As the second wave COVID-19 strikes Nepal, India, the country has struggled to maintain churches after over 130 pastors have died. This second wave has increased reported cases to over 635,000 and confirmed deaths to more than 9,000 since April.
This isn’t the first time that Nepal has seen such a tragedy. In 2015, the country faced a hurricane killing nearly 9,000 and injuring nearly 22,000. “The earthquake caused great suffering, but it was visible and left its mark. It came and left, leaving the damage,” said Hanok Tamang, chairman of the National Church Fellowship of Nepal (NCFN). “But this is an invisible virus that has invaded human society and human bodies.”
B. P. Khanal, a pastor, theologian, and leader of the Janajagaran Party Nepal said, “In the month of May, pastors were dying almost every day. I have never seen something like that.” According to Khanal’s database, at least 500 pastors and their families have contracted the coronavirus, which has taken the lives of many fathers and sons who co-led churches together.
This was the case for Robert Karthak 56 and his son Samule lost their lives to COVID-19. While Robert was afforded a funeral, Samuel’s body was just taken by the Nepali army to be buried. Other notable pastors like Timothy Rai, Ambar Thapa, Man Bahadur Baudel, and Amar Phauja, as well as a Christian attorney and prominent religious freedom advocate, Ganesh Shrestha have died as well.
“Some churches—particularly megachurches—had already prepared their second line of leadership to replace the pastors who went to be with the Lord,” said Tamang. “But this is not true everywhere.” His fellowship has asked neighboring churches to “extend a hand of unconditional help” until replacement leaders can be prepared.
“Many young wives have lost their husbands. Some children have lost both father and mother, and the number of semi-orphans and complete orphans remained still unaddressed,” Tamang stated. “There are so many widows and hundreds of orphans.”
The pandemic has also caused churches to suffer severely financially. According to Ram Paudel, a general secretary of the Nepal Christian Society, “Churches have been closed for almost one and a half years now. We have cooperated and complied with the government orders, and so the church has not been gathering. But this has meant that the income of churches has gone down. Many people have lost jobs and they do not have money, so how will they give,” he questioned.
However, leaders have still been serving with food supplies, medical aid, awareness campaigns, and prayer. We know this is an opportunity for the church to serve as much as we can,” said Tamang. “It has certainly brought us into united action, and we are working together and sharing resources and trying to reach out to our fellow citizens together.”
After the Nepal government created a law in 2017 to ban religious conversation, it has made evangelism more difficult for believers to offer relief to their fellow citizens. “Christians are facing a kind of an indirect ban at the hands of the authorities,” said Athar Kamal, a Muslim politician from the Nepali Congress Party and a member of the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief.
The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) created an emergency fund to assist Nepali pastors through NCFN, its local affiliate, and NCS. “Nepal [has] arguably the fastest-growing church in the world, and largely without the imposition of foreign mission agencies and denominations exporting their models. … And they are committed to serving their poor and suffering in the name of Christ, seizing this opportunity as the church’s finest hour,” stated Brian Winslade, WEA Deputy-Secretary-General, in his explanation of the campaign.
“The WEA invites the world to partner with the church in Nepal in this 21st-century parallel to how the New Testament church responded to a famine in Judea, where many from far and wide partnered with the church amid the crisis,” he wrote.
With the support of WEA, Nepali Christians are cautious against too much publicity.
“We appreciate the kind gesture and the concern. We need the funds to better help our own community and others, but we do not need the exposure as it can spell trouble for us,” a leader told Christianity Today, requesting anonymity due to security reasons. “The atmosphere in the country is not right. The anti-conversion law and social bias against Christians is apparent.”
Tamang is upset to see pastors in hospitals, and some in ICUs on ventilators. He predicts that another wave of the virus will strike Nepal.
“We are also expecting a third wave now, and don’t know where our country is heading to,” said Tamang. “We need to pray for Nepal. We really need to see Nepal recovered and restored again.”