Bhutanese Church Continues to Grow Despite Persecution

ICC Note:

Bhutan, a small South Asian country most people couldn’t point out on a map, is a country where Buddhism is more than just a religion, it is a way of life and the country’s main source of identity. Despite this, Bhutan is home to a small, but growing, Christian community. This community continues to face many challenges both from the government of Bhutan, which has made religious conversions from Buddhism illegal, and Bhutan’s majority Buddhist society. Please, take a moment to remember the brothers and sisters from this country in your prayers today.   

11/6/2013 Bhutan (BP) – Hari Rasaili knows persecution.

He was 14 years old when he was kicked out of his country. Now 36, Rasaili spent 18 years in a Nepali refugee camp, after being forced to leave Bhutan.

Today, Rasaili is one of 70,000 Bhutanese refugees resettled in the U.S. within the last four years. And he, like many Bhutanese, has found a freedom in Christ that he could not have imagined before he left his homeland.

Bhutan is a small and often forgotten corner of South Asia that prides itself on its unique oral traditions and heritage. Prior to 1974, tourists from other countries were not allowed inside Bhutan. Even now, tourism is limited.

There Buddhism is more than a religion; it’s a way of life — and a source of ethnic conflict. The country is home to almost 700,000 people, of whom 75 percent are Buddhist. The rest are Hindu, many of Nepali descent. Conversion to Christianity is forbidden.

Because of ethnic conflict in the late 1980s, Bhutanese refugees have resettled around the world in places like Atlanta, Ga., and Oakland, Calif. The refugee resettlement agency tried to resettle Rasaili’s family in Bhutan before they came to the U.S., but the Bhutanese government wouldn’t allow it.

From a Hindu background, Rasaili has seen Jesus work in miraculous ways through the healing of his wife Pabitra. He believed in Jesus because of this experience.

“I have a heart to do something in the kingdom of God,” Rasaili said. “My wife and I have a burden to change our community for Christ — even go as a missionary to Nepal, India and Bhutan.”

In spite of the persecution he has received from his country for being Hindu as well as the persecution from his Bhutanese-Hindu community in Atlanta for becoming a follower of Jesus, Rasaili wants to make a difference for Christ.

He now serves as associate pastor of First Agape Baptist Church in Tucker, Ga., one of five Bhutanese churches in the Atlanta area.

Chase Tozer,* an IMB representative in India, works closely with unreached people groups in South Asia, but has also partnered with North American Mission Board representatives to distribute English-Nepali Bibles around the U.S.

“We’re continuing to hear reports of refugees and people who’ve migrated outside Bhutan becoming believers,” Tozer said. “(These refugees) were never welcomed in Bhutan. They are seen as outcasts.”

Refugees from Bhutan often feel like they have no culture and no country. Today, Bhutanese people are getting more freedoms, but it’s been at great cost. Tozer says he’s seen more reports of believers coming to faith and churches growing in Bhutan than ever before.

The government works very hard to maintain its culture and customs. It requires the Bhutanese people to wear the national dress to work and school. Buildings must be built in a certain style. Television broadcast wasn’t available in Bhutan until the late 1990s. And the government strictly prohibits conversion to other faiths.

“Whether God sends Christians inside the country or takes Bhutanese people outside, he’s at work among the Bhutanese,” Tozer said. “His kingdom is advancing despite great persecution. It’s an exciting opportunity, but in the face of a lot of adversity.”

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