prohibited under a new Nepalese Constitution that came into force in September 2015. Article 31(3) of the Constitution says that “any act to convert another person from one religion to another, or any act or behavior to undermine or jeopardize the religion of another, [is] punishable by law.”
“It is time to reconsider our approach toward reaching other communities with the gospel,” said Umesh Pokharel, president of the Adventist Church’s Nepal Section.
The Constitution does not spell out what constitutes “any act to convert,” but the authorities have started to interpret the law. The Social Welfare Council, the government agency responsible for approving foreign aid used to conduct local programs, has stopped approving Christian activities, Pokharel said. Distributing Christian literature invites punishment, and the authorities have warned the leaders of Christian boarding schools and orphanages that they face large fines, the confiscation of property, and closure if a single piece of literature is found on their premises. The government also has banned adults for praying with children and giving them Bible studies.
The clampdown could expand even further, Pokharel said.
“Holding church services accessible to all or organizing events to help underprivileged and disadvantaged people could be interpreted as evangelistic and considered a violation of the law,” he told the Adventist Review.
The Adventist Church has about 5,000 members worshipping in 37 churches and 16 companies across the country of about 28 million people.
Pokharel said Adventist believers have experienced challenges for decades in the predominantly Hindu nation, which has never officially recognized Christianity as a religion.
“But Christianity has been increasingly under threat in recent times,” he said.
“In this difficult time for Christian community in Nepal, we kindly solicit your sincere and continuous prayer for all our brethren, evangelists, pastors, and co-workers serving in parts of this country,” he said.