By Amy Penn
8/24/2017 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – For many children, church summer camps are a fun and memorable way to meet new friends, learn about God, and have fun. In India, participating in summer camps could send you to jail.
Last month, 70 children from different churches in the Jhabua region were traveling to a church summer camp, accompanied by nine adults. The adults had received permission from the children’s parents to accompany the children to camp and everyone was excited about the next few days. Their trip, however, was indefinitely delayed.
At a railway station, railway police took the adults to jail, accusing them of kidnapping the children in order to forcefully convert them to Christianity. To the police, the children were not Christians because their families were not registered as Christians. If the families were not Christian, they would not give Christian leaders permission to take their children to camp. Police used this logic to put the Christians in jail.
Unfortunately, many impoverished Christians do not register with the government because the government withholds scheduled caste benefits from Christians. Benefits include social services like healthcare, food, and education. While police did not have their registration, the parents told the officers questioning them that they gave permission to the leaders to accompany their children to camp. Their testimonies didn’t matter. The children were sent to government protection centers and the nine adults were taken to jail where false charges were booked against them.
Out of nine, two ladies and one minor were released on bail, but the others have been in jail since May 21, 2017. All of these people are the primary providers for their families, leaving their families with no means of providing for themselves. The three who were released still need to make frequent trips to court for hearings.
These Christian leaders’ families are struggling financially, spiritually, and physically. A local pastor told International Christian Concern (ICC), “Our lives are destabilized in every aspect; some of the families whose husbands are in jail were almost starving.” ICC sent a representative to visit the communities and determine how we could encourage them and meet their needs. It was important to maintain a low profile for the safety of the families, community, and ICC representative.
The families’ immediate need was food assistance, so ICC provided two months’ worth of food packages containing rice, dal, cooking oil, and wheat flour. ICC’s representative implemented the project in phases to maintain safety.
After the families received the food packages, they told ICC that the “assistance from ICC has been timely help…it appeared as if no string [was] spared for us to hang on [to]. We feel very encouraged and comforted.”
Continue to pray for the imprisoned Christians’ safety and release. Despite evidence indicating their innocence, they remain in jail while their families struggle to provide for themselves. Pray that the families will remain steadfast in their faith during this difficult time. ICC will continue to seek ways to assist these families.