EDITOR'S NOTE: We're taking a look back at some of the top stories of 2008. This is one of them. For updates on these stories, search the Christian World News archives on the web.
KANDHAMAL DISTRICT, Orissa State, India - It's been more than a year since Hindu radicals launched a brutal attack against Christians in the Indian state of Orissa.
Hundreds of homes and churches were destroyed. More than 2,000 Christians are in refugee camps. Hundreds more are hiding in the jungles for fear of another attack.
Getting to the hardest-hit areas is no easy task. For the past several weeks, Indian authorities have not allowed journalists, religious leaders, or aid workers to travel to some of the most affected villages.
But with the help of local contacts, CBN News got a first-hand look at communities gripped with fear and anxiety.
"As the mob was destroying our churches I could hear them chanting 'Victory to our Hindu gods,'" said Kandhamal pastor Solomon Nayak. "All we could do was hide in our homes and pray."
Troubling Attacks Near Christmas
The troubles started on December 23. Christians in a village, some 800 miles southeast of New Delhi, were preparing for a special Christmas service. According to church leaders, Hindu radicals were opposed to the event and began attacking Christian homes and churches.
Hindu hard-liners insist the fighting started only after Christians tried to attack a prominent Hindu leader in the area.
More than 700 homes were destroyed in three days of fighting.
"They burned everything I had. This is all I have left, what I'm wearing," resident Obed Diggal said.
Four people lost their lives.
"I saw my grandfather burned to death right in front of my eyes and I could do nothing to save his life," Nabaghana Naik said.
And across the Kandhamal district, church after church became targets for the raging mob.
Sunderson Digal stands in what's left of his small village church.
"They warned us not to spread the love of God and not to tell others about Jesus," he said.
Digal's church is just one of the close to 100 churches that were destroyed in the attacks that began on December 23.
Despite all of the violence and destruction, all of the residents that CBN News spoke with said that in due course, these churches will all be rebuilt.
Dr. Sajan George, who heads the Global Council of Indian Christians, was asked if he had any evidence that the violent onslaught was a coordinated and planned attack.
"This was well coordinated, well orchestrated because it has happened in 80 different places," he replied.
George's organization documents the persecution of Christian in India. He says the attacks weren't just random acts of violence.
"They marked the houses, they knew were the churches were and they spontaneously went and attacked," George said.
George and other Christian leaders believe the attacks are part of a much larger campaign by Hindu fanatics to stop lower-caste Hindus known as Untouchables or Dalits from converting to Christianity.
"God is moving among the Dalits and setting us free. The Hindus don't like this. So they accuse us of bribing and forcing others to convert and this is not true," Dalit convert Daniel Digal said.
Stopping Dalits from Converting to Christ
Umasankar Acharya is a top leader of Bajrang Dal, a Hindu extremist group that often uses violence against Christians and other minority faith groups. He accuses Christians and foreign missionaries of using conversions to try and lower the number of Hindus in India.
"This is a problem and we will deal with it. We will get all the Hindus together, the whole Hindu nation, and whoever stands against the rights of Hindus, we will finish them," he said.
In an effort to counter the spread of Christianity, Orissa and several other Indian states have laws that require people to get permission before they can change their religion.
"They want to annihilate the Christians of India. They want to turn this country into a Hindu nation," Pastor Nayak said.
It is a goal that Archarya and other extremist Hindu leaders say is worth fighting for.
"Every time you read the pages of history you see that Hindus have fought for this nation and for their religious rights. India has always been, is, and forever will be a Hindu nation," Archarya said.
Such words do little to comfort the Christians living here in Kandhamal district.
On a recent Tuesday morning, a group of Christian villagers stood in the ruins of their church and sang of their commitment to the faith and a determination to pray for those who've carried out these acts of terror.
"I am praying that through this devastation people will experience the love of Jesus," said Sunderson Digal, a resident of Minia village.
"And the bottom line is that if we live, we'll live for Christ. If we die, we'll die for Christ," said Kandhamal pastor Babulok Maliga. "Whatever happens, we will worship the Lord!"
*Original broadcast February 3, 2008.