Rebuilding a House of Prayer

01 April 2024

After his home was destroyed and his mentor was martyred, Mahmud made a new commitment.

One day in 2010, as Mahmud prayed at his mosque in India’s mountainous Kashmir Valley, he was suddenly moved by a desire to learn more about Jesus Christ. When he told someone in his village, he was directed to a Christian man named Yousuf Bhat.

While many Muslims revere Jesus (Isa) as a prophet, they don’t have a biblical understanding of who He is as Christ. “I loved Jesus,” said 40-year-old Mahmud while sitting in a prayer room he made in his home, “but I didn’t know how to walk with Jesus. Yousuf offered to be my guide and tell me more about Christ and the Bible.”

A Dangerous Secret
Known for helping the poor and vulnerable, Yousuf was well respected in the Kashmir Valley. He had started multiple house churches, led a disciple-making movement among Christian converts from Islam and distributed Bibles and copies of The Jesus Film throughout Kashmir. The stark religious and cultural divide between the Kashmir region and the rest of India hasn’t changed much since 2010.

After his home was destroyed and his mentor was martyred, Mahmud made a new commitment. While 97% of the Kashmir Valley’s four million residents are Muslim, India as a whole is nearly 81% Hindu.

During the time of Yousuf’s ministry especially, Muslim extremists sought to stop the spread of Christianity in Kashmir while fighting for autonomy from India’s central government. After Mahmud met with Yousuf to discuss Jesus Christ, he was enthralled by what he had heard. The men began meeting regularly for study, and Mahmud soon took up temporary residence near Yousuf to avoid having to travel several hours for each meeting with his mentor.

“My family didn’t actually know that I was going for this,” Mahmud said. “They thought the reason I was going was for work.” The more Mahmud studied God’s Word, the more he wanted to leave Islam. After six weeks of learning about Jesus’ teachings and miracles, Mahmud placed his faith in Christ.

“I was really touched by the miracles that Christ did and was convinced that this was the truth,” Mahmud said. “I felt more peace in my life. I realised that Christ is God and not just a prophet or messenger.”

Mahmud returned to his village ready to tell people about the Jesus of the Bible. He started by telling his wife and eight-year-old daughter where he had been and what he had learned. Soon, both of them placed their faith in Christ.

He then shared the gospel with five friends in his village, giving each of them a Bible he had received from Yousuf. Before long, five of the village’s 300 families began to gather secretly at Mahmud’s house for worship each Sunday.

But eventually, the secret became known. One day in 2011, while Mahmud and his family were away visiting the large city of Srinagar, a group of Muslim men destroyed their house. After a neighbour called Mahmud and told him about the attack, he and his family decided to stay in Srinagar, where Mahmud had previously worked as a day labourer.

In Srinagar, one of several focal points of Islamic extremism in Kashmir, Mahmud and his family joined a small, newly formed house church. Though he desired to share God’s Word with Muslims in Srinagar, Mahmud struggled with fear.

“A lot of people who live in rented houses already have a fear that if they are Christians, they can be evicted at any time,” he said. “In my case, I already knew that my house was destroyed. My wife and daughter were there, so I was already under pressure to keep them safe and make a life for them. That was playing in my head, and I wanted to keep them safe and just not be in trouble.” Mahmud and his family weren’t the only ones in danger.

Shocking News
On the evening of 1 July 2015, four masked gunmen entered Yousuf’s home and escorted him outside, where they shot him to death. Islamists had taken notice of his unflinching faith and bold evangelism.

Following Yousuf’s murder, Christians in the Kashmir Valley became anxious, even fearing to speak of his death. Mahmud’s spirit was crushed when he learned of Yousuf’s death.

“The time with him was so pivotal because he brought me to the Lord,” Mahmud said. “After he was killed, it actually damaged my faith a little. I was weak in the faith. After that, when I prayed, God strengthened me.”

Then, one day in 2018, a new desire stirred in Mahmud’s heart. He wanted to return to his village and rebuild his home. “I was concerned that something else could happen to my house or to my family,” he recalled, “but I have a strong commitment to prayer. It was by faith I came and rebuilt the house.”

After his family settled into their new home, Mahmud started sharing the gospel again. “I was convicted to make disciples,” he said. “I thought, ‘If I know this truth, other people should also know it’.”

Mahmud helped lead 10 families to Christ, and they started secretly gathering in his house for worship. “I basically started praying again as a family,” he said. “Then I went to friends and told them that I made something like a prayer house and if they wanted to come and pray, they could. That is how I started.”

Recently, Mahmud finished a six-month Bible course in Srinagar. He took the course so he could better explain the gospel and the Scriptures to Muslims.

Since he cannot read or write, he used an audio Bible to study Scripture and dictated his work to someone who could write it down for him. At the end of the course, Mahmud received a certificate for being a top student. He also recently learned that the Muslims who had destroyed his house were from another village. “This happened for the sake of Christ, and I am happy about it,” he said. “God has forgiven us, so I forgive them.”

Leading the Way
Today, Yousuf’s influence lives on through Mahmud’s life. About five years ago, Mahmud’s predominantly Muslim village surprised him by electing him leader of the village. He said he probably wouldn’t have been elected if Yousuf had not shared the gospel with him.

“They actually chose me as the head of the village because of how my character had changed after I became a Christian,” Mahmud said. “They know that Christians aren’t involved in … immoral  activities and also they do a lot of charity. They actually prefer me as a Christian; therefore they voted me to be head of the village.”

As leader of the village, Mahmud is responsible for distributing federal assistance to needy community members. He also serves as a mediator between the village and local government in matters of
infrastructure and utilities. “Before I came, there was no road access to this village,” he said. “Since I became the elder, they made a road and the village is happy with me.”

Mahmud enjoys leading his community, but he gives God the glory for his position. “It was not something I did that got me elected,” he said. “It was the God we worship. He is the One who brought me to this level in society, and I am thankful for Him. It is through His power that I serve the people and share the gospel with them through the position that I am in.”

The villagers know that Mahmud is a Christian, but he believes he and his family could be attacked again if it becomes known that he is leading a church. “If they come to know there is a church, they will come and destroy [our house] again,” he said. “That is why I am keeping it hush-hush.” Although he is careful to avoid persecution, in a way, Mahmud also welcomes it. “I am ready for persecution,” he said. “Jesus Christ carried a big cross on His shoulders. I am ready to bear my cross just like Jesus bore His cross.”

Mahmud requests prayer for the protection of his family and home, and for the future of his ministry work in Kashmir. “Pray for this village as well as those who persecuted me,” he said, “so that they might also know Christ. Eventually, I want my influence to grow [so] that Christ might use me to share the gospel in all of this region.”

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    One response to “Rebuilding a House of Prayer”

    1. Rebekah Copas says:

      I would like prayers to be said for those whose work is as police. I have spent many years anxious and afraid of what I have witnessed being done by police, in various different styles of policework, but now I am moreso realising that it is always that enough police persons have a decent intention, which is what restrains whole police departments. Although not often a fully Christian intention, we know that all more decent intentions when surrounded by dangerous intentions, have come under the influence of the Lord Christ Jesus. Therefore we can pray for those most decent among police constables, and spies, and all kinds of police work, that their restraint may prevent excessive policing of the persecuted. We can pray like this while we pray for all who feel persecuted by police, and then eventually also find we are working our prayers towards whole police departments enabling law and order.

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