Is there imperial design behind conversion overdrive?
By Sandhya Jain
There is empirical evidence that the evangelical movement operates through multinational corporations (MNCs). A special section has been devoted to the Seventh Day Adventist church (to which Andhra Chief Minister Samuel Rajshekhar Reddy is affiliated), which targets Dalits for conversion. It is closely associated with Maranatha Volunteers International, engaged in church planting.A journalist researching how permissions were obtained for such a vast numbers of churches found that a rough estimate at $ 5,000/church x 1,000 churches gave a turnover of $5million. One churches in 1,000 days, and $5m turnover! There is no land cost because most churches are built illegally on Poromboke or Mandir lands.
In recent weeks, allegations of assault by Christian evangelists in BJP-ruled states have once again turned the spotlight on conversions. Now, meticulous research by Ms. Anuja Prashar, director, Transnational Identity Investments (TII), documents the political, economic and secular backing by Western-Christian governments for this imperialist project and its special focus upon India.
Ms. Prashar’s report, titled “Conversion and Anti-Conversion in India Today,” owes its genesis to British MPs Andy Reed and Gary Streeter protesting to India’s Deputy High Commissioner in London that certain laws in the country restricted religious freedom. They presented a letter signed by a cross-party group of 16 MPs; Reed is a member of the board of Christian Solidarity Worldwide. This exposes the hollowness of the secular principles of the British Government, as evangelical paradigms are so openly supported across political parties.
This agitated Hindus organisations in Britain and America, and independent academics, social analysts, and observers joined hands to prepare a report which convincingly establishes that Western Christian charity and faith organisations have a clear agenda to convert the socially disadvantaged, and a global imperialistic mission. There is empirical evidence that the evangelical movement operates through multinational corporations (MNCs). A special section has been devoted to the Seventh Day Adventist church (to which Andhra Chief Minister Samuel Rajshekhar Reddy is affiliated), which targets Dalits for conversion. It is closely associated with Maranatha Volunteers International, engaged in church planting and 25-villages and 50-villages conversion programmes.
Dr Vijay Chauthaiwale of Gujarat studied some multinational Christian organisations, such as the Evangelical Church of India which belongs to OMS International. Its motto is the imperialistic slogan “Reaching Nations for Christ.” The website openly proclaims the targets as Latin America, Europe and Euro-Asia, Africa and Asia , where the organisation is actively involved in training and preparing native evangelicals, and church planting. In 2005 alone is succeeded in getting 103,464 people make a decision for Christ and 10,592 undergo lay leadership training. The donor nations include the United States (HQ), Australia , Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.
The Evangelical Church of India (ECI), established in 1954, targets the slums, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, in cities and villages. “We must go to where the fish are found …where the fish bite the bait on the hook,” it boasts inelegantly. Its logo depicts a cross struck deep in a lotus, seat of Hindu divinity. Dr. Chauthaiwale also studied the US-based Mission of Joy (MOJ), whose mission is “to bring the gospel to a million unreached believers and provide temporary and permanent assistance to orphans.” MOJ has three orphanages in Tenail, Nasaraopet and Vijiwada.
But the most organised movement is the US-based AD 2000 and Beyond Movement and its ‘Joshua Project 2000’ which lists 216 people groups throughout the world as Priority-I. These include nine Indian tribes (Bhilala, Binjhwari, Chero, Kawar/Kamari, Lhoba, Majhwar, Panika, Shin or Sina, and Sikkimese Bhotia). The Joshua Project has identified the North India Hindi belt as “the core of the core of the core” because of its population density (40% of the Indian population); its political importance; its is very deprived (the “Bimaru” states of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh lie in this region); it is the religious hub of India; and it has the smallest Christian presence in India. Detailed plans have been drawn up to target India’s 75,000 Pin Codes.
An umbrella called North India Harvest Network (NIHN) has been organised on the principles of “Plug, Prem and be NICE” to avoid duplication of effort. Plug stands for People in every Language in every Urban centre in every Geographic division. Prem means Prayer, Research, Equipping & training and Mobilisation. NiCE involves Networking, Initiative, Catalyst and Encouraging the missionaries. Virtually a war strategy.
Britain ’s South Asian Development Partnership (SADP), led by Mr. Ram Gidoomal, a Sikh convert to Christianity, is supposed to “facilitate and catalyze entrepreneurial initiatives in the UK and South Asia .” Its website explains how the principle of NICE can be applied to SADP working. If there is a link between SADP and Indian evangelical movements, how do these programmes fit into the developmental programmes of Asian and UK professionals? Ms. Prashar further points out that Mr. Gidoomal has co-authored a book with Robin Thompson, an Evangelical Minister with South Asian Concern (SAC), a Selsdon Baptist Church keen to convert South Asia.
The Seventh Day Adventists owes its Indian success to Canadian evangelist Ron Watts, President for the South Asian Division, who entered India on a Business Visa. He operated out of Hosur. When Watts arrived in 1997, the Adventist Church had 2.25 lakh members after 103 years of operations. In five years, to took it to 7 lakhs. Dorothy Watts’ recorded their methodology, namely, the 25-Village and the 10-Village Program.
This involved five sets of laymen, going two by two, under guidance from a regular pastor, and exploring the villages in a district, to identify 25 villages in close proximity, with people of the same family groups and castes, so they could continue to have social relations and marriage alliances after conversion! Once the villages were selected, the teams would approach the leaders of each village and invite them to send two leaders to a 10-day seminar at a nearby resort, at the organisation’s expense. They were then brainwashed in the idea of better living, which was offered to their villages, along with the tenets of Christianity. Then they were denied baptism till they convinced the village to convert.
In 1998, there were 17 Ten Village Programmes and 9,337 were baptized. In 1999, forty programs were held and nearly 40,000 people baptized. The 25-village plan made proselytization a flourishing business, which got a further boost with the arrival of the Maranatha Volunteers International. Under Andhra Chief Minister Samuel Reddy, the Adventists shifted to a 50-village plan. They began baptizing at the rate of 10,000 persons per month.
The US-based Maranatha Volunteers International focused on providing buildings for the Seventh-day Adventist Church . The Fjarli family, who own a construction company, Southern Oregon Builders, went on their first Maranatha project in 2001. They raised funds to build 1000 churches at a rate of 1 per day. A journalist researching how permissions were obtained for such a vast numbers of churches found that a rough estimate at $ 5,000/church x 1,000 churches gave a turnover of $5million. One churches in 1,000 days, and $5m turnover! There is no land cost because most churches are built illegally on Poromboke or Mandir lands.
When deportation proceedings were launched against Ron Watts, Dr. K.J. Moses testified that Watts had committed fraud, spending Rs. 1.30 crores as bribes to stay in India . Advocate V.S. Raju said Watts was in the business of conversion to Christianity, offering petty cash concessions and allurements of employment to educated persons in Christian schools and hospitals; sending youth for education to the Spicer Memorial College, Pune, and arranging marriages between young men and women belonging to SDA. Watts, however, remained in India after a much-publicised meeting with Ms. Sonia Gandhi!
Besides America , the European Union is funding a seven year Sustainable Tribal Empowerment Project (STEP), targeting 200,000 tribal households in Srikakulam, Vizianagaram, Vishakhapatanam and East Godavari.