INDIA: PASTORS “PAYING THE PRICE” FOR RAPID GROWTH OF CHRISTIANITY AMONG SAURA PEOPLE
According to researchers, the number of Christians among the Saura tribe of eastern India has increased from 2,000 30 years ago to more than 200,000 today, an estimated 60% of the Saura population. Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley says that growth has led to resentment and violence against the Saura pastors who live in the majority-Hindu Saura villages in India’s Odisha State. She says Voice of the Martyrs Korea is “adopting” 18 of these pastors in a project designed to help meet their basic needs while also training them to face potentially worse persecution in the future.
“While many of the Saura villages in eastern India are Christian, there are Saura Christians who live as a very small minority of the population in Hindu villages,” says Representative Foley. “It’s the Christians living in these villages who face persecution on a daily basis. Pastors are typically the most persecuted, since the Hindu villagers see them as the cause of the spread of Christianity.”
According to Representative Foley, persecution of the Saura Christians and pastors includes rejection by their families, being barred from common wells and local shops, beatings, and the burning of church buildings. Representative Foley says that among the persecuted pastors in the majority Hindu villages, only three have had any formal Bible training. She says Bible training is needed even among pastors in the majority Christian areas, where whole Saura villages were converted in the early 1900s by Canadian Baptist missionaries.
“Generations have passed and some of these Christian villages have become quite nominal in their faith, so they are in great need for sound Christian teaching. In many ways, it’s as serious a problem as the persecution being experienced in the Hindu villages,” says Representative Foley.
Accessing the villages is a challenge, according to Representative Foley, which means a customized educational model is needed.
“The Saura villages are spread out across many hills, and it can take hours to get from one village to the next, even in a 4-wheel drive. The 18 pastors we are adopting are all married, each with 2 to 4 children. It can be dangerous for them to leave their families and church buildings unattended. When you add in the time it takes them to make a living to feed their families, you can see why taking time away for Bible training can seem like an impossible luxury.”
Christians living in the Saura villages of eastern India face persecution on a daily basis.
Representative Foley says that arrangements have been made with the closest Bible college, in Raighar, northwest of Odisha state, to provide a six-month training program to the pastors which will enable them to continue to care for their families and churches while enrolled. In order to enable the pastors’ participation, Voice of the Martyrs will be covering their family living expenses for a year.
According to Representative Foley, the financial assistance is a way that Christians outside of India can, in her words, “share the cost of persecution”. “So far, these pastors have been ‘paying the price’ personally for the rapid spread of Christianity among their whole tribe over the past 30 years,” says Representative Foley. “Radical Hindus are angry that Christianity is spreading, and they are making these pastors suffer for that. Voice of the Martyrs Korea helps Christians who have decided to stay and make a faithful witness to Christ in the face of persecution. There are many organizations who help Christians flee, and we appreciate that important ministry. But our own purpose is to stand with those whom God has called to stay, like these 18 pastors and their families and congregations.”
Donations toward this effort can be made until October 31, at www.vomkorea.com/en/donation or via electronic transfer to:
국민은행 (KB Bank) 463501-01-243303
예금주 (Account Holder): (사)순교자의소리
Please include the phrase “India” on the donation.