Hindu mobs wielded rods, tridents, swords, guns, kerosene and even bottles of acid. Adorned with Hindu militant headbands, they shouted slogans such as, “Jai shri Ram!”, (Victory to Ram, the Hindu god) and “Jai bajrang bali!”, a tribute to another Hindu deity.
A series of riots in 2008, led by radical Hindus in Kandhamal, Eastern India, left roughly 100 people dead, thousands injured, 300 churches and 6,000 homes destroyed, and approximately 50,000 Christians displaced. Many were forced to hide in the jungle where more died of hunger, snakebites and poisoning.
I was in the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh at the time. Three Khandamal pastors attended my first Pastor Training International (PTI) conference and told us horror stories of going with the wives of pastors to look for their husbands’ mutilated bodies in the jungle.
Most of the Christians in the area are tribal people or untouchables. That means that there is a double hatred. The high caste Hindu social elite hate them because they are untouchable, and because they are Christians they are seen as anti-Indian. There was a smaller persecution in this area in 1998 and it is here that Graham Staines was brutally murdered with his two sons in 1999.
In this beautiful mountainous and jungle area, home to many tribal groups, Satan tried to wipe out the church. Now we have several Kandhamal pastors working with us as church planters. They asked us to go and visit the area, so that we could see what the Lord is doing.
The believers are still living right beside those who took part in the violence, or did nothing to stop it
So together with one of our Khandamal families, we took the 27-hour journey by train and bus to Khandamal.
I helped with a three day pastors training conference for the Khandamal Baptist Convention and spoke at a large regional church. Each year this convention has an annual conference, held in the forest so as not to draw attention. I was asked to be one of the preachers. After an hour’s journey through the forest on an interesting road, we came to the clearing. What a joy to see around 5,000 humble village believers come to worship Christ and hear God’s Word! They danced and sang praise to the Lord and their faces were filled with joy.
For a week, we visited isolated tribal village churches, preached the gospel and prayed with many families. We were shown houses that had been destroyed and then rebuilt. We saw church buildings that had been burnt down and left, and new church buildings had been built. We were shown the Christian villages that sit one side of a track with Hindu houses the other side. The believers are still living right beside those who took part in the violence, or did nothing to stop it.
The joy, faith and hope that we saw…was truly wonderful and so obviously supernatural
Yet for all that, the joy, faith and hope that we saw in these believers was truly wonderful and so obviously supernatural. Praise the Lord! Here is living proof of Isaiah 54:17 “No weapon fashioned against you shall succeed, and you shall confute every tongue that rises against you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD and their vindication is from me, declares the LORD.”
Margaret and Mike work in Bible ministry and leadership training in India
Names and identities have been changed in this article.