Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India., Nov. 26 - Tamilnadu has an anti forcible conversion law in place. But that does not seem to have deterred zealous Christian missionaries and evangelists from carrying on with their 'aggressive expansion'.
Though missionaries are decidedly low-key in talking about conversions they carry out in the State now, they are not so when talking about their expansion in terms of new churches.
Christianaid, a missionary organisation, in its website (christianaid.org), has talked about how churches continued to be 'planted in Tamilnadu despite 'recent restrictive law on religious conversions.'
'New churches were dedicated in two villages near Coimbatore. One church in particular was composed of poor people, including many blind and maimed members. Outside help enabled the construction a beautiful meeting hall for these people.
'One missionary who already cares for a congregation of 100 believers has planted three additional churches in surrounding villages. Another pioneer church planter held gospel meetings attended by 150 people,' the organisation's website proudly says.
The church-planting ministry, headquartered in Coimbatore, recently held three days of prayer and fasting managed to bring in a group of 8000 for the event.
Interestingly, the website, in a solicitation to potential donors, also talks about the 'difficulty and dangers' in carrying out conversions here now.
'Tamil Nadu passed a religious law last October that instructs all persons wanting to convert to register their intention before the magistrate and before the priest of the religion he wants to leave. The person doing the converting [i.e. baptizing] also must report to authorities. Failure to do any of these could result in exorbitant fines of Rs. 100,000 each (over $2000 - an impossible fee for a day laborer earning only $1 a day),' the website's message reads and gives an address to send contributions.
The message inherent in this is that it has now become 'costly' to carry on conversions in Tamilnadu, and hence donors need to up their doles.
Meanwhile, the same website carries a story saying that 'India's churches show phenomenal growth'.
Quoting a mission leader, the website said the churches of India are growing faster than the churches of South Korea.
P G Vargis, founder and leader of Indian Evangelical Team, has been quoted as saying 'India has 10 churches with 10,000 or more members and 30 churches with 3,000 or more members.' This is apart from several hundred churches that have members around 2000.
As an example of the readiness of India's people to accept Christ, he also mentions that 'Ezra Sargunam, Bishop of the Evangelical Church of India (OMS), baptized 2231 people on a single day in 1999'.
Citing growth in his own organisation, Vargis said that IET missionaries baptized 11,700 people in 2001, and that this did not include the 10,000 who made a profession of faith in 'crusades' conducted by Vargis personally. This meant that through the outreach of his workers, 'someone comes to Christ every 10 minutes, and someone else is baptized every 42 minutes'.
An average of one church is planted every day through IET missionaries. IET today has 2088 missionaries and a total of 3250 churches a rapid growth from a few hundred churches just a few years ago, Vargis has said.
Vargis said 'the Lord gave him a vision to plant 7777 churches by 2010. If each church starts another, he will essentially reach that goal next year'.
But he also said the burden is taxing. 'In 2001 IET ran 22 regional one-year Bible institutes but that due to shortage of funds, this year only two are open.'
Anyway, the Pope's much trumpeted 'rich harvest of souls' is well and truly underway.