Tanuja Ghale saw a young woman on the street in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, and told her she was beautiful.
The woman started weeping.
“Her husband had beaten her the same morning and told her that she was the worst woman in the world,” Ghale, an evangelist who owns a salon, told CT later that day. “When I tell women, ‘You are so beautiful,’ they are shocked and want to know what beauty I see in them that their loved ones have never seen or acknowledged. It is then that they are ready to hear about the God who loves them unconditionally.”
Christianity is growing rapidly in Nepal, the Himalayan nation located between India and Tibet. And the spread of Christianity in the majority-Hindu country is largely credited to women like Ghale.
“Women are the ones who have carried the gospel. They have been the church planters,” said Dilli Ram Paudel, the general secretary of the Nepal Christian Society. “One of the major sources of growth in the Nepalese church are women who ‘gossip’ the gospel in their everyday lives, thus bringing many to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.”
In 1951, when modern-day Nepal was founded, there were no known Christians in the country. Proselytizing and conversion were prohibited. The first Protestant church was established a year later, though, by Nepali Christians from India. Unlike in many countries, Nepal’s first churches were not led by Western missionaries. Nepali believers led the way.
By the early 1970s, there were about 500 baptized Christians in the country. Evangelism carried a possible criminal sentence of three years in prison—successful evangelism, six—but Christians continued to tell people about Jesus. By 1990, when a democratic reform movement decriminalized conversion, there were an estimated 50,000 Christians in the country.
In 2022, the Nepal Christian Community Survey counted roughly 800,000 believers, out of a total population of 30.5 million, gathering in about 8,000 congregations. An estimated 75 percent of those Christians are women.
“Women are the ones who sustain our churches,” said Suman Dongol, a leader of the Koinonia Patan church in Kathmandu. “Most of the women in our church are evangelists. They bring in new people and are very active in carrying the gospel to others.”
Evangelism may have been inadvertently facilitated by Nepali culture. Churches offered a relatively egalitarian alternative to caste and gender hierarchies. And while men traditionally went to work growing rice and other grains, women interacted with each other at common wells, in the marketplace, and while doing daily chores. Christian women saw these interactions as opportunities for sharing the gospel.
The economic landscape has changed in recent years. Today nearly 80 percent of Nepali women work outside the home. However, as Christian women have taken hourly employment, pursued careers in corporate workplaces, and started their own small businesses, they have continued to evangelize. Many say they have found even more ways to connect with other women and use these spaces to share about Jesus.
Reshma Williams, a Christian who lives in Kathmandu and has been evangelizing for 21 years, said it is common for women to talk to each other about personal and family struggles. She has had deep conversations with women in buses, taxis, restaurants, and dance bars.
“Whenever, wherever God opens the door, I share,” she said. “I try to look for the opportunity to share a testimony. If a topic comes up about fear, I immediately think, Do I know any testimony about fear? How God released me or freed somebody I know from fear? I try to bring God into the topic that comes up, and that’s how I start to share.”
The evangelism often leads to Bible studies, women’s fellowships, and church plants. Almost all of the planting is done by women, evangelical leaders said. In fact, church planting is seen as a very maternal act in Nepal and is typically described as a mother giving birth to a daughter. Most of the evangelical churches in Nepal are not organized into denominations. They are independent and connect to each other matrilineally, in mother-daughter, sister-sister, and granddaughter-grandmother relationships.
Each evangelical church in the country keeps count of its chori mandali, or “daughter churches.” Koinonia Patan has more than 100 daughter churches. Prasoon Preritiya Church, where the general secretary of the Nepal Christian Society attends in Kathmandu, has 36.
Few of the churches are pastored by women, though, or regularly have women preach from the pulpit. Some evangelical leaders would like to see that change.
“Everywhere you find that it is basically the women who are taking initiative for the gospel,” said Manoj Pradhan, director of the leadership training department for Nepal Christian Fellowship. “God is raising women and bringing them to the forefront, calling them into ministerial leadership roles. … I am very hopeful that women will be seen as ordained ministers, but it might take some time.”
The Christian women of Nepal, however, are not waiting for permission to evangelize. As a salon owner and in her daily life in Kathmandu, Ghale talks to women who come in for her services and women she sees on the street. Sometimes she goes to women’s shelters. Sometimes to the red-light district. She confesses that not everyone is ready to listen to what she has to say. Sometimes people outright reject the gospel. In those cases, she tries to get the women to come to her home for tea.
“I stay in touch with them,” Ghale said. “But above all, we pray for them. … Women have prayed a lot with fasting for their leaders, for families, for Nepali society, and it is because of their prayers the evangelical movement in Nepal has grown.”
Ghale frequently finds the stereotypical women’s topic of beauty opens people to hear about God’s love. She tells women, “God has created you in his own image, you are beautiful, and you are precious.” And she tells them about Psalm 139:13–14, which says, “You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
Whatever their husbands or boyfriends think, whatever society says, this is the truth, Ghale says. God sees that they are beautiful, and so does she.
That’s how the gospel spreads in Nepal: one woman to another, talking about family, talking about griefs and burdens, talking about beauty.
“Their lives are automatically transformed,” Ghale told CT, “and when their lives are transformed, the difference is noticeable.”
Surinder Kaur is CT’s South Asia editor.
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