India (MNN) — Christmas celebrations in India's Orissa state lasted longer than planned and much differently than planned.
Conservative estimates from India's National Human Rights Committee said that 90 churches have been burned, and 600 homes have been torched. "We do know that thousands have been displaced. Others are still missing. The total number of Christians that have been killed really isn't known. Some are reporting nine. It could be more than that," said Glenn Penner of Voice of the Martyrs Canada.
The violence was sparked with planned public Christmas celebrations. A government leader and his followers wanted the celebrations stopped, but the Christians protested for their rights. The militant Hindus then responded with violence and the latest incident was reported on January 2.
Church groups and fact-finding teams are not allowed into the area, and if already there, they're being forced to leave, which has made it difficult to get information.
The anti-conversion laws in Orissa state have created an environment where conversion attempts are seen as unlawful and less acceptable which makes it a target for attacks. Penner says that Christians can help their brothers and sisters by writing to ambassadors to India. "Certainly, ask that they would protect religious minorities in these states and that they would repeal these oppressive laws that make such acts of violence almost inevitable."
Violence has never had a great success in intimidating Christians or stopping their evangelism efforts. "I think they really do believe that if they continue to attack Christians, if they continue to harass them or make their life difficult, that they will stop. I don't know if they really do understand the fact of just how central sharing the faith is to the Gospel of Jesus Christ."
At this point, Penner reported that bodies have been left in the streets because people are afraid to retrieve them for fear of attacks. "I've seen media reports in which Hindus are saying if Christians would just stop their missionary work, this sort of thing wouldn't take place," said Penner.