Persecution and revival in India
Acid attacks, beatings and arrests can't stop God moving
The numbers are impressive – thousands of churches planted in India over the last 15 years, 2,000 of which are the direct result of BMS World Mission support.
The stories of transformed lives are inspiring. A man blinded in a fight hears about Jesus and now is leading others to Christ. A woman becomes a Christian soon after seeing the Jesus film and is healed of Hepatitis B.
The ministry of Ben Francis, an evangelist and our gifted Associate Team Leader for India, is truly energising. He has trained and motivated thousands of church planters. People are coming to faith in Christ every day. But the Church growth that BMS and others are supporting in India is coming at a cost.
Attacks on Christians in India are on the rise. A report published by the Evangelical Fellowship of India stated that between January and June 2016 there were 134 incidents across the country where Christians had been targeted: from burning churches to physical attacks against believers. A leader of the Hindu extremist organisation Dharm Jagran Samiti in Utter Pradesh said in 2014: “Our target is to make India a Hindu Rashtra [realm/country] by 2021. The Muslims and Christians don’t have any right to stay here” (Daily Mail).
As Ben and his team of evangelists are planting churches in unreached areas, they often face hostility.
“When you go to a new place, there is always persecution,” Ben says. “So we are used to all of this. If you say to my guys, ‘have you ever been beaten up?’, they can’t count how many times.”
Unlike in the Middle East, where many Christians are leaving their region to escape persecution, for Christians in India it is often impossible to go elsewhere.
“In India, Christian communities are poor,” says Ben. Many Christians are from traditionally lower caste backgrounds. “Where would they go? They have nowhere to go. So they stay, which is a very good thing. If they leave, then they have lost the battle.”
One of the most shocking cases Ben has seen recently is a woman who had acid thrown in her face by extremists in her village for becoming a Christian. Ben and his team are supporting her and seeing if they can arrange some plastic surgery. Despite the attack, she is staying in her village.
“Her husband has left her. She’s lost everything,” says Ben. “She is surrounded by non-believers who are saying, ‘Give up Jesus or we will kill you.’ But she’s still strong. She’s not going to leave Jesus.”
A Christian couple Ben works with were arrested recently and the husband was held in prison for several days. It is becoming a common occurrence.
“Now to put a Christian into prison, you don’t need a reason,” Ben says. “All you have to say is: ‘They are forcibly converting us.’ These Christians have never forcibly done anything in their lives.”
But there are signs that the peaceful stand Christians are making for their faith is beginning to have an impact.
“A lot of people who were persecuting Christians are realising that we are not resisting. No matter what they are doing, we are reacting with love,” says Ben.
More moderate Hindus are also starting to question the tactics of extremists. ”They are thinking: ‘We belong to this religion and our people are doing things to them and they have not done anything to us,’” says Ben. “’Why are we so threatened by them? All they are telling us is a story. All they are telling us is how to have a better life, how we can be free, and for that information people are beating them. Is our belief so weak that the good news this person tells us will change us?’”
Contrary to extremists’ plans, Ben and his team are finding that persecution can often lead to a greater response to the gospel. When church planters from Ben’s team were briefly arrested in a village for showing the Jesus film, they returned 48 hours after their release to show the film again. Many more people came to see the film than when they showed it the first time.
The lesson for Ben is that we have to endure persecution if we are going to make a difference for Jesus.
“The world is being threatened by people who are not afraid to kill themselves to kill the world,” he says. “The question we need to ask as Christians is: are we willing to die so others may have life? Are we ready to die to bring people to freedom? Are we willing to die to give them the good news? If you don’t have this mindset, then we have cut the Christian cloth too easy.”
How, then, can we pray then for these incredibly brave men and women who, supported by BMS, are growing the Church in India and transforming lives, risking their own lives in order to save others?
“Pray for justice, for peace, for strength and for determination,” says Ben. “Pray that Christians experiencing persecution will look to the Lord for help.”
With the Lord’s protection, let’s pray thousands more churches will be planted by these fearless Christians in 2017.
Why not support BMS work in India by becoming a 24:7 India Partner?
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2016/17 issue of Engage magazine.
This article first appeared on the website of BMS World Mission and is used with permission.