Christians throughout India and communist China continue to be persecuted by government authorities, representatives of ministering organizations report.
According to the groups, both nations are severely oppressing Christians and limiting their religious freedom.
Late last month, Hindu extremists torched a church in the Indian state of Orissa after members had decorated and prepared the sanctuary for Christmas services. The Global Council of Indian Christians is investigating the church burning. And in another recent incident of anti-Christian violence, ten Indian Christian missionaries along with a pastor were beaten and arrested for singing Christmas carols.
Todd Nettleton, a spokesman for Voice of the Martyrs (VOM), says persecution against church members is on the rise because of the rapid spread of Christianity throughout Hindu-dominated India.
Nettleton says Hindu authorities often accuse Christians of using force or coercion to convert people. "This idea that Christians are forcing people or bribing people to change their faith from Hinduism to Christianity- that's where the root of the issue is," he explains.
"As Christians, we know that we invite somebody to accept Christ; you cannot force them to do it," the VOM spokesman continues. "But in the minds of the Hindus, if you're leading Hindus astray, somehow you're tricking them or forcing them or bribing them," he says. "It couldn't be that they're just making a freewill choice to follow Jesus."
As a result of this mindset, Nettleton observes, Christians are often accused by the Hindu authorities, despite there being no evidence of any wrongdoing. "In the case of the Christmas carolers who were beaten and arrested," he notes, "they were accused of bribing poor Hindus to change their faith from Hinduism to Christianity."
Meanwhile, an expert on Christian persecution within communist China says believers in that country will face increasing scrutiny from authorities.
The China Aid Association (CAA), a non-profit group that advocates for religious freedom in the People's Republic of China, recently reported on a sharp increase in raids and arrests at unregistered house churches throughout China.
CAA president Bob Fu estimates that there are about 130 million Christians in China, including those who belong to the official state-sanctioned church and those who belong to unregistered underground house churches. He predicts that the communist Chinese government, already tough on members of unregistered churches, will probably get tougher on house church members as the country prepares to host the 2008 Olympics.
"The Chinese government seems very determined to crack down on the so-called 'unstable elements' of the society," Fu explains. "That's why we need to pray that the Chinese government can have a change of heart in the new year," he says.
The CAA spokesman encourages believers to pray that Chinese communist officials would come to understand that followers of Christ are not dangerous elements in Chinese society but, to the contrary, are among the nation's best citizens. He says the authorities, "instead of seeing Christians as a threat, should really know that Christians and Christian leaders, even though they are not registered with the government, are praying for their Chinese leaders every day, and they are praying for peace and prosperity for China."