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Watch Those Web Postings

Watch Those Web Postings

Author: Tim Stafford
Publication: Christianity Today
Date: May 2004
URL: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2004/005/3.34.html

What Indians say American Christians should, and shouldn't, do to help.

Everybody was talking about Tehelka. The weekly newspaper launched its first issue while I was in India, and thereafter I rarely started an interview without being asked whether I had seen it. The reason? The cover story was an 11-page muckrake titled "George Bush Has a Big Conversion Agenda for India."

The "exclusive and exhaustive Tehelka investigation into a disturbing phenomenon" focuses on plans for Christian evangelism, especially the AD2000 attempt to target unreached people groups. It hardly took exhaustive investigation to learn that Christians around the world are concerned about evangelizing India. What was novel in Tehelka's findings was its belief that this was part of George Bush's plan to impose an American world order. "Conversions in India, as they are happening today, are . about a sinister and subversive strategy, hatched in the U.S., backed by the Bush administration over the years."

In India, such tales gain traction for good reason. "The Hindu propaganda that the Indian church is American-funded is true," says an Indian social scientist. An evangelist, Lalchuangliana, told me, "Our help comes not from the Lord, but from Colorado Springs." The Indian church is small and poor, American Christians have money, and some Indian Christians have become expert at bringing the two together. There is nothing inherently wrong with this: needs are great. Problems, however, do arise. Here are some ways for American Christians to help:

Watch those websites.
Information posted on American websites gets read in India, often without any sense of context. Inflated claims about evangelistic success arouse fear and astonishment in India. (Several Indian leaders told me that if all the claims about evangelism over the years had been true, India would have been won for Christ two or three times already.) "Don't publish glorious statistics," says Sajan George, of the Global Council for Indian Christians. "They only hurt you and us. Who really knows how many have come to the Lord?"

Comments about India and its faiths can be read as insulting and inflammatory. For example, the website of the U.S. Center for World Mission quoted missiologist Ralph Winter to the effect that the Hindu world was "the most perverted, most monstrous, most implacable, demonic-invaded part of this planet." Responding to an Indian outcry, the center pulled the offending article from its website.

Joseph D'Souza, chairman of the All India Christian Council, wrote in a letter directed at AD2000 director Luis Bush that "we will not use language behind the back of a non-Christian about him and his culture and his location that we will not use face to face when we are witnessing to him and sharing the message and love of Christ."

Know what you're supporting.
"There are definitely a lot of needs in India," says Charles Prabhakar, an accountant who handles audits for hundreds of Christian organizations. "But certain leaders are exploiting donors. Sometimes poor Americans are giving to rich Indians." He suggests both financial audits and activity audits.

Some leaders live a lavish lifestyle, he says, far above their peers. Others project an impressive image in the U.S. or Europe but actually have very little ministry activity in India.

Indian leaders told me that Americans are naïve in believing reports of large-scale successes or, on the other hand, persecution. "Don't just give because of sensational news," IMA general secretary K. Rajendran says.

Insist on Christian solidarity.
The Indian church is highly fragmented. Trust is low, and many ministries operate as independent family dynasties. One senior Indian leader urges American donors to insist on Christian solidarity. "I wish it were a condition of support that they belong to some group-EFI, IMA, AICC-to which they are accountable. Being part of the larger community is biblical. If they object, giving reasons for why they can't belong to any of those groups, ask them if they can form a community that does fit their ethos. If they can't, that is something to know about."

He suggests the same approach regarding ministry reports sent from India. "Can they get the reports countersigned by some leader in their district? That would make them accountable to someone for what they say."

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