Thou Shalt Not Witness: A Pastor Faces Prison Time for Sharing His Faith

By Milo Jones | Posted February 05, 2024

Every so often, we Christians in America need a reminder not to take our freedoms for granted but to be grateful for them.

Such a reminder came in a press release on January 25, 2024, from Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) International, stating that the Nepali Supreme Court released an order two days prior for a pastor to serve one year in prison for something he did in March 2020.

What was the crime? Inviting a married couple to his house for prayer.

A Timeline of Persecution

On March 23, 2020, Keshab Raj Acharya, who pastors a church in Pokhara, Nepal, received a phone call from a man requesting prayer for his sick wife. Pastor Keshab invited them to his house so he could pray for them. But when he heard a knock on his door that evening, he was surprised to see not the married couple but four police officers. They had come to arrest him.

Since they were not in uniform, Keshab’s wife wasn’t sure if they were policemen until later. His two boys were too young to understand what was happening. “I never thought that they would arrest me … because I prayed for people and preached [the] gospel,” said the pastor in an interview with ADF International. While in jail, he “would cry out to the Lord” in concern for his wife and little boys.

April 8, 2020, was his wife’s birthday. She had asked God for one present: her husband’s release. That day, she received a phone call from the authorities asking her to bring his bail money. “I sat with him for a moment and prayed, thanking God for hearing my prayer,” she told ADF International.

However, she reported having only 10 minutes with him before he was handcuffed again—on charges of “outraging religious feelings” and “proselytizing.” He had been targeted not only for praying publicly but for sharing gospel tracts in violation of the country’s anti-conversion laws. In November 2021, he was sentenced to two years in prison and fined 20,000 Nepali rupees (about $150); however, in July 2022, the Jumla High Court (an appeals court) reduced his sentence to one year following an appeal.

Conflicting reports about different appeals and bail releases make it difficult to determine exactly how much time Pastor Keshab spent behind bars, but according to ADF International, he endured “almost three months of imprisonment before his sentencing.” Since then, he’s been out on bail, waiting for the Nepali Supreme Court to hear his case.

Well, on January 23, 2024, the Supreme Court, upholding the High Court’s decision, released an order for Keshab to serve his one-year sentence. His only hope now is getting the High Court to reduce his sentence to a fine.

Anti-Conversion Laws

Commenting on Keshab’s case, an ADF advocate said, “While the Nepali constitution contains several provisions that guarantee the right to practice and profess the religion of one’s choice, there are some provisions under the penal code that restrict the everyday practice of one’s faith. Pastor Keshab has unfortunately fallen victim to these unjust provisions.”

Actually, contradictions about religious rights exist not just between the country’s constitution and its penal code but within the constitution itself. For example, under Article 26, “Right to Freedom of Religion,” Section 1 states that “every person who has faith in religion shall have the freedom to profess, practice and protect his or her religion in accordance with his or her conviction,” yet Section 3 states that “no person shall, in the exercise of the right conferred by this Article, … convert another person from one religion to another.”

But what if your religion requires you to peacefully proselytize? Moreover, how can anyone, as stated in this Article, “profess” their religion without proselytizing?

Article 158 of Nepal’s penal code is not so nuanced. Section 2 states, “No person shall do any act or conduct which undermines the religion, opinion or faith of any caste, race, community or convert any one into another religion.” And the penalty for violating this statute? “A sentence of imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years and a fine not exceeding fifty thousand rupees” (Section 3).

These anti-conversion laws are not designed to protect all religions but only Hinduism, whose patrons make up over 80 percent of Nepal’s population.

Sharing Our Faith

What does Jesus say about our duty to proselytize? Three texts in the book of Matthew stand out, revealing three phases of witnessing: passive, reactive, and active.

Passive witnessing happens daily as we “let [our] light … shine before men” by performing “good works” that honor God (Matthew 5:16). In other words, our daily lives demonstrate God’s self-sacrificing love. At this phase, Christians are relatively safe from anti-conversion laws.

But what if someone approaches us about our faith? Now we’ve entered the reactive phase. Do we keep silent to avoid offending them—or, if in Nepal, to avoid breaking a law? Jesus explains our duty in Matthew 10: “Whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father” (vv. 32, 33). Pastor Keshab was in this phase when he responded to a couple’s request for prayer.

Finally, there is the active phase of witnessing, which Jesus describes in Matthew 28: “Go … and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (vv. 19, 20). Pastor Keshab was in this phase when he passed out gospel tracts in violation of Nepal’s penal code.

Reflecting on his time behind bars, Pastor Keshab said, “I became very near to Him in that place.” Jesus will also be near to us as we obey the Great Commission (v. 20).

Are you struggling to reach a loved one in America with the gospel? Consider sending them a one-year subscription to our witnessing magazine.

Milo Jones
Milo Jones is a writer and editor for Amazing Facts International and lives in College Place, WA.

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