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Christian missionaries target the birthplace of Buddha in Nepal

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Converting people to another religion is illegal in Nepal, but missionaries are willing to risk prosecution to spread the Christian faith.

"Victory to Jesus," Korean pastor Pang Chang-in cries as he blesses a new church in the village of Jharlang, in the foothills of the Himalayas.

The congregation of the newly converted raise their hands in prayer. Most are from the indigenous Tamang community, who used to follow the Lama faith, an ancient spiritual practice.

In Pang's eyes the Tamang people are "poor financially and spiritually".

"So, a miracle takes place and the whole village converts," he says.

Missionaries, many of them South Korean like Pang, have helped build one of the world's fastest-growing Christian communities in Nepal, a former Hindu kingdom and the birthplace of Lord Buddha.

Most of the surge in Christian numbers in Nepal is from among members of the community who call themselves Dalits - traditionally at the bottom of the Hindu caste hierarchy - or from indigenous people.

They may believe in miracles as Pang suggests, but for them conversion also offers a chance to escape entrenched poverty and discrimination.

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Pang has overseen the opening of nearly 70 churches in his two decades in Nepal, mostly in Dhading district, two hours north-west of the capital Kathmandu. The community, he says, donates the land and Korean churches help pay for the construction.

"In almost every mountain valley, churches are being built," Pang claims.

That may be an exaggeration, but there's no doubt there has been a huge increase in the number of churches all over Nepal in recent years. The latest data from the national Christian community survey says there are now 7,758 churches in the still overwhelmingly Hindu country.

And South Korea is behind much of this transformation. It has become one of the world's biggest missionary-sending nations - only a couple of decades after it started deploying them - with more than 22,000 abroad, according to the Korean World Mission Association.

Driven by the zeal of the born-again, Korean missionaries have become known for aggressively going to, and sometimes being expelled from, the hardest-to-evangelise corners of the world.

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