‘Before persecution, I didn’t know how close God was’—a story of two sisters in India

August 28, 2019 by Ryan Hamm in Asia

What was the cost of following Jesus for Meena* and Sunita*?

“We lost our home, our rice harvest, 45 goats, our clothes, and we were thrown out of the village. We’ve lost friends and family, and when we wanted to build a new house somewhere else, the bricks and wood were stolen.”

Meena and Sunita are two sisters from Odisha, a state in eastern India. They grew up in a Hindu household and in a a community that was staunchly Hindu. The sisters came to faith through a Christian radio program.

Listening to the radio—that was our church service,” Meena says. “We were afraid of the hostile society [around us], but in 2006, we were baptized and started to visit church services.

About a year later, the villagers noticed something about the sisters was different. Their faith was discovered. The villagers held a meeting. “They told each other that Christians were not to be tolerated in the village,” the sisters remember. “They called our father and put him under pressure. He told them, ‘I will provide them with a room, but I won’t give them food or clothing.ʼ He did not lock us up, but we had to take care of ourselves. The entire village rejected us, but we were blessed by the Lord.”

The sisters continued to live in the village, struggling to make ends meet with no support from their family.

One day several years later, the sisters were out picking berries around their village. Suddenly, a group of Hindu extremists blocked their path.

“Christians cannot pluck berries,” they told Meena and Sunita.You can’t draw water from the well either, nor can you make use of this road through the village.”

Meena, Sunita and two other Christian women fled to safety on a nearby a hill where they hid until about midnight. For almost eight hours, they could hear the extremists shout: “Where are they? Burn them! Burn them!”

Finally, after the crowd dispersed and they felt safe, the Christian women went to another village, stayed with local believers and then went to the police station the next day. Police officers contacted Meena and Sunita’s attackers, and they agreed that a few days later the women could return for a “peace meeting.”

Why did you become a Christian?

Praying for India

Believers like Meena and Sunita know you stand with your Indian family in prayer. Here are some ways you can intercede for your brothers and sisters in India as they seek to stand strong for Jesus in India: Pray for Christian converts from Hinduism who are forcefully pressured to return to their national religion. Pray with Christians in India for God’s provision and protection as they preach the gospel in states with anti-conversion laws. Pray for Christian girls placed under house arrest by their families because of their faith. Pray they would be encouraged in their faith and that their families would come to know the Lord. Pray for the government of India, that they would open to religious liberty.

As Meena tells this part of their story, she speaks in a peaceful, quiet tone, while her sister listens. “When that day [for the ‘peace meeting’] came, we went home first,” Meena says. “A lady came in and started to intimidate us.” As she retells the story, Meena can still hear her accuser’s voice, taunting her:

“Why did you become a Christian?”

Sunita seems nervous and anxious to relive the trauma, even after the attack. Talking about the experience seems to be much more painful for her than for Meena. She listens intently while her sister recounts the events. But she clearly wants to share her story too. Before she speaks, she closes her eyes and silently prays.

“When the village lady came to our house, she shouted at us,” Sunita remembers, her voice trembling. “‘Why did you become Christians? We don’t want Christians here! Go to a Christian village.’ She hit me three times. So many other people came. My sister and I, we tried to protect each other, but we could not. They scolded us and called us vulgar names.”

Meena and Sunita were dragged outside. Men began to beat them with bamboo sticks. “I thought I would die,” Sunita says. “I endured the beatings in silence and prayed until I lost consciousness.”

“They broke at least five or six of [the bamboo sticks] on my back,” Meena says. “My sister tried to protect me, but she couldn’t. I just cried out to God: ‘Thank you, Lord! Jesus, please forgive them—they don’t know what they do.’”

The attackers were not impressed. Someone yelled at the sisters: “We know about Jesus. He died on a cross, and so will you!”

Sunita wells up as she talks about the events, especially when she lovingly talks about her older sister. “She stood in between the attackers and me,” Sunita says. “She was like Jesus and took the beating that was meant for me.

“They dragged me through the outskirts of the village,” she says. “When I woke up, my wrist hurt terribly. I saw the broken bone. I got up and I just left our village.”

As she recounts the story, her right hand touches her left arm as she explains how the bamboo stick broke her wrist, and then moves to her shoulders to explain how she was dragged from the village and left for dead.

Meena was separated from her sister, watching as she was dragged away. “I just prayed that God’s will be done, no matter what,” Meena remembers. “Sure, the beating was painful, but inside I felt a tremendous joy. I was worthy of suffering for Jesus!”

She heard others coming and decided to hide in a goat shed. “The attackers passed by,” she continues. “I saw and heard them. I crawled in a corner. And I just prayed that my sister was still alive. I also prayed that God’s will be done. I told Him: ‘I can die or I can witness. Make me a weapon, Lord. Make me a witness of you.’”

Finally, the men left. Soon after, the badly wounded sisters reunited at another believer’s house. “But she was afraid to help us,” the sisters remember. “The woman told us: ‘If they find you here, they will kill you. Go to the next village.’” So, they left again. Another Christian family provided them with shelter and took them to the hospital.

Counting it all joy

Indian Christians like Meena and Sunita are standing strong in the face of persecution—even as they are attacked and oppressed, they still count it all joy. We have the opportunity to help them today. A gift of $24 will give a Christian persecution preparedness training like the valuable training the two sisters have received. Will you give now?

Help now

Thankful for Persecution?

The sisters moved to a different village, but their situation wasn’t suddenly without difficulties. Despite all the hardships, they stayed loyal to Christ. In Sunita’s words: “We really live for Christ. I know the names of those who persecuted us and beat us. They are always on my mind and I pray for them.”

“The other believers are really encouraged by our faith,” Meena adds. “And great things are happening in our old village. One of our cousins attacked us brutally, but his attitude has completely changed. He is not a Christian, but he says to others he is really ashamed of how he beat us. And our brother has reached out recently. He talks friendly to us. Other villagers now say they were instigated by the police to attack us, but they told us they felt very sorry about what they did to us. We are very joyful. God has rewarded our prayers and faithfulness. Not just our prayers but also the prayers from countless people inside and outside of India. We recognize the importance of those prayers.”

Though Meena and Sunita now live in another village and haven’t been beaten since they fled, they still face daily persecution. Scolding and other forms of discrimination are very common. “When people call us bad names, it makes me feel sad sometimes, of course,” Meena says. “But I always remember God’s promises and His love for me. I’m excited to be persecuted. I’m very excited about God. No, I’m never afraid. If we were afraid, we would have left Christ years ago.

“We knew about persecution in theory because the Bible speaks about it,” she says. “And when it happened, we thanked God for it. God gives us strength.”

Meena says: “If I was able to meet Open Doors supporters in person, I would say to them: ‘Thank you so, so much. I request that you pray continually for us, so that we can lead many people to Christ.”

Meena says: “If I was able to meet Open Doors supporters in person, I would say to them: ‘Thank you so, so much. I request that you pray continually for us, so that we can lead many people to Christ.”

Living again

The sisters are still very enthusiastic about sharing Christ to others, though secretly and carefully.

Today, they still live in the village they settled in after they were expelled from their own village. Through Open Doors, local partner churches were able to provide food and other necessities to the sisters and other Christians who had to flee—along with some income-generating support.

“We feel so grateful for your prayers and support,” Meena says. “Thanks to you, we have been able to open up a shop [to] earn some income, enough to sustain ourselves as well as two other sisters in Christ. One works as a nurse in another state, but she lives with us. And the other is studying, thanks to our income.”

“[In 2018], because of the shop Open Doors partners provided, we were able to cultivate pumpkins and were able to earn a profit of 100 percent; we are very happy about it,” Sunita shares excitedly.

However, the population in the area where the sisters live is very small, and the shop is not earning as much as it could. Meena is searching for a better location closer to the city, where they can relocate the shop. “We have not been successful so far,” Meena shares. “Please pray for us.”

Teaching what they’ve learned

Meena and Sunita have become examples for other believers. Open Doors has partnered with them, and they attend seminars to help them understand persecution preparedness—and they receive training to help others know what to do when persecution comes. These seminars teach Indian believers principles about God, Jesus and persecution, and about their legal rights. A very important part of the training seminars are testimonies from other persecuted Christians. Meena and Sunita have shared their story with the other participants and will continue to do so.

Meena has explained what she and her sister have lost by following Jesus—but what have they gained by staying faithful? “God has been so loyal,” Meena says. “He takes care of us. Through His provision, we now have a shop where we can earn our own income. Not only that, but we can provide for other believers too. We live in a home and don’t have to pay rent. Most of all, we’ve gained a worldwide family that looks after us. Thanks to your prayers and support, our lives are so much better now.

“If I was able to meet Open Doors supporters in person, I would say to them: ‘Thank you so, so much. I request that you pray continually for us, so that we can lead many people to Christ,’” Meena says. As she delivers this message, Sunita is overcome with emotion, unable to speak.

“Before the persecution happened, I didn’t understand how God was so close to us,” Meena continues. “But He has proven that He is so faithful in His grace and kindness. He has always kept us. I want my friends from abroad to know that we are very encouraged by them and stand firm, even through persecution. We know the Word of God and stand firm in it. I encourage my brothers and sisters to stand firm in His Word, no matter the circumstances.”

*representative names used to protect identity

This story originally appeared in the summer 2019 issue of Open Doors’ Presence magazine—a quarterly magazine that connects you to the stories, needs and up-to-date research on the persecuted church all over the world. Every issue covers in-depth features, interviews, trends and first-person accounts to help you stay informed and inspired to pray with your persecuted family. Download previous issues here. 

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