Missionaries, Believers Face Increasing Opposition in Orissa State

A "re-conversion" campaign in the Indian state of Orissa has given rise to active opposition of the gospel, a Virginia-based missions agency reported Thursday. Launched by certain extremist Hindus, the campaign is aimed at forcing tribal Christians to renounce their faith and return to Hinduism.

Christian Aid, generally considered to be the first missionary agency to support and promote indigenous mission groups, reported Thursday that some district authorities have begun using the controversial Orissa Freedom of Religion Act—which prohibits "the use of force or inducement or fraudulent means" to convert someone from one religion to another—to attempt to inhibit Christian ministry. Native missionaries informed Christian Aid that while Christians bear the brunt of the law's enforcement, most Hindu groups, including those trying to coerce tribal people to return to Hinduism, are free to do as they please in certain districts.

“In the midst of their frustrations with the government, some Christians are facing attacks by rogue Hindu extremists,” Christian Aid reported. “In one area, a church building was ransacked and homes of Christian families destroyed. Thankfully, police were able to squelch the attacks before they grew more dangerous.”

Some believers also face persecution from their own families and communities. Christian Aid reported that in one Orissa village, at least seven Christians who had converted from Hinduism were forced from their homes. “They were allowed to return to the village after six months, yet they are still denied basic necessities such as water from the well or employment,” the agency reported.

The agency also said that some of this ostracism arises from the belief held by many Hindus that Christians are spiritually unclean. “A native mission leader reports that sometimes, when Christians visit their Hindu families, the home is subjected to a ritualistic cleansing immediately after their departure,” Christian Aid stated. “A feeling of rejection and humiliation can trouble new believers, making them easy prey for Hindus who try to re-convert them.”

For this reason, native missionaries in India strive to immerse new Christians in discipleship, planting churches even in remote areas so that spiritual growth will be nurtured. Christian Aid reports that the need for Bible training and church planting is particularly strong in Orissa as certain Hindus, noticing the great responsiveness of tribal people to the gospel, direct their energies towards discouraging and frightening new believers.

The agency has asked for believers to pray for the tribal people and for the native missionaries working to reach them.