One Year Later GFA Missionaries Bringing Hope to Survivors
first published: Aug. 27, 2009 – Gospel for Asia
A year after being driven from their homes by radical Hindus, these Christians are among some 20,000 still living in refugee camps in Orissa. GFA-supported missionaries are ministering both physically and spiritually to their fellow believers in the camps.
There is both good news and bad news coming out of Orissa, India, one year after Hindu radicals went on a bloody rampage that left 50,000 Christians fleeing for their lives into the state’s forests. As they fled, the religious extremists killed whoever they could capture, then destroyed Christian homes and burned churches.
The bad news, according to Gospel for Asia President K.P. Yohannan, is that a year later, despite government assurances of help and repeated calls for reconciliation and justice, 20,000 believers are still living in refugee camps because they are too fearful for their lives to return to their home villages.
“In many villages, the radicals have warned the Christians that if they return, they must convert to Hinduism or, as they say, suffer the consequences,” the GFA founder reported. “And for most of the believers, they have nothing left to return to—their homes and everything they owned have been destroyed.”
But that is where some of the good news comes in.
“Despite some remaining underlying tensions in the area, Gospel for Asia is already in the process of rebuilding homes,” Dr. Yohannan said. “Gracious and caring believers around the world have provided enough gifts to fund 240 homes, and we are committed to build 1,000 in one district to replace those that were destroyed. We have already started rebuilding, and we are grateful to the Lord that He has allowed us this great beginning!”
GFA�"supported native missionaries and other believers continue to minister among survivors still living in the refugee camps, providing food and clothing, but more importantly, praying with the people and encouraging them as Christian brothers and sisters.
Another bright spot in Orissa is the fact that August 23, the anniversary of the event that was used as the excuse for the violence, passed peacefully.
Christians in Orissa, especially in the 14 districts hit by the violence, were apprehensive that plans to publicly commemorate the death anniversary of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati would lead to another rampage against believers. It was his murder by Maoist rebels that sparked the killings and destruction. The Swami had been a leader of a virulent anti-Christian Hindu nationalist group, so his followers fanned the flames of hatred toward Christians, even as they knew the Maoists were taking credit for the murder.
In August 2008, rampaging mobs attacked Christians in Orissa, driving them into the forests and leaving their homes in rubble. Gospel for Asia is rebuilding 1,000 homes in the stricken districts.
“Thank you for praying for Orissa,” said a local GFA leader. “As answer to prayer, there were no untoward incidents in Orissa on the death anniversary of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati. The government, especially the district administration, took a lot of commendable precautionary measures to maintain peace.”
Dr. Yohannan points out that since last year’s elections, the political party allied with the Hindu extremists has lost power in both state and national governments.
“We pray that the new government will take a different approach toward violence against Christians,” he said. “There are hopeful signs that the old ways of ignoring these situations will pass away. We want to fully support the government’s efforts to restore peace between faiths, and allow true freedom of religion for all.”
But while mass violence has been curbed over the past year, persecution of Christians continues at the local levels.
Just a few days before the anniversary of last year’s violence, radical Hindus attacked a group of 17 GFA-sponsored missionaries in Orissa. Five were able to escape but nine men and three women missionaries were harassed by the militants and taken to the police station.
The radicals who attacked the missionaries were allowed to go free, but the Christians were held and later released by the police. The police wanted them to agree not to share the Gospel for two months “to keep the peace,” but the missionaries refused.
“Such incidents are all too common,” Dr. Yohannan said. “Missionaries are beaten almost daily, and often taken to the police station where they are arrested—and those who beat them up are set free! And this is happening, not only in Orissa, but all across South Asia.”
Dr. Yohannan asks for continuing prayer for these missionaries, as well as for the believers still suffering in Orissa—even a year after the massive violence.
“In addition to your prayers, we want more people to become involved in the job of rebuilding the homes destroyed in Orissa,” he said. “And we are also seeking funds to allow us to repair and rebuild church buildings that were burned out by the radicals.
“We are praying for a new day in Orissa—and across India—and ask that you join with us in helping make that new day a reality.”