Tuesday, November 25, 2008

An Opportunity for Action

You won't read about it in the morning "news"paper.  It's one of those out-of-the-way places which journalists and media stars ignore because they've got more "important" breaking news.  The map to the right, compliments of MapTell.com, is a section of India: the state of Orissa on the east coast, reaching into the Bay of Bengal. Established in 1936 as a province of British India, Orissa covers a little over 60,000 square miles, divided into some 30 districts, with a population of 36,706,920 -- ninth largest state by area, eleventh, by population.  Oriya is the common language. There is only one accessible deepwater facility, at Paradip.  The state's interior is mountainous and largely unpopulated.

I, for one, had never heard of Orissa until this week when one of the OJN affiliates made us aware that things are not well in Orissa.  According to an email she received on November 23 from some Christian missionaries there, associated with Youth With A Mission (YWAM), a serious persecution of Christians is taking place there, and no one in the West seems to be paying any attention.

According to the report our colleague received, Orissa has a reputation of being "the most resistant and hostile State in India as far as the Gospel is concerned."  Missionaries there have apparently been aware of this, yet up until now have been pretty much able to carry on with their work. Recently, however, the report says, a militant Hindu priest and his four assistants were zealously visiting villages in Orissa, trying to re-convert people to Hinduism.  Last weekend he was gunned down by unknown assailants.  The Christian minority, it seems, then became scapegoats and were blamed for the incident.  

YWAM team facilitators Chip and Sandy Wanner relate, in the report, firsthand accounts of hundreds of churches being blown up and dozens of Christians being slaughtered there.  There are apparently 14 YWAM centers spread throughout the state of Orissa, and the Wanners are receiving updates from the directors there.  In Tihidi, just after the police arrived to offer protection, an angry crowd of 70 people showed up intending to kill the staff and destroy the home. Unable to get in, they pelted the place with rocks and stones, smashed the gate, and threatened to return and "finish the job".  The staff and children have been locked inside the compound, with doors and windows shut, for 3 or 4 days.

At the center in Kalahindi police arrived and hurriedly helped the staff and children to vacate the center, with time only to grab few, if any, belongings, as another mob descended on the building.  In both Phulbani and Balasore, when mobs came looking for Christian homes and missions, they were told by local Hindu neighbors that there were no Christians in the area, and they left peaceably.  

According to the Wanners (as of last Sunday) all the centers are in lockdown, children and staff huddled inside. Fanatics, meanwhile, are milling about outside, waiting for a chance to get at them.  Apparently, the police are continuing to serve as a buffer in the situation, at least in most cases.  However, the Wanners relate that at one Catholic orphanage the mob allowed the children to leave, but locked a priest and a computer teacher inside the house and burned them to death.  5000 Christian families are said to have had homes burned or destroyed.  The people have fled to the jungles, living in fear until peace can be restored.  They feel that within two weeks, the completion of the mourning period for the slain Hindu priest, things may begin to simmer down with help from the federal government.  But there are no assurances.

What can we do? The perennial question.  Certainly we can stand in solidarity with the Christians of Orissa through prayer.  Aside from that, it probably couldn't hurt if some e-mails were sent in their behalf, should you choose to do so. The e-mail address of the Human Rights Commission, apparently for the whole country of India, is: http://nhrc@nic.in/ 

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