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LONDON – India’s constitution assures the nation’s citizens of religious freedom, but Christians who are trying to spread their faith say there’s only one problem with that.
“In many cases, that provision is ignored,” said Gospel for Asia Development Director John Beers.
The result is predictable: persecution.
International Christian Concern reported recently that local police departments in India are sometimes leading the anti-Christian attacks.
Beers said because India’s culture still is rooted largely in traditional religions, Christian missionaries and preachers in India “expect to face persecution.”
“The students training for ministry know they will be beaten,” Beers said.
It happened in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh just recently. A pastor was attacked and beaten in his church, and the congregation was threatened by the mob during a Sunday service.
The church’s sponsoring missions agency, which asked not to be identified to protect the safety of the congregation, said local Hindu groups were angry about the church’s outreach.
“This kind of persecution happens frequently and much worse in many parts of India. The attackers carried out the assault because we had just finished an outreach in the area surrounding his church one month ago and it affected some of the villagers deeply,” the mission leader told WND.
“It was cold there, many people in our group were showing the love of God to them by providing blankets for the very poor. Some of the people were so touched that they wanted to know this God that we serve and some of them accepted Christ into their lives and became Christians,” the leader said.
Hindu nationalists also stoke the fires of persecution by claiming that any Christian activity is carried out by American or British missionaries.
The mission leader says that isn’t the case.
“These benevolent, Christian people were all Indians, and the event was planned by them, not Americans,” he said.
He suggested fear drives as much of the persecution as “nationalism.”
“I can only assume their motive, like many in the past, was fear based on loss of control over the people,” the mission leader said.
“Religious persecution is many times rooted in politics, not fear of religious freedom. I am not sure if this was the first time he was attacked but I do know that there have been other similar stories in the same region but, as I said before, this happens quite frequently in many parts of northern India,” the leader said.
“I’m also not sure if this was an organized attack against all Christian churches in the area, but every once in a while, the Hindu extremists do organize much like they did in Orissa several years ago when Christians were beaten and even killed, houses and churches burned,” he said.
Gospel for Asia Vice President Daniel Yohanan doesn’t downplay the impact of persecution, but he says that people in the Far East and Asia approach religious issues differently. He says to understand why Christians in India would endure persecution, the Eastern view of religion and the purpose of life must be understood.
In the East, he said, people think their “entire purpose is to find forgiveness of sin.”
“That’s why people go on pilgrimages; that’s why they go to the temple,” Yohanan said.
“They know they’re sinners. … They’ve never heard about Jesus. If you ask someone if they know Jesus, they say Jesus doesn’t live here. Go to the next village,” Yohanan said.
“When they finally hear what Jesus did for them on Calvary, for them, persecution is a minor thing,” Yohanan said. “It’s worth it to go through persecution if they can be forgiven of their sin.
“They say they’ll give their life if they can have a new life in Christ,” Yohanan said.
“In the West we have believers whose faith doesn’t change their entire life. It may change what they do on Sunday, but not everything. Over there they say that Christ forgave them.”
In America, he said, “we’ve lost a theology of suffering.”
“Because of our prosperity, we see suffering as an absence of God’s blessing in our lives,” Yohanan said. “In the Bible, Joseph was in prison for 13 years and in the perfect will of God, but in America we don’t see it that way.”
In highlighting the differences between the American and Indian view of persecution, Yohanan voiced what many Indian Christians say when asked about being persecuted.
“Wow! Christ forgive me – the very thing I’ve been looking for my whole life. Changed my entire life. I don’t care if I have to face persecution,” Yohanan said.
He said that while India has the most unreached people groups, it also has few resources devoted to missions.
“It’s one of the most neglected areas,” he said.
“When you think about reaching the Dalits, the poor, and poverty, you find that India is probably one of the most significant areas for mission that we have, because the harvest is so plentiful there,” Yohanan said.
“There are over 500,000 villages who have never once had a Christian witness in the village. They’ve never heard the name of Jesus.”