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More missionaries for India, Pakistan, Afghanistan: report

More missionaries for India, Pakistan, Afghanistan: report

Author: Vasantha Arora
Publication: Indo-Asian News Service
Date: December 3, 2001

Washington, Dec 3 (IANS) Missionaries -- often called by their euphemism of aid workers -- are being sent by countries like the U.S. and Britain to spread Christianity in regions where most Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists live, a newspaper report said.

Dubbed the "10/40 Window," the target area stretches between latitudes 10 degrees and 40 degrees north from West Africa to East Asia. It includes most of the world's 1.2 billion Muslims, 800 million Hindus and 350 million Buddhists.

The region is home to the largest number of "unreached people groups," the term mission groups use for ethnic populations that have never heard the New Testament message (from the Bible), says a report in the Washington Post.

Since getting visas and entering these countries as missionaries is difficult, these "aid workers" from countries like the U.S., Britain, Germany and Australia plan to enter Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu countries using visas identifying them as "secular workers."

In most of the countries situated in this region, including Pakistan, there are laws against proselytising -- trying to convert others to Christianity. Evangelism restrictions exist in most of the world's 49 Muslim-majority countries. Communist China restricts proselytising by members of state-supported churches, and Hindu-majority India limits access to foreign missionaries.

Mostly Buddhist countries as Bhutan, Laos and Myanmar also have evangelism limitations. Since most of these countries do not issue visas to people who identify themselves as missionaries, Christian missionaries list their occupation as teacher, doctor, nurse, geologist, urban planner, artist, businessperson or engineer, said missionaries who asked not to be identified.

These are, in fact, the occupations they perform in the foreign country. But some believe their commitment to spreading the Gospel compels them to offer Christian testimonies and information to anyone who asks about their faith. In most Muslim countries, asking is allowed, as is answering the question. But passing out Bibles and other literature, worshiping with nationals and showing videos is technically prohibited.

American aid workers Heather Mercer, 24, and Dayna Curry, 30, who were jailed in Afghanistan and then rescued by U.S. Special Forces, were arrested in August for showing a video and book about Jesus to an Afghan family. This act, said Taliban authorities, violated a law against proselytising.

Though many Muslims considered the Taliban regime extreme, this kind of law is common. "The arrest and imprisonment of foreigners, however, is rare," said Avery Willis, senior vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board.

When violations do occur, foreigners most often are told to leave the country permanently. Locals who convert can face severe punishments. Some are killed, often by family members who believe they have "lost face" because their parent or sibling has defected to another religion, Willis said.

Sometimes extremist religious groups unilaterally impose punishment on fellow nationals who have converted to Christianity.

In October, Pakistani gunmen killed a Muslim security guard, a minister and 14 other Protestants worshiping at St. Dominic's Catholic Church in Bahawalpur, Pakistan.

"Mission work in the area has grown rapidly since the mid-1980s, when mission leaders began retooling their organisations to move beyond Latin America and Southern Africa into this non-Christian area with great humanitarian needs," said J. Dudley Woodberry, professor of Islamic studies in the School of World Mission at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.

Woodberry, who has lived or taught in 35 Muslim countries, said thousands of Christians work in the "10/40 Window" as missionaries, relief workers and businesspeople.

"Precise counts are difficult because organisations that financially support these Christians do not publicise numbers, names or locations for security reasons."

Willis, of the Richmond-based Baptist mission board, said about 27 percent of the board's 5,000 missionaries are stationed in the "10/40 Window" -- up from about one percent 15 years ago.
 


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