Jatya is eager to share the evidence of his faithful evangelism with visitors.
The frail yet energetic man lives in southern India, in a village heavily populated with paid informants for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The RSS, a national volunteer organisation with more than five million members, intimidates and even forces Christians to return to their nation’s “Hindu roots.”
One of Jatya’s most prized possessions is a manila packet filled with photos and newspaper articles recounting the eight times he has been beaten for sharing the Gospel in his village.
It all started in 1992, when Jatya refused to sign a document promising to stop evangelising. Police officers responded to Jatya’s stubbornness by breaking all of his fingers.
Three years later, Hindu radicals beat him and dragged him to the police station, where he spent a week in prison. The scars on Jatya’s left arm and hand are constant reminders of the third time he was persecuted for his faith; a Hindu neighbour whipped him with a bicycle chain, causing severe lacerations.
After each brutal beating, however, Jatya returns home from the hospital, takes his Bible and returns to his village. After all, people still need Christ.
“Until my last breath,” he said, “I want to serve and live my life for Jesus.”
Faith among informants
Born into a lower caste Hindu family, Jatya worked as a slave labourer for several decades. He came to know Jesus in his early 30s, after receiving a Gospel tract, and found true freedom in God’s love.
Today, he and two of his nine children co-pastor a church of 40 people who meet in a small room attached to the side of his house. When not with his church, Jatya is in his village praying with Hindus, handing out Gospel tracts and telling them that Jesus died for them, too.
He considers the persecution he has endured throughout the years to be an expected part of his work as an evangelist, and no amount of persecution could persuade him to renounce his faith in Christ. “I have left many lesser things,” he said. “I can’t leave this now. I have full faith. Everything that I do, it is in Christ.”
His eighth brush with persecution was prompted by a recent discussion with a young man in his community. Days after Jatya shared Jesus with the young man, a mob of Hindu nationalists surrounded Jatya and beat him until he lost consciousness. He suffered bruises on his face and a broken rib.
It is common throughout India for multiple paid RSS informants to live in each village, and apparently an informant had seen Jatya witnessing to the young man. As in Jatya’s case, the informants report Christian evangelism to authorities, or they sometimes take matters into their own hands and beat the evangelists themselves.
Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who joined the RSS at age eight, the Hindu nationalist organisation has seen a reported 20% increase in membership and an emboldened base aimed at further cementing India’s Hindu identity.
Jatya said the young man he witnessed to is now a Christian, though he keeps his faith a secret for fear of attack by the RSS.
Despite their mistreatment and apparent hatred of him, Jatya has only love for the RSS members. He prays that he will be able to meet each of them one day so he can tell them how he has been able to forgive them.
“God has forgiven us on the cross and He has told us to forgive,” he said, “so I forgive them.”
Still work to do
Today, Jatya is pain free. Although he still has many scars, he said he is grateful for the physical evidence of his faithfulness. When asked if he fears being persecuted a ninth time at his advanced age, he answered with Scripture: “Second Timothy 1:7 says, ‘For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.’”
Echoing John 16:33, he continued, “We will face all kinds of troubles in the world, but God has overcome the world. We don’t have to worry.”
He asks us to pray that his church will continue, even after his death, to be a light in his village of about 10,000 Hindus. He also requests prayers for his sons as they lead the church and for the salvation of everyone in his village.
For now, Jatya knows his work must continue … until his last breath.