Saturday, November 8, 2008

Reading the news with whoever-the-author-of-Hebrews-was

People killed. Homes burned. Refugees gathering in camps, fearful for their lives and wondering where they’ll be safe, or if they’ll ever be able to return and rebuild their homes. You can find a story like this during any given week coming out of some part of the world. But this particular story has even more interest and concern on our part – the attacks are specifically targeted against Christians. Believer’s homes and church buildings are being burned, and the militants have even made attacks on the refugee camps set up by the Indian government. The numbers as of October 25th showed 38 dead and 30,000 homeless. Who is attacking these believers and why? Hindu hardliners in the Northeast Indian provinces of Orissa, Bihar, Kerala and Uttar Pradesh have unleashed violence on the Christians there, and have continued even after a government force was deployed to attempt to stop the attacks. Tim Sullivan of the Associated Press cites Hindu leaders who claim that there has been a “cultural invasion” by Christian missionaries in the area. Sullivan explains that their primary complaint is with regard to government jobs that are reserved for underprivileged groups, especially the Dalit caste (sometimes referred to as “untouchables”) and tribal peoples. The tribal groups have mostly remained Hindu, but an increasing number of Dalits have become Christian. The Hindus hold that their Christianity should disqualify them for the jobs, but they have gotten positions anyway. Christian groups in the area have been active in providing education and medical care for Dalits, who have been repressed for centuries by the caste system, and this has surely had an impact on the number of converts. The Hindus, however, accuse the Christians of bribing the poor to convert.

The reference to a culture war is sobering. I am reminded of the blessing that the culture war we talk about waging as American Christians does not result in actual violence and deaths. God has been good to us in our country by granting us peace between religious groups. The Indian Christian groups (many of the “missionaries” referenced are from other regions of India, not from the Western world) are fighting a culture of systematic religious, economic and political repression of Dalits with the compassion and desire for justice that characterizes the people of God. And they are facing a physically violent war.

The author of Hebrews exhorts his readers to “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.” We ought to respond by praying sincerely for our brothers and sisters who are being mistreated.

Christian leaders in the region are showing admirable courage and faith in the face of persecution. Juria Bardhan, Gospel for Asia's state leader in Orissa, said about the situation, "We know the Lord is in control. Many of our pastors have said, 'Even if they kill us, no problem. This will cause thousands to come to Christ,' " For others, the situation is not so certain. Sullivan’s AP article concludes with his conversation he had with a Christian who had been threatened and commanded to convert repeatedly by armed Hindus:

"What can we do?" asked Digal, the man dangling his baby. "They are trying to force us to become Hindu."

So will he convert?

"I don't know," he said, staring down at the ground. "I haven't decided yet."

Let’s pray for strength and faithfulness for our brothers and sisters, for peace to come to the region, and for their persecutors to see the love of God in them and come to belief. Let’s also praise God that he is at work in a place like Orissa, which used to be 2% Christian and is now 28%.

1 comment:

VentiAmericano said...

This stuff is real.

The mention of "cultural invasion" (created by native Indian missionaries, ironically) does again raise the discussion we have about Christ and culture... I wish I had more sorted out on this.

May God have mercy on our brothers 'in the body' in India!