Evangelism Thrives in India Despite Persecution

April 14, 2016

 Villagers in Orissa attending evangelistic event in jungle
Villagers in Kandhamal District are massing at evangelistic events in the jungles to which they had fled persecution.

The jungles where Christians once fled Hindu extremist attacks in eastern India now host massive evangelistic events where Hindus and tribal animists are putting their faith in Christ.

Long known as a hotbed of Hindu persecution of Christians, Kandhamal District in eastern India is becoming known for something else – amazing works of the Lord Jesus.

People are coming to Christ even though the traditional trappings of the area persist. Nearly eight years after 100 Christians in the area were killed in a series of riots by frenzied Hindu extremists, hatred and hostility toward Christians is still apparent. Attacks continue on church gatherings and, besides sustaining broken bones and shedding blood, Christians in various villages also face societal shunning, economic boycott and doors shut in their faces when they seek work.

Kandhamal District in Odisha (formerly Orissa) state is more than 81 percent Hindu, with many of those blending the worship of Hindu gods with tribal animistic sacrifices and other practices. Many poor Hindu tribal people regarded area Hindu leader Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati as a messiah figure, and after his murder on Aug. 23, 2008, radical Hindus spread rumors that Christians had killed him.

Those rumors led to attacks that wounded thousands, destroyed 300 church buildings and 6,000 homes, displaced at least 50,000 people for months, and produced the false conviction of seven Christians for the death of Saraswati. They were sentenced to life in prison, though non-Christian Maoists said they had killed Saraswati. The Christians have appealed and are awaiting a High Court decision.

The violence reflected a deep hatred for Christians, despised for being from lower classes and seen as anti-Indian for embracing a non-Hindu faith perceived as "Western." Trident-bearing mobs shouting the praises of Hindu gods shot Christians, burned them with fire and acid, dismembered them with swords and knives, beat them with iron rods, clubs and axes, raped them, and forced them to undergo "reconversion" ceremonies that included drinking water with cow feces.

Many among the throngs that fled into the jungles died from disease and snake bites. Now those jungle sites are serving an indigenous ministry that is organizing evangelistic events that have been wildly successful, a ministry director said.

"By God's grace we are holding evangelistic jungle camps everywhere the violence took place," he said. "It is God's doing. The violence took place almost everywhere in Kandhamal District. We held a jungle camp at one village church, and in 2008 that church building had been attacked, broken and set on fire, and the believers had fled to the jungle for safety."

All the evangelistic events at the jungle sites have taken place on time, peacefully and joyfully, he said.

"They are happy to accept Jesus as their God and Savior and to live for Him in the midst of persecution," he said. "Thousands are gathering in the jungle camps in Kandhamal District to hear the living Word of God. People were happy and encouraged to live for Jesus and His kingdom. The Lord also is doing great and marvelous work in the lives of those who believe in Jesus Christ."

The ministry has sponsored 14 such evangelistic events since last August, with 1,000 to 2,000 attending each one, he said. One 53-year-old woman, whose name is withheld for security reasons, put her faith in Christ at one of the first events on Aug. 29 of last year. She was baptized along with her husband earlier this month.

Christians worshipping outdoors
The growth of Christianity in eastern India has surpassed the capacity of some church buildings.

Previously her devotion to Hinduism included drinking water purportedly used to wash the feet of the late Saraswati, the director said. Later, she bounced from one religion to another.

"They were worshiping all kinds of gods and goddesses," he said. "She was healed in the name of Jesus after she was completely possessed by an evil spirit, which led her to go from one faith to another faith in search of salvation from sickness and sadness. She is healed now and testifying that Jesus is the true and loving God."

The woman, whose son has also accepted Christ, said she had hated Christians all her life.

"I was searching for this kind of life, and Jesus gave it to me," she said. "He is the only true and loving God. I am happy now."

A Hindu from one village left all his idols and has come to follow Christ, the director said. The new Christian's son, who was wandering about the wilds with mental illness, has shown marked improvement since a pastor prayed for him, he said.

"Being his only son, he had spent thousands of rupees for his treatment, and many pigs, chickens and goats were sacrificed before many gods and goddesses, but he did not see any improvement," the ministry leader said. "Pray for his complete healing, as we are planning to take him to a hospital. We are sure that through his healing, the entire village will come to know Christ, the Savior."

To help indigenous missionaries 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: 640LYN. Thank you!