‘Our time of persecution has come’

August 3, 2022 by Christopher Summers in Persecution updates

Pastor Shekhar’s son was supposed to be a minister. Pastor Shekhar* had begun training him in the ministry, confident that the boy would continue in his father’s footsteps and serve the Lord in a pastoral calling. But then Shekhar’s arrest happened.

Being jailed, tortured and then told to leave his home changed everything. Shekhar is honest about his fears: “Sometimes when I think about this incident, I feel frightened,” Shekhar says. “My family also feels terrified. My wife is still in fear and shock and refuses to let our son be involved in ministry because we’ve seen so much pain in our lives.”

What happened to Pastor Shekhar and his family to inflict such wounds and leave such lasting scars? It started simply because they are Christians in India.

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India’s constitution guarantees freedom
of religion—and by all accounts, many
Indians agree. A 2021 survey from the
Pew Research Center found that 84% of
Indians consider respecting people of
other faiths to be an important part of
their religious identity. For decades, India has been a place of respite for people of many faiths fleeing oppression.

But the same Pew study shows a dangerous undercurrent in India: 45% of Hindus say they would not accept a person from at least one of the religious minority groups in India.

And that’s the reality that left Pastor Shekhar and his family reeling.

Pastor Shekhar is a church leader from southern India. We can’t tell you where he currently lives or works—India has become so dangerous for Christians who are active in sharing the love and message of Jesus (it’s No. 10 on the 2022 World Watch List), that sharing his real name, hometown or photo could put him and his family at incredible risk. Shekhar found Jesus after someone gave him a Bible. He took it home and found himself stunned by the simple message of John 3:16. “I kept on thinking about this verse,” he remembers. “When I read the whole book, I found out that Jesus Christ had come to this world for our sins; He was beaten and crucified and was buried but rose on the third day from the dead. It made me realize that I am a sinner—that I need Jesus in my life for my salvation. And, at that moment, I rayed for repentance and accepted Jesus as my savior.”

As Shekhar followed Jesus, he was called into ministry. And because he has served God for so long in India, he’s familiar with persecution in his country. “Being a church leader, we come across people who blame us for conversion and accuse [us] of luring people with money to convert,” Shekhar says. “They say we’re now Christians and have left our gods to start following foreign gods. We have to face many challenges—our relatives say that they won’t come to our house and that our children won’t get married because we’ve changed our religion.”

But for Pastor Shekhar and his family, the persecution became much more personal—and much more violent.

Pastor Shekhar prays earnestly

Pastor Shekhar prays earnestly

‘It was then I was frightened’

On the day that changed everything, Pastor Shekhar gathered with some believers for a prayer meeting. During these meetings, they would worship God and pray, and read and meditate on passages of Scripture. They would also pray and fast for healing and deliverance of the sick.

This was nothing new for Pastor Shekhar. His ministry was largely geared toward these types of small meetings in peoples’ homes, particularly when people wanted healing or comfort.

But on this day, something changed.

“While we were praying, policemen came,” Pastor Shekhar says. “They stopped the meeting and started to threaten us.

“It was at this moment I realized that our time of persecution has come.”

Pastor Shekhar had always known significant and violent persecution could come. He read how Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 10 that they’d be persecuted for their faith—but that the Holy Spirit would help them. So when the police broke up the prayer meeting, he was scared, but able to face the situation with courage. “I was a bit frightened at this situation from the inside but stood courageously and didn’t run away. The policemen seized our Bibles and books and threatened us; then they told us to come to the police station.”

Once they arrived at the station, Shekhar realized the true persecution hadn’t yet begun. He and the other believers were harassed, beaten and tortured. “It was then,” Shekhar says, “I was frightened.” Shekhar and the others were abused for hours at the station—and then Shekhar was separated from the others and taken into the room where prisoners eat. There, he was brutally tortured.

The policemen beat Shekhar on his back and feet with bamboo canes. They slapped him so hard in the head that his eardrums burst. They interrogated him, demanding to know if he was paying Hindus to convert to Christianity. When he denied their accusations, they beat him more. “I was in intense pain, swelling, sadness, fear and anxiety after that,” Pastor Shekhar says.

But even in the horror, Pastor Shekhar felt close to Jesus. “I got scared when I was
tortured, beaten and abused by people, but in the midst of it, I remembered God’s promises: He has promised to not leave us as orphans, but will keep us and sustain us.”

The officers’ goal was to scare Pastor Shekhar so much that he would flee the area. They finally released him with a warning that if he and his family didn’t leave, they’d be thrown in jail.

Pastor Shekhar preparing communion

Pastor Shekhar preparing communion

The repercussions of trauma

The next day, Pastor Shekhar went to the police to report what had happened to him, in the hopes that other officers might investigate the attack. But rather than help him, the authorities simply repeated the ultimatum: Leave or else.

The police officers who tortured Shekhar also went to talk to his landlord—along with a number of Hindu extremists. They threatened the landlord and told him to make sure Pastor Shekhar and his family left their home. Shekhar knew his arrest and torture had deeply impacted his family. “Through this all, I took care of my family and meditated on what is written in the book of Timothy—that I am a husband to my wife and a father to my children before I am a pastor,” he says. “It is my responsibility to take care
of them and keep them safe. I decided to [leave our home] so that I could keep my
family safe and continue the ministry.”

With no other options, he and his family packed up and fled their town.

Even though they have left the immediate danger, the effects of the attack continue
for the family. “I am filled with pain after recollecting this incident,” Pastor Shekhar
says. “I’ve grown to be more cautious and vigilant now about my preaching and teaching in society; I am also prepared for another incident like this.” The sadness lingers for Pastor Shekhar. “It was the biggest heartbreak of my life to leave my church and all the members behind,” he says. “I left that place cryingcand weeping. I was saddened for a lot ofcdays, and I [still] feel disheartened when I think about it.”

Pastor Shekhar’s wife and son are also still deeply affected. “My wife [refused to let me continue my ministry] and [wouldn’t] let my son be involved in the ministry, as we’ve gone through a lot of pain, sadness and fear. We don’t want to face more in the future,” he says. He told his wife that he couldn’t control what God would call their son to—and reassured her that the call of God on his own life was stronger than anything he might face as a church leader in India. “I’ll keep serving God till my last breath, even in happiness or sadness, even if I have to suffer greatly or slightly, even if I have to give my life for God,” Pastor Shekhar says resolutely. “I cannot stop serving God. I cannot live without serving God because I’ve surrendered my whole life to Him.”

The attack also financially devastated Pastor Shekhar and his family. His medical bills from the beatings were substantial, and he and his wife knew they would have trouble with groceries and rent. But, though they had to leave their community, this family wasn’t alone.

Today Christians all over the world are pressured, arrested, attacked and killed for their faith.

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‘We stand strong like the prophets of old’

When Open Doors partners heard what happened to Pastor Shekhar and the other believers, they were able to come alongside the family and offer immediate support—thanks to your gifts and prayers. Open Doors partners were able to provide medical help, groceries and rent assistance for the family as they rebuilt their lives. “At that time of sadness, we could feel you as a family standing by us to pray all the time,” Pastor Shekhar shares. It was a glimpse of the global Church in action—one family of God, uniting in prayer and giving to help brothers and sisters who had lost everything.

“If an animal or a bird is injured, it’s unable to get up on its own—it needs treatment,” Pastor Shekhar says. “My life was also incapacitated at that time, and we were troubled and tired. I had faith and belief but didn’t have strength to stand on my own. You took care of me like an injured bird and gave me enough strength and courage to stand on my own, which is why I am standing today.”

Thanks to your gifts and your prayers, Pastor Shekhar and his family can continue to be a light for Jesus amidst the challenges in India through his enduring ministry. They weren’t wanted by their neighbors—but as part of the Body of Christ, this family belongs to a bigger fellowship than any that could kick them out. And Pastor Shekhar is grateful. “You all have prayed for us and helped us, and I am filled with gratitude from the bottom of my heart,” he says.

The situation in India continues to be extremely difficult for millions of believers who simply want to live out their faith in peace with their Indian neighbors. And despite a constitution that guarantees freedom of religion and a general population that claims to value tolerance, stories like Pastor Shekhar’s are all too common. But thanks to Jesus, there is still hope for Indian Christians who are attacked, abused, harassed and told they aren’t enough.

“When we follow the Lord after leaving everything, our relatives, neighbors and many people come and persecute us,” Pastor Shekhar says. “But Jesus says that the person who suffers for Him is blessed (Matt. 5:10). We are jailed and brutally beaten and tortured, but we stand strong like the prophets of old because we are strong in the Word of God.”

To discover more incredible stories like Pastor Shekhar’s, click here to download Open Doors’ free magazine, Presence.

*Names changed to protect identity

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