Team to Assess Needs of Flood Victims, Persecuted Christians

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PUNE, INDIA (November 5, 2008) – Additional ways in which the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC) can respond to the plight of those living in flood-ravaged regions of India will be explored by a three-member delegation scheduled to visit the country December 5-14.

The delegation also will receive reports from local leaders and discuss the challenges faced by persecuted Christians in India, especially the brutal treatment many believers have experienced in the State of Orissa and elsewhere that includes the murder of one pastor.

FloodwaterCurt Peterson, executive minister of the Department of World Mission, will be joined by David Husby, regional coordinator for Asia, and Jim Gustafson, a Covenant missionary and former executive director of Covenant World Mission, in evaluating effective ways of responding to the tragic conditions in which the Indian people find themselves.

As part of a separate mission, ECC Director of Finance Elliott Johnson is meeting this week in Pune with Hindustani church leaders to assess progress on numerous CWR projects, including flood relief and how recently sent funds are being used. Johnson also is involved with the work of India Rural Evangelical Fellowship (IREF), another Covenant World Relief (CWR) partner. IREF received funding for relief projects following the devastating December 2004 tsunami and has received subsequent CWR grants to support projects developing water systems, a vocational training center, and multiple new home construction programs. Johnson has been personally involved with IREF work for many years, especially in areas of constructing new homes for displaced families.

Hundreds of thousands of people remain homeless following devastating flooding that began in mid-August. It is estimated that more than three million people were affected, with more than 1,000 deaths expected in the states of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir.

Health clinicThe persecution of Christians has been especially intense in Orissa. And in Kandhamal, the district that has seen the greatest violence, more than 30 people have been killed, 3,000 homes burned, and more than 130 churches destroyed, reports the New York Times. The victims of assaults reportedly at the hands of Hindu extremists, Christian families are often pressured to publicly recant their faith or face physical violence, burning of their homes and businesses, banishment from the community and even death, according to news accounts.

Christians make up an estimated two percent of India’s Hindu-majority population of 1.1 billion people.

The Covenant already is responding in multiple ways, largely through the work of Covenant World Relief in partnership with the Hindustani Covenant Church (HCC), India for Christ Ministries, and Truthseekers International. It was through the partnership with HCC that Covenant World Relief provided some $200,000 to support relief and rehabilitation work on the Andaman Islands following the 2004 tsunami.

When the human drama began to unfold after floodwaters had swept through large areas (top photo), CWR provided $5,000 in emergency funds to help provide basic necessities such as food and shelter in Bihar, one of the worst areas of flooding, and in Orissa, also hard hit by the flooding. The Hindustani church is actively ministering in both areas and serves as a conduit for CWR funds.

WellAn additional $5,000 was sent yesterday (Tuesday), according to Jim Sundholm, CWR director, who notes that additional contributions designated for India flood relief will be sent to HCC as those funds are received. Click here to make an online donation.

“The floodwaters that resulted from the burst dam in Nepal have not receded and it is estimated that they will not fully recede for six months,” Husby advises Covenant News Service in a Tuesday morning email update. “Water-borne diseases are a great danger and HCC is holding mobile medical clinics (second photo) to try and address the great needs. They are also addressing the need for food, water, shelter, and clothing.”

Husby and others predict years of continued rehabilitation and development work, requiring ongoing financial support from concerned Christians everywhere.

The December delegation will spend most of its time in two general areas – Maharashtra and Delhi – to better understand the work of Hindustani Covenant Church and Truthseekers International, Husby notes. The State of Maharashtra includes Mumbai, the largest city in India, and Pune, which is home to the ministry offices of HCC.

Sardars“CWR has done several micro-enterprise programs with HCC and is presently involved in two projects, including a sewing program working with low-income individuals,” says Sundholm. Other areas of development include drilling 24 water wells (third photo), creation of hoofed animal programs, and construction of new homes.

In partnership with CWR and the Department of Christian Formation, the Hindustani church also is involved in a Sunday school mission project helping the “rag picker” children. Women Ministries is similarly engaged with HCC in its Break the Chains initiative seeking to bring an end to human trafficking and abuse of women.

The delegation will visit the work of Truthseekers International in Delhi. Its leader, Sunil Sardar, was in Chicago recently and addressed members of the Covenant Council of Administrators while also meeting with other ECC leaders to discuss its advocacy programs addressing the needs of the “outcasts” and lower castes of India. Representing Truthseekers in North America are Covenanters Noel and Kyle Becchetti, who accompanied Sardar and his wife, Pam (bottom photo), on their U.S. visits.

“Although the Department of World Mission has been in relationship with both of these organizations for several years, the department has recently developed Memorandums of Understanding with both HCC and Truthseekers,” notes Husby. “Both groups have dynamic ministries that are making a significant impact in India. I have been making two to three visits a year to both groups, often bringing ECC or Asia church leaders with me. Several other ECC churches and other groups have also visited. Both groups have already begun to bless the ECC and I expect that blessing to increase in the future.”

In preparation for next Sunday’s (November 9) observance of a national day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, the International Federation of Free Evangelical Churches, of which ECC is a member, has sent a letter to the President of India, expressing concern over the persecution of Christians there and urging the government “to protect the Christian communities and their property even as your government seeks to protect the lives and properties of all the people groups and people of different religions living within India.”

Sundholm also reminds Covenant churches that the week of November 23 -30 is the Covenant World Relief emphasis week throughout the Covenant.

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