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CHURCHES BURNED DOWN AND CHRISTIANS TARGETED IN INDIA?
THE FOLLOWING MESSAGE IS CIRCULATING ON SOCIAL MEDIA:
"Brothers and sisters, urgent prayer request. Pray for the Church in India. Buddhist extremists in India burned down 20 churches last night. Tonight want to destroy more than 200 churches in Olisabang province. They want to kill 200 missionaries within the next 24 hours. All Christians are hiding in villages... Pray for them and send this message to all Christians you know. Ask God to have mercy on our brothers and sisters in India. When you receive this message, please urgently send it to other people. Pray for them to our Lord Almighty, victorious.
National Missions Director"
[Note: the message was previously sent out under Dalit Freedom Network.]
This urgent appeal about endangered Christian missionaries and churches in India has been circulating on the Internet since late February 2010. All those concerned for their overseas brothers and sisters can be assured that the message is a hoax. There have been no reports from India about Buddhist extremists on the rampage, about churches being burned or missionaries being killed. Christians living in India who have been asked about this rumour are surprised to hear it - they certainly haven't taken to hiding in villages in fear of attack.
A quick Google search will confirm that there is no such place as Olisabang - it does not exist in India or in the rest of the world. It is also important to note that the Republic of India is compromised of 28 states and seven union territories - there are not "provinces" as such.
Although the origin of the message is unknown, and the purposes seem noble enough (raising prayer for Christians in India), the content of the message has no credibility.
The religious population of India consists of 74% Hindu, 14% Muslim, 6% Christian and 0.82% Buddhist. Although attacks on Christians in the country are a well-documented reality, there is no evidence that Christians have ever been attacked by the Buddhist community. Hindu nationalists and Muslims are the main perpetrators of such attacks. An interesting fact is that Buddhism was founded in India (in Varanasi), yet the total Buddhist population comprises only 9 million out of a total population of 1.3 billion.
It is also important to note that any message asking the reader to send the message on to “all Christians /friends you know” suggests a chain message generating either social media or website hits. Additionally, ending the message with a seemingly legitimate source (Nilza Siqueira, National Missions Director) is an attempt by the sender to convince the recipient. Most people who receive this message will never question the source or check other details.
Hoaxes, as with satire, are a mixture of truth and lies. The key to determining truth from lie is to ‘separate the news from the noise’. Legitimate ‘news’ in this message is the truth that the Indian Church does face a certain level of threat from extremists and that there are many missionaries working in the country to reach India’s ‘unreached’. However, there is plenty of ‘noise’ (the fake province, source etc.) that alerts one to the possibility that the core content of the message (the Buddhist attacks on churches and targeting of Christians) is actually untrue.
Reality is, however, that most recipients will accept the noise along with the news, and will pass the message on without checking any details.
The Church in India is one of the fastest growing in the world, with hundreds of converts from Hindu and Muslim backgrounds. Persecution against the Church has increased over the past couple of years, and now with a resurging rise of Hindu Nationalism under India’s new President Narendra Modi, many fear that this will increase further. A widely held belief is that ‘being Indian’ means ‘being Hindu’, therefore Christians are seen to be deserters or traitors.
Prayer for the Church in India, and the local and foreign missionaries that serve there, is desperately needed. However, messages that call for “urgent prayer” elicit temporary emotion and not lasting conviction or commitment. Beware of messages that prompt temporary ‘clicktivism’ (sending on a message) and a false sense of engagement.