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Gospel for Asia Missionaries Released on Bail

Gospel for Asia
02/20/09 CHHATTISGARH, INDIA (ANS) — Eleven Gospel for Asia missionaries who were arrested February 17 after being beaten by anti-Christian radicals have been released on bail. The missionaries were arrested as they were wrapping up the second day of a three-day believers convention in the Korba district of Chhattisgarh, India.

They were charged with violating Chhattisgarh’s anti-conversion law. The law, known as the “Freedom of Religion” act, actually imposes penalties and fines on those who try to convert people from the Hindu religion to Christianity or Islam.

About 2,500 Christians were attending the three-day meeting, which included group worship and Bible studies led by the missionaries. These meetings, called “conventions,” are conducted frequently in areas where GFA missionaries work. Christians travel for many days for the fellowship and learning.

Anti-Christian extremists, local politicians and the police converged on this convention just as it concluded at 10 p.m. Tuesday. The attackers used iron rods, sticks and chains to ruthlessly beat the missionaries and Christians who were at the meeting. They also destroyed the sound and audio visual equipment, the musical equipments and the tent where the meeting was taking place.

“Instead of arresting the people who were beating up the Christians and causing such havoc, the police arrested 11 of our missionaries and took them to prison,” said Gospel for Asia President K.P. Yohannan.

The missionaries were charged with forced/deliberate conversion. Even though they were released, they will have to appear in court again. If they are found guilty they face steep fines and prison sentences.

The missionaries tried to file a report about the beating, but the police refused to allow it.

The community is outraged at the incident. GFA leaders and other prominent Christians are planning to meet with the state’s chief minister and its governor to discuss the matter.

Chhattisgarh’s anti-conversion legislation has been at the center of several controversies during the past few years. Legislators have tried to strengthen the law by increasing the fines and the length of the prison sentence for those found in violation of it.

“They’re accused of forcing people to convert to Christianity,” Yohannan explained, “which has never happened. Now they have to go to court to defend themselves.”

Missionaries on the field report that incidents of persecution, such as this one, have increased dramatically. Missionaries in the neighboring states of Gujarat and Orissa are also reporting greater pressure and persecution from these extremist groups.

The missionaries who were arrested ask for prayer for their persecutors and the local authorities, that they will know the love, compassion and salvation of the Lord.

“We are praying for these people who are opposing Christians and beating up the missionaries, that somehow God will touch their hearts,” said Yohannan.