Chandan Devi lay on the floor, her shoulder bruised from the blow she had just received. The last thing she remembers about that terrible day in her village in India was the loud bang of the door shutting behind her.
The 35-year-old and mother of four–and now the widow of Aadarsh-wipes her tears away with the end of her sari. She recounts the story of losing Aadarsh, a pastor in the village, with bursts of short sentences.
A group of 30 men forced their way into Aadarsh and Chandan’s home. None of the children were at home.
“They shouted that they were going to kill him. I begged them to end my life too. When they dragged him outside the house, I clung to him. They hit me hard on my shoulder and I dropped to the floor. The door shut, and they disappeared into the jungle.”
It took the villagers a few hours to discover Aadrash’s lifeless body in the bush. Because of the village’s remote location and the dense forest, the police were unable to help, and villagers were too afraid to intervene during the assault. The funeral was led by the wife of a pastor; none of the Christian men were able to come due to the high risks.
Fearing for her life and her family’s lives, Chandan fled the village with only the clothes on her back, leaving everything behind.
A Prayerful Person With a Heart for Youth
Before that life-altering day, Aadarsh and Chandan lived with their four children in Central India.
It was in this small village where Aadarsh met his Savior. A pastor there (whose wife led Aadarsh’s funeral) led Aadarsh to Christ and became a spiritual father to the an who would also share the gospel. So passionate about his love for Christ, Aadarsh became a pastor and led 25 to 30 people of a certain tribe to Christ–all previously animist believers. Animists believe in the spirit world and the interconnectedness of all living things.
Chandan describes her husband as a prayerful person who specifically had a heart for youth.
“He encouraged [the youth] to not join the Maoists but instead finish their studies to achieve something in life.”
Why Do Naxalites Target Christians?
Aardarh’s message and heart for youth were two of the reasons the Naxalite militants killed him. When this paramilitary group tries to recruit young soldiers into their forces, Christians like Aadarsh oppose the Naxalites. In the last 10 years, Naxalites have attacked, beaten, kidnapped, raped and killed thousands of Christians in India (#11 on the 2018 World Watch List).
The Naxalites are a Maoist group that fights for more rights of tribal groups and often views Christians as traitors to their cause and informants to the police because they don’t lie to the police when they’re questioned. Maoists have asserted control over vast swathes of land in central and eastern India and are active in more than a third of India’s estimated 600 districts, fighting for communist rule.
The rebels say they are fighting for the rights of indigenous tribespeople and the rural poor who they say have been neglected by governments for decades. The militants claim to represent local concerns over land ownership and equitable distribution of resources. In remote areas, the rebels are a force to be reckoned with, especially in eastern and central India where on-the-ground security forces are thin.
And sometimes Hindu extremists badmouth Christians and tell Naxalites that Christians convert people against their will and are secret informants. There are also cases of extremists infiltrating the Naxalites, then targeting Christians with the help of local authorities, who have been trained by the RSS, the right-wing Hindu nationalist paramilitary volunteer organization widely regarded as the parent organization of the ruling party of India, the Bharatiya Janata Party.
‘I’d Rather Die’
A week after Aadarsh’s death, volunteers sponsored and trained by Open Doors visited Chandan and first brought her groceries and clothes. “She was in desperate need of practical help,” a volunteer says. “This comforted her.”
Obviously still in shock, Chandan recounted her story with bursts of short sentences. At one time, a volunteer asked her, “Do you consider leaving Jesus?”
“I’d rather die,” she replied.
Volunteers encouraged Chandan with God’s Word, reading Jesus’ words in John 15:18-20:
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.”
Chandan listened silently.
“When we prayed over her, she cried,” recalls one of the volunteers, adding, “She was comforted by our visit and prayers. We stay in touch with Chandan over the phone.”
What’s next for Chandan and the people around her?
Obviously, Chandan and her children (21-year-old Rebecca; Raju, 17; David, 14; and Solomon, 13) need time to grieve. Rebecca is married while the other three are in boarding school. Following the custom in her people group, Chandan married very young.
The small Christian community around them is under tremendous pressure. Several times, the Naxalites threatened Aadarsh’s brother, Ajay. Last year, his son was kidnapped. After the murder of his brother, the Naxalites again issued threats against Ajay’s life.
At the same time, Ajay pressures Chandan to reveal what kind of financial help she has received. Chandan has used some of the support for herself and saves the rest for her children. According to our partners in the field, Chandan, expectedly, feels very troubled.
Please pray with Chandan and her family:
Father, we ask You to surround your daughter, Chandan, and her family with Your protection and comfort as they walk through the loss of a faithful husband and father. God, we ask You to protect Ajay and his family and the people of the village, specifically the people Aadarsh led to You. And we pray with all of the Christians in India who are suffering for their faith, that You would give them the courage to stand strong–and we ask that You would continue to advance the Church in India.
More than 63 million Christians in India are suffering persecution for their faith. Read their stories and pray with them, using our free 30-Day India Prayer Journal. Sign up to receive your 30-Day India Prayer Journal here.