The shovel hits and breaks the ground—the sound of it deafening as it turns over the red clay dirt. Repeatedly, she goes through the motions, her eyes stinging with the tears falling over her cheeks, the palms of her hands burning from the twist of the shovel. The young mother is small in frame, barely five feet tall, but she is determined.
Finally, she lowers the boy she gave birth to into the shallow grave and again picks up the shovel to cover his lifeless body. Alone, she makes her way back to her village.
It is not the first time Kusum has said goodbye to someone she loves. Her husband died from an illness five years before. Despite her Christian faith, the Hindu village in Central India where she lives allowed the young widow to give him a proper burial.
But this time, the local tribal community told the widow and mother she could not bury her son in the village because of her “toxic faith.”
Watch the video below to see Kusum share her story.
Wrapped in an emerald green saree, a trim of fuschia framing her face, Kusum (a Hindu name meaning “flower”) shares her difficult yet quite beautiful story of tragedy and faithful perseverance.
“They told me, ‘You brought this curse upon your family! Because of your faith, your husband and your son are dead!’”
Following Jesus in a Hindu Nation
Kusum is one of an estimated 40 million widows (10 percent of all women) in India, though the majority is older, aging women. She is now 28. She is also one of 64 million Christians in the country of 1.3 billion who endures persecution for her faith. In her short lifetime, she has suffered more for her faith than most Christians have in their lifetime. For Kusum, persecution stems primarily from family and her local community.
The challenges started early. Born into a Hindu family, she began going to church when she was 11 but because of her family’s devout Hinduism was forced to attend secretly. Later, her parents also wanted to become Christians, she says, and went with her to church.
As is the custom in most rural parts of India, Kusum married at a young age and had her first child, a son, at age 16. Her husband, a Hindu, forbade his Christian wife from going to church and practicing her faith.
Still, Kusum prayed for him and made futile attempts to bring him to church. Four years later, their second son was born. Shortly after, at age 24, Kusum became a widow.
Without him, the young widow and mother of two struggled to support their family. The villagers knew Kusum had tried to persuade him to go to church with her and blamed her for his death.
“First, I worked as a cook, and then they fired me. Then I got a job at a school, but was again kicked out. They told me it was because I refused to recant my faith in Jesus.”
For the next five years, Kusum struggled to earn money and feed her children. She hid her faith so she wouldn’t upset the Hindus too much, and they allowed her to earn some money for food and to draw water from the well.
“Whether We Live or Die”
In summer 2015, tragedy struck again. Kusum’s five-year-old son was diagnosed with sickle cell anemia and hospitalized for a full month.
“At first, I tried to hide my faith as much as possible,” she says, fearing even more discrimination. “Then I thought: Maybe God will heal my son if I don’t stay a secret believer, but be a more open witness. I will follow Him and God will heal my son.
“I started to reveal my faith to the people around me, and slowly my son started to heal. My faith increased. I decided in my heart: Whatever happens–whether we live or die–I will never stop believing in Jesus Christ.”
Her son recovered and returned home and for a few months was his playful self. She remembers the day he came to her not feeling well.
“Let’s go to our friend, and we can pray for you,” she told him.
But there was little to no improvement. They brought him to the nearest clinic where the nurse drew blood from his finger.
“It was more like watery fluid,” Kusum remembers, her eyes gazing forward. Quickly, they rushed to the hospital. On their way there, Kusum says she felt her youngest son slip away. At 7 p.m. that night, her second-born child took his last breath.
“No! I have lost my husband!” she cried out, falling to her knees. “Now I have lost my youngest son!”
Kusum waited as her parents came to collect her and their grandson’s body.
Alone in Her Grief
Almost immediately upon returning home, a new wave of persecution crashed on Kusum. Tragedy again became an open door for persecution.
“The villagers didn’t allow me to bury my son,” she says, her voice trembling. “They said, ‘You brought this curse upon your family! Because of your faith, your husband and your son are dead!’
“In the end, I was allowed to bury my son on the outskirts of the village. I was all by myself. Nobody was allowed to help me.”
Suddenly, her focus shifts and she shares about the night her father-in-law showed up at her window shortly after she buried her son.
“It’s your fault my son is dead!” he yelled, swinging an ax loosely in his hand. “It’s your fault my grandson is dead! You killed them with your toxic faith! Come outside! I will cut you to pieces!”
Kusum had nowhere to run. She crouched in a corner, silently praying.
“I had only one certainty: I would not betray Jesus. Despite all of my tragedies, He has never disappointed me.”
Kusum may never know what went through her father-in-law’s mind that night. Was it only rage? Was it sadness, a sense of feeling powerless? In the end, he just walked away.
‘God Gives Me Strength’
The young widow and faithful follower of Christ is also a mother who has survived a parent’s worst nightmare—the loss of a child. Still, the void is unbearable.
“It’s just that … I miss him so much. I hear him talk, I see him, I feel him here on my lap.”
Then she shares her hope: “I know from the Bible that God will not bring him back to me, but that one day I will be brought to him.”
How has she become so strong? She doesn’t smile. Instead, she could not be more matter-of-fact. “God gives me strength.”
Praying With Kusum and Her Son
- Unfortunately, Kusum’s village is still very hostile towards Christians. Nobody in her village talks to Kusum or the one other Christian family in it. Pray that more people around her would come to know Christ.
- Her parents must work 18 miles outside of their village. No one will hire them because of their Christian faith. Pray with Kusum, her son and her parents as they live as outcasts in the Hindu village.
- Kusum suffers from an illness and is physically too weak to find a job so far outside the village. She and her son live in their own house; her parents and siblings take turns staying with her, and her parents provide her with daily living necessities. And she is allowed to draw water from the well. Pray with Kusum for healing and strength as she raises her son. Ask God to help her provide for herself and her son.
- Pray for her son and ask God to guide his life–that he may grow up to trust Him in whatever circumstance. He misses his little brother. Ask God to comfort and protect him. Kusum asks that we pray he will serve the Lord.
- Pray with the few Christians in the village who are not allowed to have a worship service in their own homes. Every Sunday, Kusum and the other Christians walk four miles to another church. Kusum remains faithful to the Lord.
Since meeting Kusum and hearing her story, Open Doors has come alongside her and her son with support and encouragement. When Open Doors met with Kusum a second time, she shared how thankful she was for those who prayed for her. Volunteers comforted her, telling her that many people, especially women–some of them widows and mothers who have lost children–were earnestly praying for her.