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Persecuted, but not abandoned: How India's Christians are staying strong despite opposition

Monday, July 13, 2020, 23:23 (IST)

"We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed." (2 Cor 4:8, NIV)

Life has been tough across India: Covid-19 has forced hundreds of millions of citizens into lockdown. For many of the nation's minority Christian population it has become a question of survival as they face discrimination and even violence. However, despite all this, millions of Indian Christians are remaining firm in their faith.

"Christians are suffering even more than before," says Open Doors partner Brother Sam*, based in India. "Most of them have had to combat economic problems as well as opposition and hatred from their communities."

But in the face of the worsening opposition, Christians in India appear to be unwavering in their faith and courageously living their lives for God.

"The Lord's Spirit is really working powerfully," says Open Doors partner Sabita.

"Persecution victims are standing strong and there are many people being healed and coming to faith."

In one remote Indian village a church congregation managed to 'out-worship' a gang which was trying to intimidate them into silence.

Brother Sam says: "One Sunday morning around 25 people barged into this church.

"The men pulled the pastor down by his collar and beat him up, they roughed up others as well and started breaking all the musical instruments.

"The congregation stood stunned as it took place. Then the pastor's wife, an older woman, decided to take a stand: she started shouting, 'Praise the Lord!'

"Soon other women gathered around her and joined in, 'Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! Glory to God!'"

"When the gang of men heard the church members shouting and praising God - they just started praising their own god. It became a competition.

"But when 300 people shouted together, 'Praise God!' the men were scared and they started running for the door.

"The moment the believers saw the men running, they started shouting all the more, 'Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!'"

Afterwards the church pastor said: "We're not feeling sorry about the persecution that happened - instead, we thank God, because now we are ready to face even greater persecution like this."

It's an attitude to violent persecution that is commonplace according to Open Doors partner, Sabita, who tells the story of an Indian pastor had first come to faith when his father was miraculously healed from a psychiatric condition.

"He really wanted to serve the Lord and his church had grown recently, with more than 100 new converts.

"Hindu extremists beat him up and he was detained by the police.

"Then he was expelled from his village by the extremists. They told him they would kill him if they ever found him sharing his faith with someone else.

"I asked him: 'So in the midst of all these troubles, what are you going to do?'

"He replied: 'I promised the Lord that I will live for Him and die for Him. I will continue to serve the Lord.'

"Are Hindu extremists are winning? No, they are not!"

Poss panel on background:

Attacks on Christians and other minority groups including Muslims in India have escalated dramatically since 2014.

So much so that in 2018, Open Doors' World Watch List, which highlights persecution levels for Christians worldwide, designated India as a country where Christians experience "extreme persecution" for the first time.

Last year, Open Doors catalogued 825 reports of persecution which affected 43,392 Christians, ranging from social rejection and insults through to beatings, sexual abuse and even murder.

But the charity warns that these numbers are just the tip of the iceberg and during the coronavirus lockdown, attacks have spiked again.

Dr Ronald Boyd-MacMillan, director of research at Open Doors International, says that COVID-19 has allowed extremist Hindus to increase levels of violence against minority religious groups in the country.

"With Covid-19 there is a trend to use the pandemic as a cover to hit the church harder in the belief that the international community will be distracted and not kick up a fuss," he says.

"Since 2014, if you attack a church or a mosque it is unlikely that the justice system will never catch up with you.

"Hindu extremists know how to use the mob. They see Christianity as a foreign religion.

"India is a reminder of how the church is growing. It makes the extremists frightened."

The church in India is now 70 million-strong and continuing to expand.

Working with local partners in India, Open Doors provides training for Christians around persecution and legal assistance to victims of such harassment.

*Names have been changed for security reasons.