By Darrel Rowland
Ajai Lall once preached with AK-47s pointed at him. Another time he had 200 bullets fired into his bedroom for sharing the gospel.
Many of his fellow Christians in India have been killed, raped, had their homes and church buildings burned, and/or were driven from their jobs and schools because of their faith.
“We are a microscopic minority,” Lall says. “Either you are a committed Christian or you are not. You don’t compromise. You live out your faith.”
When Lall looks to the United States, he sees how values and standards have slid as committed Christians become a smaller minority.
“I can see the shadows of persecution,” he says before quickly adding, “and maybe that might be good for the American church to experience that and grow into a greater maturity.”
But Lall says American Christians shouldn’t simply subject themselves to a guilt trip when they become aware of the experiences suffered by their brothers and sisters on the other side of the globe.
Persecution doesn’t necessarily involve physical abuse, he says.
“I think in America people go through persecution, and it’s emotional, you know, all the pressure you live under that forces you to compromise.”
Lall, founder and executive director of Central India Christian Mission, notes that the New Testament church was quite familiar with suffering for their beliefs.
“From the very beginning of the church, persecution has been part of the movement.”
But instead of extinguishing the fledgling movement, the church rapidly grew because the apostles and others kept their priorities straight.
“They didn’t focus their attention on the persecution. They focused their attention [on] reaching the lost,” Lall points out.
Persecuted Christians in India and elsewhere try to follow that example.
“You find that people who have gone through persecution and stood strong and never compromised their faith, they never pray and ask persecution to stop. They pray that we will be faithful until the very last moment of our lives.”
When that happens, churches grow.
Many who have never heard about Christ see the persecution and ask about Christians and Jesus.
“So the test becomes a testimony, and then that testimony is spread in the communities and people come and talk to you,” Lall says.
Lall and his wife, Indu, founded CICM in 1982. Since that time, more than 300,000 believers have been baptized into Christ. More than 1,100 churches have been planted and 450 Christian leaders trained at Bible academies.
The mission, which now has more than 600 workers, has expanded into Nepal, Tibet, Bangladesh, and Bhutan. A total of 60,000 patients are treated yearly at the mission hospital. Four facilities house 600 “unwanted” children, and nearly 5,000 others are sponsored.
“We have found children across the highway in a plastic bag. We have found children on a garbage dump. We have found children on the railroad platform, the dirtiest place possible in India.”
And many children have been rescued from slave labor; in the Gada tribal area, “children are sold into slavery for a bag of rice,” Lall says.
“Once a child is sold into slavery, he’s going to remain a slave until someone comes and rescues that child.”
One child, Tiharu, was sold for a 50-kilo bag of rice by his own father. Now Tiharu is a preacher, has planted five churches, baptized more than 3,000, and already has rescued more than 150 kids from slavery.
Still, the challenges of India and its 1.3 billion people—a sixth of the world’s population, and adding the equivalent of Australia every year—are mind-boggling. More than 33,000 children die from starvation every day, or 23 every minute.
“I don’t think Americans can even comprehend what happens to the child who goes through starvation to the extent that child dies,” Lall says.
The first sight greeting visitors to New Delhi are children begging. But some are victims of organized crime, which steals the children, cripples them, and then takes the money they get from begging, Lall says.
About 443 million people subsist on less than $1 per day. Almost half of the children suffer from malnourishment—the highest rate in the world. Every day, 5,000 children under the age of 5 die from preventable diseases.
India also has the most child sex trafficking on earth, Lall says.
Once, a group of the mission’s college professors was asked to show up at a brothel at 2 a.m. When they arrived in the darkness, they found eight children, ranging in age from 3 to 7, who had been serving 30 to 40 clients a day.
Risking their lives, the group from the mission rescued the children. Now all are in Bible college.
“Those children are singing ‘God is so good’ and ‘Jesus loves me—this I know, for the Bible tells me so,’” Lall says.
In central and northern India, where Lall primarily works, less than 1 percent of the population is Christian. Overall, the people are about 82 percent Hindu and 12 percent Islam, which gives India the second-largest Islamic population in the world after Indonesia.
The degree of persecution varies by who is in charge of a local area.
“We have some regions where persecution is severe, others where it is mild.”
If a state is led by the radical Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Hindu extremists often are encouraged to go after Evangelical groups, Lall says.
If a religious organization sticks to good works, such as hospitals, education, feeding children, they usually don’t face trouble.
“If you are a nominal Christian and willing to compromise, you will not have any problem,” he relates. “But when people start coming to Christ, then they see Christianity as a threat to their religion and their traditional belief.”
One evangelist, born and raised a Hindu, was kicked out of his home by his parents, disowned by his family, tortured, and not allowed to live in the area after he became a Christian. A Hindu extremist group set his hut on fire while his children were inside, Lall recounts.
“But (he) is preaching the gospel boldly and has planted three churches and is bringing hundreds of people to the feet of Christ.”
After a Hindu leader was killed in August 2008, Christians were falsely accused and many were killed, injured, or had their homes burned to ashes.
Radicals attacked and killed one woman’s husband and cut him into pieces with swords before her eyes. She was gang raped, had oil poured on her head and set on fire.
Still, Lall relates, she came to Indu, saying she wanted to serve as a children’s minister “and challenge people saying if I can share Jesus, what is your problem you can’t share Jesus?”
Carrying the Cross
What motivates such faith?
Lall replies, “I think they feel it is a privilege to be able to have a little experience of carrying the cross, and God allowing them to have that privilege of what he allowed his Son.”
Even with the persecution, Christians have a chance to make a substantial impact on India, he said. About two-thirds of the population is less than 25 years old, brought up familiar with Western culture through TV and the Internet.
“This generation is looking for the answers,” Lall says. “They want to know, ‘Why are we part of a system that treats us like slaves or worse than animals?’”
The young also are rejecting India’s caste system, which essentially determines your status the moment you are born.
“So there’s a great vacuum. . . . They are looking for hope. And we know that hope is Jesus Christ. We know they can find answers of this life and eternal life in Jesus Christ.”
Darrel Rowland is public affairs editor of The Columbus Dispatch and an Adult Bible Fellowship teacher at Worthington (Ohio) Christian Church.