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Has social service become a way of conversion?

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Social service or helping a helpless person is an act that has no connection with any particular religion or community. Whoever wants to serve the society in a selfless spirit whatever their religion maybe, can do it. But in the last few years, it is seen that social service is also becoming a tactic to convert people. Specifically, the Christian missionaries are front runners in this practice. They use this method in two ways. The first method is to project their religion as the savior of poor and helpless in order to convince them for conversion and secondly they provide financial help to the needy. They use social service as a cover to hide their fraudulent immoral converting practices. It’s not a sudden thing that Christian missionaries go to an area and start providing service and help. This is a very well planned practice. First, a region is selected where most of the people are backward and poor, where majority belongs to SCs and STs, as it is easy for them to incite these people against their own religion. Then these “Jesus Salesmen” start to sell their religion. Providing financial assistance is not a bad thing at all but when it is done to convert people, it becomes wrong. It becomes a false allurement given to them to get them converted. This is immoral.

Religious conversion is one’s personal matter but only if one’s decision to get converted is only due to his attraction towards the religion or it’s religious philosophy. If his decision is shaped by his poor financial condition or he aims to achieve a better living standard by conversion, it becomes barter through religion rather than ‘freedom to choose religion’ or ‘Social Service’. We have hundreds of examples in which missionaries and organizations tried to take advantage of the helplessness of the people and to convert them by preying them into the false trap of social service.

Pandita Ramabai, a Brahman converted to Christianity after being widowed at an early age, started an organisation ‘Shanti Sadan’ in Mumbai in 1889. It was a school for high caste widows. It was found that she carried out proselytization in that school. She is called Social Reformer by the feminists. During the 1896 famine in Maharashtra, she housed a few thousand orphan girls and widows. They were later baptized(preached Christianity) and converted to Christianity. Proselytising during the time of natural calamity is a well known missionary activity. Ramabai was probably the first missionary in India to apply this tactic successfully. [1]

Christian Missionaries blackmail vulnerable people to choose between being able to follow their traditions and being able to feed their family. In desperate times, many people convert. During any deep problem in life, people become more religious. At this time vulnerables are preached about Jesus. They are given financial aid also, as evangelical army has multi-billion dollar resources.

During the Kerala floods in 2018, a Christian preacher Lazarus Mohan blamed Hindu rituals (mainly Moorthipooja) responsible for the floods in Kerala.[2] Attacking the traditions of others and praising Jesus as a sole savior is a well nourished tool, used by missionaries to convert people when they are in a deep distress and hoping for any divine help.

Pointing out the helplessness of other religions, Christian missionaries stress on Jesus and Christianity. Missionaries were busy in selling Jesus during Nepal Earthquakes in 2015 too.[3]

In December 2004, a deadly Tsunami broke out in Indian Ocean, near Sumatra. Over 2,30,000 people lost lives in it across 14 countries. In India more than 18,000 people lost lives, above 8000 lives were lost in TamilNadu.[4] Christian missionaries use the immense human tragedy for their advantage. This Tsunami also brought an opportunity for them. In Indonesia, western Christian groups reached for proselytization. Local Muslims opposed it. American evangelist Mark Kosinski said, “These people need food but they also need Jesus. God is trying to awaken people and help them realize salvation is in Christ.” Missionary group tried to fly hundreds of children to Christian orphanage, where they baptized (preached Christianity) them.[5]

In TamilNadu also, this Tsunami was used as an opportunity for conversion. Lazarus Mohan, a powerful Christian preacher, called Idolatory (Moorthipooja) a Sin that brought curses and disasters to the nation. He said, instead of worshipping Jesus, people worship demons and evil spirits (he was pointing to Hindu Gods clearly). The legends of St. Thomas’s miracles were unleashed and a story was circulated titled ‘How Tsunami waves did not touch santhome cathedral’.[6] This fraud was circulated by Jesus Salesmen in order to prey people for conversion.

In the coastal village Akkaraipettai, an evangelical group ‘Gospel for Asia’ and their associates ‘Believers Church’ had set up an orphanage illegally. CD Suriyakala, a professor at Sathyabama university (Chennai) discovered that 108 children, mainly Hindus, had been taken to the orphanage and compelled to recite Christian prayers six times a day. KP Yohannan, the founder president of GFA, proudly admitted that 14,500 missionaries had distributed Bibles and pamphlets to Tsunami victims.[7]

Yazidi people in Iraq lived in mountains near the border with Turkey. ISIS forced them to flee, that made missionary work much easier. From the reports which came from Iraq in 2015, we find that the tactic of social service was used there also to convert the Yazidi people. Vian Dakhil, the only Yazidi member of Iraqi Parliament told the reporters of a news agency that –“Attached with humanitarian aids they distributed Bible and pamphlets containing information about Christianity.” Christian groups inside the Yazidi camps were working to persuade Yazidis to convert to Christianity. This incident is not just about religious conversions, it’s a clear attack on a culture.[8]

During 2004 Tsunami, In Moraketiya (Sri Lanka) many evangelists tried to convert people in a relief camp. They gave gifts to children to grab both the attention and affection of the residents of the relief camp. They tried to convince the people to convert to Christianity by showing them drama related to Jesus’s life. This seems like an ordinary attempt to convert as these groups usually do in every place they visit. But here in Sri Lanka, it can have very serious consequences. Because Sri Lanka is an orthodox Buddhist country and these incidents can change the perspective of Buddhists towards Christians and it will affect the lives of Sri Lankan Christians who are 7 percent of Sri Lanka’s total population.[9]

‘Religion and social service’ or ‘Social service by religious institutions and organizations’ has a very long history. In Indian culture, social service was never done for conversion. It is always done for a good cause. In India, Temples are providing food daily for the needy. The caste of Men, Women, Children benefited by this does not matter to them. There is never a sense of conversion in the social service provided by the Temples. Social service has a very wide meaning. Limiting it to just as a way to convert is not fair at all. During the time of Kerala floods, during the cyclone disaster in Odisha recently, RSS swayamsevaks served people selflessly and tirelessly. They didn’t asked the religion of the victim of calamity nor they tried to proselytize anyone.

As the whole world is badly affected by Covid-19, this brings the golden opportunity for Christian missionaries to convert people. Many people lost their jobs, their earnings, their savings. They are out of money and hope as well. Missionaries are expert in utilizing such opportunities. There would be a massive conversion work going on all over the India, by providing fianancial aid and moral help.

As we have seen, many countries around the world are hit by these missionary activities. Providing help and service in the time of distress is always welcome. Temples and Gurudwaras provide food and shelter to needy without asking their religion or trying to convert them. Why can’t churches do so? Why missionaries need to convert people for providing help and service? Can social service not be done without conversion?

Definitely it can be done. Temples, Gurudwaras and organizations like RSS are doing it without proselytizing, then why missionaries don’t do it that way? This question needs to be answered.

[We, Prabhas(2nd Year) and Shivansh(1st Year) are Under Graduate students of History(Honors) at KiroriMal College, Delhi University. ]

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