MP: Mission India faces challenges

Madhya Pradesh, April 12, 2012: The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) placed India on a “Watch List” for 2012, citing concerns that justice for past communal violence continues to be “slow and ineffective.”

The report also cites intimidation, harassment, and small-scale violence against members of religious minority groups. This is particularly true against Christians in states with anti-conversion laws.

Don Edwards, spokesman for Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Mission India, says that’s no surprise. In fact, their teams have experienced just that kind of violence twice within the last couple of weeks.  

Edwards explains, “Conversions can’t be forced on somebody, or a person cannot be allured falsely to accept another religion. Those things are not happening. However, that’s what the Christian community is being accused of.”

Accusations usually begin with violence. The incidents he describes took place in Madhya Pradesh state, one of five states in India with an anti-conversion law on the books. 

One partner who was attacked works with the Children’s Bible Club program as an outreach to the community. He is also a pastor of a church. “While a church service was going on, a group of Hindu fundamentalists show up and attacked the pastor.” Then, Edwards says, “They ended up dragging the pastor and any other leaders to the police station and making the accusation that these people that they beat up are guilty of forcibly converting people to Christianity.”

Police jailed not the aggressors, but the victims. That’s good and bad, notes Edwards. The good, he says, is that the beaten Christians are protected for a little while. The bad? Justice is either meted slowly, or not at all.

However, Edwards goes on to say that does not stop the Gospel. The other partner that was attacked was also a church pastor. Two months ago, “He was conducting a worship service, and a group of RSS activists–Hindu fundamentalists–came in and beat the pastor and told him that if he returns to that place, they will harm everybody in the village and kill his family.”

The family moved to Rajasthan, at the urging of the congregation. Then,Edwards says, “After about a month, he came back to the same village and was conducting a worship service. Again, he was arrested by the police for conducting a worship service.”

While the USCIRF report recommended that the U.S. government urge India to increase training on human rights and religious freedom standards, Edwards says that will have little bearing on the spread of the Gospel.

In fact, the harassment and oppression has created not a weaker Church, but a bolder one. “When Christians are persecuted, at first, they need to be protected; but then God gives them courage to go back into the same place He’s called them to serve, and they continue to serve in that community.”

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