By Jim Nieman
Rioters and roaming mobs in Northeastern India have killed dozens of Christians, destroyed scores of church buildings, and burned down hundreds of houses belonging to Christians.
“As far as we know, it all began on May 3, and we believe that it has somewhat subsided, due to several thousand military being deployed by the [Indian] government,” Tom Seggelke, president of the Kuki Christian Church Mission, USA, told Christian Standard via email. People of the Kuki tribe are largely Christian and live in the northeast India state of Manipur and also across the border in Myanmar. The center of disturbance seems to be Imphar, a city of about 400,000.
“It is still not safe for our friends and co-workers to return to the city, because they have not been assured it is over.”
Seggelke provided a document on the “Manipur Turmoil” written by a research scholar who listed 121 churches of various Christian denominations that had been attacked (through May 10) in Manipur; the writer classified almost all of those 121 churches as either completely burnt, demolished, or burnt and demolished.
It is not completely clear what triggered the rioting, but recent steps by the government to take lands from various tribes (the Kuki, Zomi, and Hmar, among them) have served to elevate the Meitei, a Hindu people who hate the Kuki, according to Seggelke. The tribes protested the reclassification of tribal lands by the government.
The research scholar and Kuki Christians squarely blame the Meiteis for perpetrating the violence (though some media are portraying the Meiteis as the victims). Ethnic persecution of the Kukis goes back decades, the scholar wrote.
ORIGINS OF KCCM
The Kuki Christian Church Mission dates back to 1982, when Max Ward Randall, Cyril Symkins, and other Christians organized a board to help raise funds and begin a partnership between Christian churches in the U.S. and churches in Imphal, India.
“Their purpose was to begin a Bible college, which was founded,” Seggelke said. “Eventually the ministry grew to include a seminary, charity hospital, a nursing school, children’s home, mission outreach, and a partnership with IDES and FAME (for disaster relief), as well as the establishment of more than 300 churches in sister states and tribes in Northeast India.”
KCCM’s efforts have centered on winning souls to Christ by “building relationships with the various tribal people, sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ, providing charity health care, disaster relief when needed, training and sending missionaries from the seminary to various unchurched regions, establishing churches, converting many, and baptizing [them] in the name of Jesus Christ,” Seggelke said. “Some of the outreach has gone into Burma/Myanmar, Nepal, and Bangladesh.”
“The individual churches that have been established by this mission have become self-supporting,” he added.
There are about 350 churches related to the mission in the six sister-state area in Northeast India, Seggelke said. It has been estimated that up to 20 percent of the population in the region is Christian, when all denominations are included.
There has been occasional unrest in the region, Seggelke said, “but it has never reached this magnitude and never affected our campus directly or our other ministries.” KCCM’s office building and many affiliated churches are among those burned.
“The government, although Hindu, is supportive of the hospital [started by the mission] and has provided advanced medical equipment at no charge,” he said. “During this most recent rioting, the hospital was spared and is now temporarily being used as a shelter for about 400 displaced people with military guards surrounding the premises and providing protection. Our partners believe this to be a miracle from God.”
A SEMINARIAN SHARES ADDITIONAL DETAILS
A high-ranking administrator with Restoration College and Trulock Theological Seminary in Imphal on May 8 provided KCCM with some specifics about the attacks, which Seggelke shared:
• More than 50 Kukis have been “massacred . . . not sparing women and children.”
• Much property belonging to Kuki Christians and other tribal people has been looted and destroyed.
• “Thousands of Kukis ran for their lives to nearby Army camps for protection and survival. Thousands of Kukis have become refugees in their own Mother land [and] most of the affected people belong to the Kuki Christian Churches.”
• Rioters “burnt down the living quarters of eight professors and their families, destroyed the printing press room, Trulock Hall, the bookstore, the guest house, and the convention hall.” The library also was severely damaged by fire, with most of the books “unsalvageable.” It is uncertain when classes at the seminary and nursing school can resume.
• “We can’t predict how long this genocide will continue.”
Internet services were terminated for days, so it is hard to get accurate information.
“We are very afraid for our brothers and sisters in Imphal and the surrounding villages,” Seggelke said, “but we are joining them in their strong faith, determination, and resolve to be like the children of Israel, when their temple was torn down . . . they rebuilt it bigger and better!”
Jim Nieman serves as managing editor of Christian Standard.
Moses Lenthang, a Kuki who lives in Chicago, shared a report about persecution of Christians in Manipur with the Living Creek Christian Church of Monee, Ill., on Sunday. The church posted that 5-minute video on YouTube.