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Flourishing Under Pressure Series -- Flourishing During Persecution

Discover how the Church is flourishing in places where persecution is prevalent.
(Second in a series of five "Flourishing" articles)

The architect’s office was a small room in a building on a dusty Indian road. The room had one door and one window. There were two tables: one for the architect and the other for his two junior associates. Next to the architect’s desk were two plastic chairs. *Mamu, the Hindu village chief, sat in the first chair; I was in the second.

Across the table, we had spread the blueprints for a two-story building with a meetin hall on the second floor and a three-bedroom home on the ground floor. A local pastor’s dream of having a Christian church with a parsonage was coming to life. Years before, the church had purchased the land, and a generous donor in the West had provided money to build the church. Now the church’s leadership had asked me to review the plans.

Mamu was familiar with Christianity. A year earlier his two daughters, his niece, Mamta, and several neighbors had started following Jesus. He was familiar with the customs of this western religion and their buildings with steeples and crosses, priests with Bibles, meals with meat, and festivals with strange stories.

Mamu spoke to the architect first. He asked, “Where is the bell?”

There was no steeple, cross, or bell on these drawings. Without a word the architect’s puzzled face said it all. Where am I going to put a bell tower on this building?

His associates stopped their scribbling and looked over. Again, and emphatically, Mamu repeated himself. “The bell! A cross!”

The architect’s pen hit the paper searching for a quick revision, but only confusion seemed to surface. The moment was rich with potential. I asked the architect and the listening associates, “If we put a bell on this building, will you come into it?”

The architect, Mr. Rawat, a high caste Hindu responded, “No. I am Hindu. Hindus go to the temple. Muslims go to the mosque. Christians go to the church.”

“Then,” I replied, “we are not going to put a bell on this building because Jesus came to be with Hindus, Muslims, and Christians. He is for all of us. I do not want anything on this building to keep you from coming into it.”

Jesus is for everyone — that is part of why the news is good.

The gospel is not fragile. Tyrants, dictators, heretics, wars, persecutions, famines, and unrest throughout history have not stopped the progress of Jesus’ mission to restore a broken relationship with humanity. This restorative message first came to India through Thomas, one of Jesus’ disciples. After 2,000 years India is a nation with a Christian population that some estimate to be as high as 4.8%.

One hundred years ago, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar introduced a philosophy called Hindutva, inspired by European fascism. Like fascism, the goal of the Hindutva movement was to create a hegemony in India. Essentially, this philosophy intended to define who had the right to say they were Indian, or who was a true Indian — who had “Hindu-ness?”

For Savarkar, to be Indian was to be born in India, to follow Indian culture, and to be a part of a religion that originated within the India subcontinent (Hindu, Buddhist, or Jain). This resurging nationalistic philosophy has serious implications for Muslims and Christians in India.

The U.S. Department of State website lists a summary of religious rights violations. They report that, “Attacks on members of religious minority communities, including killings, assaults, and intimidation, occurred in various states throughout the year. . . . There were also attacks on pastors, disruption of Christian and Muslim worship services, and vandalism of churches. . . . On April 6, the Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations of North America released its 2022 annual report and documented 761 violent incidents against Christians in the country in 2021, including neighborhood skirmishes, targeted killings, and armed assaults.” In addition to violence, more than 20,000 charitable organizations in India are no longer able to receive funding from outside of India. Western forms of Christianity are being targeted.

The pastor requested Mr. Rawat to revise the architectural drawings to include a cross. The church was going to construct a building.

Indian buildings are supported by concrete and rebar pillars. This structural work is the greatest expense for the project. The night after workers had poured the pillars — before the concrete set — locals who had embraced the Hindutva philosophy entered the property and removed the forms that held the pillars. The work was destroyed. Years later, the building remains incomplete. The message from the community couldn’t be clearer: Outside religions are not welcome.

These threats to Indian Christianity leave space for the authenticity of Jesus’ good news to break through the historical and cultural misunderstandings of what life with Jesus is about. Is following Jesus about a building? Is following Him about a diet? Does life with Jesus require a certain type of clothing? If your answer to those questions is yes, then the radicalization of Hinduism within India has potential to wreak havoc on the Christian’s cultural way of life. This is the choice for those in India who follow Jesus.

Will Christians double down on their Christian culture elements, or will they adapt their communication strategy to be “on the way” with Hindus? Will Christians walk with Hindus as friends, allowing them to meet and experience Jesus without the Western trappings of Christian religion? This choice for those who follow Jesus in India determines whether the current socio-political storm stirring there will be a pivotal moment that leads to thriving communities of men and women who follow Jesus, or communal groups in Western church buildings who dig in their heels and say to their neighbors and towns, “It is us versus you.”

Mamta, who met Jesus at the same time as Mamu’s two daughters, was transformed from a deserted mother of two — bootlegging alcohol in her tiny village to survive — to a thriving life with others who follow Jesus.

Mamta moved from Mamu’s village with the church building to a town where a different type of Jesus community exists. This community doesn’t have a church building, a pastor, dress codes, or dietary rules. This community allows her to wear native dress. She wears the same jewelry as other married Indian women. She was born a Hindu, but she loves Jesus and honors Him with her whole life. Now, she leads a devotional group with her two neighbors. One of them, like her, was born a Hindu but is now following Jesus. The other Hindu friend enjoys hearing stories about a God who wants to be with her. Mamta is “on the way” with her neighbors and friends. She understands that the good news is that Jesus is for everyone. This is the message a radicalized India needs to hear and experience.

*Names changed for security throughout the series. This article original appeared in Worldview magazine, Vol. 10, Issue 2. Used with permission.