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WEA RLC Advocacy and the Biblical Theology of Persecution Training Seminar

December 3, 2015

Kathmandu, Nepal

August 25 – 27, 2015

Introduction

WEA RLC’s annual national training is designed to prepare Christians in restricted nations to face persecution. As such, the training aims to educate Christians on the biblical theology of persecution, equip them to be advocates for religious freedom and empower them to stand firm and thrive amidst pressure and persecution.

This year, the World Evangelical Alliance, Religious Liberty Commission (WEA RLC) conducted its annual training seminar in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Background

Prior to 2007 Nepal was the world’s only Hindu kingdom. Today, Christians make up around 2.8 percent of the population while Hindus account for 75 percent.

Hindu extremists see the growth of the Church in Nepal as a threat. Although the 2011 census recorded fewer than 376,000 Christians, church leaders believe that the number of Christians exceed 2 million (around 9% of the population). Most new Christians are converts from Hinduism, Nepal’s majority religion. As a result Christian converts face ostracism from their communities and hostility and discrimination.

Although personal conversion is allowed, evangelising is forbidden. According to the country’s interim constitution and criminal code, conversion is punishable by fines and imprisonment. Christians suspected of encouraging conversion can be reported to the authorities and, if found guilty, may be fined or imprisoned.

Nepal’s new draft constitution, made available to the public on June 30, 2015 states that no one can “convert another person from one religion to another.” The constitutional provision does not qualify the verb ‘convert’, and, as such, imposes a blanket ban on all religious conversion in Nepal.

The seminar

Around 70 church leaders, including pastors, youth leaders, lawyers, parliamentarians, journalists and other professionals attended this year’s training seminar in Kathmandu. Held over 3-days, the seminar featured training sessions on the Biblical theology of persecution, how to face persecution, a vision for religious freedom, advocacy, the use of media for advocacy and UN mechanisms.

The seminar, held amidst political turmoil over the promulgation of Nepal’s new constitution, saw a wide representation of church leaders, including members of Pax Romana, National Churches Fellowship of Nepal (NCFN), National Christian Society (NCS), Caritas, the Anglican Church of Nepal, Institute of Theological Education by Extension in Nepal (ITEEN), International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES) and the Religious Liberty Forum of Nepal.

Day 1

The seminar began with a training session on the vision for religious freedom, during which participants were educated on topics such as

The participants at the seminar

what is freedom of religion or belief (FoRB), its global status, the importance of safeguarding FoRB and the Biblical basis for religious freedom.

The Biblical theology of persecution was the focus of the rest of the day. The sessions featured areas such as the Biblical basis for suffering, understanding and embracing the role of suffering in the life of the church and how to respond to persecution.

Feedback from participants indicated that the sessions proved to be immensely valuable and contextually relevant. Participants also testified to have been greatly encouraged by the
teachings on the biblical perspectives on suffering and persecution.

The first day then came to an end with a session that helped participants to reflect on the global persecution of Christians and the importance of praying for the persecuted church.

Day 2

The Executive Director of the WEA RLC, Godfrey Yogarajah, began proceedings on the 2nd day with an introduction to advocacy. Drawing

WEA RLC Ex. Director, Godfrey Yogarajah

on contextual examples, the session educated and equipped the participants on advocacy, and how to carry out effective advocacy in their own communities. The session also encouraged and challenged participants to be advocates for the persecuted and the marginalized in Nepal.

Feedback from participants revealed that the session was an eye-opener for many church leaders. Participants also testified that they were greatly challenged to speak up on behalf of the persecuted in Nepal.

The rest of the day comprised trainings and workshops on the practical aspects of advocacy and how the media, especially social media, and other technology-based media could be used to advance religious freedom.

The day’s proceedings came to an end with a special session on digital security to equip participants on how to safely carry out web-based

advocacy for religious freedom.

Day 3

The final day of training began with a session on how to document incidents of persecution against Christians. Since, persecution against

WEA RLC Ex. Director with Hon. Lokmani Dhakal, Constituent Assembly Member of Nepal

Christians in Nepal not systematically documented, the session proved to be of immense value to church leaders, who were equipped to record and document incidents of persecution.

This was followed by a session on the UN mechanisms, and how it can be strategically used to carry out religious liberty advocacy.

The training came to an end with the distribution of certificates to participants at a closing ceremony that was attended by senior church leaders and also a Christian member of Nepal’s Constituent Assembly, Hon. Lokmani Dhakal.

Outcomes

Feedback from participants was overwhelmingly positive with many stating that the training was the need of the hour for the Church in Nepal. Many also commented that the training had encouraged them to be resolute amidst the challenges brought about by the restriction of religious liberty and particularly the banning of conversion in the proposed new constitution. The participants also testified that they were challenged to speak up on behalf of the rights of Christians and also to pray for the persecuted both in their communities and abroad.

The training seminar also prepared the participants to face persecution and empowered them to live victorious in Christ in situations of hostility and restriction.

The training on advocacy and the UN mechanisms was particularly useful for church leaders who were part of a Universal Periodic Review (UPR) team that were preparing to attend the 30th Human Rights Council Sessions in Geneva, Switzerland to lobby for greater constitutional safeguards for religious freedom.

Summary of sessions covered during the seminar

Day 1

Session 1          - A vision for religious freedom

Session 2          - Biblical basis for human rights and advocacy

Session 3          - Biblical theology of persecution (1)

Session 4          - Biblical theology of persecution (2)

Session 5          - Praying for the persecuted Church

Day 2

Session 1          - Introduction to advocacy

Session 2          - Practical advocacy and workshop

Session 3          - The use of media for advocacy (1)

Session 4          - The use of media for advocacy (2)

Session 5          - Digital security

Day 3

Session 1          - Documenting incidents of persecution

Session 2          - UN mechanisms

Session 3          - Q & A on topics covered during the seminar

Participant feedback

"The training was extremely beneficial to us. Thank you so much for conducting this training. I enjoyed every bit of it. I will definitely talk about this training and learnings we received with others as well." - Rev. Dr. Mahendra Bhattarai, Christian Commitment to Building New Nepal

"This training was a very fruitful one. I learnt so many things from this training. I look forward to putting into practice, what I learnt from this training, especially the learnings on advocacy." - Law Student

"This training has opened my eyes to the plight of the persecuted and the importance of responding to their needs. This training really challenged me to stand in the gap, and speak up on behalf of the Christian community in Nepal. I have no doubt that the training was a blessing to all who attended." - Khasi Nepali, Mission worker and church leader

"I have been blessed. I have learnt many things about the biblical theology of persecution and advocacy. Thank you so much for this timely training." - Kumar Singh Bist, Journalist and leader of a media ministry 

"Thank you for this very timely training. The church in Nepal needed this, especially during this very difficult time. We were truly blessed and encouraged because of this training. In fact, I think the training prepared us to face upcoming challenges. I was personally challenged to be a voice for the voiceless in Nepal." - Ashis Khadka, University lecturer

"The training was a timely one for the Nepal church. Thank you for teaching us biblical perspectives of persecution and suffering. It was truly helpful and encouraging. Through the trainings we were also inspired to speak up on behalf of the Nepali Christian community. Thank you also for reminding us of our rights as Christians. Thank you for blessing us." - Barnabas Shreshtha, Chairman – Nepal Christian Society