India (MNN) — Orissa is one of India's poorest states, with 66% of the population living below the poverty line. It also has one of the worst records for violence against Christians, due, in part, to Hindu militants and a stringent anti-conversion law on the books.
Although the people of Orissa are known to be friendly and hospitable, that isn't always the case when it comes to things that threaten the Hindu state. Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Mission India's Dave Stravers, speaking from the region, says the church is growing, but believers struggle between following their faith and following the law. "Almost all the Christian churches were just baptizing people in secret, or ignoring the law because it was virtually impossible to conduct a baptism following the rules that this anti-conversion law had laid down."
But how does it get to the point where the Gospel penetrates enough for the people to turn their hearts to Christ? Stravers says that's where their literacy classes and church planting fellowships come in.
People in rural areas and slums, where literacy is the lowest, live with severe problems that come from their inability to read, write, or handle mathematical operations such as long division or loan interest computation. Literacy gives these people new self-confidence. It opens doors for better jobs, better standards of living, and responsible citizenship.
Mission India has developed a one-year, five-nights-a-week, 2-hours-a-night literacy course designed for areas where literacy is low. This course is now available in 17 languages and can be effectively taught by instructors from depressed areas who have little formal education themselves.
Components of Mission India's literacy program include teacher training, teacher's manuals, a kerosene lantern, a class chalkboard, three primers for each student, slates and chalk for students, two Scripture books, and a post-literacy reader focusing on employment issues and income-generating projects.
Church planting runs a very close course to the track ploughed with the literacy classes. It's all about relationship and opening eyes and hearts to truth. Mission India has also developed a two-year training program that includes approximately 8 months of classroom study and a total of 16 months in villages and communities, where they make themselves available to share the Gospel.
Once they do so, the threats begin from militant groups alarmed at the rapid growth of Christianity and the church. They often respond with threats, violence and social oppression.
Despite the persecution, Stravers says their teams are active. In fact, they're sharing their vision for the future. "In the last three days I've talked to different church leaders here who are involved in evangelistic ministry. They're all very positive. They say they can see the Lord moving in their state, and they believe that the state of Orissa is coming to Christ. In fact, they talk about sending workers to other states."
Please pray for those working in this region. Pray that they remain unshakeable in their faith. Click here if you want to learn more.