As four Christian families gathered for worship in eastern India’s Jharkhand state in February 2018, about 150 Hindu nationalists did everything they could to stop them.
They destroyed the house church’s musical instruments, ripped its hymnbooks and stole money from its offering bag. The extremists then beat the Christians and dragged them to the centre of the village, ordering them to publicly renounce their faith in Jesus Christ.
When the believers refused to renounce their Christian faith, the attackers beat them again. Leaders of the group told the Christians that if they didn’t reconvert to Hinduism within 15 days, they would be barred from the village and forced to forfeit their land and property.
Ever since Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014, Hindu nationalists have attacked churches with increasing regularity in their efforts to reshape India as a purely Hindu nation. Under Modi, a longtime member of the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), numerous anti-conversion laws have been established at the state level. Hindu nationalists often attempt to force new Christians to return to Hinduism through “reconversion” ceremonies known as Ghar Wapsi (meaning “coming home”).
But as Hindu nationalists seek to “purify” India through violence against Christians, they only help the church grow. The four families who were attacked in February 2018 resumed worship just weeks later, and their faithfulness to Christ attracted others to their church. Today, 12 families belong to the church, which now conducts Bible studies in three villages.
“For the first six months, we were still living in fear,” Rakesh said. “But after that, our fear went away and we did not hate them any more. As Jesus forgave those who put Him on the cross, we have also forgiven our persecutors.
“We continue to make ourselves available for helping our community with their agriculture-related needs,” he continued. “This gives us more opportunities to share what we believe about Jesus, why we believe in Jesus and why we are willing to sacrifice for the sake of Jesus Christ.”
Church members admit that they occasionally fear further attacks, but when fear takes hold they sing worship songs and recite Psalms 23 and 91. The persecution, they said, has served to refine their faith and draw them closer to Christ.
“In the beginning of our faith life,” Rakesh said, “we never knew that we would be persecuted. But after the incident of persecution, we realised that persecution comes for our advancement and growth; it strengthens our faith and commitment to Christ.”
Jamshed, another church member, said becoming intimately aware of persecution and subsequently reading about it in Scripture has given members of the church more courage. “Since the persecution incident, we have more boldness,” he said. “Many people in surrounding villages now know about our Christian faith. Having seen our life and commitment to Christ, many want to know why we follow Jesus with so much commitment.”
Despite ongoing tension and the likelihood of more persecution, the believers said they have never considered stopping their worship services. “We are so blessed because we were chosen to suffer for the name of Jesus,” Jamshed said. “We have a greater reward.”