Christians in the Indian state of Orissa are refusing to abandon their faith despite weeks of killings, beatings and attacks on their homes and churches.
Juria Bardhan, Orissa state leader for Gospel for Asia, said he had seen missionaries and Christians being beaten and killed. Yet he remains unwavering in his faith.
"We know the Lord is in control," he said.
Hindu extremists have killed dozens of Christians and burned down hundreds of homes and churches since the killing of Hindu leader Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati last month. Although Maoists have claimed responsibility, Hindu extremists insist that Christians are behind the killing. Around 13,000 Christians are sheltering in government refugee camps or hiding out in surrounding forests.
Bardhan said that the persecution had been embraced by his pastors who see it as an opportunity to share in Christ's sufferings.
"Many of our pastors have said, 'Even if they kill us, no problem. This will cause thousands to come to Christ,'" he reported.
Christianity has continued to flourish in Orissa despite of years of persecution, Bardhan noted.
"The encouraging thing is that the attackers themselves acknowledge that Orissa used to be only 2 percent Christian, and now it's 28 percent Christian," he said. "They don't understand that by doing this, the church will grow by leaps and bounds, and this will cause thousands to come to Christ."
Gospel for Asia said at least 24 of its missionaries had been attacked, while 27 GFA-related churches and more than 800 Christian homes had been ransacked and destroyed since the outbreak of violence.
There are unconfirmed reports of a planned march by Hindu extremists through villages in Orissa with the ashes of their slain leader. Bardhan said he suspected the march was a plot to trigger more violence.
Youth With a Mission workers have, meanwhile, joined a hunger strike that is being staged by hundreds of Christians in New Delhi, India, in protest against the Orissa violence and what they regard as the government's failure to respond. India's Supreme Court last week ordered Orissa state officials to report on what action it has taken to put a stop to the violence.