India is a unique country. It is known as the birthplace of many modern world religions. Its main religion, Hinduism, is followed by 81 percent of India’s 1.3 billion people and is more than 5,000 years old. Islam is the second largest religious group in India, totaling 11 percent of the Indian population. In terms of sheer numbers, there are more Muslims in India than all the Arab countries combined. India is second only to Indonesia in total Muslim population. This creates a remarkable composite of ethnic groups resulting in cultural byproducts of hate and harmony.
It has been our great privilege to be born into a dedicated Christian family who serves the Lord as native missionaries in India. We have seen many different kinds of persecution in our country. First and foremost, we’ve witnessed discrimination and exploitation based on the caste system of Hinduism. A person’s caste decided their educational opportunities, occupation, and social status. The caste system even determined a person’s last name and was a way for everyone to know which caste a person belonged to and their place in society.
A Storm of Persecution
We’ve also witnessed the persecution of those who have rejected the caste system and accepted Christianity. In Christ they experience God’s love, acceptance, and forgiveness. They enjoy a direct and personal relationship with God, equality with all people, and above all, eternal life. In response, the religious and political leaders, those representing the “upper class” castes, give them trouble to bring them back “home” to serve them.
We’ve also witnessed the persecution of Christians who have been accused of following a foreign god, namely Jesus. Some Indians place Jesus in the same category as the hated British rulers of the past. Extremist groups claim that India is a land of Hindus and all others must be expelled because the Muslims and British Christian rulers are invaders and exploiters of their beloved country.
We’ve witnessed still another kind of persecution involving emotional and legal attacks. If you are a Christian or associated with a Christian organization, extremist groups will work through sympathetic government officials to hinder you with red tape. They create disturbances at baptisms, revival meetings, and other Christian gatherings. They will try anything in their power to make you kneel down or break down before them no matter how honestly one follows the rules and norms of constitution and country.
I can’t begin to tell you about all the persecution we’ve experienced from childhood and throughout 38 years of ministry, but I will share a true story of victorious faith in the face of severe persecution, rejection, and isolation.
A Changed Life
One of our preachers, pastor Prem Singh (not his real name), belongs to a prestigious Sikh family. He lives close to the Golden Temple, the holiest site in the Sikh community. His mother used to sit at the Akali Takhat (board) of the Golden Temple. He grew up going to the temple, singing hymns, cleaning the temple courts, and helping to cook and clean at their 24 hour non-stop Bhandara (a free food service for anyone) as a devoted volunteer.
He grew up thinking that Sikhs were the best of all people, brave warriors who protect their family and country, and who give generously to help the needy.
Then his sister accepted Christ and married a Christian believer. The family was furious but when Prem Singh went to his sister in anger, he was surprised by her humility and love. He saw that she had changed for the better. His sister acknowledged that their Sikh Gurus were brave soldiers who had protected India from enemies, but then pointed out that most of their good teachings were taken from the Christian Bible.
Prem Singh refused to believe this unexpected revelation. In his anger he accused her of being manipulative and cleverly twisting the facts. His sister sent Prem Singh to our mission, regarding us as Christian leaders who could answer his questions in a better way and quench his hunger and thirst for truth.
A Courageous Witness
Here he learned about Christ and accepted him as his Lord and Savior. His family was furious. In their eyes he had lowered himself in a most undignified and disgraceful manner. In order to preserve the honor of the family, his relatives planned to kill him. (This is referred to as Honor Killing). We had to keep him hidden for nearly two years until the situation defused. In the meantime, Prem Singh studied to become a preacher. He then returned to the border area close to his home. He secretly convinced his younger brother to read about Jesus, the true living God and Savior of the world.He led his brother to accept Christ. Both men are engaged in ministry today and have been instrumental in adding many to the Lord’s family despite the uphill and difficult journey.
They had found peace, satisfaction, and fulfillment in Christ. Then they heard that some of their relatives were encouraging their parents to perform a funeral service for them, breaking all familial ties and denying their inheritance. This saddened the two men. They feared that if they could not convince their own families that their newfound faith in Christ is true, their ministries would never be powerful. So they returned to their home and lived in that hostile environment while showing Christ’s goodness, love, and humility to those who hated them. Eventually they convinced their mother to accept them as her sons. She saw their goodness and humility, and their honest loving zeal to serve the poor and needy, so she forgave them and allowed them to continue to live with the family.
An Unshakeable Faith
In the midst of all this, tragedy struck. Prem Singh’s brother died in an accident three years ago leaving behind a widow and young son. Many claimed that the wrath of the Sikh gods fell on them because they had angered them. Eventually, with the Lord’s grace and provision, the widowed sister-in-law has established a sewing school. She now witnesses to Christ’s love and strength by helping destitute and illiterate women earn a livelihood with dignity and respect.
Prem Singh and other believers in his family could have become disheartened and discouraged, but instead they looked up to Jesus in the darkest and toughest days of their lives. They depended on him and leaned on him for protection and guidance, and he faithfully led them through. Their love for God and his people grew as he sheltered them from the storms. Their trials could not destroy their spirit. Today pastor Prem Singh lives boldly despite facing challenges every day. He has established seven strong congregations in a hostile and difficult area and is prospering in life with his family.
We have many more testimonies of God’s grace and blessings as 2019 marks Mid India Christian Mission’s 50th anniversary. The lives that have been changed are a living testimony of God’s goodness. They are proclaiming Christ and expanding his kingdom, fulfilling the great commission of our Lord Jesus Christ. Praise God who is awesome and whose mercies are abundant!
Sheela and David Lall grew up as missionary kids. Sheela’s father, Dr. Douglas Henry, was a plastic surgeon and medical missionary. David’s father, Vijai Lall, founded Mid India Christian Mission. The Lalls have three children, Shanit (Shawn), Shiny, and Shiraaz and two grandchildren. The Lalls continue their family’s legacy of faith as they serve Mid India Christian Mission in Damoh, India.