Nepal Churches Struggle to Serve as COVID-19 Kills 100+ Pastors

Amid a second wave of infections, Christian leaders wrestle with leadership vacuum and how openly to raise funds to aid neighbors under a suspicious government.

Congregations in Nepal are reeling after a deadly surge in COVID-19 cases this spring threw the Himalayan nation into chaos, overflowing hospitals and crematoriums and leaving the national army to deal with 100 bodies a day in the Kathmandu Valley alone.

The Nepali church has lost more than 130 pastors during a second wave of the pandemic that has pushed reported cases past 635,000 and confirmed deaths past 9,000. Half of those cases and two-thirds of those deaths have been tallied since April.

“In the month of May, pastors were dying almost every day,” said B. P. Khanal, a pastor, theologian, and leader of the Janajagaran Party Nepal. “I have never seen something like that.”

Christians comprise a distinct minority of Nepal’s 29 million people: a 2011 census reports 1.4 percent, while local Christian leaders report 10 percent. Yet according to Khanal’s database, which tracks the pastor deaths, from February 2021 to today more than 500 pastors and their families have contracted the coronavirus, which multiple times has taken the lives of fathers and sons who co-led churches together.

For example, pastor Robert Karthak’s 56-year-old son, Samuel, died days after his respected father. While Robert had the privilege of a proper funeral, Samuel’s body was taken by the Nepali army which performed his last rites.

Other noteworthy deaths of Nepali pastors, according to Khanal, include Timothy Rai, Ambar Thapa, Man Bahadur Boudil, and Amar Bhaouja, as well as a Christian attorney and prominent religious freedom advocate, Ganesh Shresta.

A “vacuum in leadership” now faces many churches, said Hanok Tamang, chairman of the National Church Fellowship of Nepal (NCFN).

“Some churches—particularly …

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