NEW DELHI (BP)–People in western India’s Gujarat province need more than an end to Hindu-Muslim violence that has stolen more than 900 lives in the past two months, says a Southern Baptist worker familiar with the region. They also need open hearts and an opportunity to hear the gospel.
Home to more than 41 million people, Gujarat has been racked by violence since late February, when 59 Hindus were burned to death by a Muslim mob that attacked a train in which the Hindus were riding.
The Hindus were returning from Ayodhya, where a temple was about to be built on the site of a mosque destroyed by Hindus in 1992, resulting in riots that killed 3,000 people. That mosque itself had been built on a Hindu holy site in the 16th century.
Before the train attack, Christian workers in Gujarat had seen some progress in evangelistic outreach, said the Southern Baptist worker. A massive earthquake that struck the region in January 2001 allowed Christian relief workers to establish relationships in Hindu and Muslim communities.
However, “the kind of tension that’s in Gujarat now would have hindered any progress toward relationship building and evangelism,” the worker said.
On top of the problems caused by the violence, India’s political situation has become precarious, as the government — led by Hindu nationalists — has been besieged with angry demands to end the violence in Gujarat. While the government of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee survived a May 1 censure vote in parliament, the fragile coalition that keeps him in power has been badly damaged.
Tensions with neighboring Pakistan also have risen. That mostly Muslim country fears the violence in Gujarat might spread across the border.
The spiritual division — and darkness — that prevails across India offers no hope of real peace, say missions analysts.
India is home to most of the world’s 900 million Hindus, but 12 percent of the country’s 1 billion residents are Muslim. Most of India’s Hindus and Muslims cannot trust Christ simply because they have never heard the good news that through him God has provided the path to salvation.
“It’s a place that really needs the gospel,” the worker said.
He encouraged Christians to pray for relief in community tensions that will allow Christians to share the gospel with Hindus and Muslims.
“We need to see the Lord change hearts in a huge way. The release of community tensions isn’t going to be enough,” he said. “There needs to be an openness of the hearts of the people for the gospel.”
— Missions teams in southern Asia: http://www.peopleteams.org/CASA.htm.
— Search for prayer needs from India: http://www.imb.org/CompassionNet/countries.asp.
— Search for personnel needs in southern Asia: http://www.imb.org/FPNeeds/LocationSearch.asp.