Tensions restrict evangelism

By January 5, 2009

India
(MNN) — Tensions rising between India
and Pakistan are impacting
the spread of the Gospel, said Dave Stravers of Mission India

"These religious feelings from Muslims towards Hindus,and Hindus towards Muslims, have been there for centuries," he explained. "And the existence of Pakistan actually is based on this outbreak of
hatred between the two groups, back in when India became an independent nation
just about 60 years ago."

The tension is making it very dangerous to travel, limiting
Mission India's
work to only a few places. 

"We do have work in Kashmir
which is where the greatest tension is, and even the fighting war has been
going on there, but it's very dangerous travel," Stravers said. "And so the amount of evangelistic [and] church-planting work that can go on in Kashmir
is very limited…to a few places where it's relatively safe."

Stravers is concerned that if India's right-wing politicians gain
more political power, they could make life even more difficult for
Christians. India's
right-wing strongly opposes not only Pakistan and Muslims, but also
Christians. 

One way that the politicians could be down Christians would
be to enforce anti-conversion laws, or pass more of them. The laws, effective in many of India's states,
require new Christians to obtain a signature from the local police before being
baptized. 

"These laws are widely disregarded for Christians," Stravers
said. "If they were really enforced, it
would make life very difficult for those who are bringing the Gospel in
evangelistic work. A political change
could actually result in the strengthening of these laws, either their
enforcement or the passing of new laws that would tend to inhibit people who
would want to change their faith."

Stravers said that Christians in India firmly believe in obeying God
rather than man, and generally disregard the law.  Last year, he visited a Christian community
in Orissa right after it baptized eleven new believers.  He asked whether they had obeyed the
anti-conversion law. 

"The leaders laughed," Stravers explained. "They said, 'No one is doing that. We're not doing that. You cannot obey that law,
because you're only inviting the police to send extremists to your house to
browbeat you or even to attack you.' So
there are literally tens of thousands of new believers in Orissa this year that
did not follow this oppressive law."

Since India's
constitution guarantees religious liberty and the right to change one's
religion, the law is being challenged in the court system. However, India's courts work slowly. 

"It's not always so easy to have your say in court. So it does create some tension and some fear
undoubtedly on the part of many believers," Stravers said. 

Nevertheless, the church is growing, and believers are
standing strong. They would appreciate
the prayer of their brothers and sisters around the world. 

"The church leaders just say, ‘God will protect us and bless
us, and we're going to keep obeying Him. And if people come to us and say we want to
be baptized, we're going to do it.'" 

Tens of thousands of believers in Orissa face a cold winter
in squalid relief camps. For $35, you
can provide an emergency relief kit for suffering families

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