By Jeremiah Goddard

Since May 2022, 12,000 Bhutanese have emigrated to Australia, approximately 1.5% of the population. This small, landlocked Buddhist country of only 777,000 (2021) people lies strategically positioned between India and China. In 2022, there were 30,000 Bhutanese living in Australia, and the rate at which people are leaving is increasing exponentially. Bhutan is a nation that measures its quality of life by “gross domestic happiness”. It has a mostly closed economy, largely dependent on tourism and hydroelectric power. When the borders were reopened post COVID-19 in September 2022, new tourism taxes on top of a nightly fee caused a slower-than-expected recovery in the country’s tourism sector. For a country that is almost solely dependent on tourism, the slow recovery has caused a 24% unemployment rate, especially among students, who now find themselves fleeing to Australia.

Not only does Australia have a lower cost of living and more job prospects for young people, emigrating to Australia is also seen as a cultural trend among Bhutanese youth. Bhutan is ranked 40th on the Open Doors World Watch List, a list of the countries in which it’s most difficult to practise Christianity. Statistics vary, but it is estimated that there are around 18,000 Christians in Bhutan, accounting for approximately 2% of the total population. INcontext contacts in Bhutan say that this exodus of young people is their prime concern. Despite facing persecution and following an unrecognised religion in the country, the idea of the young people leaving the country is the biggest issue the Church is currently facing. For many, Christianity and ministry is a legacy – believers discipling their children to faith and service – and they see that legacy being threatened. The Bhutanese youth see Australia as a greener pasture, where they are able to get a better, cheaper education.

There are several perspectives to consider concerning this mass migration. Firstly, more Bhutanese will have the opportunity to be exposed to Christianity in Australia with it being around 43.9% Christian. The global Body of Christ can pray that the Australian Church will take up this opportunity to minister to those coming from a nation with such a large ‘unreached’ population, and that the Bhutanese that encounter Christ in Australia will have a desire to return to their country and share the gospel with those within their sphere of influence. Secondly, Bhutan might be pressured to be more open in order to encourage more people to stay in the country. In all instances of migration, we can see the fingerprints of God. Therefore, it stands to reason that God is at work within this movement of people as well. We pray that God will raise up young church leaders that will stay and effectively minister within Bhutan. It remains to be seen if the university students that are leaving will return, but for now the Church must stand with our brothers and sisters as they sit in uncertain times. The Church in Bhutan is expanding, and discipleship is key to this growth. An INcontext contact in Bhutan engages with village churches frequently and has seen the gospel spreading faster than ever. There is always hope; hope that those who move to Australia will find Christ, hope that those who remain will see a brighter future in Bhutan as the country develops, hope that the Church will continue to expand at an even greater rate, and hope that Bhutan will one day be a Christian-majority nation in such a strategic location in the world.

Please join us in prayer  for the following:

  • For God to raise up a new generation of church leaders
  • For God to give Bhutanese believers boldness and strategy in how to share the Gospel
  • For God to reach those in Australia where there is more religious freedom