Wardens give first-hand account of attack on SPICE hostel in India

GRANTHAM, Pa. (Nov. 24, 2008)
—Earlier this month, seven Brethren in Christ pastors and church leaders traveled to Orissa, India, as part of a Vision Trip, a program offered through BIC World Missions that seeks to broaden church leaders’ understanding of the global Church by organizing overseas travel opportunities. Though the trip was the fourth of its kind in India, the itinerary had to be adapted due to recent violence in sections of Orissa, where about 100 BIC churches and 4,000 members reside.

The Kandhamel district has been the center of persecution against Christians in Orissa of late, with many reports of homes and buildings belonging to Christians being burned down by Hindu extremists. And in August 2008, Grace Hostel, a BIC SPICE hostel situated in Kandhamel and overseen by the BIC Church in India, was attacked. The hostel shared its space with a BIC church and housed girls and a few boys who attended a nearby government school. While all 120 children and staff members present that day were able to escape safely, the hostel was destroyed, and only the charred remains of a few inner walls stand today.

Although conditions are still too volatile for travelers to visit Kandhamel, Vision Trip participant Alice Andrews—a doctor from Michigan and former BICWM missionary in Macha, Zambia—had the unique opportunity to speak to two of the hostel wardens while at a prayer conference in Cuttack. One of the wardens was there on the day of the attack but has since fled due to continuing death threats against him; the other, a local from the Grace Hostel area, took his predecessor’s place after the fire. Working through an interpreter, the wardens shared their accounts.

Due to threats of violence, Grace Hostel was having a 5-foot wall built around it. In the afternoon of Wednesday, August 27th, the schoolchildren were present at the hostel for their lunch break from school. Others present were the warden, his wife, their two-year-old son, three cooks, a watchman, and two men who had been building the wall. A few policemen were also nearby.

At about 1:30 p.m., a crowd of Hindu extremists numbering at about 2,000 could be heard and seen coming along the road toward the hostel. The crowd included both men and women, and they carried axes, pickaxes, swords, spears, guns, and homemade bombs in bottles. When the mob arrived outside the hostel, they started to tear down the 5-foot wall. The policemen disappeared, greatly outnumbered by the crowd. The headman of the town tried to persuade the mob not to tear down the wall, but he wisely left at about the time gunfire erupted. He was able to identify some in the crowd, so they were not all outsiders.

While the crowd was tearing down the wall, there was time for the children and adults in the hostel to escape by way of a back door and run toward the jungle, which was two kilometers away. They ran across uneven ground, dodging thorn bushes. As they left the hostel, there was no time to gather any belongings, so everything—food, cooking utensils, school supplies, clothing—was left behind.

The crowd used homemade bombs to burn the hostel and the church, leaving nothing of any value. The extremists also chopped down trees, which they placed across the road, making it difficult for outside help to arrive. Meanwhile, many families from the town also fled to the jungle, uncertain of what might happen next.

The Hindu extremists, apparently satiated after tearing down the wall and destroying the hostel and church, left. In the jungle, hostel workers were able to account for all the children before nightfall. Someone collected the unripe fruit from some papaya trees which lay across the road for the children to eat. Frightened, the children spent two nights in the jungle before their parents arrived to take them home or arrangements were made for them to stay elsewhere.

About 65 children (at the time of the interview on November 7th) have returned and are back in school, staying here and there in the town, with a cooking shelter being used to feed them. The head of the government school where the hostel children had attended is anxious for the hostel children to come back.

B.R., BICWM regional administrator for India and Nepal, has a vision for the hostel (with a new wall for security) to be rebuilt soon. To make his vision a reality, BICWM has opened a special project fund. Gifts marked for “Grace Hostel Rebuild” can be given thru BICWM by individuals and congregations alike:

For Canadian churches and individuals: Gifts can be mailed to the Canadian Conference of the BIC Church at 2700 Bristol Circle, Oakville, ON L6H 6E1. If giving by cheque, please make the cheque out to “BIC Canadian Conference” and specify “BICWM Grace Hostel Rebuild ” on the memo line.

For U.S. churches and individuals: Gifts can be made online by clicking on the "Make a donation" link at the bottom of this page. Contributions may also be made by check and mailed to the BIC World Missions Offices at 431 Grantham Rd, PO Box 390, Grantham, PA 17027-0390. If giving by check, please make the check out to “General Conference of the Brethren in Christ, Inc., ” and specify “BICWM Grace Hostel Rebuild” on the memo line.

Alice French Andrews and Ken Hoke contributed to this article.