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Christians are a positive force, Baptist leader in India reminds

WASHINGTON (BP)–The increasing persecution of Christians by Muslims, Hindus and other religious groups around the world has led a Baptist leader in India to challenge some of the anti-Christian and anti-missionary bias that is fueling many such attacks.

Two years ago the entire world reacted with horror to the burning of Australian Baptist missionary Graham Staines and his two sons in India. Last year a Christian seminary in Nigeria was destroyed by Muslim rioters and, on Christmas Eve, bombs went off simultaneously outside various Christian churches across Indonesia.

Most recent is the news that citizens of Afghanistan who convert from Islam to another religion will be punished by death, according to the country’s Taliban rulers.

Zhabu Terhuja, general secretary of the Nagaland Baptist Church Council in northeast India, has answered the direct attacks of leaders of the Bharatiya Janiata Party and other groups in India, in a statement released through the Baptist World Alliance offices in Washington.

While Christians have a responsibility to share the gospel, they do not force anyone to convert, Terhuja noted in the statement, which was sent to the BWA via fax.

Christians also have a record of unparalleled service in education and health care throughout India, Terhuja said.

“Like any other religion, Christians propagate the gospel they believe — that all have sinned, Jesus is the Savior, he died on the cross to pay the penalty of our sins but rose again the third day as Lord of Lords and lives forever in eternal glory.”

“We do proclaim the message,” he said, “and in some situations we might even persuade someone to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, but in real doctrinal terms, Christians cannot be blamed for conversion because the power to convert anyone is not with human beings. It is the Holy Spirit who convicts and draws people to God.

“I do not know of any incidents when a Hindu was forced to be converted to a Christian,” Terhuja said.

Terhuja cited the Dimapur secondary school in Nagaland as an example of many non-Christian students and teachers participating in a Christian ministry without coercion. The school encompasses 317 Hindu students and 174 Muslims.

While the gospel is shared at the school, which is its right by India’s constitution that declares India a secular state, no one is coerced to convert to Christianity, Terhuja said.

Apart from preaching the gospel, Terhuja argued that Christianity on the whole has been good for India. “I believe,” he said, “it is not a false claim to say that for India, besides the government, it is Christian missions that have made the maximum contribution to the building of the society and the nation.

“Viewed positively, everyone in India should be grateful to Christians for what India is today,” he said.

Care for the poor and sick has been an indispensable part of missionary work, Terhuja said. The first orphanage opened in 1750 was by missionary C.F. Schwartze, who was the peacemaker between warring kings. Terhuja cited another missionary who periodically gathered 250 or more lame, blind, aged and indigent people together, read the Bible to them and distributed help according to their circumstances.

In education, missionaries wrote dictionaries and started schools, Terhuja recounted. The first colleges operated by Christians in Calcutta, Delhi, Bombay and Madras were the most highly reputed institutions in the country for many years, he said.

Terhuja cited William Carey who brought the gospel to India. Carey developed the Indian languages of Sanskrit and Bengali and, with two friends, was first in the printing of Indian scripts. They produced the monthly Bengali magazine, Dig Darshan, and the weekly newspaper, Samachar Darpan, and started an English journal called The Friend of India which continues today in the modern Statesman.

“Most of the Indian leaders studied in institutions run by Christian missions,” he said, “and many Hindu leaders [who] received an education benefit from the Christian institutions and activities are today in the forefront of the attack against Christians.

“Medical work in India also owes much to missionaries,” Terhuja pointed out. From the model of John Scudder in Vellore, most of the different Christian missionary societies did medical work in India and established medical colleges and hospitals. Of particular merit was the work done for leprosy sufferers, Terhuja said.

In industry and economic development, Terhuja said, Christian missionaries organized cooperative societies, stores and rice banks, started industrial schools, cottage and village industries and improved agricultural methods. These works continue today, Terhuja said.

William Carey also had a strong environmental concern as he led the fight for the preservation of the Indian forests, Terhuja said. Carey imported seeds of various trees and many times planted them himself.

The missionaries, Terhuja said, often contended with the government on social issues and justice. It was the missionary James Peggy who in 1839 pleaded with the British government to change and eventually to abolish slavery in India.

The second half of the 19th century saw missionaries fighting for the emancipation of women especially against child marriage; “suttee,” the practice of women burning themselves after their husbands die; and even the “purdah” tradition, which secludes women from men. Colleges for women and boarding schools also were started.

Some 293 economic institutions have been started through the influence of Christian missions in India, 1,092 education organizations, 511 medical organizations and 302 philanthropic organizations for a total of more than 2,198, Terhuja counted as a conservative estimate of institutions established across the years.

These institutions serve all the people of India, Terhuja said, noting that the number continues to increase.

“The churches today have not departed from the endeavor and zeal of the former missionary societies in India,” he said, “and we are not claiming that it is Christians alone who are doing benevolent services for the people, but Christians are doing their part.

“As Christians we must continue to pray for our Hindu friends,” Terhuja said. “We must love, because love is from God.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.bpnews.net. Photo title: INDIA MEDICAL MISSIONS and HERITAGE OF CARING.

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  • Wendy Ryan