NOTES FROM THE FIELD
In this series, thoseinvolved with CLC foreign missions profile one aspect of our overseas endeavors.
Pastor Deepak Immanuel is one of the district chairmen in the Berea Evangelical Lutheran Church (BELC) in India. Pastor Deepak first went up to Odisha State to do exploratory work six years ago, in 2011. In 2015, four seminars were held in Odisha: at the city of Bhubaneswar, fifty-four pastors attended; at Baliguda, sixty-two; at M. Puram, sixty-five; and at Phulbani, seventy-six. Visitors are encouraged to attend and study with us. Many of the seminar attendees do not continue with us because they disagree with the teachings presented, but many more do continue.
We hope to begin work soon on a printed catechism in the Oriya language for the pastors to use in their congregations. Pastor Deepak visits up to four times a year. Between visits, three pastors in each district are appointed to carry on the work. These team leaders, or lieutenants, are seeking transportation solutions to help them get around and visit all the pastors who have enrolled. All told, Odisha State is an enormous mission field!
This work places additional pressure on Pastor Deepak, for the labor in Odisha takes a great deal of patience. It is necessary to become acquainted with the pastors, the culture, and so forth. People in Odisha are generally poorer than those further south in Andhra Pradesh or Tamil Nadu states. To make matters more difficult, Odisha State has an anti-conversion law.
In 2015 I visited an orphanage in Odisha that provides care for twenty-five boys, and I witnessed firsthand the deep poverty of this area. While eating one day, we were approached by a man who asked if we were Christians. He said that he was too. He invited us to go to his village, which was perhaps thirty kilometers away. He said that there were seventy families there, and asked if we could spend just one hour with them. Deepak said that we couldn’t, because the town was in a restricted area where the Naxalites (murdering and kidnapping thieves) are known to operate. Everywhere in Odisha, except in the capital of Bhubaneswar, a foreigner needs prior permission to travel and/or to speak. These are some of the restrictions that the devil puts in the way of our outreach, though of course our Lord has assured us of ultimate victory. Let us pray that the Word speeds on and triumphs (2 Thessalonians 3:1).
We do not generally think about dire persecution happening in India, but it has happened and still does happen, especially in Odisha State. In January of 1999, Australian Graham Staines and his two sons were burned to death by Hindu militants. Staines, a Christian missionary, was working among lepers in the Keonjhar area. The radicals set fire to the vehicle the three were sleeping in and held the doors shut with long poles until they died.
There were further severe persecutions of Christians in 2007-08. It was in 2008 that Pastor Deepak’s father, also a pastor, was killed. There was also a strong push to reconvert Christians to Hinduism. Times have calmed somewhat since then, and it seems that some of the Christians who converted are being allowed to reconsider.
The Christians in Odisha have shown courage and dedication. They have come out of intense persecution, and so are not as flabby a church as others. And we have renewed our efforts to reach out with the Gospel in Odisha. Let us pray that the attitude of the apostles in Jerusalem may be the attitude of the Christians in Odisha: “So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” (Acts 5:41-42)
David Koenig has served as a foreign missionary in Africa, India, and elsewhere. Though officially retired, he continues to be active in the synod’s mission endeavors.