Indian state laws make converting to Christianity increasingly dangerous

Last week, two Bibles for Mideast pastors were attacked by Hindu radicals in north India. The pastors, both converts from Hinduism, led a house church in the region. A group of people entered the church, demanding they discontinue all meetings and services.  The pastors refused, so two days later were brutally attacked. Pastor Stephen of Bibles for Mideast reports that the local government and police apparently fully supported the attackers.

India’s governing party, the BJP, continues to push forward in its stated Hindutva ideology, or the 'Hinduisation' of India. With power at both national and state levels, their philosophy basically holds that the nation can be cohesive and workable only by maintaining the beliefs, tenets and culture of one religion—Hinduism.

The Indian state of Jharkhand just last week joined five other states (Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat) in passing an anti-conversion law.

While dubbed the ‘Religious Freedom Bill 2017’, it is anything but. The new law bans people from attempting to convert others "by use of force or by allurement or by any fraudulent means," with punishments including fines of up to 100,000 rupees (US$1,600) and four years in prison. It also states that a person converting willingly must give Jharkhand’s Deputy Commissioner details of the time, place and name of the person administering the conversion.

"This is very unfortunate for the people of Jharkhand," said the Rev. Dr. Man Maish Ekka, a member of the Jharkhand Sadbhavana Munch, a local religious freedom forum. "This is not just an attack on Christians, but is an attack on the religious freedom that the constitution gives to the very citizens of this country.”

The Indian government’s pro-Hindu stance has left it unwilling to tackle Hindu extremism     [Photograph: Str/AFP/Getty Images]

The Indian government’s pro-Hindu stance has left it unwilling to tackle Hindu extremism   [Photograph: Str/AFP/Getty Images]

William Stark of International Christian Concern pointed out that Hindu radicals have taken advantage of similar laws in other states to harass and intimidate the country's minority Christian population.

"These laws are widely abused by Hindu radicals due to the legal ambiguity within the laws themselves. Often, these laws provide an easy excuse for radicals to attack Christian leaders with impunity. One simply needs to claim the pastor was forcefully converting an individual following an assault,” Stark explained.

"As a result, instead of the pastor's assailants being arrested, it's the assailed pastor who is arrested by police following an attack.”

As this ministry and many others have experienced and reported, harassment and threats on Christians in India in the first six months of 2017 have been the highest since the country’s independence (report on increasing persecution of Christians in India from Open Doors USA here). Extremists have tortured and killed believers and vandalized and demolished churches, some from Bibles for Mideast.

The anti-conversion laws of course make it extremely difficult and dangerous to talk about and share the Christian faith.

“It's based on the idea that conversion by force should be made illegal,” pointed out Andrew Boyd of Release International.  “I think everyone would agree that conversion by force would be useless."

"But actually, if you preach about heaven, then it's considered to be bribery. If you speak about hell, it's considered to be a threat. If you offer any kind of Christian charity, then it's regarded also as bribery.”

In many of the places Bibles for Mideast missionaries live and work, severe persecution from both Muslims and Hindus remains an increasingly harsh reality.

Please pray for all of our pastors, missionaries, churches and believers. As regular visitors to this site would know, Pastor Paul, director of Bibles for Mideast, has himself been the victim of threats and assaults by both Hindu and Muslim extremists. He is still recovering from a stoning attack which happened several months ago in a country neighboring India (URGENT call to fast and pray for Pastor Paul, director of Bibles for Mideast). He continues to improve and hopes to be back working in several weeks.

Former Hindu ‘snake goddess’ now powerful witness to Jesus

To Christians, a snake symbolizes evil and the Devil himself. Yet Hindus view serpents as divine creatures worthy of worship—in temples dedicated to them, as well as in their natural habitats. Westerners familiar with the increasingly popular practice of kundalini yoga may, or at least should be aware of the entwinement of Hindu-based yoga and the ‘serpent power’ kundalini yoga attempts to awaken in practitioners. That however is a whole other story!

For young Nagamma, growing up Hindu in southern India, loving snakes seemed natural. Her family were of the Dalit class, on the lowest rung of India’s social ladder and once known as ‘untouchables’.  Without many options for employment, her father was a leading wizard of black magic and taught  the craft to his daughter from a young age. The name given her, Nagamma, even means ‘mother of snakes’.

“As a child, I fed the local snakes, carrying milk to the edge of their snake holes,” she recalls. She would also join members of her community to worship in a special temple dedicated to snakes, located under a fig tree in the border area of Kerala and Tamil Nadu States. Her love of the many idols, especially the snake gods, only increased.

One day as a young 12-year-old, a cobra raised its head and bit her while she attempted to bring milk to it. Her parents rushed her to a local non-traditional medical practitioner who wasn’t able to fully remove the poison from her body.

Within three days her outward health appeared to improve, but—to put it mildly—unusual side effects began manifesting. She began feeling completely different in both body and mind, her skin even taking on a bluish tinge.

“I started acting like a snake,” she explains matter-of-factly. She even started acting like one. Soon, all she wanted to do was sit in the temple dedicated to snakes. When people began treating her as a snake goddess, her father announced to them that yes indeed, that was what she had become!

As her fame increased, people from her community and beyond began bringing offerings of milk, fruit and flowers to her. They gave her money, fell prostrate before her, and believed if she touched them, they would be blessed.

“I asked if I could visit them in their homes,” she explains. There, for a fee, she would invoke the black magic learned from her father in an effort to destroy their enemies and so, she hoped, bring blessings on them. Her parents would pocket the money given to her.

worshipping a 'snake god'?

worshipping a 'snake god'?

When Bibles for Mideast missionaries visited Nagamma and her family, they gave them brochures on Christianity and the bible, and shared the good news of Jesus. Her father contended that since his daughter was a goddess, they should follow her, not Jesus!

Five years ago, Nagamma went to the home of a family with a young child to perform her black magic.

“Something unusual happened there,” she recalls. “Satan instructed me that there was golden treasure in that house, and I should sacrifice the child of less than three months old to find the treasure.”

An intense spiritual battle for the life of the baby ensued. Nagamma had never encountered that before; apparently the prayers of the Bibles for Mideast workers was having an effect in the heavenlies. Nagamma couldn’t, as she says, “complete the black magic for that house,” and fled.

In her bedroom that night, she had a remarkable visitation.

“A white and handsome man came to me and sat beside me,” she says with wonder. Her room filled with the brightest light she had ever seen. When the man showed her his hands, she could see what looked like injuries caused by nails.

“He told me: ‘My daughter, you are dear to me. I am your Lord and God. I give the treasure of peace and eternal life. I am the door. Those who come to me will be saved; they will go in and out and will find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come that you might have life. Life in all its fullness!’”

From the words she’d heard from the recent Christian visitors to her home, Nagamma recognized the man in her dream as Jesus Christ! Overwhelmed with emotion, she knelt before him and accepted him as her personal Savior and Lord.

In the days that followed, her changed heart led to bold actions.

“I broke all the idols in the temple of snakes myself,” she says. “My parents and those who believed in me did not like it. They told me I was mad. They tied me to a tree and beat me. Many other persecutions I faced. But I did not lose my faith in Jesus and wanted to enter into the fold of Jesus Christ through baptism.”

Her next step was to contact Bibles for Mideast and request baptism. She chose as her baptismal name ‘Maria’, and the Lord has anointed her mightily as an evangelist to her people. Her parents and brothers have all joined her in believing in and following Jesus. A prayer tent for Christian worship now sits where the serpent’s temple once did.

Five years after her dramatic conversion, God continues to use Maria as a mighty weapon against the kingdom of darkness. She works with Bibles for Mideast bringing many Hindus into the love and freedom possible only with Jesus.

Please pray for her protection, and for all those converting from Hinduism to Christianity. The conversion is instantaneous, but often inner healing and deliverance are needed to bring about the full freedom God so desires for His children.