Horror in India

This week I was sent a video by a pastor in India.  He usually sends me videos of his church service, or orphans singing, so I was completely unprepared for the graphic content.  It was mobile phone footage of a woman being lynched.  She ended up being burned alive.  Just for attending a Christian prayer meeting.

Seeing such horror brought home to me the very real challenge faced by the church in India, which I have known about for some time but never truly felt.  Although there are 64 million Christians in India, they are a tiny and vulnerable minority.  They are often people who are not educated or influential and can often be abused with impunity, particularly in remote rural areas where Hindu militants have strongholds.

Since the BJP government of Narendra Modi came to power in 2014, attacks on Christians have become more commonplace, as the government equates Hinduism with Indian core identity, marginalising all minority religious groups and tacitly encouraging anti-Christian violence, to which the authorities often turn a blind eye and fail to investigate thoroughly.  For this reason India has been rising up the Open Doors World Watch List and is now considered to be the 10th worst country in the world to be a Christian.  This situation is likely to get worse in the run up to a General Election in April/May this year as the government seeks to unite the Hindu majority behind it by victimising minorities.

The Evangelical Fellowship of India issued a report earlier this year detailing 325 incidents of targeted violence or hate crime against Christians (you can read a copy here) which occurred in 2018, mostly in the provinces of Uttar Pradesh or Tamil Nadu.  So far this year there have been a further 29 incidents in 13 provinces.  Hundreds of churches and thousands of Christians have been affected.  Particularly at risk are those from Hindu background who have converted to the Christian faith, often after experiencing healing or deliverance.

So what can we do?

  • Pray. Brother Andrew says “Our prayers can go where we cannot… There are no borders, no prison walls, no doors that are closed to us when we pray.” Pray for the church to be bold, for the bereaved to be comforted, the prisoners to take courage, and for their oppressors to be won over by the grace and humility of the Christians.
  • Support. For just a small amount you can fund an Open Doors Rapid Response team for a month as they bring emergency aid to victims of violence, such as food and medical care.
  • Stay informed. Look out for new updates on India at www.persecution.org
  • Complain. Write to the Indian High Commissioner, Mrs Ruchi Ghanashyam, and tell her you are unhappy at the way her country treats our family.  Her address is High Commission of India, India House, Aldwych, London WC2B 4NA
  • Lobby. Make sure your MP knows about the plight of our brothers and sisters.  India represents a huge business partner for Britain and our government is very keen not to upset theirs.  We need to make sure that we make them stand up for our suffering family.

Yet alongside the bad news there is good news.  Despite their suffering, the church is growing, as we reported way back in 2010.  Many evangelists work hard and see amazing results.  For many years Daliths have been turning to Christ, but there is still a need for effective evangelism among the burgeoning middle classes who have less obvious needs.  Yet the work still depends heavily on church leaders and the very few overseas mission workers rather than the bulk of the church.  As mission workers from abroad find it increasingly hard to get visas, and church leaders are targeted by Hindu extremists, it is imperative that the whole church is trained and mobilised to share its faith boldly.

No one is an island

1112138276The recent news of a pastor beheaded by ISIS in a central Asian republic brought to me by a trusted friend reminds us of the continual challenges faced by our brothers and sisters in parts of the world where living openly for Christ really does mean putting their lives on the line.

The writers of the New Testament letters frequently referred to suffering when they wrote to encourage their flocks.  They regularly stressed that it was normal, that we had been warned in advance about it, and that it’s all part of the cosmic conflict in which we are on God’s side.  Jesus said that the world would hate us because it hated him first (John 15:18ff).  We in the West have been mostly insulated by the ‘Christian’ nature of our culture from the normality of suffering which is only too familiar to people in Asia, the Middle East and north Africa.

The Apostles’ teaching did not deny the tragedy of their suffering, but placed it into a larger context.  We read of Peter and John rejoicing that they had been considered “worthy” of suffering shame after they had been flogged (Acts 5:41)!  Paul talks about “momentary light affliction” (2 Corinthians 4:17) and says that the suffering of this life cannot be compared to the glory of the next (Romans 8:18).

For millions of Christians around the world, but particularly in the 10/40 window, their faith means that life is a daily struggle to get served in shops, find jobs, be treated fairly by police, and avoid government oppression or mob lynching.  We in the West can help them by funding agencies like Open Doors which work among our persecuted family to protect, empower and advocate.  We can keep informed about their sufferings by following websites like persecution.org, and we can pray using resources like the World Prayer Map.

It can be so tempting for us just to shrug our shoulders and think it’s just another person we don’t know in a country far away.  But let’s not lose sight of the fact that this is our family, we will meet them one day in heaven and rejoice in the stories of their faithfulness even to the point of death (Revelation 12:11).  But until then we are parted from them, and as John Donne wrote in his poem No man is an island:

…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.