Secret Christians Multiply in Northern India
August 25, 2016
Many people are secret Christians in a pocket of India where a long-time indigenous missionary has learned how to navigate hidden, cultural rip currents.
Less than 1 percent of the population is Christian in the area in northern India where two-thirds of the people are Hindus and one-third are Muslim, with animist influence present among both groups. Organized extremist groups hostile to the gospel are nearly nonexistent in the district in Jammu and Kashmir state, yet vast numbers of the residents are secret Christians.
In the strongly communal nature of life in Udhampur District, in the Jammu region of the state, friends and relatives are the fiercest enemies of those who embrace Christ.
"So many people come to us secretly," the ministry leader said, "but they don't want to come on Sunday due to the fear of the people, because everyone knows it's the day Christians come to worship in the church. So they may come on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday."
The church he leads in Ramnagur has two workers leading intercessory prayer at the church compound every day, in part to receive visitors wary of coming on Sunday.
"We have daily prayer," he said. "The secret believers also come to listen to the gospel, and they pray with us. They accept Christ, but most don't want to take baptism because that will cause problems in the society, among their friends, their ladies and other relatives."
"We've prayed so many times for the sick people in the community, and they get healed immediately, but they remain secret believers," the director said. "There are thousands of secret believers."
While Hindu extremist violence is flaring up in other parts of India, the leader said that in 44 years of ministry in the district, Hindus have never attacked his church - in part because of the way his ministry has served Hindu children with the first English-language school in the area, and in part because the Muslim community acts as a buffer. Muslims draw more opposition from Hindus than Christians, and any Hindu opponents of the gospel quickly find Muslims support the Christians.
"The Muslims normally support us, because they say we Christians believe in monotheism - one-God worship," he said. "We say Trinity in unity and unity in Trinity. It's a difficult subject that we cannot fully understand, but that is the simplest way we know to make Muslims understand that we don't worship three gods."
Initially high-caste leaders approached the ministry leaders, who are originally from Kerala state in southern India, and requested that they start a school with subjects taught in English, the language of international commerce and the tech world. The ministry leader and his wife agreed on one condition: that the Bible be taught in the school, and that students would pray only to Jesus.
Hindu children from all caste levels, Muslims and others attended the school as attendance swelled to 400.
"The high-caste people all sent their children to our school," the director said. "Of course, some of them later disagreed."
When some Hindus objected to the Christian scriptures and prayer in the school, the leaders told them they would not compel their children to come. The Hindus reported the matter to the district chief, asking him why those in the school didn't pray to Ram and Krishna, and he summoned the ministry director.
"I said to the district collector, 'If a Muslim starts a school, he will pray only to Muhammad and Allah - he will not pray to Ram. We can pray only to Jesus, otherwise we are going to stop the school.'"
Opposition to the Christian orientation of the school grew as protestors marched throughout Ramnagur, leaving area merchants and office workers no choice but to close their doors.
"They went around and said, 'We will not allow these people to continue here,'" he said. "We said, 'We will stop the school if you don't want it.' Finally the high-caste Hindus said, 'We need an English-language school,' so some of their lawyers said, 'Let them continue, because there is nobody else here who knows English.'"
The ministry, which shares the Good News to see lives transformed among the Dogri-speaking people of the area through the efforts of its 22 indigenous evangelists, has also been able to stage big-tent, evangelistic campaigns in the past two years. With many people coming from surrounding villages, those at the events who put their faith in Christ also may keep it hidden from their family and friends.
"They know Jesus is the truth, Jesus is the way of salvation, but they are afraid of their friends and relatives," the director said. "You may see 200 people accept Christ, but only 30, 40 or 50 take baptism. We've prayed so many times for the sick people in the community, and they get healed immediately, but they remain secret believers. We believe that one day God will bring a break-through, but there are thousands of secret believers."
Opposition to individuals' newfound faith can be intense. The father-in-law of a woman in his church recently attended Christian worship at a home intent on stopping it with the specialty that had brought him widespread renown - witchcraft. Known for being able to kill enemies with witchcraft, he began his incantations as gospel workers began singing and proclaiming Christ.
"The meeting continued, and finally the witchcraft man became unconscious and fell down, and both he and his wife died one after another in a few days," the director said. "As a result of this fearful incident, the whole house, relatives and the neighbors are now afraid of doing anything against our gospel workers and the believers to keep them from going to the church. As a result of God's intervention, opposition subsided, and the people started coming to the church without any fear."
The ministry director asked for prayer for just such intervention from God. To help indigenous missionaries to meet needs, you may contribute online using the form below, or call (434) 977-5650. If you prefer to mail your gift, please mail to Christian Aid Mission, P.O. Box 9037, Charlottesville, VA 22906. Please use Gift Code: 656PRM. Thank you!