A Church started during the British Raj and gifted to local Pastors some time before Indian independence is involved in dispute over land owned by them.
The church land when handed to native leaders of Andhra Evangelical Lutheran Church Ministry was built in a city centre and is often viewed enviously by local Hindus, said Pastor Sami Ravi Kumar.
In April 2015 a local Hindu woman entrepreneur illegally built a wall and sequestered a large part of church land despite having no legal documents for land ownership.
On May 22nd 2022, our BACA Operations Manager visited this Andhra Evangelical Lutheran Church, Yeleswaram, East Godavari District, Andra Pradesh. There he met with the church elders and local pastors who are protecting this land from local land mafia.
Built in the centres of the city ALEC church land is now worth millions of dollars. Local Christians say Hindus with political powers are continually trying to occupy the valuable land and institution. They have designs to force the real owners to give up the real estate, so that it can be sold for profit.
Pastor Basilik and Pastor Samuel Ravi Kumar a Lutheran Minister, spoke with our Operations Manager, he said:
‘In April 2015, a Hindu woman named Mrs. M. Kamala Kumari, a native of Rajahmundary built a wall to separate our new church building and Pastor’s bungalow from the KNH Hostel and old Church building.
“She gave the pretext that she intended to set up a retirement home and orphanage.
“I tried to intervene but Mrs Kumari hired henchmen who physically attacked men from the congregation and I violently.
These men warned us that they would kill us if we pursued resistance against the illegal occupation of church land.
We were also threatened by the “Tilugu Desham” an anti-Christian political party and told to keep away.”
It has taken seven years and a huge campaign by a group of local pastors and well-wishers of the church including many who lived and studied at Kinder Nath Hilfe (KNH) Hostel, to gain the necessary proofs of ownership to retrieve their land. It took a change of State Government in Andra Pradesh in 2019, from a Telugu Desam Party regime to YSR Congress Party to weaken the authority of usurer Mrs Kumari. Coupled with the voting out of a terrified set of Trustees on the old ALEC administration in 2021, Christians became emboldened and took the necessary steps for retrieval of their land.
Pastor Kumar, added:
“We couldn’t do anything.
“We have been trying to obtain document proofs of ownership for the land from the previous ALEC administration but they failed to provide anything.
“This is because the administration was also threatened and did not want to get involved.
“Now the new ALEC administration is cooperating with us and they have provided all land ownership papers.
“Months later Tilegu Desham the political party supporting Mrs Kumari was voted out – God was with us!
“Empowered with evidence of the land rights and a change in local political power we took our opportunity and demolished the wall built by Kamala Kumari.”
On 20th February 2022, these local pastors, elders, and a few Church members demolished this wall on their own after getting permission form the court.
Their retrieval of the land started a heated argument with Mrs Kumari. Ms Kumari called police to the location but was thwarted from any further action when she could not produce any lease documents or documents confirming her ownership of the land.
On entering the previously illegally occupied land Pastor Kumar and his team discovered that valuable trees have been cut down by Mrs Kumari over the span of seven years. The church has also discovered that she has been selling the wood from the trees to be sold in the lumber markets. It is believed that Mrs Kumari has gained a large profit through selling the wood.
Mrs Kumari has threatened all those involved in regaining the church land and has stated she plans to put them in jail for life or to kill them.
When the church pastors and elders involved went to the local police station to complain that Church land and a Christian burial ground was under illegal occupation. Their demand for security for them and the Church properties of Yeleswaram was denied. In fact, officials at Yeleswaram Police Station outright refused to register the complaint, stating it was a Civil matter to be dwelt with in local civil courts. This was despite death threats and her pland to put them in jail for life. The church leadership is worried that Mrs Kumari may use existing blasphemy and anti-conversion laws to cause the church harm
Andhra Evangelical Lutheran Church ministry was started on 31st October 1842 by Rev. Dr. John Christian Fredrik Heyer , who was sent as a missionary to Guntur, Andhra Pradesh to witness for Christ among Telugu Speaking people. He was prayerfully supported by Pennsylvania Lutheran Synod, USA.
The church has served as the biggest Christian facility in the area for Gospel preaching, elementary education to college level, healthcare via hospitals and dispensaries and Socio-Community development for 179 years. There beneficiaries are amongst the most impoverished people in the state.
Under foreign administration, the church prospered and helped the local forest dwellers, through providing education and medical facilities. The church is well known for establishing Andhra Christian College at Guntur, five Big Hospitals and a Tuberculosis Sanatorium.
Thousands of acres of Lands were purchased by American and European Missionaries to build all this great institutions besides a number of Churches and seminaries.
The church have asked for help with the cost of their solicitor, they have also asked for their predicament to be shared wider so that Christians can support them in prayer.
British Asian Christian Association will keep you updated on their success with their legal challenge. We will offer a small donation towards the cost of their solicitors, Travelling around India to meet with persecuted Christians and reporting on their plight, is expensive. We also provide medical support and help with legal costs where we can. You can support our charity by donating (here).