NEVER has persecution been so intense in one of the largest countries in the world. A nation of 1.2 billon people, India is predominantly Hindu (80.5 percent). Only 2.3 percent of the population is Christian, and many believers across the country are beaten, tortured, or killed.
Dr. Jo Anne Lyon, a General Superintendent in the Wesleyan Church, spent some time in February in various Indian cities. The Wesleyan Church has existed in the country for close to 100 years, the longest presence being in Gujarat, a state in western India.
In fact, Voice of the Martyrs reports that “Christians are attacked in India more frequently than in any other country.” Unfortunately, Christians and pastors affiliated with the denomination are not immune to this abominable persecution.
In the last 20 years, persecution in Gujarat has increased substantially as the state has become highly politicized with militant Hindus. Recently, officials passed an anti-conversion law, forcing Christians to go to court to prove they’ve not been coerced. Christian pastors are viewed in suspicion, and some have prices placed on their heads.
But despite the risks surrounding Christians within Gujarat, The Wesleyan Church continues to grow “at great risk,” says Dr. Lyon.
“I spent time with the pastors there, and they have great vision and determination,” she says. During her time with the pastors, Dr. Lyon says they “staunchly sang ‘I have decided to follow Jesus–no turning back.’ This brought new resolve to me to continue to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
The Wesleyan heritage exists throughout most of India. In the city of Vapi, one school boldly represents Christianity – so much so that the accredited school will not accept money from the Indian government so the gospel can continue to be communicated within its walls. The school began with only 30 kids, most from the Red Light District who didn’t even have names. Since then, children have been given biblical names and have been taught Bible stories attached to those names. Now, there are 8,000 students who attend, 99 percent of them Hindu.
Dr. Lyon also spent time in Rajnandgaon, a city located in central India, where The Wesleyan Church runs both a leprosy hospital and school. Over 2,600 children attend the school and are “marked” as children of lepers, living in homes painted blue–the color that signifies a leper’s dwelling place. Children attending this school know Christ and Dr. Lyon believes the “children of lepers will be leading many people.”
In a fast-growing country and economy, Christianity is spreading but the awareness of persecution is minimal for many Western Christians.
“A great deal of persecution happens in India but people don’t talk about it,” says. Dr. Lyon. “Yet these folks keep persevering. The power of God in them is so radiant and strong.”