The mob gathered close around Pastor Thapa and demanded, “Will you leave your Christian faith or not?”
Taking a deep breath, Thapa boldly answered, “No. I will not.”
They roughly bound his hands and legs. The beating began. Thapa fell to the ground. More beating, and then a command to climb the hill beside him. He dragged himself on his knees and elbows through thorns and jagged rocks. The beating continued. As blood trickled off his chin and into the dirt, Thapa had a vision of his Lord on the way to Calvary. This gave him the ability to endure as he crawled on, inch by inch, blow by blow. He finally collapsed, motionless.
Thapa’s ministry saw 40 families leave Hinduism and turn to Christ. To the Hindu extremists who claim that India belongs to Hinduism, the price was Thapa’s life. Perhaps with the leader out of the way, they thought, it would be easier to reconvert his followers back to their native faith.
Rising persecution in India
This kind of story is all too common in India. Open Doors’ World Watch List of the most persecuted countries listed India as #25 in 2015. Three years later in 2018, it has jumped up to #11. Why is the persecution of Christians in the largest democracy in the world rising at such an alarming rate?
The dramatic upsurge is clearly linked to the landslide election victory in 2014 of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), with Narendra Modi as prime minister. Modi pledged to introduce a nationwide anti-conversion law (not yet enacted), emboldening Hindu militants to attack Christians. Government inaction against the persecutors has given them free rein to increase their violence. Their cry is “One nation, one religion, one culture.”
Typically, intruders break up church services, beat the worshippers, and then ask police to arrest the Christians on false charges of “forcible conversions.” However, far more serious things are happening. Pastors like Thapa are tortured and killed. Churches with all of their furnishings are burned by arsonists. Gatecrashers, spewing foul language, whip people with belts, shoes, and bamboo rods. Bleeding bodies are then dragged over dirt and rocks to insure infection invades their wounds. Recent statistics from one ANM ministry say that in the first four months of 2018 more than 200 churches were destroyed, over 55 pastors were beaten and more than 6,000 believers were attacked and warned never to gather again in the church.
Easter peace march
ANM’s partner, Kashmir Evangelical Fellowship, has been holding an Easter Peace March for the last 45 years in Udhampur, a city in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir. The organizers prayed for months before Easter this year, wondering whether they should cancel the event. Hundreds, even thousands, of lives would be endangered. One week prior to Easter, the ministry leader, Santosh Thomas, felt the Lord gave him the green light.
The day began with Santosh declaring to all those gathered — local churches, Muslim groups, and armed security forces — “Easter is the day that brings not only the awesome celebration of our risen Lord, but also the hope and promise of our salvation. Jesus came to the world for every human being to give joy, hope, peace, and harmony to all mankind. It is not just peace in our time, but peace in all times.’”
Then more than 2,500 people paraded through the city for nearly three hours. They carried signs, displayed banners, and waved white flags (a sign of peace). They sang songs and shouted, “Jesus is alive and He is risen!” Thousands of Christian tracts were distributed—all without incident! The event ended with an Easter feast and preaching at Santosh’s church. The district superintendent of police came to Santosh and said, “For the first time in my life, I witnessed a peace march that ended well.”
Four TV channels released reports exclusively on the peace march, and newspapers reported positively. Santosh said, “This never happened before. It is miraculous! We give God the glory. Whatever happens next we will give God the glory and stand on the truth that persecution has never stopped the growth of the church.”