Every statistic about India is impressive. From its enormous population of 1.06 billion, second only to China, and increasing by 24 million births each year, to the grim fact that one quarter of the worlds poor live in India huge numbers of them in desperate conditions, India demands the attention of our Christian consciences. The 200 million sacrosanct cows freely roaming its cities, towns, and villages is a constant reminder of the dominance of the Hindu idolatrous majority which claims the minds and souls of 81% of this vast population! When we further consider another 140 million following Islam, and 30 million more Hindu-influenced splinter religious groups, with a tiny 2.3% Christian minority we realise what a gospel challenge the land of India really is. Never was the Lords exhortation in John 4.35 more applicable than to India today! "Behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest".
While Christianity is only a minority group bodily in India, spiritually and influentially it is a giant presence in the land! In society generally, including the educational and medical establishments as well as the religious groupings, Christianity exerts a powerful influence, and for this reason is both feared and assailed by its idolatrous enemies. They are afraid of the spiritual and moral power of the Christian gospel, and behind this earthly opposition working through its own systems of falsehood are the, "rulers of the darkness of this world" the Satanic forces operating from heavenly places (Eph 6.12) and blinding the minds of the unbelieving masses. India is a spiritually benighted land.
This opposition has shown itself during recent years in its persecution of the Christian minority with the rise of radical Hinduism which equates nationalism with Hinduism. The wave of persecutions against Christians coincided with the rise to power of the militant Hindu nationalist BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) central government. Their affiliated right-wing fascist organisations believed that in order to be a true Indian patriot a person must be a zealous Hindu! Consequently, a violent surge of persecution began against all non-Hindus, but especially Christians whom they knew would not retaliate! This resulted in some of the fiercest persecution, including many martyrdoms, Christians in India have known for centuries. While I was having meetings in Allahabad, for example, several platoons of Hindu militants, en route to tear down the Moslem mosque in Ayodhya, marched past the assembly hall and shouted to us that we Christians would be the first to go when they came to power!
All through the 90s and into the new 21st century, attacks on churches across the land dramatically increased, from Gujarat in the West to Orissa on the Bay of Bengal coast in the east. Our Christian workers were threatened with burning and death. In January, 1999, an extremist Hindu group, the Bajrang Dal, incinerated an Australian missionary working with the Leprosy Mission, Graham Staines, with his two little boys 10 and 8, while they were asleep in their station wagon. One young brother is now a quadriplegic as a result of severe head injuries sustained when attacked by a Hindu mob while preaching in an open-air meeting in Maharashtra. In Mumbai (Bombay) local assemblies have been threatened and had to relocate to avoid further violence. A denominational church leader said, "The BJP government not only failed to stop the atrocities against Christians, but even encouraged such actions by supporting their BJP-linked groups which had been involved in the violence".
Over the past few years the intense violence against Christians has eased, but atrocities and anti-Christian persecution still occurs. As recently as September, 2006, BJP controlled State governments have passed anti-conversion bills rescinding the Christians constitutional right to share their faith (i.e. no public preaching), no church building or worship in private homes without official permission, and no conversion or baptisms without the approval of the State. In July, 2005 when I was in Hyderabad two local evangelists were lured from their homes at night by suspected Hindu extremists, murdered, and their bodies doused with acid and dumped by the roadside in gunny bags.
Yet in the face of continuing harassment and anti-Christian persecution the gospel of Christ is thriving in some areas. During these troublous times New Testament assemblies have grown to such an extent that today the assembly movement in India is arguably the largest of any single country in the world. This is true both numerically and in their tenacity to generally maintain the fundamental principles of the New Testament assembly. In the State of Andhra Pradesh there are over a thousand assemblies. Meetings are invariably in the hundreds and often in the thousands. One annual conference we have been speaking at for many years in Eastern Andhra usually has between 5,000 and 7,000 believers attending.
In what can only be seen as the sovereign work of Gods Spirit, over the past four years where we have had quite ordinary gospel series in various places in Andhra Pradesh, we have been staggered at the numbers who have come to hear the gospel. In 2003 in the town of O . over three nights 2 - 3,000 people each night came to hear the gospel. One of the militant Hindu groups alerted the police who came and interrogated one of the preachers and reported him to a higher authority, but much prayer was made by the believers and nothing came of it! In 2005 in the city of V .. the Lord again drew thousands to listen to the evangel of life and we had 9,000 people who came to the compound where again we had three nights of meetings. We have short gospel series in order to be as low-profile as possible and not attract the attention of the Hindu militants. Two of us preach each evening in an enclosed compound and the meetings last for about two hours. Last year when we revisited O .. the Lord worked marvellously and we had 2,000 believers gathering for Bible ministry each morning and afternoon. In the gospel meeting at night we commenced with 6,000 on our first night and progressed to approximately 23,000 at the gospel meeting on our final night! This can only be the Lords doing and is marvellous in our eyes. Many remained behind for counselling afterwards by the local evangelists, and eternity will reveal the extent of gospel blessing as a result of these unusual meetings.
In India today there is both opposition and severe persecution of believers by the anti-Christ elements of idolatrous religion, but there is also blessing in the gospel and the vigorous growth of Christian assemblies. Do pray for Gods work in this great land, and that the Lord will preserve and keep His children according to the prayer of the Psalmist: "Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings, From the wicked that oppress me, from my deadly enemies, who compass me about" (Ps 17.8-9).