Contact: Taun Cortado, Gospel for Asia, 800-946-2742
CARROLLTON, Texas, Aug. 26 /Christian Newswire/ -- Reports of more than 75 separate attacks on Gospel for Asia-related work in Orissa have resulted in the deaths of at least six local believers since radical mobs went on a rampage after the murder of a leading anti-Christian activist.
Saturday night, Swami Laxamanananda Saraswati, a top leader of the VHP (World Hindu Council), was killed in an attack by 20 men suspected of being Maoist rebels. The Maoists had earlier warned the swami to leave the area. The attack, which included gunfire and a hand grenade, also killed four other people.
GFA President Dr. K.P. Yohannan strongly condemned the gruesome killing of Swami Laxamanananda and demanded that those who were guilty should be punished.
Because the swami was a leading opponent of Christian work in India, his followers in the ultra-fundamentalist VHP have used his murder to incite hundreds of their followers to go on a rampage of death and destruction across several districts in India's Orissa state.
According to the latest reports, at least six Christians who attended GFA-related churches have been killed.
The latest detailed reports list more than 15 GFA-related church buildings destroyed and at least 110 church members' homes burned to the ground. Other Christian groups have also suffered, with many deaths reported and attacks on ministers and missionaries being widespread. There are even reports of Catholic nuns being gang raped and murdered by the extremists.
"We are also deeply shocked and anguished to hear of the atrocities and violence meted out to the innocent Christians and churches in Orissa as a backlash of the sorrowful event," Dr. Yohannan said, "and we are praying for an immediate halt to the violence."
Dozens of pastors and their families have been attacked by roving mobs, and many have fled with their congregations into the surrounding forests. Some children and their parents have been in hiding, without food or water, since the rioting began on Sunday.
One GFA Bible college is under police protection, while a GFA Bridge of Hope children's center was closed when a mob threatened to attack. They threatened to kidnap one of the workers, so the staff and 120 children left the area. It is not known what has happened to the center property.
"What is most disturbing is that these attacks seem to be well organized and orchestrated," Dr. Yohannan said. "We have reports that the VHP have actually held strategy meetings in order to plan and coordinate this campaign of violence against peaceful Christian families and churches."
Pamphlets have been printed and widely distributed accusing the Christians of the swami's murder, even though most authorities indicate it was most likely Maoist rebels who were responsible.
"We thank God that the government officials are protecting our Bible college campus and trying to protect our people," K.P. added. "That is a true blessing." But as the violence has increased, many fear the government's actions are not enough.
Reports note that the mobs are using firebombs to attack homes and churches, and there is little evidence of police or other government intervention.
There are more than 295 GFA-related churches in Orissa. GFA has dozens of missionaries in the state, and the people have been very receptive to the message of Christ's love for them.
"But the fundamentalist groups have always opposed us," noted one GFA worker, "and now there is great tension prevailing, and Christians are running away for their lives."
"My heart goes out to the missionaries and believers," Dr. Yohannan said. "We must pray with all earnestness for the suffering church in Orissa at this time."
Those who wish to help meet the needs of the suffering believers in Orissa may give to GFA's Persecution Relief Fund at http://www.gfa.org/persecution-donate.
Gospel for Asia is an evangelical mission organization based in Carrollton involved in sharing the love of Jesus across South Asia.
For interviews with Dr. K P Yohannan, please call 972-300-3379 or