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Rankin: Missionary’s martyrdom in India shows impact of gospel

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MANOHARPUR, India (BP)–The Jan. 23 murder of an Australian Baptist missionary and his two sons by Hindu extremists grieves Christians everywhere, but where God’s spirit is moving in power, intense opposition must be expected, said Jerry Rankin, president of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.
Graham Staines, 58, and his sons, Philip, 10, and Timothy, 8, burned to death when the vehicle in which they were sleeping was doused with gasoline and set ablaze outside a small, makeshift church in the village of Manoharpur, about 620 miles southeast of New Delhi. Police later arrested 49 people in connection with the murder, including leaders of an extremist Hindu organization, Bajrang Dal.
The murders are the most vicious incident in a recent spate of attacks on Christians in India. Buildings have been burned and workers beaten in several states. Militant Hindus in one district of Maharashtra state have given missionaries until March 31 to leave the area or face dire consequences. One Hindu nationalist group, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, is campaigning for federal legislation banning religious conversion.
Even before the murder of the missionary and his two sons, many Indian churches were planning to observe Jan. 26, the country’s 49th Republic Day, as a day of prayer for persecuted Christians in India.
The Indian government counted 33 attacks against Christians in 10 months last year — more than a 50 percent increase over the same period in 1997. Church leaders put the tally at 90 for the whole year, and attacks have increased in intensity in some areas since the first of the year.
Most of the attacks against Christians have occurred in parts of the country where the gospel is being preached and large numbers of people are turning to Christ.
“We are grieved to hear of the martyrdom of this missionary colleague and his sons from Australia,” Rankin said. “The wave of unprecedented persecution and violence against Christians in India and other places throughout the world is evidence of the growing impact the gospel is making.
“Wherever the Holy Spirit moves in evangelism and church growth, the opposition is more intense. This spiritual warfare is a reality of missions. We are grateful for those who serve faithfully in spite of such incidents to bring light to a world in darkness.”
Hindus account for 82 percent of India’s 988 million people. Most of India’s 23 million Christians — 2.3 percent of the population — live in the four southern states. Muslims make up 12 percent of the population.
Missionaries have worked in India nearly 200 years. Extremist Hindu groups accuse them of using money and other means to convert poor and illiterate Indians. Christian groups deny using such illegal enticements.