A district in India once known for its extreme persecution of Christians is now hosting massive evangelistic events where hundreds of Hindus and tribal animists are embracing Jesus Christ.
According to a report from Christian Aid Mission, the predominantly Hindu Kandhamal District in eastern India was at one time "a hotbed of Hindu persecution of Christians."
The persecution reached its peak in 2008, when Hindu leader Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati - viewed as as a messiah figure by many Hindus - was murdered. At the time, radical Hindus spread rumors that Christians had killed him, even though non-Christian Maoists said they had killed Saraswati.
Hindu extremists retaliated with attacks that wounded thousands, destroyed 300 church buildings and 6,000 homes, displaced at least 50,000 people for months. While carrying tridents, mobs shouting the praises of Hindu gods shot Christians, burned them with fire and acid, dismembered them with swords and knives, beat them with iron rods, clubs and axes, raped them, and forced them to undergo "reconversion" ceremonies that included drinking water with cow feces. Many Christians that fled into the jungles died from disease and snake bites.
Even today, Christians are despised for being from lower classes and face shunning, being seen as anti-Indian for embracing a non-Hindu faith perceived as "Western." According to Fox News, there have been 26 documented incidents of religiously motivated violence against Christians spread across the subcontinent since Jan. 1, but Hindu radicals enjoy near complete impunity for their actions.
However, those very jungle sites where hundreds of Christians died are today used for evangelistic events, which an indigenous ministry director said have been "wildly successful." So far, the group has held 14 such evangelistic events since last August, with 1,000 to 2,000 attending each one,
"By God's grace we are holding evangelistic jungle camps everywhere the violence took place," he said. "It is God's doing. The violence took place almost everywhere in Kandhamal District. We held a jungle camp at one village church, and in 2008 that church building had been attacked, broken and set on fire, and the believers had fled to the jungle for safety."
He added, "They are happy to accept Jesus as their God and Savior and to live for Him in the midst of persecution. Thousands are gathering in the jungle camps in Kandhamal District to hear the living Word of God. People were happy and encouraged to live for Jesus and His kingdom."
He shared the story of one 53-year-old woman, whose name is withheld for security reasons, who put her faith in Christ at one of the first events on Aug. 29 of last year. She was baptized along with her husband earlier this month.
Previously her devotion to Hinduism included drinking water purportedly used to wash the feet of the late Saraswati, the director said. Later, she bounced from one religion to another, but said she had hated Christians her entire life.
"They were worshiping all kinds of gods and goddesses," he said. "She was healed in the name of Jesus after she was completely possessed by an evil spirit, which led her to go from one faith to another faith in search of salvation from sickness and sadness. She is healed now and testifying that Jesus is the true and loving God."
The woman revealed that her son had also embraced Christianity: "I was searching for this kind of life, and Jesus gave it to me," she said. "He is the only true and loving God. I am happy now."
The ministry director shared the story of another Hindu, who left all his idols to follow Christ. The new Christian's son, who would wander around the jungles with mental illness, has improved significantly since a pastor prayed for him, he said.
"Being his only son, he had spent thousands of rupees for his treatment, and many pigs, chickens and goats were sacrificed before many gods and goddesses, but he did not see any improvement," the ministry leader said. "Pray for his complete healing, as we are planning to take him to a hospital. We are sure that through his healing, the entire village will come to know Christ, the Savior."
India is ranked 17th on Open Door USA's World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most persecution. The report notes that under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, radical Hinduism, which was already present under the previous government, has increased steadily.
"While intolerance has risen, and minorities are constantly attacked, the central government has refused to speak out against the atrocities - thus further encouraging the radical Hindus to step up their actions. The level of impunity has gone up markedly for those who push for a completely Hindu India."
However, the ministry director told CAM that he is confident the truth of the Gospel is stronger than all forces of darkness, an ultimately, light will prevail: "The Lord also is doing great and marvelous work in the lives of those who believe in Jesus Christ," he said.