Persecution of Christians in India has been rising dramatically, so it was no surprise to hear reports of an attack on a church in the state of Tamil Nadu.
During the attack, Persia Jacob, 38, was told that her life would be spared if she converted back to Hinduism. When she resisted, the attackers kicked her until she fell unconscious, then burned Bibles and other items. Her husband, Pastor Jacob, looked on helplessly having himself been dragged out of the service and beaten.
The pastor was asked if he wanted to die by hanging or being burned alive, before the mob chased him more than a kilometre. He sought medical assistance before reporting the incident to the police, who refused to register the case.
In many ways, this story echoes countless others, making it dishearteningly easy to see the incident as ‘yet another attack’. We become desensitised to the realities faced by the victims. But here are five noteworthy ‘stories behind the story’ to challenge our thinking and fuel our prayers…
1. God is gracious to those who face trials
Behind every Christian who faces trials lies a testimony of God’s saving grace. Persia Jacob grew up in an abusive home, subject to a violent, alcoholic father. He would beat Persia and her mother, and sometimes spent all the family’s money on alcohol, leaving them penniless and with nothing to eat.
When Persia was 15, her father was bed–ridden from a life–threatening disease. A Christian minister shared the gospel with him, and his life was transformed.
Persia began seeking the Lord herself. She came to trust in Him, meaning she was desperate to cling to her Bible even whilst under physical attack, and enabling her to feel comfort from God’s presence in the hospital afterwards.
This incident only happened because of God’s grace in transforming lives, and the Lord promises to keep his redeemed people for eternity.
2. People will continue to plot against the Lord
Whilst freedom of religion is guaranteed by the Indian Constitution (Article 25–28), this right is clearly not being upheld. The police rejected the testimony of Pastor Jacob, refusing to file a report after the incident.
Pressure from advocacy groups, NGOs and hundreds of protestors did eventually compel the police to report various cases such as this. However, these reports failed to name any of the known perpetrators.
Why do people conspire against the Lord and his people? Perhaps because the gospel is offensive, or they are hard–hearted, or perhaps because they fear the immediate consequences of doing what is right.
Either way, Psalm 2 assures us that the Lord “scoffs” at those who oppose Him and blesses those who take refuge in Him.
3. Religious hatred or selfish ambition?
This attack, among others, was led by Hindu extremist Thangam Venkatesh, and whilst his motivation may seem religious, it can surely be no coincidence that Venkatesh is also seeking to represent the Hindu nationalist ‘Bharatiya Janata Party’.
Perhaps the lines between religious hatred and selfish ambition are blurred here, but it would be naïve to ignore Venkatesh’s personal motives in examining the issue and looking for solutions to such incidents. Those leading attacks usually have something to gain.
Which brings us to our final two points…
4. The issue has attracted global attention
Persecution of Christians in India has now reached such a level that it has been brought to the attention of the European Parliament and the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Let’s pray that this leads to pressure on the Indian government to deal with such attacks much more severely, removing incentives for individuals to orchestrate them.
5. The decline of Modi?
The government’s failings under Prime Minister Modi have been widely discussed, with the party struggling to achieve its objectives and economic policies being questioned at every turn.
Any pressure from the international stage would make Modi’s life more difficult as PM, and could lead to a decline in his popularity in the nation. It remains unclear whether he will run as his party’s candidate at the next election, which will take place in 2019, if not sooner.
Pray with us that God’s hand would be on the election, and that in all things He would work for the good of those who love Him (Rom 8:28).