Monday, August 22, 2011

Hope springs eternal for believers in Bhutan

Bhutan (MNN) ―   There are conflicting reports over what's changing in the spiritual climate in Bhutan.
On one hand, Bhutan ranks 14th on the Open Doors World Watch List. The listing is a compilation of the 50 countries where persecution of Christians is the worst. In this case, it's not one particular faith that has been targeted.   
Although Bhutan's constitution states that Buddhism is the "spiritual heritage" of the country, Lee DeYoung with Words of Hope says, "It's one of the few countries in the world where it is said there are no open mosques, Hindu temples, Christian churches or Jewish synagogues." 
One the other hand, after 100 years of rule by absolute monarchy, the first elections were held in 2008, and Bhutan emerged as a parliamentary democracy.  
Now, the government requires a license for the construction of religious buildings, which seems to hint that such buildings would be approved. Some religious freedom watchdog groups allege that those licenses are withheld, which gives force to the idea that Christianity would still be on the "black list." DeYoung agrees. "Although it is still technically illegal to be openly operating as a Christian, nevertheless, the number of believers in Bhutan is clearly growing, and they are gathering in house fellowships secretly."
Compass Direct News issued a report at the beginning of the year that indicated hopeful prospects of change. DeYoung explains that "some believe that the government may be very close--perhaps maybe later this year--to officially recognizing at least one Christian group. That would mark a milestone in which the government of Bhutan would make an open declaration that Christianity is permitted."
At the same time, movement on that issue seems to have stalled out for the last six months. Even though it seems there has been some movement toward freedom, evangelism is still forbidden in the country.  This is where radio comes in. Radio has played a significant role in making the Christian presence felt in Bhutan, a country that is otherwise closed for Christian activities.
Programming in Dzongkha--the official language of Bhutan--occurs three days a week with a 15-minute program which includes health topics, music, and a Christian message. The programming not only encourages the existing believers, but also takes the message of Christ to others who are looking for answers.
They're responding, too, although DeYoung notes that "for the foreseeable future, the Bhutanese that are coming to Christ newly as believers would probably still tend to maintain a relatively low profile."

What's exciting is that "people widely believe that the government is well aware of many of those house fellowships and has chosen not to interfere, has not to gotten involved in trying to stop their activity," says DeYoung.  

Although the atmosphere feels freer, DeYoung says, "It's the question of evangelism that would be still a very sensitive one."

Pray that Christians are treated fairly under the new constitution. Pray that the church continues to expand and flourish despite pressure.

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