Hindus in Trinidad Fight Inroads by Christians

Topic started by Trinidad Hindu (@ algart.org) on Fri Feb 20 03:24:07 EST 2004.
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Hindus in Trinidad Fight Inroads by Christians
Author: Tim McDonald (Associated Press)
Source: Published Saturday, June 10, 2000, in the Lexington Herald-Leader

PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad Tyrone Allen's soft Southern accent rises from a whispered exhortation to a dramatic crescendo that makes the conference room reverberate.

``Touch your neighbor and say, `I'm in the Lord for life,' '' Allen commands. The assembled U.S. and local Pentecostals touch hands, fingers and shoulders and murmur amens and hallelujahs.

The words could come from any Christian church or revival tent in America's Bible Belt. But Allen is preaching in a plush hall of the Trinidad Hilton, part of a Pentecostal campaign that worries Hindu leaders in the Caribbean island.

Evangelical Christian churches are sprouting across Trinidad and Hindu leaders are fighting back. ``I told our people to throw these people out of the villages,'' said Sat Maharaj, head of the Hindu organization Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha. ``We launched a counter-campaign'' that includes literature pointing out alleged inconsistencies in the Bible and what Maharaj calls its undue focus on material possessions.

``We're in the soul-saving business,'' responded Allen, pastor of Bible Way Church in Virginia Beach, Va., which held a recent conference here. ``We have a purpose, and this purpose is to give out our knowledge of the Lord.''

Hindus chafe especially at visits by American evangelicals like Benny Hinn, who last year spoke of Trinidad as a ``country full of devils and demons.'' The competition touches on the delicate balance between Trinidad's East Indian and African descended communities, each constituting almost half the population of 1.3 million.

East Indians mostly descendants of laborers imported by British colonizers in the 19th century were once overwhelmingly Hindu, with some Muslims. But Christian churches have made steady headway in recent decades and now can claim perhaps a third of the East Indians.

Consequently, census figures show that Hindus now account for only a quarter of the Trinidadian population. Pentecostals say many Hindus need little convincing.

``If you're in an organization that does not satisfy your needs, I see nothing wrong with moving,'' said the Rev. Peter Hosein, a Trinidadian who says he's a Christian of no denomination trying to start his own church. ``It's not stealing. You're just moving to higher ground.'

Winston Cuffie says Hindus in poor, areas might find some Pentecostal churches attractive because they look affluent.

Cuffie's Miracle Ministry is housed in his Christ Castle Church in Chaguanas, in central Trinidad. Built from donations and fund-raisers, the $1.8 million complex arises, magnificently pink, like a castle from its modest surroundings.

``Material success is part of it,'' said Cuffie, whose congregation of 1,600 includes many converts from Hinduism and offers investment seminars and other financial strategies. ``If you're in poverty and you're suffering, we teach you how you can come out of that situation.''

Many Hindus say they are mobilizing to stop the conversions if only to maintain a centuries-old tradition on the island.

``It is, in fact, a religious war, not in the sense of Muslims and Christians fighting a bloody war, but it is a war,'' said Kamla Persad, a Hindu activist and newspaper columnist. ``No Hindu organization over the years had a program to match the Christians. Now we are going out and trying to reconvert our people. The Hindus are waking up to that.''


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