How many Christians are there in Bhutan?
There are an estimated 30,000 Christians in Bhutan – only 3.6% of the country’s small population, almost all of whom are Buddhist.
How are Christians persecuted in Bhutan?
Since all Bhutanese citizens are expected to be Buddhists, anyone who converts to Christianity faces intense pressure to return to their former religion.
Conversion is considered to bring shame on the family, and new believers are often disowned and thrown out – which makes an enormous difference in a Bhutanese person's life, since the culture is very communal and the protection of family is crucial.
Converts may be disinherited or lose their jobs. Christian women married to non-Christians face intense pressure to convert (e.g. to Buddhism), and are also under social pressure to stay with abusive husbands. While Bhutan has greater gender equality than many neighbouring countries, there is a high rate of child marriage: 26% of girls get married before 18.
All Christians who worship together in Bhutan are technically worshipping illegally, since Bhutan's government doesn't officially recognise any churches. 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.
“When I heard about Jesus it was like removing the blindfold from my eyes.” miriam, a christian from a buddhist background
What’s life like for Christians in Bhutan?
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.
*Name changed for security reasons
Is it getting harder to be a Christian in Bhutan?
Yes: Bhutan has risen nine places on the 2022 World Watch List – from number 43 last year. This jump is largely explained by the increase in the violence score – which, while it remains relatively low in comparison to persecution in other spheres of life, is getting notably worse.
How can I help Christians in Bhutan
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.
Open Doors works through local partners to strengthen persecuted Christians in Bhutan through relief aid, prayer support and other practical emergency help.
Heavenly Father, thank You for Your faithful church in Bhutan. Pour Your strength, peace and courage into those facing intense pressure for following You. May they know Your nearness and open their eyes to see how You are working in and through them. Provide new opportunities for believers to gather and share their faith with others, and encourage church leaders in their ministries. Amen.