‘My son died in my arms’: Neelesh’s story of loss, pain and hope in India

August 12, 2019 by Christopher Summers in Count it All Joy

I met Pastor Neelesh* at a recent persecution preparedness training during the lunch break. He’s short, with gray hair in his late 50s. He speaks cheerfully—to meet him, you would have no idea how many tragic memories he holds inside.


Editor’s note: This story is written by an unnamed Open Doors fieldworker in India.

“I’ve heard a lot about you. I look forward to hearing your story,” I tell him. He excitedly begins to share about his faith and his work—how he was healed of a terminal illness, which led him to accept Christ and then become a full-time evangelist. How people were amazed to see him healed, people who were so sure that he had very few days to live. How he has a family of four daughters who help him in his ministry.

And then his smile disappears and pain creeps into his voice.

“I had a son, too,” he says. “People murdered him because he belonged to a Christian family.”

Our conversation stops; there isn’t a word I can say to him. I gently place my hand on his arm and offered him some water. He looks at me, as if to say it was OK.

And then he continues his story.

Suffering for Jesus’ sake

As the pressure on Christians continues to rise in India, the overall number of people accepting Jesus has risen, too. As a local Open Doors partner in India, I regularly come across Christians who suffer for Christ.

I work to strengthen their faith. But there are countless times when these persecuted Christians, who I work for, in turn challenge my own faith, and help me to learn more about the kingdom of God and its worth.

Pastor Neelesh is one of these Christians. He lost his son, his fields, his job, his house—but held on to his faith, and continues to do so. He continues working as a pastor, although he knows that his neighbors—and his entire, primarily Buddhist community—oppose him and conspire against him and his family.

But Neelesh is not a superhero—his faith is not the product of some special power only he has access to. The pain in his story is unthinkable, but Neelesh is not the hero of that story. God is.

Read more about what God is doing in India today as they count it all joy.

He tells me about the day his son died. “This was 10 years ago,” Neelesh remembers. “My son, who was 7 years old at the time, had been beaten badly by the Buddhist boys in his boarding school who opposed Christianity. When I came to know about this, I hurried to the boarding school and drove him to the hospital. He died on the way.

“He died in my arms. I could do nothing.”

As he speaks, his words cut through my heart. A 7-year-old child being beaten to death—what a tragedy! How could his parents bear it? I have two children myself. The thought of anything happening to my children is frightening. The thought of watching my son die in my arms because of my faith is … unimaginable.

Neelesh calls this period the most challenging time in his life. “I was perplexed,” he remembers. His eyes are filled with tears, his hands clasped together with the painful memory that time. “I couldn’t see God’s purpose in all this. Why should He let my innocent 7-year-old die, when once the same God raised me out of my death bed?”

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No easy answers

These are not easy questions. There is real pain that didn’t disappear. In fact, for Neelesh, it got worse before it got better—and it only got better because God used others to remind Neelesh of the truth. “One day, when I was extremely depressed, I went to a liquor shop and drank heavily,” Neelesh says. “And as I was stumbling my way back home, I met my old pastor. Gazing right into my eyes, he said, ‘Neelesh, do you want to meet your son?’

“I was so very angry. I said, ‘Are you mocking me? You know he is long dead!’ To my astonishment, the pastor replied gently, ‘If you drink like this and leave Jesus, you will never meet your boy, who is now in heaven.’

“His answer shook me to the core. Here was the truth! My son was just seven when he died, but he loved Jesus. He sang hymns wholeheartedly whenever I led in worship. My martyred son is surely in heaven. I would never see him if I left Jesus.

“That night I had a vision. I saw my son playing in a beautiful garden. As I went towards him he stopped me and said, ‘Dad, you should not come here now. It is not yet your time. See, I am very happy here.’”

Neelesh says that after that night he felt an extraordinary peace in his heart. He comforted his wife and restarted his ministry. “It was as if God had revived me totally,” he says. “I moved on with more faith and zeal than ever and have been continuing still.”

Neelesh and his daughter, Kamini. Kamini told an Open Doors worker: “I kept asking my father, ‘Why do we want to be Christians when people hate us so much for it?’ He told [me], ‘Jesus is the living God; we cannot leave Him.’”

Neelesh and his daughter, Kamini. Kamini told an Open Doors worker: “I kept asking my father, ‘Why do we want to be Christians when people hate us so much for it?’ He told [me], ‘Jesus is the living God; we cannot leave Him.’”

God’s faithfulness in the midst of pain

My conversation with Neelesh changed my whole perspective on the Christian faith that day. I’ve always believed that God is in control and that we are destined to suffer and emerge victorious. But I didn’t know was how difficult it could get. I never knew how ignorant I was about the profound sorrow of losing a child. Having met Neelesh, I saw grief close-up. I could see that God has the remedy to the most excruciating pain we go through, when we submit to Him and look at Him as the only source of everything.

This was not the only persecution Neelesh and his family have faced. He told me how people from his community burnt down his house. He rebuilt it, and they broke it down again. They also destroy his crops they do that every year. The police don’t arrest the culprits, so Neelesh can do nothing other than pray and keep the faith. But that is enough to keep him joyful and hopeful in Christ.

Local Open Doors partners recently invited Neelesh to persecution preparedness training to encourage him, and continue to meet with him. Despite all of these hardships, Neelesh is firm in his faith. “I was so happy to come to the persecution preparedness training,” he says. “I never knew so many people around the world are suffering and standing strong for their faith. It was just what I needed.”

Neelesh’s pain and sorrow have found their answer in Christ. The anguish of losing his son has not passed—and never will—but the hope has returned. “I have made up my mind now,” Neelesh says. “I will live for Christ and if He wants, I will die for him. Because what I lose for Him, I will actually gain in the end.”

*names changed for security reasons

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