The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is keeping India on its watch list, reports MNN.
The report, released April 28, also includes annually a watch list of countries the commission considers to require close monitoring because of violations committed or tolerated by their governments. This year's list was the same as last year's except for the movement of Egypt onto the "countries of particular concern" list. Others on the watch list include Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, Indonesia, Laos, Russia, Somalia, Tajikistan, Turkey and Venezuela.
While the inclusion is not new, the reasons for the inclusion are different. Dave Stravers, President of Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Mission India, says, "The list also specifically points out that when violations of people's religious freedom occur, India's legal system is unwilling or unable to redress grievances."
Justice for the victims of Orissa's 2007-2008 pogram is slow in coming. In fact, the violence against the Christians in Gujarat in 2002 and in the 1984 Sikh riots has yet to be fully addressed. Eight states now have some kind of anti-conversion law on the books. Those laws have been used as weapons against believers throughout India, with assaults, burnings, lootings and other attacks occurring on a daily basis.
Stravers says the irony is that the uptick in the oppression and harassment actually means the message of Christ is getting through, especially in places that were once considered sacrosanct to Hinduism. "[sic]This is a sign of great response and great openness to the Gospel. India is undergoing great religious change, and the opportunities to present the Gospel to people who have been completely lost in darkness for centuries is really amazing."
In spite of the threat of violence, the demand for Mission India's help is outpacing the resources they can provide. Mission India doesn't have its own church, but they do partner with the existing body of Christ. Stravers explains, "We provide training and resources to other churches so any evangelical denomination or mission agency in India can come to us for help. We help them with their outreach, we help them to teach literacy, and we help them to form children's clubs, after-school clubs, and Bible clubs."
Because the teams provide needed services like literacy, they find help when aggressors threaten harm. Again, Stravers says, "Usually the agitators, the violent ones, are not from the community being served. Often we find the Hindus in the community are defending the Christians."
When violence is threatened, Stravers explains, the workers will usually pause what they're doing and wait until the threat subsides before resuming classes. "Pray for courage for the workers that they would not be intimidated to stop doing the work of Christ in that place."
While the Church welcomes the watch list recommendations from the USCIRF, there is one thing to keep in mind. Stravers says, "The general population of India is not against Christians or against the Gospel. The general population is very, very open, and it's the small group of political leaders that are concerned."