Devout Hindu man became a Christian
When Hom Nath Dhakal became a Christian, it made life a lot more complicated.
He was a devout Hindu from a prominent Brahmin family in Nepal, where conversion was illegal. Accepting Jesus as Lord meant facing the anger of his family, persecution from the government and barriers in his career. But he found himself so attracted to a faith that offered the unconditional love of God that he decided to take the plunge. Now, almost 20 years later, he can see that the persecution and difficulties he faced actually made his faith stronger.
He lives in Portsmouth and worships at St Jude’s Church in Southsea, but still supports the Nepalese churches – which are now among the fastest-growing in the world.
“One thing that I can say about my time as a Christian in Nepal is that I was never scared,” he said. “We were prepared to go to prison for God or face all kinds of problems, because we knew God was with us.
“Now I can even say that that persecution was not a bad thing, because it bound the church together and meant we had nothing else to rely on apart from God.”
He was born in Gorkha, the place that gave its name to the Brigade of Gurkhas in the British Army. As a member of the Brahmin caste, considered the highest of the four Hindu castes, he and his family celebrated the many Hindu festivals, taking part in rituals as they worshipped different gods and goddesses.
He’d met missionaries in Gorkha and met another missionary family when he moved to Katmandu to study. He was impressed by how happy they seemed.
He’d studied the Bible as literature at school, so decided to start reading it seriously. But he had to do so in secret as he was now living with his aunt, who was in a high position. And he visited a Christian house group where people sang about Jesus’ love.
“In Nepal people think that it would be beneath a Brahmin to convert to Christianity,” he said. “They also have a problem because Christians eat beef, whereas the cow is sacred for Hindus.
“But I wanted to compare the Hindu Scriptures with the Bible. The thing that struck me was that in Christianity, Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and salvation was a free gift you just had to accept, but in Hinduism it is something different. But I know that if you try to earn salvation, you will fail.
“After eight or nine months, I came to a position where I had no alternative but to give my life to Jesus. I didn’t tell anyone else and did so by myself in November 1982.
“I knew that it would be a challenge, that my family, society and my friends wouldn’t like it, and that the government wouldn’t accept it, and I also had many questions. But it did transform my life.
“At first my family didn’t believe I had converted, but then they weren’t happy about it. They were worried about me, because they thought I might end up in prison.”
Hom Nath joined a church in Katmandu with 30 or so other converts, which grew to around 150-200 people over 10 years or so. He met Sharada, who came from a similar background and later became his wife. Her father was a Brahmin scholar and she also met missionaries at nursing college. Sharada organised rival studies of Hindu Scriptures before converting to Christianity herself in her final year. Their wedding had to be brought forward as they heard that they may be both be arrested during their Christian marriage service.
And, as a newly-wed couple, they also faced problems at work. In 1988, Hom Nath was working in a government hospital as a repair and maintenance supervisor when he received a letter telling him to move to another job in Nepal for an indefinite period. The thinking was that his faith would disappear if he was away from his Christian friends.
In 1990 the political climate changed and multi-party democracy replaced the previous one-party state. It became legal to be a Christian, but it was still illegal to proselytise.
“One day when I was at home unwell, Sharada went to church and didn’t return,” he said. “The entire congregation, including women and children, had been arrested during the service and were being held at the police station.
“They were accused of proselytising and importing a foreign religion. It was Sharada who approached the police officer and challenged him over those claims.”
Hom Nath was now working as a university lecturer and also ran a manufacturing company making wheelbarrows, trolleys and water pumps. He was also one of the leaders of his church. He employed young people, including Christians, in his work, hoping to show that having a ‘foreign’ faith didn’t stop people contributing to Nepalese society.
But it didn’t stop life being difficult at times. At one point a house group was singing hymns in Hom Nath’s home when the landlady knocked on the door. She was scared because the police had visited that afternoon, and she asked the family to move out at 10pm that same night. After a few nights at a friend’s house, Hom Nath met the landlady and asked to move back in. When the police came again, accusing the family of proselytising, Hom Nath convinced them that only God could convert someone.
From 1992-95, the family came to Bolton where Hom Nath completed a degree in Mechanical Engineering. He returned to the UK in 2001 to study for a Masters degree at the University of Portsmouth. He and his family were planning to return to Nepal, but he was offered funding for a PhD just as the situation in Nepal worsened.
He worked as a university lecturer in Plymouth for a year while the family was still living in Portsmouth, and then accepted his current position as a senior lecturer in Materials and Manufacturing at the University of Portsmouth. He, Sharada and their two sons have worshipped at St Jude’s since 2001 and he regularly leads intercessions there.
“I recognise now that some of the things I refused to do when I was first converted were more to do with Nepalese culture than the Hindu religion, so I’m sorry for hurting my family in those ways,” he said. “And my family now respects my faith.
“My plan is that wherever I am, I want to witness for Jesus. With the way the world has shrunk, I can support the church in Nepal from here. I hope one day to go back to Nepal, perhaps once both our boys are at university. There are around 500,000 Christians there now which just shows how much the Church there has grown.
“I’d also like to start a Christian fellowship group for people from South Asia here in Portsmouth, as we have so much in common.”