Just last month the updated world watch list was published. The list ranks countries that have the highest level of persecution of Christians.[i] Sandwiched between Iran and Syria, India ranked as the country where Christians endure the tenth most persecution in the world. That’s worse than Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and China. India is a very difficult place to be a Christian.
Numbers are one thing, faces and stories are another. Over the past two weeks we had the privilege of meeting hundreds of God’s saints in India who are not merely enduring extreme persecution, but doing so joyfully. Over the course of two weeks we had personal conversations with dozens of these pastors and their wives. Only one said he had not experienced significant persecution and opposition. Every other couple we met lived under the constant threat of violence and most had been beaten and thrown out of their homes at least once.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,”[ii] Jesus said.
Let me tell you some of the stories of these blessed ones[iii]:
· Solomon’s father was a priest at a Hindu temple when he grew despondent over his inability to feed his family. His father hung himself in the Hindu temple and the family remained on the brink of starvation. Some years later Solomon had a tract handed to him which told him of Jesus Christ and he put his faith in Jesus. Solomon now serves as a pastor at a church where he is under threat from radical Hindus in the community. He has been beaten by them and they have demanded that he leave the village, but he persists in the ministry.
· Jonathan grew up in a radical Hindu family. When a few Indian Christians began proclaiming the gospel in the village he and his family threatened the Christians until they left the village. His family came to faith through his mother’s miraculous healing. He left his home at 20 to serve as a missionary in the small villages of the mountainous foothills. He and his wife faced strong opposition and once his wife was beaten by radical Hindus in the village. Over fifteen years of ministry his family was kicked out of fifteen homes because they would host a small number of believers to worship in their home on Sundays. They often suffered hunger. Once, after they were kicked out of one home and were living in the fields their family had gone without food for many days. A Hindu woman found them under a tree they were living under and said she had felt in her heart that she was supposed to give them food. That woman is now a believer and worships at their church—a converted cow shed that houses 20 cramped worshipers on Sunday.
· Jaya grew up in the home of a Hindu priest. He was possessed by a demon for years. He was so tormented that he was going to commit suicide. He went to a bridge to throw himself into the river but as he was about to jump in, he saw a vision of a man dressed as a shepherd who told him to go to a church and he would be delivered from the demon. He went to the church and was delivered. His wife, Esther, also grew up in a radical Hindu family. She learned of Christ from a village pastor who gave her a Bible. She was caught secretly reading the Bible at night and thrown out of her family. After she rented an apartment, on Sundays her brothers would come and stand guard with spears outside her home so she couldn’t go to church.
· Paul is 72 years old and I never saw him without a huge smile beaming across his weathered face. Raised Hindu, he came to the Lord through a Christian whose prayers for healing for him were answered. He has been beaten seven times. He has planted 17 churches. The last church he planted at age 68, when God called him to plant a church in a remote area to a people whose language he didn’t even know at the time.
· Elijah came to know Jesus when his father had a vision that told him to go to a small village church for healing. Elijah also serves under the threat of violence and, like every pastor we met, is fierce in his prayer life. He fasts twice a week, prays three hours daily, and sets aside four one hundred consecutive hour of prayer periods a year where he meets with three other pastors to join in prayer.
I am humbled by these men and women. I’m humbled by their devotion to Christ and his church. And I am filled with hope for the movement of God in India. There are thousands of Christians that God is raising up and using to bring his rescuing work to those in need of good news.
An ancient church father once said that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. In the very place where persecution is the fiercest, the church tends to grow the strongest. In India, a choice for Christ is a choice that comes with a significant cost. It is a choice that is not made lightly. To gather with brothers and sisters at church is often done under the threat of violence. Many church members sneak to church to try to avoid those who would beat them for attending. The roots of the faith of our Indian brothers and sisters is deep. It is inspiring.
I return with a fire in my belly for God’s work in Tucson, a longing to see my prayer and fasting life increase, a heart to see the roots of our faith sink deep, and the joy of a beautiful partnership with brothers and sisters submitted to God’s powerful work in India.
Thank you for your prayers. Thank you for your support. Please pray for our brothers and sisters in India. Please pray that God’s church would flourish there. And please join me in prayer for our church and the church in America. May we wake up from our spiritual slumber, may we pray fervently for the power of the Kingdom of God to come, may the lost be found, and may God transform us through his power.
[ii] Matthew 5:10
[iii] I’ve changed the names of the pastors and pastors’ wives for their protection.