BIC Church in Orissa, India commemorates 25 years of ministry in the midst of persecution

GRANTHAM, Pa. (Nov. 18, 2008)—With more than 8,000 current members, the congregations of the Brethren in Christ Church in Orissa, India, observe their 25-year anniversary this month at a crossroads between celebration for a flourishing ministry and prayers for protection.

Born of the efforts of David and Katie Zook, a BIC couple from Kansas who served as early missionaries to India in 1898, ministry in the province of Orissa began in 1983. Two years later, in 1985, the Church in Orissa became an independent Conference. Situated in an area in which proselytizing and baptism are strictly prohibited by the predominantly Hindu population, Orissa is nonetheless home to about 100 thriving BIC congregations. The Church has sent missionaries into the neighboring country of Nepal, a Hindu state long closed to the gospel message. Orissa also hosts four youth hostels supported by the Scholarship Program for International Children’s Education (SPICE), a BIC World Missions–sponsored endeavor that allows students from isolated rural areas to live in close proximity to the school that they attend.

Despite these exciting steps forward, the Church in Orissa has suffered its share of difficulties, especially at the hands of Hindu extremists, who view the spread of Christianity as a threat to their traditional religious practices. Several church planters and Christian workers have been martyred in the area. In 2000, a BIC pastor was beheaded by militants. Over the last two years, many BIC churches and homes of BIC leaders have been burned. In August 2008, the BIC girls hostel in Nuagaon was attacked and destroyed.

These trials were no doubt in the minds of the more than 50 BIC pastors and church leaders who gathered in Cuttack, Orissa, for a prayer meeting on November 6 and 7. The event, which commemorated the Church’s 25th anniversary, featured sermons, testimonies, worship, and the cultural program of singing, preaching, and drama used as an evangelistic tool in local villages.

Plans for the occasion were scaled down after local authorities expressed concern over a large gathering of Christians. According to Chris Sharp, interim executive director of BIC World Missions, who traveled to Orissa to join the Church for the celebration, “A large gathering as was originally planned for the celebration would have attracted too much attention, since the Church was hoping to have at least 1,000 present.”

Yet Chris notes the underlying strength of the Church in Orissa in spite of these dangers. “Our BIC churches in Orissa are effective at evangelism and church planting in an amazing way,” she says. “They courageously present the gospel, and people are coming to Christ. The cost is high, but they continue to spread the word of God. They have all been an incredible inspiration to us!”

With its strong national leadership, the BIC Church in Orissa, India is devoted to church planting and evangelism, and is striving toward self-sustainability by the year 2014.