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Peace and freedom coming to Nepal , says church leader

(For the full story, go to Ekklesia) There are growing signs of peace and religious freedom in Nepal , according to Dr Tirtha Thapa, a Nepalese Christian leader – writes Tim Shenk of MCC Communications.
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 per cent of the population, is gaining greater acceptance after facing persecution in the 1980s, he adds.
Dr Thapa directs Human Development and Community Services, a Nepalese Christian organization supported by Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) – the development and aid agency of some North American peace churches.
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 explains.
However, the Christian leader 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.'”
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 comments. 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.