Young Christians have been meeting near Katmandu in Nepal, a country emerging towards democracy and pluralism. Many are now attracted to Christianity in the predominantly Hindu kingdom which now has a formally secular state.
Anto Akkara writes: When Raju Lama embraced Christianity at the age of 16, his Buddhist parents were furious and virtually expelled him from the family home near the Nepalese capital of Katmandu. Undeterred, Lama, who became a Christian in 1989, began trying to persuade his parents to do the same. Ten years later that persistence paid off, and his parents converted to Christianity, followed by his sisters and brother.
"I am happy I could persuade my family members to become Christians," said Lama, who is now the president of the United Christian Youth Fellowship in Katmandu valley.
Lama spoke to Ecumenical News International on 12 (November 2007) during an assembly of his youth network that took place during the Hindu Diwali holidays at the independent Anugraha Vijay (Grace Victory) Church at Kapan Bekha in Katmandu.
"It is the youth who are at the centre of the growth of the church here (in Nepal)," Lama told ENI.
Before 1991, the number of Christians in this Hindu-dominated country was estimated to be around 50,000. Then, a new constitution was adopted following pro-democracy protests that led to a limited multiparty democracy under the monarchy.
The new constitution retained an existing ban on conversions but also eased some of the restrictions on religious freedom. Consequently, police and State officials stopped prosecuting Christians who engaged in evangelising.
This led to sudden spurt in the growth of Christians in Nepal, and it is estimated that there are now more than 800,000 Christians in 6,000 independent church congregations among the country's population of 29 million people.
Rajkumar Shrestha, a Hindu who had migrated to Katmandu from his native village of Sindu Palchok in search of employment, became a Christian four years ago after he came into contact with church workers.
"My family members scolded me when I told this news to them," Shrestha told ENI during the youth meeting. Yet, Shrestha was also successful in winning his family over and in persuading them to accept the Christian faith.
Of the 70 participants at the youth assembly, only eight were born into Christian families, while the rest are recent converts.
Robin Baidhya, a Hindu who embraced Christianity in 1995, pointed out that Nepali youth who are "disenchanted" with the current socio-political situation in Nepal, are looking "at Christianity with new hope for a change in life".
Baidhya explained that church congregations are providing young people with regular training in music, sports and personality development. This, he said, is attracting young Nepalese to Christianity.
Lying at foot of the Himalayas and sandwiched between India and China, Nepal is one of the poorest nations in Asia, and has sparse civic and educational facilities.
"Youth are providing a vital link in a flourishing of Christianity," said Pastor Simon Gurung, president of the National Christian Council of Nepal, to which the youth are affiliated.
However, Gurung noted that the churches are 'handicapped' because scattered and tiny congregations mostly engage in evangelisation work and do not have institutions to provide employment for the young people.
"Unless we begin developing social service centres, their enthusiasm could fade away in the long run," cautioned Gurung, who had been imprisoned twice for preaching Christianity before the curbs on freedom of religion were eased in 1991.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]