India (MNN/GFA) — Extremists have called off their plans to shut down the Indian state of Orissa with an illegal strike — called a "bandh" — on Christmas Day.
Orissa's battered and abused Christians are breathing a sigh of relief, according to a Gospel For Asia Orissa state leader.
Two extremist groups–the Sangh Parivar and the VHP–were leading the call for the strike, but they officially called it off Friday. India's media reports various reasons that the bandh was called off. The online version of The Times of India reports that the groups are now seeking "reconciliation and dialogue" rather than more violence. The online edition of The Hindu quotes an official in the organization as saying government threats to arrest the leaders of the strike precipitated the cancellation.
Members of these groups have been on a campaign of terror in Orissa since August 23, when their leader was murdered. Maoists claimed responsibility for the murder, but Hindu extremists blamed Christians, saying they killed him in retaliation for his vocal opposition to allowing believers to openly share their faith.
An estimated 500 people have been killed and thousands of homes, churches and prayer halls have been destroyed since August.
Even without the threat of the bandh, Christians in Orissa are proceeding cautiously with Christmas celebration plans. Many are cancelling their Christmas services altogether. The same groups behind the recent attacks also stormed into several churches last year and beat pastors and believers during their Christmas worship services.
GFA correspondents in Orissa report that the majority of Christians in the Kandhamal district, the epicenter of the violence, are not returning to their villages. Their homes are gone, and they know that returning will only put them face-to-face with their persecutors again. Some have moved to other areas. Thousands are still living in the state's dense forests, even as temperatures hover around the freezing mark.
Gospel for Asia missionaries have been able to reach some of the refugees to provide warm clothing and other daily necessities.
Christians in Orissa ask that you continue to pray for them. Here are some of their requests:
• Please continue to pray that Christians will be able to have peaceful worship services wherever they celebrate Christmas.
• Pray that these Christians will be able to experience the freedom that comes from worshipping the Prince of Peace, even when their lives are anything but peaceful.
• Pray for those who are persecuting the Christians in Orissa to come to know Jesus as their Savior.