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From joining ‘farmers’ protest to converting Rohingyas for Indian citizenship: How Christian groups have exploited the pandemic

It is imperative to understand how evangelism in India is no longer a single prong business. The organizations and individuals have camouflaged themselves in every aspect of society making it difficult to escape their grip.

Over the years we have been made to think of the role of an evangelist or a missionary to be that of pulling the poor out of poverty, helping the destitute and in turn asking them to their God. 

They entered lands far and wide otherwise unknown to us to provide food, shelter and education. But now the evangelicals are between you and me. Spreading the ‘word of God’, supporting farmers’ protest, planting churches, floating companies on paper, even using official posts to preach their faith and now seeing the pandemic as a ‘golden opportunity’ to convert the gullible. 

To simplify the read, let’s divide their activities into five domains: preaching and conversion by evangelists, joining hands with the Break India forces, ‘cure’ and ‘healing’ methods to battle the pandemic, indulging in illegal activities and holding official positions to further their mission. 

Let’s start with how the missionaries, evangelists or preachers however we may like to call it are fueling angst against the country. 

Christian bodies support farmers

At the beginning of the year, several Priests and heads of various Christian organizations in Punjab protested against the Centre for not repealing the Farm Bills. The protest saw the presence of ArchBishop of Pentecostal Diocese of Punjab PJ Soloman, chairman of Rashtriya Masihi Sangh Fares Masih, Punjab Christian United Front chief George Soni, Punjab Christian Movement chief Hamid Masih, Pastor Ashok Masih and Pastor Surinder Gill of the United Pastors’ Association. 

Chairman of the Indian Farmers Movement (INFAM), a church-backed body based in Kerala Father Joseph Ottaplackal said that the government needs to take “a more lenient view towards the demands of the farmers because the reforms spell disaster for the farming community.”

Rohingyas taking up Christianity

A report in July 2020 brought to light how a large number of Rohingya Muslims residing in India prior to 2012 were turning to Christianity while claiming to be from Bangladesh. The activity saw an increase post the Government of India introduced the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) in the Parliament prompting many Afghan and Rohingya Muslim refugees to convert to Christianity to become eligible for Indian citizenship.

An official estimate suggests there are nearly 40,000 Rohingya Muslims across India, with the highest number in Jammu and Kashmir. 

Next, let’s look at how the evangelical organizations have thrust into the pandemic making the most of the suffering and helplessness.

Pandemic is ‘Godsend’

As the country is reeling under the aftermath of the pandemic, evangelists across the nation seem to be rejoicing the advent of the calamity. Otherwise empty churches have now found devotees as the evangelists managed to supply food kits to the ones in need.

Sharing their success story Isaac Shaw a senior pastor of Bible Bhavan Christian Fellowship in an interview to Christianity Today said gleefully, “When churches started streaming their services online, they were surprised at the audience they received. I know of small churches that normally had less than 100 people attend on an average Sunday now have more than 700 viewers online. Our own church, Bible Bhavan Christian Fellowship, which has been live streaming for more than four years, saw a 300 percent increase in viewership.”

Taking undue advantage of people’s sufferings, “As the Indian church is expressing its love for those who are suffering the most, previously antagonistic neighbors are partnering with the church in our expressions of help. This marks a new day,” added Isaac.

Isaac revealed that the churches with the imposition of lockdown refused to follow the protocol saying “churches cannot close their doors, believing that the Bible mandates weekly group worship in buildings and that God grants health to the faithful.” He said the churches took three weeks to come up with an alternative that ultimately proved to be fruitful.

Preaching in the garb of help amidst the pandemic

When the nation was staring into the unknown, taking precautions to restrict the spread of the coronavirus, preachers were out on the streets conducting Gospel campaigns. Pastors from the South of India while in an interview to Christian Chronicle revealed, “When the initial lockdowns were lifted in 2020, members of the Anna Nagar Church of Christ in Chennai conducted gospel campaigns and did street preaching. Even children as young as 7 proclaimed the Good News to their neighbors.

“Recently, church members launched a new campaign to deliver the gospel — and masks — to 30 villages in the area,” a minister added.

Pagidipalli, a physician and evangelist who works with multiple Churches of Christ remarked, “Covid is increasing exponentially here in India, but the number of souls who are turning to Jesus as their Lord is also increasing every single day.”

This comes amidst 600 preachers of Churches of Christ who succumbed to the Chinese virus last year and more than 900 preachers’ families affected in Kakinada Andhra Pradesh. Paul Renganathan, the director of World Bible College revealed that he knows of nearly 500 deaths among members of Churches of Christ in just the Chennai region, including several evangelists he worked with closely.

Missionaries say pandemic opened gates to India

Mission India, an evangelical organization working in India with a clear motive is currently working to equip its ministry partners in relief efforts to save lives and enhance their evangelism, discipleship, and church planting efforts. “Our partners see this as a tremendous opportunity to demonstrate the love of Christ in their communities,” they flaunt on their website.

The organization is simultaneously running a Children’s Bible Club introducing them to Jesus through engaging activities, songs, and prayer during either a 10 day or a year-long experience and creating new Church planters to introduce a “community to Jesus”.

Christian hymns in the form of kirtans

The conversion wave in Punjab is a well-known reality and is being widely talked about especially during the pandemic. The lesser-known fact is the modus operandi of the missionaries in the region.

The target for conversions in Punjab are people from the lower strata of society, particularly Sikh Dalits who are shunned by the upper caste Sikhs; who they entice by offering everything from money to healing chronic illnesses, free education, healthcare, compensation, and fulfillment of other needs in return for converting to Christianity.

To Indianize the experience, evangelists have gone to the extent of portraying Jesus doing Yoga and wearing a saffron robe. Churches are being built in resemblance to temples and Gurdwaras, with Christian Hymns being sung in the tune of a “kirtan”. The Christian community in Punjab and these organizations have begun to name themselves as ‘Shromani Church Parbhandak Committee’.

Raising funds for bikes and Bibles

As the common Samaritans raise funds to feed the ones affected due to the lockdown, an evangelical organization is raising funds to procure bicycles that will help their preachers wheel to hinterlands with Bibles. This year they aim to gather enough funds to be able to purchase 1,000 bikes, 100,000 Bibles, construct 6,000 new Churches in India and equip a new Church planter.

The strategies of these organizations are based on a huge database entailing details of the entire population sliced and diced basis caste, groups, ethnicity, languages and more. India Evangelical says 88% of the population is yet to be reached in India.

The Christian groups and affiliated organizations have also advocated self-healing and miracle cure quite aggressively to fight the Covid-19 virus.

A Hindustan Times article from 2016 had revealed how “faith heals, but only if one continues medication.” The article described how people developed life-threatening complications, some even lose their lives after stopping the medication and hoping their faith will cure and heal them.

Vaccine a mark of the beast

As the government relentlessly is urging people to get inoculated, a 24-hour free-to-air Christian evangelical channel Angel TV, run by a pastor Sundar Selvaraj who calls himself a ‘sadhu’ warns people against the vaccine saying ‘is a mark of the beast prophesied in the Bible.’

Selvaraj claims that the vaccines contain a chip and that his ‘prophecy’ of the chip-fitted vaccine to be given to the masses through government programs and free camps has come true.

Preaching while on Covid duty

We had reported earlier on how a nurse on government duty in Ratlam, Madhya Pradesh was caught in the tribal-dominated development block of Bajala with publicity leaflets preaching Christianity on the pretext of informing people about dietary plans amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.

Moving on to evangelists using official and influential positions to further their religion while on government/ official duty.

IMA Head wants to use the association as a springboard to convert

In an interview to Christian magazines, recently appointed Dr Johnrose Austin Jayalal confessed to using the Indian Medical Association as a springboard to share the “love of Jesus Christ” and be a “living witness to God and encourage young medical students and doctors to receive Jesus as their personal saviour”.

According to Dr Jayalal, it was “Christian compassion” and Christian doctors and churches who relieved the world from lethal maladies such as leprosy, cholera and other pandemics in the past. He believes the coronavirus pandemic has provided “the urgent need of the proclamation of the Gospel to people who are suffering from the virus has allowed us to share the Gospel even in secular institutions”.

Using influential positions to preach Christianity

In a report released by Swarajya in June 2020, it was revealed that Mr. D.P. Haokip a senior official in the Indian Revenue Service (IRS) confessed in an evangelist convention to being an evangelist even while on duty. He also boasted to have summoned Rahul Dravid, former captain of the Indian cricket team to his office and did proselytizing maneuvers for an hour, preaching him Bible. Haokip’s visiting card too contains a verse from the Gospel.

In another shocking revelation a Jesuit clergy, Joe Arun, Director of LIBA (Loyola Institute of Business Administration) claimed that when the state government of Tamil Nadu asked him to be one of the mentors in the board for revising the social science syllabus from the first standard to 12th standard, the first thing he did was to introduce Jesuit ideology into the syllabus.

Heading to the last pillar, several evangelical organizations have come under the scanner for flouting fake companies, unaccounted cash and hawala.

Rampant conversions

Taking undue advantage of the lockdown imposed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, missionaries in India converted as many as 1 lakh people and adopted 50,000 villages in a span of one year. Need for medical aid and two squares meals amidst the financial crisis, pushed the economically weaker section into the trap of missionaries. The missionaries also built a record number of churches in thousands of villages where none existed before.

Pastor Praveen Chakravarty a popular name in Andhra Pradesh was arrested by the police for kicking idols of Hindu Gods. He was also booked under various sections related to creating enmity among religious groups, committing a crime at religious places etc. The pastor flaunted the creation of 699 Christ villages in the state.

In January this year, Shahjahanpur (Uttar Pradesh) police have lodged an FIR against five people, including two from Tamil Nadu, under the new anti-conversion law for allegedly convincing people to convert to Christianity. Quoting the complaint, the police informed that a few of them were seen convincing people to convert to Christianity with the promise of “good job and good education to children.”

It is imperative to understand how evangelism in India is no longer a single prong business. The organizations and individuals have camouflaged themselves in every aspect of society making it difficult to escape their grip.

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