Before you spend any time fretting about the drop in the stock market, pray for Indian believers who have been attacked in the state of Orissa.
This week while many people in the United States were fretting over the credit crisis and its effect on their 401Ks, Christians in the Indian village of Sindhipankha were mourning the death of their friend Dushashan Majhi. A bold Christian, he was shot on Oct. 3 by a band of Hindu militants who then cut his body into pieces.
The people in Sindhipankha do not have 401Ks. Many of them, in fact, no longer have homes. Across the state of Orissa, in northeast India, Hindus have ransacked and burned hundreds of Christians’ houses and churches during the last two months. Hundreds have died.
“The violence in August and September of 2008 has been the worst in our 2,000-year history in India,” says John Dayal, an Indian journalist and founder of the All India Christian Council. “Fifty thousand are homeless and 30,000 are hiding in forests, chased like animals by Hindu fanatics who are forcing them to become Hindus or die.”
“While we are complaining about high gas prices in the United States, some Indian Christians are being doused with gasoline and set on fire.”
The number of deaths continues to climb in India while most Americans are consumed with the stock market and the Obama-McCain contest. (You won’t hear too much about the anti-Christian attacks from the mainstream media.) I wonder: Could we call a brief timeout and pray for the persecuted church on the other side of the world?
This wave of persecution hit Orissa in August when unknown assailants killed a swami, the leader of a Hindu holy order. The assassins later identified themselves as Maoists, but Hindus had already decided that Christians were the culprit. Since that time mobs of angry Hindus have bombed villages, raped nuns, burned orphanages, destroyed Christian businesses and used death threats to force people to reconvert to Hinduism.
Pastors, nuns, priests and churchgoers have been burned alive. The attacks have been aimed at Baptists, Catholics, Pentecostals—really anyone who wears a Christian label. Those who have escaped into the forests now risk starvation. And local governments have been slow to respond, even after similar attacks erupted in the state of Karnataka in the southeast.
Last week in the village of Hrudangia, in Orissa, an 80-year-old Christian man named Lalji Nayak was attacked by a Hindu mob, according to Compass News. He died after being hacked in the chest with an axe. Later, when his family tried to give him a Christian burial, police would not allow it. (Compass noted that an 8-year-old boy miraculously survived the attack after being hit in the skull by an axe.)
Why the violence? Indian church leaders say fanatical Hindu nationalists are angry that Christianity is growing in India and dismantling the centuries-old caste system that keeps millions of people in poverty. Those at the bottom of Indian society, known as Dalits, or “untouchables,” have been coming to Christ in large numbers in recent years.
Shekhar Kallianpur, pastor of New Life Church in Mumbai, told me that Dalit converts “realize their self-worth and are now strengthened to make their own individual decisions to use the freedom of choice not only to follow our Lord Jesus Christ but to also stand and resist the social atrocities against them.”
What we are witnessing in India today is the unraveling of a vile system of oppression. And our brothers and sisters there are paying a high price for their newfound spiritual freedom.
Radical Hindus believe that keeping Dalits at the bottom of the social structure is a fundamental part of their religion. It is the Indian way—and members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and other radical Hindu groups are proving today that they will kill and maim people and destroy property in order to keep their religion dominant.
Paul Thangiah, pastor of the Full Gospel Assembly of God church in Bangalore, says some of the radicals say they are burning churches because Christians insult their pantheon of gods and goddesses, or because they “force” Hindus to become Christians. Yet Christians do not engage in forced conversion, Thangiah says.
“The real reason for the persecution is the tremendous growth of Christianity in India,” Thangiah told me.
My good friend Sujo John, an Indian evangelist who lives in the United States, says the attacks in Orissa and Karnataka are a clear attempt to silence Christians.
Says John: “In the last 12 years there has been an incredible surge of Christianity in India. It was very silent at first, but now the people who control the social culture realize that Christians are emerging in society. [Some radical Hindus] feel they are going to lose the culture. So they are twisting the laws. In some places they have banned conversion, and many are engaging in violence.”
I know we are experiencing some hard times here at home, but let’s keep things in perspective. While we are complaining about high gas prices in the United States, some Indian Christians are being doused with gasoline and set on fire. While we worry about bank bailouts, Indian believers have lost everything and fear returning to their villages.
I urge you to pass this message along to your pastor, prayer group leader and praying friends. Please remember the Christians of India. Ask God to protect them with His angels, give them supernatural courage to stand for their faith and keep the doors open so the gospel can be preached in this huge nation Jesus Christ came from heaven to save.
J. Lee Grady is editor of Charisma.
More than 1,000 churches have been burned or ransacked in Orissa
Some christians were burned to death
Christians displaced by the violence have had to live together in cramped quarters with little or no food
4 years ago