Weeks after a pastor led five families to faith in Christ in southern India, masked men on motorbikes intercepted him on his way home from worship and tried to kill him, sources said.
Pastor Banothu Sevya, 26, was in a coma for 48 hours after the drunken Hindu extremists beat him in Govindapuram, on the outskirts of Jamandlapalli village in Telangana state, last month. They had threatened him twice before, he said.
"But I didn't pay attention, knowing that when the Lord's work is taken up, there will be hurdles, and I never complained the police officials," Pastor Sevya told Morning Star News.
In their prior threats, the assailants had accused him of fraudulent or forcible conversion, asking how he lured Banjara tribal people and what he told them, he said.
"I told them, 'I only share the gospel, that we are all sinners, and this world is to come to an end some day. Only Jesus Christ can cleanse us from the sins. He was crucified for our sake, and rose again to present us eternal life. I ask them if there is life in the rocks, trees and water - why worship them?'"
Pastor Sevya said he told them he spoke to every person individually when they came to ask him about Christ.
"Most Banjaras say they get afflicted by evil spirits," he said. "They want them to be sent away. Some want to be healed, some need the Lord's help in their pursuits to get educated. I share the gospel and pray for them. We witnessed the Lord doing miracles among them. He does not forsake anyone who comes to Him."
Pastor Sevya first preached Christ in Jangi Thanda, a village in Govindapuram, at the request of a relative. When five families came to Christ, he had been as astonished as anyone.
"I too belong to the same Banjara tribal community, and it is not possible by human strength to separate them from idolatry - they have a number of gods enshrined in rocks, trees, water and the like," he said. "The five families left everything behind and have been walking in the Light since they invited Jesus Christ into their hearts. It is a miracle."
On the evening of Oct. 5, more than 60 villagers had gathered at his relative's house to study the Bible and worship in a service that lasted until 9 p.m., he said. As he rode home on a motorcycle, he noticed the masked men following him.
"I didn't see where they came from," he said. "They pushed me off the bike and started beating me with sticks and kicking me. My nose and ears were bleeding. I lost my consciousness."
His wife, Banothu Anusha, told Morning Star News she received a phone call at 11 p.m. informing her that her husband was injured and had been admitted to the Government Hospital in Mahabubabad.
"I immediately rushed to the hospital with my father-in-law," she said. "I was told my husband was found unconscious lying on the road by passengers of a State Road Transport Bus. They saw about 10 men fleeing from the scene, and one man lying unconscious as the bus approached."
The assailants are from Jangi Thanda, where Pastor Sevya had been evangelizing the past few months, she said.
"They attempted to murder him," she said. "Doctors in Mahabubabad and Warangal districts told me he would die, and my father and father-in-law arranged for 100,000 rupees [US$1,545] and shifted him to a private hospital in Hyderabad."
Doctors told her he had blood clots in the cerebral area, brain coordination problems, injury to his eye and a damaged eardrum, she said.
The pastor said he was alive only by the grace of God.
"I forgive the youth who attacked, and I am praying for them," he said.
His wife filed a written complaint with police in the Mahabubabad Rural Police Station, but they did not register a First Information Report, she told Morning Star News.
Pastor Sevya said police claimed they would continue to investigate, but that they offered little hope as the assailants were masked and he could not remember most of the assault, having slipped into a coma.
He pastors a 60-member church in Sri Raja Thanda, a tribal hamlet in Mahabubabad District where he resides with his family. The pastor requested prayer for completion of a church building there and strengthening of the congregation's faith, and his wife requested prayer for his recovery.
Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, the hostile tone of his National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), against non-Hindus has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians, religious rights advocates say.
India ranked 15th on Christian support organization Open Doors' 2017 World Watch List of the countries where Christians experience the most persecution.