TNM spoke with people who adopted and spread the Bible during a time when there have been a series attacks on Christians.
The Hindutva campaign, which culminated in the passage by the BJP government of the anti-conversion bill in the Karnataka assembly, on Thursday, December 23, saw threats, brazen attacks, and a storm if misinformation against Christians. Community leaders assert that 2021 will see the worst attacks on Christians in the country and not only in Karnataka.
Even with the threat of misguided laws and attacks, it is not easy to give up your religion of birth and start a new religion in a country such as India. Religion is the glue that binds families and communities together.
We decided to visit the community amid hateful accusations that missionaries were bribing people into conversion. We spoke with both those who adopted and spread the Bible to learn more about what it means to be born again, and to share a faith that could endanger their lives.
Pastor Lucas Navathi, Chikkaballapura, Karnataka
As a child, there was a small temple right in front my house in D-Palya (Gauribidanur), Chikkaballapura. My village’s upper castes claimed my family, who belonged to the Madiga community and were Scheduled Castes, had washed plates in front of their temple compound. I realized then that even though we can live our lives peacefully, we will be seen and treated as a problem.
A few years later, as I was finishing my PUC, Pastor Michael from my village introduced to me the Bible and the teachings Jesus. I completed my Bachelor of Theology at Kolar’s Theological College. These verses are still the basis of my Sunday prayer meetings.
God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son to make sure that all who believe in him will not perish but have eternal lives.
My Father is the gardener, and I am the vine.
He cut off all the branches in me that bear no fruit, while he prunes every branch that bears fruit so it will be even fruitful.
In the last few weeks, they (RSS supporters), regularly come to our prayer halls with between 30-40 persons. They attack the pastors and abuse the women. Sunday prayer is a time of peace for our week. We do not speak of other Gods during this time.
I want to share the story of Pastor KA John, 65 years old, in Rajanakunte (Bengaluru), on November 14. His prayer meeting was interrupted by police officers. The prayer hall was vandalized, the cement sheet was ripped up, and chairs were thrown around. This was done at Rajanna, a leader of Hindu Jagarana Vedike and MLA for BJP, Vishwananth. This man is facing a case from 2017, when he disrupted a Christian prayer meeting.
These prayer meetings are a time for believers in the Church to come together on their own. Singing is encouraged and Bible verses read aloud. These are not prayer meetings that are meant to convert people. It is a place where people feel a sense belonging.
However, it is difficult for people such as me to see these meetings being disrupted and police officers. In some cases, the pastor is charged.
This law will affect freedom of religion. There were false cases against pastors with IPC 295A before the law was in effect. These cases show that police and Hindutva groups have joined forces to attack Christians during prayer meetings. These cases will only escalate and the fear environment will only get worsening with the passing of this law.
Elia Bakka is the pastor at Euyministries in Telangana
My father, who is from Madiga (classified as Scheduled Caste), converted to Christianity his first time. He was working in the Postal department. He was called by God and he followed his lead. I also followed his lead and became a Christian. My faith brings me peace. I am humbled and made human by the teachings of our religious literature.
Despite the threats I receive for being a pastor who takes a Bible to several places, I don’t fear them. Many of my fellow pastors have been intimidated, harassed, and attacked because of their preaching. I have fought for them, and I know that the threat to their lives is real. However, the Bible teaches me to overlook these threats and forgive those who would hurt us. These are the teachings and practices I endorse.
Right-wingers often use Dalits, members of our own community, as a means to file cases against us. These people are our brothers. The right-wingers create conflict between us. We can only pray for a change of heart. It is our responsibility to preach. No one is forcing people to choose a faith. They have the freedom to choose.
Late Reverend ST Paul Gnaniah (as reported by Rhoda, his granddaughter) Chennai, Tamil Nadu
My grandfather was a member of a very religious but poor Hindu Nadar family. We now have a good relationship with them. They used to do kuthagai, which is work that helps water ponds in villages that are almost dry. My grandfather was 15, when he was sent in a missionary school to Thoothukudi. There he discovered Christianity. When his father visited him, he saw his son in church. My grandfather was so enraged that he beat him to death. My grandfather was saved by another relative who had also converted to Christianity.
My grandfather was beaten and even tied up according to other family members. But he kept his faith. He wrote extensively about conversion and its effects both inside and outside. Later, he would attend every Hindu family function and still respect the occasion. Although he didn’t worship the gods, he would quietly stand by them as a presbyter.
From when I was a kid, I vividly remember a time when we had gone to visit him. He took me to a place in an Ambassador car. We passed another child my age on the highway. She appeared very poor. He pointed her out and told me, not in jest, but factually, that my life would have been identical to hers if he hadn’t found the missionaries.
Dr Rajkumar, Logos Ministries
I was a Hindu Brahmin from the age of 27. I was a Hindu (Brahmin) until the age of 27. I wanted to know God. I knew some things about god, but I wanted a personal relationship with him. I wanted to know him personally. A colleague of mine told my that Jesus was the only way to heaven when I accepted a job at Siemens Bangalore. I didn’t like what he had to say so I bought myself a Bible with the sole purpose of showing him that there are many paths to heaven. I was also convinced that if he was right, I would know it.
I offered my prayers to the Hindu gods, and I also said a new petition asking for God to declare that Jesus Christ is the only living god. Let me know if it’s not. After that, I continued to read the Bible every single day. I started with the Gospel according To St John. I was the only one who had that time with me, and God. I began to like the Bible and the teachings of Jesus.
When I reached chapter 14, the sixth verse was what struck me. It was: I am the truth, the way, and the life. Only through me can anyone come to the Father. The way. The way. The life. That verse changed the course of my life. I continued to read the Bible for a year. I would ask God a question and then forget about it. But God would remind me by giving me a verse as an answer to my question. I received Christ into my heart on May 25, 1980 through a simple prayer.
With inputs from Prajwal Bhat and Balakrishna Ganehan, Bharathy Singharavel