As we seek to establish communities of faith in America and the West that are worthy of the Master, feed your soul on some recent stories of persecution from Voice of the Martyrs. Let these stories do more than make you feel sympathetic to these believers’ plights… these brave saints have much to impart to us:
Pakistan – Young Christian Woman and her Father remain in Prison
Twenty-year old Sandul Bibi and her father Gulsher remain in prison in Pakistan despite four court hearings, according to VOM contacts.
“On Feb. 24 Sandul and Gulsher had another court appearance and nothing significant was determined,” VOM contacts said. “This has been the outcome for the last four court hearings.”
Sandul and Gulsher are charged with violating section 295-B of the Pakistani legal code, the ‘blasphemy’ law. Sandul is falsely accused of ripping pages from the Quran. On Oct. 9 a large crowd of Muslims attacked Christian families at a church, throwing stones and firing guns. They were shouting, ‘Kill Gulsher and his daughter Sandul.’ Sandul and her father, Gulsher Masih, were arrested after a mob from the local mosque surrounded their house. Loudspeakers from different mosques broadcast accusations that Christians had disgraced the Quran, calling Muslims to attack and burn their homes. The angry crowd threw stones and set fire to Sandul’s home. Christians believe Sandul and her father were targeted and arrested because they were aggressively winning villagers to Christ.
“Nothing will happen to me. They know and respect me. Nobody will harm me.”
Those were the last words Pastor Kantheswar Digal spoke to his son Rajendra and his wife, Karpul.
A Christian for more than 50 years, Pastor Digal was one of the few believers living in the small village of Sankarakhole, in Orissa state, India. He was well-known by the Hindus who shared his neighborhood. Yet, his son says, the family lived there in relative peace.
“We had no enemies there,” Rajendra told our VOM workers about his small hometown. “We could practice our faith in Christ comfortably with no problems with anybody locally.”
Nonetheless, on Aug. 24, 2008, when Hindu radicals began violent attacks against Christians throughout Orissa, venomous threats by agitators forced the Digal family to leave their village.
“They told my husband you better leave,” says Karpul. “He should leave his house and go away if he wanted to stay a Christian because they were not going to allow any Christians to stay in our village.” The Worst of the Worst
The brutality against Orissa Christians spawned by Hindu fundamentalists was unflinchingly complete. Homes were burned. Churches were destroyed. People were killed. The entire Digal family fled their small village in the Kandhalmal district to the slums of the state’s capital. All eight members were forced to live in a one-room, wooden shack.
On Sept. 20, 2008, Pastor Digal left his family in the makeshift shelter they had carved out for themselves. Over their objections he went to their home village to check on their house and livestock.
Pastor Digal was traveling on a local bus to his destroyed home when it was stopped by 18 Hindu radicals. What happened next was a horror unimaginable.
The radicals dragged Pastor Digal off the crowded, dusty bus. They ignored the sickening crunch of bone as both his legs broke. They proceeded to torture him, demanding that he return to Hinduism.
“I am a strong believer in Jesus Christ,” Pastor Digal said. “You may kill me but I will never become Hindu.”
The 18 men began to beat Pastor Digal. They tied his hands and legs. Witnesses watched as they stripped him of his clothes leaving nothing but a shirt. They burned his face and tortured him in unspeakable ways. Then they dumped this limp body in a creek where it floated for days. “We Never Got Angry”
Fourteen days later, after frantically calling around Orissa trying to find his father, Rajendra saw his mother on a local television broadcast. She held a black and white photo of his father. He was dead, killed by radical Hindus because he was a Christian. Even though she lost her husband Karpul says “we never got angry after hearing about the news about my husband’s killing.”
Her son agrees. “I do not carry anger towards them because my Jesus was once also killed on the cross for all mankind, for the entire sinful world,” Rajendra said. “My father dedicated his life for my village for people who still did not know Christ. I think for my village, my father also was killed. And by the sacrifice of his own life, they may know Jesus Christ and accept him as their only Lord and personal savior. ”
The Digals were one of the hundreds of people helped by VOM ministry partners, thanks to our readers. They received help with relocation, food and other basic necessities. But the aftermath of the horrific violence in Orissa has left tens of thousands of Indian Christians without homes, jobs or stability. In January the government closed the relief camps in Orissa leaving thousands homeless and without protection. Even with the uncertainty, Orissa Christians say they are strengthened by the prayers and love of Christians all over the world. Your love allows them to remain bold for Christ.
“We strongly believe that Christians all over the world are praying for us,” says Rajendra. “We are also praying for all of them. (Praying) that everyone should stand firm for witnessing for Jesus throughout their life.”
The Voice of the Martyrs has provided encouragement and financial help to “Mohammad” an Islamic apologist who converted to Christianity.
Before becoming a Christian, Mohammad wrote articles attempting to prove Islam was the only way to God. After they were written, however, Mohammad began to have doubts about Islam. He saw violence in Islam and heard his colleagues say that one day those who follow Islam will invade Europe and take their women. After hearing this, Mohammad was very disgusted.
Later, Mohammad met a Christian who invited him to his house. “He gave [Mohammad] a Bible and asked him to read. When he opened the Bible, the first verse he read was ‘And all who accepted Him, He gave them authority to be the sons of God,'” VOM contacts said. “Mohammad said it was like an electrical current went through his body when he read those words,” VOM contacts added.
“The word of God is powerful,” Mohammad added.
Following his conversion, Mohammad was arrested and imprisoned for two years. “He experienced miracles after miracles in jail,” VOM contacts said. “The authorities told the extremists in prison that he was a convert so one of them would kill him. But the Lord protected him and kept him day after day. During his time in jail, his wife accepted the Lord, his daughter who is in university and his son who is a teenager.”
Since Mohammad’s release from prison, many attempted to kill him. He has been receiving all kinds of threats from neighbor and his extended family since he was released.
VOM contacts added, “No one wants to employ him because he has converted to Christianity. Somehow, Mohammad found a job and he was doing great. Before the end of the month, his employer fired him without reason and did not even give him a salary. When he got home he received a phone call from the national security [office] warning him if he ever tries to work he will be killed. They told him, ‘You should be dead by now, be thankful that you’re not.'”
For the past five months, an underground campaign of violence directed against Christians has erupted in Orissa (one of the poorest states in India) and spread to several surrounding states as well. According to a London online newspaper as of November 20, 2008, there have been 67 Christians killed, thousands of homes burned, hundreds of places of worship destroyed, and there are now around 11,000 displaced Christians in refugee camps. The leaders of several Christian organizations in India have said that Hindu militants are offering rewards to those who commit violence against Christians. Allegedly the reward offered for killing a pastor is $250, and rewards of food, fuel, weapons, and money are being offered to those who hurt or destroy Christians or their property. They have also said that the Hindu extremist group, Bajrang Jal has set up training camps for training women to use weapons in order to kill Christians in rural areas. The Hindu groups have denied these claims, but according to the Times of India, the Indian government has found enough evidence to indicate a planned conspiracy of violence against Christians by the militant Hindu groups.
This string of violent activities was triggered by the assassination of Hindu extremist leader Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati. Despite the Maoist party claiming responsibility for the assassination, the militant Hindu group has continued to blame the murder on Christians. Following is some of the story and quotes from the interview with Maoist leader Azad by an Indian newsgroup:
“We killed Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati to avenge his villainous role in Kandhmal,” said Azad, a leader of Maoist outfit, People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army, in an interview to a leading Oriya daily on Friday.
Azad said ever since the December 2007 riots in Kandhmal, a predominantly tribal area, Laxmanananda and VHP secretary general Pravin Togadia portrayed Christians as Maoists and attempted to defeat the revolutionary movement. “Laxmanananda was taking the lead in Hindu fascist activities,” he said in the interview. “We appeal to the public to join us to fight exploitative organizations.”
According to this Maoist leader, the militant Hindu group (VHP) has portrayed Christians as Maoists, even though they are not, thus allowing them to shift the blame and focus for the murder onto the Christians rather than those who claimed responsibility themselves. Hindu extremist groups have a deep-seated hatred of Christians for converting Hindus from their religion, and claim that the Christians use coercion, bribery, and force to win converts, and it appears that they have been waiting for just such an excuse to justify a concerted attack on Indian Christians. Here is what one Hindu leader has to say to the Times of India on the subject:
‘People are bound to react when their leaders like Swami Laxmananda Saraswati are killed and fellow neighbours and friends brazenly converted.” … He was chillingly forthright when he said he will continue seeing the killers of Laxmananda as ”Christians”, not Maoists. Incidentally, three men, now arrested and calling themselves Maoists, have claimed responsibility for the murder of the Hindu leader on August 23 this year. ”Conversions have to stop, only then will violence (against Christians) cease,” he warned darkly… He went on, ”Tribals are being threatened, coerced, and cheated into becoming Christians. Even otherwise, the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act (1967) prohibits it.”
All the leaders of Christian organizations in India have condemned the killing of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, and assert that violence is never an acceptable way to solve their problems. However, the Hindu leaders promise that Hindus will react with violence whenever they are attacked, and it seems they reserve the right to decide who the attackers are without recourse to actual evidence. According to the London Newspaper covering the story, “Extremists said that if Mr Lakshmanananda’s killers were not caught by December 15 they would begin a day of violence on December 25.” The men who were ALREADY arrested by the Indian government for the killing freely claimed responsibility for the attack, but that has not satisfied the Hindu extremist groups who insist upon blaming Christians instead.
In Kandhmal (a region of Orissa), Hindu families have been flying saffron flags over their houses to distinguish themselves from the Christians, because houses without these flags have been vandalized or destroyed by angry Hindus. This seems very similar to the Nazi Germany’s identification of the Jews using yellow stars of David, albeit the other way around. All those without the “safety” of the saffron flag are in danger of violent attacks on their person or property.
In the next article, we will look at some of the reactions of the Indian government, as well as international reactions to this campaign of violence. As the threatened day of violence approaches on December 25th, let us not forget to pray that this violence will be averted, and the glory of God manifested in great power within India! Pray for our brothers and sisters, many of whom have suffered violence for the name of their Savior, and pray that they will be peacefully restored to their homes and not have to suffer through the winter in refugee camps. Pray for those who have been blinded by fear and/or hatred, that they would encounter the love and reality of our Messiah Jesus and live transformed lives, devoted to the Lord. He is our great God, able to do so much more than we can ask Him! Pour out Your Spirit, Father!