Contact: Taun Cortado, 972-300-3379
ORISSA, India, September 8 /Christian Newswire/ -- Juria Bardhan, Gospel for Asia's state leader in Orissa, India, knows what it's like to be hunted by anti-Christian extremists bent on killing him. During the past two weeks, he has seen dozens of churches burned to the ground. He has seen missionaries and Christians beaten and killed. But during all these horrific attacks, Juria has had one thought.
"We know the Lord is in control," Juria said in an interview last Thursday.
Juria's comments may sound naïve to Western ears, but to Christians in volatile parts of Asia, they ring true. They expect persecution rather than peace. They know that to follow Christ means choosing to bring more trouble into their lives. They also know that Christians standing strong in the face of such trials encourages others to follow Christ.
"The encouraging thing is that the attackers themselves acknowledge that Orissa used to be only 2 percent Christian, and now it's 28 percent Christian," Juria said. "They don't understand that by doing this, the church will grow by leaps and bounds, and this will cause thousands to come to Christ."
Juria said his pastors are not complaining about the abuse heaped upon them. Instead they are glorifying God for the opportunity to share in His sufferings.
"Many of our pastors have said, 'Even if they kill us, no problem. This will cause thousands to come to Christ,'" he reported.
Juria said that things are improving somewhat in the cities, but the persecution continues unabated in more remote areas. Orissan Christians are accustomed to harassment, but Juria noted that this wave of attacks, which began August 22 after the murder of a popular Hindu leader, is different.
"Last time, the persecution was restricted to only one district. During the last six months, they planned this out, and now nine districts are under attack," he noted.
Juria reports that six people have been killed, and 27 GFA-related churches and more than 800 homes of Christians have been ransacked and destroyed since the violence began.
At least 24 Gospel for Asia missionaries have been attacked, some joining the thousands of Christians who are seeking refuge in the forests, where they remain without adequate food or shelter.
Juria said that the Hindu extremists have made a list of demands, including:
· Stop conversions … They accuse Christian missionaries of forcing people to convert to Christianity or using false allurements, such as money or jobs, to get them to follow Christ.
· No more slaughtering of cows … Cows are considered holy in the Hindu religion.
· All church buildings should be verified … The extremists want to place additional restrictions on Christian churches that do not exist for Hindu temples.
· Christian churches and related non-governmental (charitable) organizations should be banned … This would prevent any Christian work that helps the poor.
· Anyone occupying tribal land must vacate it … Most Orissan Christians are from low castes and live on tribal land that was settled generations ago. This would essentially force all Christians to move out of the area.
· The extremists are also on a campaign to "reconvert" Christians back to Hinduism. They are threatening people at knifepoint, saying they will die if they do not agree to offer pujas (prayers and ceremonial acts) to Hindu gods and goddesses.
One missionary was attacked and threatened unless he performed a puja. He refused to turn his back on Christ, so they beat him again and told him to stay away from the village where he had been working, but he would not agree to do this.
"Even if you kill me, I will not make a vow that I will never come back; that depends not on me but on the Lord. If he wants to send me here, then I will come," he told his attackers.
He was discouraged when he saw some of the same people he had prayed for and helped in the past now ready to kill him. But his life was spared when an elderly villager, seeing his strong commitment, convinced the mob to let him go.
One Christian who attends a GFA-related church gave his life rather than turn his back on Christ. The extremists were trying to get him to participate in a Hindu ceremony that involved shaving his head, putting cow dung on it and then sacrificing a goat. When he refused, he was killed and his body hacked into pieces.
Juria reports that the extremists are now using women to lead the Hindu mobs. They believe that if a woman is in front, the government will not take action against them. Several of these mobs of women have even caused disruptions in some of the relief camps.
Juria does not expect the volatile situation in Orissa to change anytime soon. He theorizes that the extremists will continue the campaign of terror and religious emotion until the next general election. There are several powerful Hindu political parties in the country. Juria says they may be trying to exploit the fear of the people to get into power. There is also a rumor that the extremists are planning to carry the ashes of the murdered leader, along with his photo, to villages throughout the country. They hope that the emotional response will cause another round of unrest.
He asks that Christians would continue praying for Orissa. Here are some of the specific requests.
· Pray for peace and harmony in Orissa and that families will be able to return to their villages.
· Pray for relief work to go on unhindered.
· Pray for the health, safety and security of the people living in the forests.
· Ask the Lord for mercy in providing new homes for the people who have lost theirs.
· Continue to lift up the missionaries who are obvious targets of the persecutors. The extremists are looking for what they consider to be a high-ranking Christian leader to kill in revenge for the death of their leader.
· Pray that the Christians will remain firm in their faith and that their commitment to Jesus will remain stronger than any fear they have.
Gospel for Asia is an evangelical mission organization based in Carrollton involved in sharing the love of Jesus across South Asia.