I began my last missionary journal with the quote from the Apostle Paul in Romans 12:20, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them.” At the beginning of a 4-week long trip to Asia I was in North Korea where I visited the Bongsu Noodle Factory that was a hunger relief project in which American Baptists have been participating. The second part of that trip took me to the state of Orissa in India, just southwest of Calcutta.
Interior of church destroyed in Christmas attacks
Last Christmas Hindu militants launched coordinated and extensive attacks on Christian communities in the Kandhamal District of Orissa. Almost 100 churches were destroyed of various denominations. Over 500 homes were burned and many Christian-owned businesses were destroyed. A number of people were killed, including at least one pastor murdered in front of his congregation. Many more people were beaten, and thousands fled into the jungle to face hunger, exposure and the wild animals. The state government, which is affiliated with the militant groups, blocked outside investigators and relief until the Indian Supreme Court ruled against them. Still militants made delivery of supplies difficult and required conversion to Hinduism before displaced people could come into relief camps for food and shelter.
One of the 500 homes destroyed in Orissa
I had visited in January to make an initial contact with the Baptist leadership in Orissa and do some short training sessions on conflict transformation and trauma healing. This time we planned a more extensive training program to be held right in Kandhamal District as the centerpiece to my time in Orissa. We went to Raikia Village which had not been attacked and was a central place for leaders from the affected communities to come. About 55 church leaders attended, perhaps half Baptist, the rest from Catholic, Anglican, Methodist and Pentecostal churches. Through two days of emotionally intensive work we explored what happened, responded to trauma through the lens of Scripture, taking nonviolent transforming initiatives as a way to be faithful to Jesus, and how to rebuild their communities. Participants were excited to dig into the Scriptures in a way that spoke directly to the terrible experiences they had been through and were still facing.
Conflict transformation training for church leaders in Orissa
While the training was going on, some of the staff from BOBBCA (Bengal, Orissa and Bihar Baptist Church Association) and the Asia Pacific Baptist Federation were delivering food and other relief supplies to villages throughout Kandhamal. Some of the relief was distributed outside the church where the training was held as people came from a temporary camp they had set up in the forest nearby because militants were still blocking their return to their village. The faces of the women and children spoke of the hardships and privation they had been through in the last four months.
A truck is loaded to take food to displaced persons hiding in the forest
But amid all this suffering I saw the Spirit of Christ rising up in these Baptist friends. In one village Christians had responded to the violence against them by retaliating with violence, burning the homes of some Hindu families. In other cases the militants destroyed lower-caste Hindu homes as a threat that if they supported the Christians they would share their fate. The BOBBCA staff brought relief not just to the Christians who were displaced, but also to the Hindus who had suffered at the hands of either Christians or Hindus. These Baptists didn’t look at people’s religious identity but rather at their hunger. If they were hungry, the Baptists sought to feed them. The conflict is still simmering. Just two weeks before I arrived there was a militant demonstration threatening more violence to the Christians. So this expression of compassion showed tremendous courage and conviction. Please keep the Christians in Orissa in your prayers.
Women and children receiving relief at a Baptist Church
I was also heart-broken to hear about the terrible destruction of Cyclone Nargis in Burma (formally known as Myanmar). Areas I was just visiting in January suffered severe damage, but not as much damage as in the Irrawaddy delta region southwest of Yangon. The death toll, destruction of communities, losses of churches and leaders is staggering. Here the government has treated their own people as the enemy, blocking food and aid workers from the affected areas. But determined church workers and some aid groups are getting through, not with nearly enough, but with something.
BOBBCA staff planning the day's relief activities
If you would like to give for emergency relief for the cyclone that hit Burma (Myanmar), or for the persecuted Christians in Orissa, India, or for the noodle factory in North Korea, go to the giving page of the World Relief Office website.
Click the link for online giving. Under Categories you will find One Great Hour of Sharing. Select that, then in the comments box indicate to what disaster you wish to send your funds. Having been to so many of these places and witnessed the suffering of the people and the incredible relief our support brings, I say thank you!
Also, if you would like to support my peacemaking mission financially, you can go to the “Give” page on the International Ministries website.
You will find my name on the pull-down menu under “Global Consultants.” Again, thank you very much.
There are many sorrows, but my faith is continually renewed when I see God’s people rise up with compassion beyond human capacity, a compassion rooted in the God who suffered among us and won the ultimate victory over death. In that hope and powerful love we labor.
In Christ’s hope and peace,