By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
(Worthy News) - A homeless Christian couple in Bhutan are denied aid from the government unless they convert to Buddhism, according to Christians familiar with the situation.
The couple, whose daughter recently died, were chased away from their home and their land by other villagers, said the Barnabas Fund, an advocacy group. “They now find themselves without anywhere to live,” added Barnabas Fund, citing local sources.
The couple was not identified, apparently amid security concerns. “Government officials have told the couple that they can be provided with food and accommodation. But only if they agree to say Buddhist prayers and take part in meditation,” Barnabas Fund said in a statement to Worthy News.
Other Christians from neighboring villages try to support the couple, “but they themselves are the victims of poverty and oppression,” Barnabas Fund noted.
Bhutan is an officially Buddhist country, with almost 75 percent of the 860-thousand population practicing Buddhism and 22 percent Hinduism, according to official estimates.
Though its constitution guarantees freedom of religion and outlaws religious discrimination, minority Christians report persecution. Christians say they are considered second-class citizens and routinely denied government aid and jobs.
In addition, Churches have been barred from owning property, conducting evangelism, or importing Bibles and Christian literature from abroad, Worthy News learned.
“Government officials will do whatever is necessary to preserve the country's Buddhist heritage,” said advocacy group Open Doors in a recent assessment. “Buddhist monks heavily influence many officials, and there is a longstanding practice of monks working in and for the government.”
Among Christians facing persecution, including homeless believers, many abandoned Buddhism, Christian rights activists say. Besides oppression from authorities, these Christians also experience harassment from their family, Worthy News established.
“Because life in Bhutan is still very communal and the proximity and protection of the family are important,” explained Open Doors, which studied the phenomena. “Being disowned is a significant form of persecution against converts from Buddhism to Christianity,” the group added.
It says that “levels of persecution in Bhutan have risen over the past year.” Bhutan moves up two spaces on the World Watch List of 50 nations where Open Doors says Christians experience the most persecution.
The landlocked kingdom in the Eastern Himalayas now ranks number 43 on the annual list.