SPARTANBURG, S.C. (BP) — About 10 Indian pastors sat in front of me. I stared at them and they stared at me in a crowded, little room in northeastern India. In a few short days I would grow to love these men as I ministered to them physically (as a physician) and spiritually (through Bible teaching).
Prompted by the leader of our trip, they shared their stories one by one of being persecuted by the Hindu majority.
Suddenly, I realized I didn’t deserve to be in that crowded, little room. I didn’t deserve to rub shoulders with men who had been beaten, imprisoned and tortured for advancing the Kingdom of Christ. I wasn’t reading about Paul and Silas. I wasn’t reading about Peter and Stephen. I wasn’t reading about medieval Christians being stretched on a rack. I was staring at the present-day persecuted church. The faces are real.
Arrested and thrown in prison for three days, Durgesh knew this day would eventually come, taken from his home, leaving his wife and children weeping and afraid. The Indian authorities gave no explanation for his arrest, but as a Christian pastor and evangelist who had started 17 churches, Durgesh understood the reasons.
He became a believer in Christ at age 17 when he saw the “JESUS” film in his small village in India. One exposure to the Gospel message was all it took. In his heart he knew the message about Jesus was true so he prayed to the one true God, rejecting the thousands of false gods worshipped by his family and friends and accepting Jesus as his personal Savior. He later completed a bachelor in theology degree before returning to plant churches in his village and many surrounding towns. He became quite adept at church planting.
However, he happened to live close to a political leader in his village who became disturbed by his success in evangelism and church planting. This political leader complained to the authorities, who promptly arrested Durgesh on trumped-up charges. He spent three days in jail, but thankfully was not harmed. The Christian community ministered to his wife and children, as the church should do.
On my mission trips to India, I have met many courageous pastors and laymen like Durgesh who have been brutalized, imprisoned or subsequently killed by family or authorities because of their Christian faith. It is not considered a crime in India for Hindu families to punish or kill family members who convert to Christianity. Official laws exist against such behavior, but no one enforces them at any level.
I met one pastor whose father strangled him after he converted to Christianity as a teenager. Presumed dead, he was resuscitated later by his mother and hidden by Christian friends. Mentally confused, he could not speak for weeks, but he ultimately recovered fully and became a pastor and church planter. Although he tried, he has never been able to reconcile with his father.
This type of story is not unique to India. The church — our brothers and sisters in Christ — experiences various forms of persecution daily all over the world. In America we live in relative peace and prosperity and are virtually unaware of persecution that faces our extended church family around the world.
There is no excuse for being ignorant in this information age. They say that knowledge is power. Knowledge coupled with your prayers is real power. When I go to India and tell persecuted pastors that church people in America pray for them, it excites and encourages them. They light up with joy. Can they count on you?