India:

Church grows despite persecution

Acid attacks, beatings and arrests can’t stop the love of God reaching Indians.

A man blinded in a fight hears about Jesus and is now leading others to Christ. A woman becomes a Christian soon after seeing the Jesus film and is healed of Hepatitis B. The stories of lives transformed by the gospel in India are inspiring. And BMS World Mission is helping these stories happen.

The sheer number of those becoming Christians is amazing too. In 2016, 80,000 non-believers were introduced to the gospel and 4,000 home groups were founded by BMS worker Ben Francis and his team. The church planters have learned that connecting with people, rather than throwing Bible knowledge at them, is key to changing hearts. “It’s a lot about building relationships,” says Ben. “People on the streets of India don’t care how much people know, they want to know how much you care.” Thanks to this approach, God’s love is spreading like wildfire throughout India.

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Seeta is part of the church planting team. In this short video, she explains how she started planting churches and what God is doing through her ministry, which is supported by BMS.

No matter what they are doing, we are reacting with love

What makes the impact of BMS church planting in India especially impressive is the backdrop of persecution that challenges it.

Attacks on Christians in the country are on the rise. A report published by the Evangelical Fellowship of India stated that between January and June 2016 there were 134 incidents of Christians being targeted across the country: from burning churches to assaults against believers. A leader of the Hindu extremist organisation Dharm Jagran Samiti in Utter Pradesh said in 2014: “Our target is to make India a Hindu Rashtra [realm/country] by 2021. The Muslims and Christians don’t have any right to stay here” (Daily Mail).

As Ben and his team of evangelists are planting churches in unreached areas, they often face hostility. “When you go to a new place, there is always persecution,” Ben says. “So we are used to all of this. If you say to my guys, ‘have you ever been beaten up?’, they can’t count how many times.”

Unlike in the Middle East, where many Christians are leaving their region to escape persecution, for Christians in India it is often impossible to go elsewhere.

“In India, Christian communities are poor,” says Ben. Many Christians are from traditionally lower caste backgrounds. “Where would they go? They have nowhere to go. So they stay, which is a very good thing. If they leave, then they have lost the battle.”

One of the most shocking cases Ben has seen is a woman who had acid thrown in her face by extremists in her village for becoming a Christian. Ben and his team are supporting her and are trying to arrange some plastic surgery for her. Despite the attack, she is staying in her village.

“Her husband has left her. She’s lost everything,” says Ben. “She is surrounded by non-believers who are saying, ‘Give up Jesus or we will kill you.’ But she’s still strong. She’s not going to leave Jesus.”

A Christian couple Ben works with were arrested and the husband was held in prison for several days. This is becoming a common occurrence.  “Now to put a Christian into prison, you don’t need a reason,” Ben says. “All you have to say is: ‘They are forcibly converting us.’ These Christians have never forcibly done anything in their lives.”

Despite increasing persecution of Christians, many seek to hear the gospel in India.

But there are signs that the peaceful stand Christians are making for their faith is beginning to have an impact.

“A lot of people who were persecuting Christians are realising that we are not resisting. No matter what they are doing, we are reacting with love,” says Ben.

Contrary to extremists’ plans, Ben and his team are finding that persecution can often lead to a greater response to the gospel. When church planters from Ben’s team were briefly arrested in a village for showing the Jesus film, they returned 48 hours after their release to show the film again. Many more people came to see it than when they showed it the first time.

Every time they show the Jesus film, Ben or other leaders like to ask a simple question: ‘how many of you want to be a friend of the Jesus that you just saw?’ “Hundreds of people usually lift up their hands,” says Ben. “It’s wonderful.”

How, then, can we pray then for these incredibly brave men and women who, supported by BMS, are growing the Church in India and transforming lives, risking their own lives to save others?

“We want to speak the love of God throughout India,” says Ben. “Pray for justice, for peace, for strength and for determination. Pray that Christians experiencing persecution will look to the Lord for help.”

Pray for open hearts and open doors in India as BMS continues to share Jesus with people in the country.

Posted on: April 04 2017

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