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Orissa’s persecuted Christians get relief

BHUBANESWAR, India (BP)–About 2,100 Christian families driven from their homes in India’s Orissa state are receiving badly needed relief supplies from Southern Baptists’ world hunger and general relief funds.

Tens of thousands of Christians have been forced from their homes since a Hindu swami and four of his followers were murdered in late August. Though Maoist insurgents took credit for the killing, Hindu extremists blamed Christians and mounted mob attacks on churches, as well as homes and villages populated by Christians. Dozens of people have been killed, hundreds injured and thousands of homes, churches and businesses have been burned.

Four men, one of them “a hardcore Maoist,” were arrested for the swami’s murder in early December, according to news reports.

The Christians receiving the aid have fled to camps operated by the government, police officials and private groups. Even in the camps, they have found themselves subject to extremist attacks.

More than $38,000 has been released from the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund and general relief funds to distribute a month’s worth of basic food items to 2,135 families, representing a total of about 12,810 people, said Francis Horton, who with his wife Angie directs work in Central and South Asia for Baptist Global Response, an international relief and development organization that is coordinating the effort.

The director of the Orissa project, whose name has been withheld for security reasons, said the effort seeks “to bring some relief to Christians who have suffered loss at the hands of persecutors in the state of Orissa. These brothers and sisters have nowhere to go. Many are afraid to go back to their homes. At present they are unable to go home unless they convert to Hinduism.”

The project, which is being implemented in partnership with Baptists in India, will purchase and distribute lentils and rice to families in three districts of Orissa, Horton said. Blankets also will be supplied as needed to the families.

The partnership with Indian believers is essential to this project because the presence of outsiders could reinforce the perception among Hindus that foreign Christians are exercising inappropriate influence over local people, Horton explained. Accusations that foreign missionaries manipulate locals into converting from Hinduism have helped drive the mob violence, according to news reports. Without the assistance of national partners, getting relief supplies to the camps might not be possible, Horton said.

The project director, meanwhile, asked believers to pray for the suffering Christians and for those involved in the relief effort.

“Please pray that the proper people would receive the goods and that no difficulties would come to those that are distributing or receiving the food and blankets,” he said. “Pray for comfort for those whose loved ones were, in many cases, brutally murdered. Pray that, despite the grievous injuries suffered, the believers will be able to love their enemies and maintain a Christian witness. Pray the Christians will claim God’s promise that He will yet work these things for good. Pray for long-term solutions for people in these camps.”

In September, India’s Supreme Court ordered four federal police battalions deployed to Orissa to reinforce efforts to protect Christians. In early December, Hindu extremists called for a statewide “bandh,” a forced shutdown of the entire society, on Dec. 25, giving them a pretext for attacking Christians who publicly celebrate the birth of Christ.
Mark Kelly is an assistant editor with Baptist Press. Baptist Global Response is located on the Internet at gobgr.org. Undesignated donations given to the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund will be distributed 80 percent to international and 20 percent to domestic hunger relief projects. Designated gifts will be used as specified. Contributions can be made through a local Southern Baptist church; a Baptist state convention; the North American Mission Board, 4200 North Point Parkway, Alpharetta, GA 30022 (www.namb.net); the International Mission Board, P.O. Box 6767, Richmond, VA 23230 (www.imb.org); or the SBC Executive Committee, 901 Commerce Street, Nashville, TN 37203 (www.sbc.net). Visit www.worldhungerfund.com to learn more about how you can help with world hunger relief initiatives.

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  • Mark Kelly