There are 30,000 Christians in Bhutan. Even though Bhutan is a small country, they are a tiny minority – just 3.6 per cent of the total population.
All Bhutanese citizens are expected to be Buddhists. Anyone who converts to Christianity is watched with suspicion and pressure is usually put on them to bring them back to their former religion.
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 ID cards.
Buddhism is engrained in daily life in Bhutan, and anyone who leaves Buddhism to follow Jesus is viewed with suspicion by neighbours, friends and even immediate family. Conversion brings shame upon the family, who will often go to great lengths to bring the convert back to their 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.
“When I heard about Jesus it was like removing the blindfold from my eyes.” Miriam
Miriam was born and brought up in a traditional Buddhist family. As the eldest child, she was expected to organise rituals to appease the deities. She did it out of duty, but in her heart, she knew something wasn’t right.
“Growing up in a Buddhist family, I had a lot of responsibility for pleasing the deities that my forefathers had worshipped 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 realise 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.”
But Miriam’s family and community weren’t happy about her new faith. All Bhutanese citizens are expected to be Buddhists, and there’s no room for ‘foreign’ elements like Christianity. Miriam was suddenly treated like an outsider. “They said the Christian faith is from the West and we don’t have that in our culture,” Miriam explains.
Though Miriam has suffered because of her faith in Jesus, she has remained faithful. Her husband is an Open Doors partner, providing persecution survival training and discipling other believers. Miriam accompanies him as he carries out this work, particularly providing encouragement and strength to other Bhutanese Christian women, and constantly praying for their ministry.
Levels of persecution in Bhutan have risen over the past year – the country has moved up two spaces in the World Watch List.
Please keep praying for your brothers and sisters in Bhutan. Your gifts and prayers make an enormous difference to those following Jesus no matter the cost.
Miriam says, “We need prayer as much as possible. We need prayer to overcome all these things.” She asks that Christians worldwide pray for Bhutan, so that the nation will know the love of Jesus.
Open Doors works through local partners to strengthen persecuted Christians in Bhutan through relief aid and other practical emergency support.
Heavenly Father, we come to You to pray for Your followers in Bhutan. We pray especially for our brothers and sisters who found hope in Your love after being raised to believe Buddhism was the only way. Thank You for reaching out to these believers in the places where they are. We pray You would be at work in Your people in Bhutan, knitting them together and making them into powerful witnesses for Your love and peace. In Jesus’ name, Amen
*Name changed for security reasons
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