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Conversion to Christianity under garb of relief work: What is ADRA, org run by a Church that is to get Rs 2.26 crores of EU’s ‘humanitarian aid’ for Manipur

In September 2022, Adventist Review published a detailed article on how Maranatha Volunteers International's India crew were constructing churches along with schools and water wells. In 2022 itself, the group built 25 out of 30 planned churches by September and four were in progress.

On 30th May, the Government of Manipur categorically refused to accept aid announced by the European Union for the families which suffered from hailstorms and heavy rain earlier this month. EU had claimed that aid worth €250,000 (over 22.6 million Indian rupees) was made for the state of Manipur via humanitarian partner ADRA (Adventist Development and Relief Agency), which is a ‘humanitarian agency’ operated by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. In a post, the EU specified that the amount will benefit “1500 most vulnerable families” in Manipur.

Source: X

Rejecting the donation, the Chief Secretary of Manipur stated, “A news report has been circulating in the media and different social network platforms about the EU providing 250,000 euros to (Rs. 2.25 crore) assist victims of a severe storm in Manipur. This is false and untrue and as far as the State Government is concerned all financial requirements in connection with the recent storm are being met from the available National Disaster Response Fund and the State Disaster Response Fund.” Furthermore, it was highlighted that the state government has been collaborating with the relevant Deputy Commissioners, security personnel, and public volunteers to carry out necessary relief efforts related to the storm and the humanitarian work has not been handed to any Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or civil society organizations. The press release added, “A sum of Rs.30 crore has already been sanctioned by the State Government to the Deputy Commissioners of the concerned districts.”

What is Adventist Development and Relief Agency or ADRA?

ADRA is the worldwide humanitarian branch of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Interestingly, it is present not only in India but also in 100+ other countries including Nepal and Bhutan. The organisation uses humanitarian projects related to relief, healthcare and education networks around the world. Interestingly, there is evidence that the organisation, which is run by a church, uses these activities to convert vulnerable people to Christianity.

On its website, ADRA India flaunts that it is a 20-million strong community and deliver “relief and development assistance to people in 107 countries “regardless of their ethnicity, political affiliation, gender, or religious association.” It read, “In India, we have been implementing humanitarian and development projects that help the most vulnerable in India for close to thirty years. Registered in 1992 as a Society, ADRA India focuses on key developmental aspects like public healthcare, education, livelihood generation, humanitarian and emergency response, and protection of vulnerable groups. By partnering with local communities, organizations, and governments, we are able to deliver culturally relevant programs and build local capability for sustainable change.”

Conversion activities via humanitarian work via ADRA and other orgs under Seventh-day Adventist Church in India and neighbouring countries

Now coming to evangelist activities by the organisation, Ezras Lakra, who is the president of Northern Indian Union of Seventh-day Adventists since November 2010, said in a statement during the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s 13 world divisions during the second of three Spring Meeting sessions in 2016 that direct evangelism is not possible in countries like Nepal and Bhutan as proselytizing is forbidden in these countries. Furthmore, he pointed out that in India, centres of influence focus on public service and health program was drawing a positive response to their evangelist activities. “Bible study cards are offered, and the availability of prayer at the centers attracts even non-Christians.” he said.

In September 2022, Adventist Review published a detailed article on how Maranatha Volunteers International’s India crew were constructing churches along with schools and water wells. In 2022 itself, the group built 25 out of 30 planned churches by September and four were in progress. Some of them were built in Manipur as well. Special dorms for boys and girls were built in the schools so that the students could live on the premises. Inaugurating one of such dorms at the Pola Adventist School in Jharkhand, Lakra praised the group and said, “Maranatha has set a benchmark for us in how to work for the Lord. We need to proceed in the same way in India.” The report noted that several water wells were being drilled in several states across India including in Manipur, a project that was started in 2019. Notably, Maranatha has constructed more than 2,400 structures in India, the report suggested. Maranatha Volunteers International is a supporting ministry of Seventh-day Adventist Church. Their main aim is to built churches and schools in developing nations. These structures are used for evangelism by the organisation.

Seventh-day Adventist Church has strengthened its presence in Nepal, India’s neighbouring country that has been facing the issue of conversions for years. In 2016, Ezras Lakra and others went to Nepal and inaugurated six new churches mainly rebuilt after the 2015 earthquake. During the inauguration, they converted 14 people. In another village bordering China, they reportedly converted eight people in a similar ceremony. These events illustrated how the Seventh-day Adventist Church has been involved in conversion activities in Nepal for years in the guise of humanitarian activities.

Notably, in 2015, when the earthquake struck, members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church rushed to humanitarian work. At that time, there were over 8,000 active members of the Church spread over 106 congregations. Ted NC Wilson, president of the Adventist world church saw it as a signal of “Christ’s return”. He said, “The human suffering breaks our hearts and moves us with deep sympathy for the thousands of families who have experienced loss. May this be an opportunity to show Christ’s ministry of love and compassion in all that we do as we see more of this disaster happening signaling the nearness of Christ’s return.” During that time, a hospital built by the Church was extensively used to treat patients. It is obvious that after getting saved by a missionary hospital, a soft corner is built in the hearts of the locals. It gets much easier to brainwash them to convert.

A March 2024 report suggested how Seventh-day Adventist Church has been strengthening its presence in Nepal. Several church leaders Northern Asia-Pacific Division (NSD) of the Seventh-day Adventist Church reportedly added “new territories” to Nepal, which was added to NSD in late 2023. Reportedly, they found Nepal to be one of the challenging nations to convert people but their leader Yo Han Kim said, “But with God’s wisdom and guidance, we shall fulfil together the task He has given us.” OpIndia has extensively covered the issue of conversions in Nepal that can be checked here.

ADRA’s humanitarian activities give shield to evangelism

During our research into ADRA’s activities, we found an interesting article written by Jay Edison who is a retired ADRA International director of Health from Ossupee, New Hampshire, US. In the article, he discussed how some of his friends were perplexed by the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s significant investment in humanitarian activities through the ADRA without any evangelistic components. He highlighted that the humanitarian efforts by ADRA easily managed to skip the scrutiny that came with traditional Adventist health evangelism. He emphasised that ADRA’s activities such as providing safe drinking water embody the church’s philosophy of healthful living, which in large helps to spread the word of “Jesus” without getting noticed by the authorities. He gave examples of several countries like Russia and Kyrgystan where ADRA’s humanitarian efforts helped in spreading the word about Christianity without overt proselytizing.

Controversies around Seventh-day Adventist Church

There have been several controversies around the Seventh-day Adventist Church in India. In April 2024, 57 year old pastor Reverend May Wald was accused of sexual harrassment by a 17-year-old Nepali girl. he was arrested and booked under POCSO Act. May Wald served at “The Seventh-day Adventist Church” in the Mathigiri neighbourhood. The victim and her family have been living in the same region. The subsequent action was taken after she complained to the officials of the Krishnagiri District Child Protection Committee which resulted in a formal complaint being lodged at the Hosur All Women Police Station. A comprehensive inquiry that followed verified the accuracy of the accusations made against Reverend May Wald.

Furthermore, in February 2023, members of Southeast India Union of Seventh-day Adventists in Vandulur, Chennai, accused the church administration of misappropriation of funds, offensive remarks, sexual abuse and more. They staged protests outside the church to voice their complaints. The Seventh Day Adventist Church near Iraniyamman Temple, which owns twenty-seven schools and properties valued at crores came under investigation amid grave charges of dubious fundraising practices.

A sit-in protest was organized by some members of the community against the administration, asserting that they were using dishonest tactics in connection with building projects including schools and churches. Protesters, who declared they had a right to inquire of the administration on years of embezzlement and deception amounting to crores of rupees, were angry that the church would not answer their questions and had locked the gate to prevent them from entering.

Additionally, a woman accused the church of sexual abuse and uttering disparaging comments regarding caste. She unveiled that despite other women departing earlier, she was made to stay until six o’clock in the evening, given extra work to complete, and received 500 rupees from White David, the manager, for no apparent reason. She further disclosed that White David along with another person, Daniel Devadoss harassed her over her eight years of employment as a cleaner by spewing crude comments and inquiring about her personal life. She was fired from her work after things became extremely ugly and they accused her of stealing.

Seventh Day Adventist Church under Home Ministry’s radar

In 2020, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) suspended the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) licences of four Christian associations this year. It is mandatory to have FCRA clearance from the Home Ministry for any organisation to receive foreign funds. Besides, two Christian donors, namely, Seventh Day Adventist Church and Baptist Church are also under the watch of the Ministry. Both of them are US-based. As per The Hindu report, an official said that as the probe was on, concerns were raised regarding the impact of U.S.-based evangelical donors including the Seventh Day Adventist Church.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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Anurag
Anurag
B.Sc. Multimedia, a journalist by profession.

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