Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Hindu children made to pray to jesus 6 times a

Hindu children made to pray to jesus 6 times a
day in illegal orphanage

Critics say some Christians spread aid and Gospel
By Kim Barker
Tribune foreign correspondent
Published January 22, 2005

AKKARAIPETTAI, India -- The Christian evangelists came
in the morning, wearing fluorescent yellow T-shirts
emblazoned with "Believers Church" on the back and
"Gospel for Asia" on the front. They loaded up
hundreds of villagers, mostly Hindus, in vans and
trucks and drove them 6 miles away.

There, away from the eyes of village officials, each
tsunami survivor received relief supplies--a sleeping
mat, a plate, a sari, a 55-pound bag of rice and, in
the bottom of a white plastic bag proclaiming
"Believers Church Tsunami Relief," a book containing
biblical verses warning against the dangers of

"What do I do?" asked Muthammal, 35, who uses one name
like many in southern India and wears the red bindi on
her forehead showing she's Hindu. Like many here, she
cannot read. "They are asking us to come all this way.
It is so difficult."

Members of the Believers Church also have handed out
Bibles to tsunami survivors on the streets and in
relief camps. They set up an orphanage for 108
children, including many Hindus, and asked the
children to recite Christian prayers six times a day.
The Protestant church did not register the orphanage
with the government, authorities said. K.P. Yohannan,
the leader of Believers Church and Gospel for Asia,
said the church had tried to get government

Since the Dec. 26 tsunami killed more than 157,000
people and left millions homeless, relief groups have
flooded into Asia, from Sri Lanka to Thailand. As in
any crisis, many aid groups are religious, and they
consider it their duty to minister to the needy. Most
shun proselytizing and make little reference to what
they believe.

But in parts of Asia, some religious groups have
sparked controversy. They are accused of spreading a
message as they hand out rice and other supplies. They
are accused of exploiting tsunami victims.

In Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim
country, Christian groups have been criticized for
distributing Bibles in relief camps. A U.S. missionary
group, World Help, planned to help raise 300 Muslim
children in a Christian children's home in Jakarta,
the capital. The project was abandoned after the
government protested.

An Islamic militant group in the hard-hit Indonesian
province of Aceh recruited members as it collected
bodies; other Islamic groups handed out thousands of
Korans in relief camps.

A U.S. group, the International Bible Society, has
announced plans to send 100,000 Christian texts,
including a book translated into Thai, "When Your
Whole World Changes," to survivors, including those in

Another group, Focus on the Family, prepared 300,000
survival packets including food, water, medicine and
the evangelical text "When God Doesn't Make Sense."
The group also has announced plans to rebuild
destroyed villages in India's Andhra Pradesh as
"Christian communities."

Gospel for Asia, a Texas-based evangelical group with
native missionaries in 10 Asian countries and the
phone number 1-800-WIN-ASIA, has dispatched about
1,000 workers to hand out relief aid. A feature on the
group's Web site called "Tsunami prayer requests" asks
people to pray for, among other things, many
opportunities to share the Gospel and "pray that the
Lord will bless this amazing opportunity to touch
thousands of children's lives with the Gospel."

Conversion efforts denied

Yohannan said members of the Believers Church and
Gospel for Asia were not trying to convert anyone. But
if people embraced Christianity after meeting the
evangelists, Yohannan would be happy.

"We wish everyone would believe in Jesus and love
Jesus," he said.

In India, fewer people have protested religious relief
activities than in Indonesia. Strife among religions
is common in India, but such differences have been
largely set aside since the disaster. Most Indians are
Hindu, but the tsunami hit hardest in an area near
holy spots for Hinduism, Islam and Christianity.
People also are happy to get anything. They will take
Christian texts from Believers Church if it means
getting rice.

"They are giving it," said Govindaraj, 45, a Hindu
from Akkaraipettai. "So we are taking it."

The surrounding Nagapattinam area of Tamil Nadu, a
coastal fishing district where more than 6,000 people
died, now looks like an ad for multiculturalism. Nuns
in habits ride around in a white Jeep. Refugees store
clothing in cardboard boxes taped with signs from
"Eternal Word Ministries Relief Aid." Muslims in
T-shirts advertising their religion help pull out
trawlers that the tsunami slammed into a bridge.

Scientologists try to heal people and help them move
on from the tsunami. The children of the village call
them "the white people in the yellow dresses,"
although they are not all white and they wear yellow
T-shirts--different from those of the Believers
Church--proclaiming "volunteer minister."

Most of these groups have had no problems. Many
religious leaders say they are only helping people,
not spreading religion.

"This is not the time to distribute Bibles or preach,"
said Rev. Franklin of the Church of South India, a
Protestant church.

Men from the Tamil Nadu Muslim Progress Organization
shook the hands of Scientologists, who had trained
them in a procedure called a "contact assist," which
tries to get people to move on from the time of the
tsunami and face their fears.

The Believers Church has stirred up more controversy
than any action by the Scientologists. Several church
members denied handing out Bibles and insisted they
were only cleaning up homes.

"We have not handed out Bibles," said Anandraj, 25.

Later, outside their new orphanage, church members
acknowledged they had handed out Bibles and booklets
against alcohol and abortion that include biblical
verses. They said they had distributed relief
materials at the orphanage, rather than in the
village, because it was easier and because they did
not have enough for everyone. They denied trying to
convert anyone. They said they only wanted to help.

Local officials displeased

But Akkaraipettai officials were upset. They
complained that the Christian group did not follow the
village procedures for relief agencies and did not
help everyone.

"We will not accept anyone trying to convert anyone to
another religion," said Selvamnattar, the village
president, adding that the village was entirely Hindu.
"Anyone who wants to help, we welcome it. But we will
not allow conversions."

The state of Tamil Nadu once banned religious
conversions, but that law recently was repealed.
Yohannan, the leader of Believers Church and Gospel
for Asia, blamed any controversy on Hindu
fundamentalists trying to stir up trouble.

Many children from Akkaraipettai ended up at the
Believers Church orphanage, set up to care for
children who lost one or both parents or for children
whose parents could not handle their children after
the tsunami. Biju, a Believers Church official, said
church members recruited children by talking about the
orphanage to people in relief camps and villages.

"We did not take the children," he said.

But the orphanage was set up without knowledge of the
government, said Suriyakala, the district's social
welfare officer.

Inside the orphanage, children seemed happy, playing
volleyball, badminton and cricket. Several Hindu
children said they were asked to recite Christian
prayers six times a day.

"As soon as we get up, we pray," said Rajavalli, 13, a
Hindu, adding that she had no problem with praying.

Members of the church also handed out Tamil-language
Bibles, including refugees staying in a railway
station. Several said they took the Bible only because
it was offered.

But Mahalakshmi, 18, who had converted earlier from
Hinduism to Christianity, said she was happy to get a

"I understand that to make people understand they have
sinned, God has sent this tsunami," she said. "I get
peace from reading the Bible and understanding this.
Others who don't will continue to suffer."


At 9:20 AM, Blogger Living in Thailand said...

We have a website that was created during the Tsunami please let us know if any people there is found and we will delete themAfter the Tsunami


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