What does persecution look like in Bhutan? What is life like for Christians? In Bhutan, the government assumes that all citizens are Buddhist. Anyone who converts to Christianity is watched with suspicion, and efforts are usually made to bring them back to their former religion. Religious leaders, the local community and family often cooperate in this. In addition to converts from Buddhism, many Christians in Bhutan come from the Nepali minority. No Christian church in Bhutan has official government recognition—all Christians who worship together are technically worshiping illegally. Local authorities often refuse to issue Christians a “non-objection certificate,” which is needed for loan applications, registering property, applying for jobs and renewing their ID cards. Particularly in rural areas, Buddhist monks oppose the presence of Christians. In general, local officials overlook this opposition. Buddhism is engrained in daily life in Bhutan, and anyone who leaves Buddhism to follow Jesus is viewed with suspicion by neighbors, friends and even immediate family. Conversion brings shame upon the family, so often family members go to great lengths to bring the convert back to his or her original faith. If everything fails, converts’ families will disown them. Because life in Bhutan is still very communal and the proximity and protection of the family are important, being disowned is a significant form of persecution against converts from Buddhism to Christianity. Government officials will do whatever is necessary to preserve the country’s Buddhist heritage. Many officials are heavily influenced by Buddhist monks, and there is a longstanding practice of monks working in and for the government. Meet “Miriam” “Growing up in a Buddhist family, I had a lot of responsibility for pleasing the deities that my forefathers had worshiped, and doing all the cultural and traditional practices we as a Buddhist family used to do. But now, after becoming a Christian myself, I came to realize that we were wrong in so many things. It was like coming out of the darkness and being able to see again. Our parents would tell us that if we didn’t do these rituals and our practices, we would fall sick. If any ill befell the family, it was because we had not appeased the deities and our gods.” What has changed in Bhutan? Bhutan rose two spots on the World Watch List this year, primarily because of a rise in pressure in almost every sphere of life for Christians. Fortunately, physical violence against followers of Jesus continues to be non-existent. But Christians—particularly those from Buddhist backgrounds—risk oppression, discrimination and intense pressure from their families, communities and government. Who is most vulnerable to persecution? Converts from Buddhism are far and away most at risk. Because Buddhism is so engrained in Bhutan’s culture and society, anyone who leaves Buddhism for Jesus is seen as betraying their family, their community and their country. This means intense pressure for anyone who chooses faith in God. What does Open Doors do to help Christians in Bhutan? Through our local partners, Open Doors provides immediate aid to Bhutanese believers when their faith in Christ lands them in prison, excludes them from families and communities, and deprives them of livelihood and employment. We also strengthen the persecuted church in Bhutan through working with partners on literature distribution, discipleship, persecution preparedness and prayer support. Population statistic: Johnson T M and Zurlo G A, eds., World Christian Database (Leiden/Boston: Brill, accessed February 2020). Number of Christians statistic is an Open Doors estimate
Pray for Bhutan
The Bhutanese church is divided. Denominationalism is one factor that prevents unity in the church. To bring believers together in unity and encourage oneness in Christ, Open Doors organizes leaders’ gatherings, where church leaders can come together and worship, fellowship and have discussion. Continue to pray for unity, peace and understanding among the churches in Bhutan.
The younger generations of Bhutan are keeping up with modern trends and languages—many like to speak English. The preaching in the temples and public gatherings, which are usually spoken in the Dzongkha language, are now supplemented with English preaching to reach younger audiences in urban areas. Religious leaders have made efforts to visit schools to give religious talks to students. They have taken great measures to help Buddhists promote Buddhism and deepen the Buddhist faith in Bhutan among young people. Pray for the Christians in Bhutan to remain true and strong in their faith, in the face of Buddhism’s strong influence in the country.
Please pray for churches in central-south Bhutan. Most are constantly monitored by authorities, hindering or even preventing worship and fellowship gatherings. Ask God to give believers wisdom to know how to respond to this situation, and that He would soften the hearts of the authorities to allow Christians to worship freely.