Reaching the Nations

Nepal

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

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Geography

Area:  147,181 square km.  Sandwiched between China and India, Nepal consists of flat plains rising to the tallest mountains in the world in the Himalayas.  Mountainous regions have cool summers and severe winters whereas plains regions have subtropical, hot monsoon summers and warm winters.  The Ghangara, Gandak, and Kosi Rivers flow through Nepal into India.  Thunderstorms, flooding, landslides, and drought are natural hazards.  Environmental issues include deforestation and water pollution.  Nepal is divided into 14 administrative zones.

Population: 29,391,883 (July 2011)

Annual Growth Rate: 1.596% (2011)

Fertility Rate: 2.47 children born per woman (2011)

Life Expectancy: 64.94 male, 67.44 female (2011)

Peoples

Chhettri: 15.5%

Brahman-Hill: 12.5%

Magar: 7%

Tharu: 6.6

Tamang: 5.5%

Newar: 5.4%

Muslim: 4.2%

Kami: 3.9%

Yadav: 3.9%

Other: 32.7%

Unspecified: 2.8%

The earliest inhabitants were from the Tharu and Newar groups.  Most ethnic groups settled Nepal from India, Assam, northern Burma, Tibet, and Kashmir.  Chhettri and Brahman-Hill arrived from northern India.  Refugees from Bhutan and Tibet number 108,000 and 20,000 respectively.

Languages: Nepali (47.8%), Maithali (12.1%), Bhojpuri (7.4%), Tharu (5.8%), Tamang (5.1%), Newar (3.6%), Magar (3.3%), Awadhi (2.4%), other (10%), unspecified (2.5%).  Nepali and English are both official languages.  124 living languages are spoken.  Languages with over one million speakers include Nepali (11.1 million), Maithili (2.8 million), Bhojpuri (1.71 million), Tharu dialects (1.43 million), and Tamang dialects (1.25 million). 

Literacy: 48.6% (2001)

History

Nepal consisted of several small kingdoms in 1000 BC which were absorbed into Indian kingdoms around the birth of Christ.  Nepal was heavily influenced by neighboring India, yet became three separate kingdoms in the late fifteenth century.  The kingdoms were united in 1768 by Prithvi Narayan Shah.  Expansion into neighboring territories occurred in the early nineteenth century.  The British attacked Nepal and gained several peripheral territories such as Sikkim as well as achieving heavy influence on Nepal between the war and the end of the colonial era.  A hereditary monarchy ruled between the mid-nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  Greater democratization took place following the appointment of a cabinet for the king in 1951 and multi-party elections in 1990.  In 1996, Maoists extremists began fighting for total control of government, resulting in a decade of civil war.  The Maoist insurgency took control in the late 2000s and in 2008 formed a coalition government following elections. 

Culture 

Hinduism heavily influences society.  Saturday is the day of worship.  Nepalese drink tea and milk after waking in the morning.  The caste system influences many aspects of everyday life.  Access to Hindu temples has been limited in the past to lower castes, but government legislation prohibits discrimination based on caste.  Lower castes and the Dalits (untouchables) continue to experience discrimination.  Cigarette consumption rates are low whereas alcohol consumption rates are moderate compared to the world average.

Economy

GDP per capita: $1,100 (2008) [2.3% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.553

Corruption Index: 2.7

Nearly half the population is unemployed and a third of the population lives below the poverty line.  76% of the workforce labors in agriculture mainly cultivating pulses, rice, corn and wheat.  Tourism is a growing industry.  Over half of imports and exports occur with India.  Primary exports include clothing, carpets, jute-based products, and grain.  Due to civil unrest, a landlocked position, and frequent natural disasters, economic development is limited.  Potential sources of wealth include hydroelectric power and increased tourism.  Corruption has worsened in recent years and impacts all levels of society.  Those found engaged in corruption typically receive little or no punishment. 

Faiths

Hindu: 80.6%

Buddhist: 10.7%

Muslim: 4.2%

Kirant: 3.6%

Other: 0.9%

Christians

Denominations  Members  Congregations

Catholic  7,100

Seventh Day Adventists  8,102  14 

Jehovah's Witnesses  1,413  17

Latter-Day Saints  133  1

Religion

Originally the only official Hindu state in the world, Nepal is strongly influenced by the caste system.  Following the rise of Maoists to power, Nepal was declared a secular state.  Hinduism has the strongest influence on Nepali religion, followed by Buddhism.  Kirant is a shamanistic religion practiced by the Kirat people. 

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

The constitution protects religious freedom but forbids proselytism.  No laws favor the Hindu majority.  Although illegal, intimidation and prejudice towards lower castes frequently occur.  Police regularly intimidate Tibetan Buddhists during religious festivals.  Personal conversion to a different religion is allowed by law, but often results from ostracism from family and the community for Hindus converting to Islam or Christianity.  Violent attacks on Christians by Hindu extremist groups periodically occur.[1] 

Largest Cities

Urban: 19%

Kathmandu, Biratnagar, Lalitpur, Pokhara, Birganj, Dharan, Bharatpur, Janakpur, Mahendranagar, Bhaktapur.

One of the 10 largest cities has a congregation.  6% of the national population lives in the 10 largest cities.

LDS History

In February 1993, Elder Carmack and Elder Tai from the Asia Area Presidency made an investigatory trip to meet local members and expatriates in Kathmandu.  Senior couple missionaries began serving on humanitarian assignment as early as 2001, and assisted with branch leadership development.  Nepal became part of the India New Delhi Mission in late 2007.  There were two humanitarian senior couples serving in Nepal in the late 2000s.  The Church was not officially recognized as of mid-2011. 

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: 133 (2010)

Following the first visit by Church representatives, there were 17 members in Kathmandu in mid-1993.  Members included Nepalese and foreigners.[2]  In 2003, the first youth conference had 21 in attendance, seven of which were members.[3]  By this time, the branch averaged 12 baptisms a year.[4]  15 were baptized in 2008.  There were 133 members in 2010.

Nepalese have joined the Church in many other nations, particularly India, the United States, Cyprus, and Australia, but typically do not return to their homeland.

Congregational Growth

Branches: 1

The Kathmandu congregation was organized by Elder Carmack and Elder Tai in 2001.  No additional units have been organized since that time.

Activity and Retention

In 2003, there were 50 active members in the Kathmandu Branch.  Members, particularly youth, took responsibility in sharing the Church's teachings and inviting friends and family to meetings.  At the end of 2009 there were approximately 100 active members.  13 were enrolled in seminary and institute during the 2008-2009 school year.  Active membership is estimated at 60-70% due to the strong devotion of converts.

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: English

No scriptures are available in Nepali or other indigenous languages.  The Church has translated the Living Christ Testimony, The Family: A Proclamation to the World, the Articles of Faith, Gospel Fundamentals, and the Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith in Nepali.

Meetinghouses

The Kathmandu Branch meets in a renovated building.

Health and Safety

Violence towards religious minority groups is a safety concern for missionaries and members.  HIV/AIDS infects 0.5% of the population. 

Humanitarian and Development Work

The Church provided DPT immunizations in 1991.[5]  Senior missionary couples provide humanitarian assistance.  Wheelchair donations have occurred since 2004.[6]  In 2008, the Church donated 750 wheelchairs and partnered with other aid organizations in providing seven hundred 110 pound bags of rice for the Goldhap Bhutanese Refugee Camp and Sunsari District flood victims.[7]  Clean water projects were conducted in 2006[8] and 2008.[9]

 

Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

Religious Freedom

Current restrictions on proselytism limit LDS missionary efforts.  No direct proselytism is allowed; church growth occurs primarily through word of mouth through family and friends of existing members and among those who express spontaneous interest.  Christians report harassment from police and Hindu extremist groups.

Cultural Issues

In accordance with Hindu culture, LDS meetings are held on Saturday.  Converts from Hindu backgrounds often face ostracism from their families and communities.  The widely practiced custom of drinking tea every morning presents a challenge for prospective converts.  Hindu celebrations may also present challenges for members in balancing the Church's beliefs with their cultural customs.  Few are familiar with Christianity, requiring prospective LDS missionary approaches in Nepal to be tailored to those with a Hindu or Buddhist background in order to maximize understanding of LDS teachings.

National Outreach

Outreach remains very limited by geography and government.  In 2003, members attending the Kathmandu branch came from a 20-mile radius around Kathmandu.[10]  Although most members reside in and around Kathmandu, the population is largely unreached and unaware of the Church's presence and teachings.  97.5% of Nepalis live outside of Kathmandu.  Many ethnic groups do not have a single Latter-day Saint.

Nepal's large rural population presents future challenges for outreach.  The greatest opportunities for reaching the large numbers of people are in Kathmandu and in large cities near the Indian border, although the nation is very rural and only 6% live in the ten largest cities.  Small cities and towns high in the Himalayas at times are difficult to access and have limited communication and transportation. 

Member Activity and Convert Retention

Convert retention and member activity are high for a nation with a small membership and limited Church presence, as manifest by the number of missionaries serving from the Kathmandu Branch and the member-missionary work accomplished by youth converts.  The large number of active youth provides opportunities for the Church to have returned missionaries use their skills to help build the Church in Kathmandu and other cities.  High convert retention and member activity rates have largely arisen from member-missionary approaches to outreach and most converts developing weekly church attendance and a strong testimony prior to baptism. 

Ethnic Issues and Integration

The caste system presents obstacles for membership growth and retention.  Converts from varying castes and ethnic groups often have little social contact with each other outside of Church.  These issues may lead to problems with assimilation.  Ethnic groups who have relocated from other regions to Kathmandu may also face integration challenges.

Language Issues

Nepali has no LDS scriptures translated and only a handful of materials.  Local members have long awaited a Nepali translation of the Book of Mormon.  Besides Nepali, there are no translations of church materials in local languages.  Low literacy rates present obstacles, although opportunities exist for literacy programs as a form of service and passive mission outreach.

Missionary Service

Nepal is one of the few nations with fewer than 200 Latter-day Saints that would be self sufficient in staffing its local missionary force if proselytism was permitted.  In late 2008, there were 10 young men serving missions from Nepal.  It is unclear whether such a large number of local members have perpetually served missions since this time.  Seminary and institute will play a major role in providing missionary preparation for members desiring to serve missions. 

Leadership

The Church has well developed local leadership in a country with small membership.  Nepali members lead the Kathmandu Branch under the supervision of a senior missionary couple.[11]  A large number of Nepali young men have served missions, many in neighboring India.  As these missionaries return, they contribute greatly to leadership and establishing the Church.  Returned missionaries may prove instrumental in establishing additional congregations and assisting in Church outreach outside the capital in accordance to Nepali law.

Temple

Nepal belongs to the Hong Kong China Temple District.  Temple trips from Kathmandu rarely occur due to the small, young membership, financial constraints, and distance.  A potential temple in India would be much more accessible but is unlikely for many more years due to few members in South Asia.

Comparative Growth

Other nations in South or Southeast Asia with proselytism restrictions have seen results similar to Nepal.  Bangladesh has had a branch for several decades with around the same number of members.  Church membership in Laos has met as a branch since the early 2000s and has as many members as Nepal.  Pakistan has seen greater success, growing from 130 members in three branches in 1993 to several thousand meeting in 10 branches in 2009, although full-time proselyting missionaries have been key to this growth.  Nepal enjoys one of the most active memberships for nations with fewer than 500 members.

Christians have struggled to gain converts due to cultural pressures and government restrictions, but greater growth has occurred in the past decade.  Christian groups grow in membership as their members share their faith with friends and family.  The LDS Church has also seen great progress due to member involvement in missionary work, but this progress is limited to Kathmandu whereas other denominations have a presence in many of the largest cities.  Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses report moderate membership growth and slow congregational growth.

Future Prospects

As local members share their faith with family and friends and missionaries return home and stay in Nepal, greater growth will occur.  A second branch may be organized to reduce travel time for members or from lack of space in the current renovated meetinghouse.  Additional groups or small branches may be organized in larger cities as returned missionaries move to these locations and share their beliefs with those around them.  Greater outreach with humanitarian missionaries will likely not occur until greater religious freedom is granted.  A translation of the Book of Mormon and other LDS scriptures in Nepali is greatly needed for increasing gospel understanding, strengthening member testimonies, and for member-missionary activity within the confines of Nepali law.


[1] "Nepal," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127369.htm

[2]  Sheffield, Sheridan R. "Asia area: Welcome mat is out in several countries," LDS Church News, 19 June 1993.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/22920/Asia-area--Welcome-mat-is-out-in-several-countries.html

[3]  Klingler, Fay. "Himalayan setting for edification, service," LDS Church News, 19 July 2003. http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/44065/Himalayan-setting-for-edification-service.html

[4]  Topham, Lynne S. "Light in the Land of Mystery," New Era, July 2003, 20

[5]  "'I love little children'," LDS Church News, 15 June 1991.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/20877/I-love-little-children.html

[6]  Assis, Fernanco.  "Helping in Brazil by giving mobility," LDS Church News, 24 March 2007. http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/50277/Helping-in-Brazil-by-giving-mobility.html

[7]  Bradshaw, Lynn R and Glenna.  "Nepal expresses thanks with parade," LDS Church News, 3 January 2009.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/56384/Nepal-expresses-thanks-with-parade.html

[8]  "Clean water projects," LDS Newsroom, retrieved 4 March 2010. http://newsroom.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/background-information/clean-water-projects

[9]  "Clean water," Humanitarian Services, retrieved 4 March 2010. http://www.lds.org/library/page/display/0,7098,6212-1-3216-1,00.html

[10] Klingler, Fay. "Himalayan setting for edification, service," LDS Church News, 19 July 2003. http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/44065/Himalayan-setting-for-edification-service.html

[11]  Klingler, Fay. "Himalayan setting for edification, service," LDS Church News, 19 July 2003. http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/44065/Himalayan-setting-for-edification-service.html