Onslaught on Christians in India’s Sacred State

One evening in early September 2018, an investigative report on India’s Zee News stunned many viewers with the claim that pastors in Uttar Pradesh state were paying Hindus to convert to Christianity. Though fictitious, the report reinforced similar claims about Christianity that had appeared elsewhere.

Hindu radicals were incensed by the news that Christianity was growing and even flourishing in Uttar Pradesh, which is considered the sacred home of Lord Shiva and an important site of worship on the holy Ganges River. Hindu nationalists believe that India should be a purely Hindu state and that followers of other religions should be expelled from the country.

Throughout September and October, persecution against Christians erupted across the densely populated state of Uttar Pradesh. Gangs blocked roads leading to churches and vandalized some smaller churches. Angry mobs beat Christians and dragged pastors from their beds in the middle of the night. Police arrested pastors during Sunday services, closed churches and arrested more than 100 Christians for “creating community disharmony.” And most evangelism in the area came to an abrupt halt.

Meanwhile, Christian leaders in the area struggled to respond to the ongoing incidents, paying bail, traveling to encourage families of those arrested, hiring lawyers and reassuring church members. “Our two representatives based in Varanasi are totally exhausted as they have been running around day and night since Sept. 5, 2018,” a VOM partner said. “Thanks for your encouragement, prayers and offer to help. We are short of helping hands in Uttar Pradesh, as every day one incident or another is happening.”

Christians gathered in a house church shortly after a period of intense persecution in Uttar Pradesh.

Though the reports of paid conversions were false, the Hindu radicals did — and do — have reason to fear. In the past 10 years, the number of Christians in Uttar Pradesh has increased dramatically, with a huge number of the state’s more than 200 million people placing their faith in Christ. While a precise number of new believers is impossible to obtain, it’s clear from the reports of multiple Christian leaders in the area that Christianity is growing rapidly. Many middle-class Indians are now turning to Christ, a historically uncommon trend, and Uttar Pradesh is now home to what may be the fastest growing house-church movement in India.

What the propaganda pieces got wrong were the reasons people are converting to Christianity. As Christians told Zee News when interviewed for the report, they accepted Jesus because he answered their prayers or because he healed an illness. The truth of the gospel and work of the Holy Spirit do not require coercion or enticement. Christian leaders in the region noted that while the interviews were intended to portray Christianity in a negative light, many believers took the opportunity to share the gospel in their answers, giving even more people the chance to hear about Jesus.

The situation for Christians gradually normalized by November 2018, but the intense persecution of the previous two months had unexpected results. “Persecution has brought greater unity between the churches,” a local Christian worker said.

Still, a Christian leader in the region said he expects persecution to worsen. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has used his four years in office to fill government leadership positions with affiliates of the Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Every village in India now has RSS volunteers who monitor non-Hindu activity and act as missionaries for the Hindu cause. The Christian leader asked for prayer that Indian believers would not succumb to fear. “If we have boldness, we can overcome,” he said.

A few weeks after the attacks subsided, a group of believers gathered for worship in a living room in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. As the service progressed, younger people took their places on the floor of the small room facing the pastor, while older people sat on chairs around the perimeter of the room.

The Christians worshiped God with outstretched arms and soaring voices, accompanied only by a bongo drum. During Bible reading, most peered intently at black hardcover Bibles in their laps, while a few followed along with digital Bibles on their cellphones. Later, several people shared how the Lord had helped them or answered prayers during the week. After a closing prayer of blessing, the congregation spilled out into the fall sunshine, determined to remain shining lights for Christ amid the spiritual darkness in Uttar Pradesh, regardless of what the news reports say about them.

Increased Attacks by Hindu Radicals in India’s Uttar Pradesh
Categories: Stories from the Field

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