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Nepal’s crisis brings hope, calls for prayer

KATHMANDU, Nepal (BP)–There’s seldom been a more critical time to pray for the 28 million people of Nepal.

The south Asian nation has been torn in recent weeks by strikes, curfews and violent political protests that all but shut down Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital. Hundreds of thousands of Nepalis flooded the streets for days on end to demand greater democracy.

At the height of the protests, at least 14 people died as police and soldiers fired on crowds. Many more suffered hunger as blockades prevented food shipments and other essentials from reaching the city.

All this intensified a bitter struggle between Nepal’s ruler, King Gyanendra, and the nation’s political parties. In the poverty-ravaged countryside, meanwhile, a long-running Maoist rebel insurgency has killed thousands.

Hope and celebration broke out amid the turmoil in late April, however, when the king announced he would reinstate the national parliament, which was dissolved four years ago. That met one of the key demands of the main parties. Opposition leaders formally ended the nationwide strike, curfews were lifted and food supplies were restored to the Kathmandu Valley. In early May, the Maoist rebels declared a three-month ceasefire, which the government reciprocated.

Relative calm has returned to the capital, but the situation remains volatile.

“This is certainly not the end of Nepal’s problems,” a Christian observer based in Kathmandu cautioned. “But at least there is hope for the moment. The Nepali economy is in ruins as a result of two and a half weeks of total strikes and several days of curfew. The violence may continue for a while yet, but everyone’s hope now is that the newly elected government leaders will be able to negotiate successfully with the Maoists and bring them back into the mainstream.”

Whatever happens politically, Christians are praying that freedom to share the Gospel and worship will increase, not decrease.

“There’s a fear that there will be a backlash against foreigners and Christianity, that they’ll clamp down a bunch of new restrictions and churches already meeting will get increased persecution,” said a Christian worker assigned to Nepal. “That’s what we’re hoping doesn’t happen. Coming from this is a real possibility for actually having more freedom across the board, including religious freedom. That’s what we’re praying for. It could go either way.”

Yet, some used those tense days to share hope with their neighbors.

“Everyone here is hugely relieved that the curfews and strikes are over, at least for awhile, and we are so thankful that God has shown His power in such great ways,” one worker said. “There have been many Nepalis who have chosen to follow Jesus in the past few weeks as they have sought answers to eternal questions in a time of extreme uncertainty and fear. Once again, God has brought joy and hope to people in the midst of despair and darkness!”

Nepal is the world’s only officially Hindu kingdom. Hinduism is the national religion and claims some 80 percent of the population. Nearly 11 percent are Buddhists -– including the 100,000-strong Sherpa people. Muslims account for another 4 percent.

Christians were forbidden even to live in Nepal before 1960. In the decades since, persecution and increased religious freedom (with the coming of constitutional monarchy and democracy in 1990) have combined to push the number of believers to more than 500,000. Persecution continues, but so does the spread of the Gospel.

Still, more than 18 million Nepalis -– and 116 of Nepal’s 128 distinct people groups –- remain unreached by the Gospel, according to missions researchers.

“Please pray for us to have wisdom and discernment in this situation,” a Christian worker in Kathmandu asked. “[Pray] especially that we would not become paralyzed by watching the political situation so that we forget our main task here, which is to share the love, joy and peace of Christ in the midst of all this fear and suffering.”

    About the Author

  • Erich Bridges