Hindu extremists blamed Christians for the assassination of a Hindu leader on Aug. 23, 2008, in Orissa. Although Maoist rebels, an extreme Marxist political group, claimed responsibility for the assassination, Hindu extremists killed about 70 Christians and destroyed 4,640 houses, 252 churches and 13 educational institutions, according to news stories published by Baptist Press, Compass Direct News and local sources.
Christians fled from their villages, seeking refuge first in the jungle and then in displaced-person camps that the government opened for them. For a long time, Christians would not return to their homes because they feared further backlash from Hindu extremists.
"Some of the Kandhamal victims of the religious violence have enough courage that they are returning home," Southern Baptist humanitarian worker Cole Elbridge* said. "But their ravaged homes cannot be lived in and the money they received in compensation from the government has been used up over the two years they were in relief camps, so they are back in their villages but still without permanent shelter."
Soon, however, Christians in Kandhamal will have new homes -- after two years of staying in camps and then living in makeshift tents, mud huts or on the verandas of relatives' homes. The government camps are now closed.
Southern Baptist humanitarian workers, national partners and the Kandhamal Baptist Convention are partnering with Kandhamal Christians to rebuild the community. They plan to build homes for 180 families in the area using $170,696 from Southern Baptist relief funds, channeled through Baptist Global Response, an international relief and development organization.
"Field personnel are able to rebuild homes because of Southern Baptists' faithful giving to the General Relief Fund over the years," said Francis Horton, who with his wife Angie directs work in Central and South Asia for BGR.
The general relief funds are providing bricks, tin, cement, doors and windows for the Christians to rebuild their homes on their original foundations, Elbridge said. The average household size ranges from six to eight people, so as many as 1,440 people will benefit.
"We hope to achieve the building of 'houses of peace,' which will offer peace and hope to communities divided by religious strife," Elbridge said. "Our goal is to also encourage these refugees to reach out with the hope of the Gospel to the Hindu communities who attacked them, destroyed their homes and even killed many of them two years earlier."
Building began Oct. 1 and will take about one year to complete, Elbridge said. Southern Baptist humanitarian worker Adrien Telford* and Indian partners recently surveyed the land, and together they are supervising the building project.
Last year, $120,000 from the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund provided relief to 8,000 families in the Kandhamal area. Christian worker Dwight Mabury* said he and a team of Indian partners distributed cooking utensils, rice, lentils, blankets and clothing.
"They have only burned our houses, but they could not touch us," one of the persecuted Christians in Orissa said. "Today, God has given us everything, and praise God for that."
International and Indian Christians ask for prayer for those living in the Kandhamal area:
-- that families trying to return to their village homes will be accepted by the Hindu community around them.
-- that no further organized religious persecution takes place.
-- that those who are persecuted will boldly share their hope and peace in Christ with the neighbors who attacked them.
*Names changed. Caroline Anderson is a writer in Asia for the Southern Baptist International Mission Board. Baptist Global Response is on the Internet at www.gobgr.org.
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