Christians in India celebrated Christmas under the threat of violence. While there were isolated incidents reported, nothing on the scale of the Orissa pogrom of 2008 emerged.
Despite relief, they've started this year with a push toward passing the Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence Bill 2011. Government reports show more than 6,000 incidents of communal violence were reported in India in the past 10 years. That's a pattern that's likely to continue.
"Personally, I don't expect this to change because more and more, people are choosing to follow Christ," says KP Yohannann with Gospel for Asia (GFA). "Our people are facing persecution. Even recently, people walking into Sunday morning service, disrupting it, and attacking the missionaries and the pastors, threatening Christian families to renounce their faith."
But he adds, "It is not as widespread as it was."
Some areas are more volatile than others. Yohannann says Orissa has been a boiling pot for years. Whether the government is BJP or Congress, he says it seems that the fundamentalists seem to have a tremendous amount of network established.
In Kandhamal district, anti-Christians called for a general strike that would "Stop Christmas." GFA workers were worried that riots would erupt. Many fled their villages and took refuge in surrounding areas.
It's the same area that was most severely persecuted in the attacks against Christians in 2008. Throughout Orissa, more than 120 men, women and children were murdered, and hundreds of homes and churches were destroyed.
These concerns are why the All India Christian Council (AICC) is pushing for the bill to be presented to Parliament soon. It was drafted by the National Advisory Council and is now with the Union government.
Religious minorities and many members of civil society support it as a way to curb communal violence and bring justice to the victims. The problem, Yohannan says, is that, "People use religion, especially of the illiterate, innocent people, as a means to capture political ground and power. Religious fanaticism always is used by the crafty politicians to get power."
But it's really bigger than politics, Yohannan points out. Because GFA workers are tirelessly sharing the hope of Christ, people are coming to faith in Him. That means the opposition isn't so much extremists.
"It's a really strong spiritual warfare. I think the strongest weapon we can use against this thing is prayer and fasting," he says. "Then, as Hebrews says, 'Come alongside the suffering brethren, and love them, embrace them, help them.'"
Passage of the Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence Bill would protect some of the more vulnerable populations. However, Yohannan says this is not merely a political issue. "These communities, Muslim communities, Hindu and all, I think more and more people will come to know Jesus Christ, no matter what."
Pray for the believers in Orissa, that they will not fear and will remain strong in the Lord during this time. Pray that they will be lights shining in the darkness and that the Lord will protect them.
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