Compassion International, a US organisation leading and funding Christian proselytisation in India, has recently declared that it would shut down its operations in the country after facing tough restrictions related to foreign funding.
Here is an account of how the Christian organisation has been secretly pursuing its missionary work in India under the pretence of “releasing children from poverty”.
The year was 1901. There was a missionary school in Tindivanam, a small town in Tamil Nadu. A boy declared as the most brilliant in his class was ordered to vacate the boarding school premises and pay all the money that he owed them for boarding and food. The reason for the expulsion was that he would not consent to convert to Christianity. The boy would soon become a child labourer and work with his parents to pay the missionaries. He would also later join a Hindu monastic order.
Swami Sahajananada, both a spiritual seer and a social reformer, could never forget this incident. As a member of the Legislative Assembly of Madras and a social reformer from the scheduled communities, he would later warn the government of the dangers of evangelism of children among the marginalised sections of the population.
Cut to 2010. More than 70 malnourished children from an evangelical house are rescued after complaints of abuse surfaced in Kanyakumari district, Tamil Nadu. They were tribal children from Manipur.
The same year, 19 more children were rescued from an evangelical children’s home in Chennai. Some of them had been sexually abused.
Earlier, between 2005 and 2006, two children from the North East had died in a 'New Life Centre', another evangelical children’s house, mysteriously. The subsequent investigation met with a dead end.
In 2005, some Manipuri girls in a children’s home in Chennai spoke up about acts of sexual abuse. “Police questioned the director, but there has been no follow-up,” read a matter-of-fact report in a leading English daily.
It is in this context that the work of Compassion International in India has to be seen. With the amount of money that the Christian organisation pours into the foot-soldier Christian outfits they acquire, that kind of clout can be very dangerous.
For instance, New Life Centre, Delhi, is one of the recipients of Compassion International during the 2009-2014 period. It was, after all, in the Tirunelveli branch of New Life Centre that the two North-East children had died and probe hit a dead end. The money that comes from Compassion International can fuel child abuse in mission houses and be used for predatory proselytising, particularly in multi-religious countries like India.
In 2015, Income Tax officials disclosed that Caruna Bal Vikas (CBV), one of the chief recipients of Compassion International funding of Rs 10 million every year, used only 10 percent of its funding for child development and diverted the rest to 300 other organisations. The officials discovered the discrepancies as early as 2013, one year before the present government took over.
At the time, Compassion International had moved ahead with an astonishing money-routing strategy. The CBV centre was closed, and another body, Adhane Management Consultants Private Limited, was opened immediately and registered as a non-governmental organisation (NGO). Adhane featured the same team as that in CBV, and Compassion International began directing money to all its organisations through this new NGO. This was in May 2014. It’s evident from this series of events that Compassion International is more occupied with strategic operations rather than a group motivated by pure compassion.
The Christian charity says that local churches are so well-respected in multi-religious communities that they do not consider 'forced conversion' of children an issue at all. Even as they say this, they add that they 'do not force conversions'. However, the officials also concede that “yet honestly seek to present the Christian message of hope and the opportunities that it presents”. It is unclear how much of “honestly seeking to present” Christianity to non-Christian children would be considered as 'forced'.
Compassion International’s hidden agenda is even a problem in the United States for other religionists and humanists. Joshua Lewis Berg, the director of community programming at Jewish Educational Alliance in Savannah, Georgia, points out that though the aid organisation’s website says they do not require people to believe or convert, there was no doubt that that was their goal. He also points out that their advertisements hid their Christian agenda well. So, then, what kind of child development does Compassion International aim at?
Luis Bush, the fundamentalist evangelist who devised the '10/40' window in pursuit of an aggressive evangelical crusade in North Africa, South Asia and the Middle East, came up with a '4/14 window' in 2009. This targets “children between the age of four and fourteen”. This idea itself was a derivative of Dr Dan Brewster’s idea. Brewster wrote as early as 1996 about ‘The 4/14 Window: Child Ministries and Mission Strategy’. It was based on his conception that Bush came out with a book titled, The 4-14 Window: Raising Up a New Generation to Transform the World, in 2009.
Dr Wes Stafford, who was then president of Compassion International, wrote in his introduction how the Nazis and Communists had “trained legions of children of carrying their agenda”. He went on to point out that “even the Taliban places great emphasis on recruiting the children”.
Dr Brewster is director for child advocacy for Compassion International in Asia. In a 2011 document, Brewster, while discussing the child ministry in Asian countries including India, quoted another evangelist Peter Hohmann, associated with 'Boys and Girls Missionary Crusade'. The child should be given “a missionary worldview”, he said, adding,
We can give children no greater purpose ... to make His name known in all the world. This is the purpose stated in Bible. This is the purpose we need to impart to our children.
In other words, the aim of 'Compassion International' is to make use of poverty in India to create foot soldiers for evangelism, which the white right-wing evangelists in the US plan in their drawing rooms.
Given the historical context, and the multi-religious environment, of India, it would be foolish for any secular government to allow a US-based evangelical organisation to take advantage of the poverty in a country to recruit children, or foot soldiers for the religious right in the West.
That even the supposedly left-liberal New York Times is supporting such a blatant right-wing Christian organisation in India says something.
- 'Child traffickers from North-East set up base in Tamil Nadu', Times of India, 26 January 2010
- 'Chennai-based NGO under IT scanner', The Hindu, 22 June 2015
- Katherine Stewart, The Good News Club: The Christian Right's Stealth Assault on America's Children, Hachette UK, 2012
- B Watson, M Clarke, Child Sponsorship: Exploring Pathways to a Brighter Future, Springer, 2014
- Dan Brewster, Child, Church and Mission (Revised Edition), Compassion International, 2011
- Joshua Lewis Berg, ‘“The Compassion Experience” and the Marketing of Religion', 20 April 2016