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2021 WORLD WATCH LIST #43

BHUTAN

 

Country rank

43

Persecution score

63.58

Last year’s rank

45

Region

Asia

Persecution Type

Religious nationalism (Very strong)

Persecution Level

Very High

Population

835,000

Christians

30,000 (OD estimate%)  According to OD-estimate

Main Religion

Buddhism

Government

Constitutional Monarchy

Leader

King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck

Open Doors supports the church in Bhutan through:
• Discipleship training
• Literature distribution
• Literacy classes
• Emergency relief

ABOUT BHUTAN

What does persecution look like in Bhutan?

In Bhutan, the government assumes that all citizens are Buddhist. Anyone who converts to Christianity is watched with suspicion, and efforts are usually made to bring them back to their former religion. Religious leaders, the local community and family often cooperate in this.  

In addition to converts from Buddhism, many Christians in Bhutan come from the Nepali minority. 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 their ID cards. 

Particularly in rural areas, Buddhist monks oppose the presence of Christians. In general, local officials overlook this opposition. Buddhism is engrained in daily life in Bhutan, and anyone who leaves Buddhism to follow Jesus is viewed with suspicion by neighbors, friends and even immediate family. Conversion brings shame upon the family, so often family members go to great lengths to bring the convert back to his or her 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. 

How women experience persecution

Christian women who convert from Buddhism to Christianity are at the greatest risk of persecution in Bhutan; typically, they are disowned and disinherited by their families, or divorced by their husbands. A divorce is relatively easy to procure in Bhutan, increasing the fear among female converts that their husbands might decide to leave them.  

Christian women married to non-Christians are also socially under pressure to stay with their husbands despite domestic abuse. And whenever a Christian woman is married to a non-Christian who doesn’t want to convert, she often faces pressure from her husband and/or his family to convert to Buddhism to avoid the shame of a divorce. 

How men experience persecution

Although men and women enjoy equal rights under the law, the traditional matriarchal society means that there is still preference in practice for inheritance and land ownership to pass down the female line. In this context, Christian men and boys often experience persecution through families, being disowned by their family and losing inheritance. Others report being removed from the census record. 

When male Christians lose their job or are excluded from the traditional way of farming, the economic loss affects the entire family. 

What has changed this year?

Bhutan rose two spots on the World Watch List this year, primarily because of a rise in pressure in almost every sphere of life for Christians. Fortunately, physical violence against followers of Jesus continues to be non-existent. But Christians—particularly those from Buddhist backgrounds—risk oppression, discrimination and intense pressure from their families, communities and government.  

Who is most vulnerable to persecution?

Converts from Buddhism are far and away most at risk. Because Buddhism is so engrained in Bhutan’s culture and society, anyone who leaves Buddhism for Jesus is seen as betraying their family, their community and their country. This means intense pressure for anyone who chooses faith in God.  

How can I help Christians in Bhutan

What does Open Doors do to help Christians in Bhutan?

​Through our local partners, Open Doors provides immediate aid to Bhutanese believers when their faith in Christ lands them in prison, excludes them from families and communities, and deprives them of livelihood and employment. We also strengthen the persecuted church in Bhutan through working with partners on literature distribution, discipleship, persecution preparedness and prayer support.  

Your gift today will show our persecuted brothers and sisters in Bhutan, and other countries in the World Watch List they are loved and remembered by you.

Pray

-The Bhutanese church is divided. Denominationalism is one factor that prevents unity in the church. To bring believers together in unity and encourage oneness in Christ, Open Doors organizes leaders’ gatherings, where church leaders can come together and worship, fellowship and have discussion. Continue to pray for unity, peace and understanding among the churches in Bhutan.  

-The younger generations of Bhutan are keeping up with modern trends and languages—many like to speak English. The preaching in the temples and public gatherings, which are usually spoken in the Dzongkha language, are now supplemented with English preaching to reach younger audiences in urban areas. Religious leaders have made efforts to visit schools to give religious talks to students. They have taken great measures to help Buddhists promote Buddhism and deepen the Buddhist faith in Bhutan among young people. Pray for the Christians in Bhutan to remain true and strong in their faith, in the face of Buddhism’s strong influence in the country. 

-Please pray for churches in central-south Bhutan. Most are constantly monitored by authorities, hindering or even preventing worship and fellowship gatherings. Ask God to give believers wisdom to know how to respond to this situation, and that He would soften the hearts of the authorities to allow Christians to worship freely. 

 

A PRAYER FOR BHUTAN 

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.