As two Hindu extremists gripped his hands while others beat him last week in northern India, Pastor Amar Stephen was asking God to forgive them.
"Some attackers were holding both my hands so I couldn't move, while others in the mob beat me," he told Morning Star News. "At that time, I did not feel the pain of a single blow. I was praying to the Lord, 'Lord please forgive them. Please begin your work in the hearts of these people.'"
The hard-line Hindu mob on Thursday (Aug. 10) had gone to his residence in Muzzafarnagar, Uttar Pradesh state, to warn him against returning to Mohanpur village in neighboring Uttarakhand state, where he had preached at a house church two days earlier, he said.
"You can do nothing to us - we will attack you again, if you don't stop Christian activities in Mohanpur," one told him.
At the Aug. 8 service in Mohanpur, in Roorkee District, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) members had stormed into the worship service and beaten him with belts, shoes and sticks.
"They barged inside the house church and questioned, 'What is your business here?'" he said. "I told them we were praying. They said, 'You are not praying, you are converting people.' I said, 'No, no. We are not converting. We are praying to the Lord, we are worshiping Him. Is taking the name of the Lord itself conversion?'"
They seized Bibles and Christian literature and took hold of him, telling him to come with them to the police station. Although he consented, as they were about to leave the room they began beating him, he said.
The mob of about 150 people videotaped their assault as they beat him with belts and kicked him, he said.
"I was dragged to the police station held by the hands by the RSS activists," he said. "They took out a procession to a distance of about half a kilometer with an intent to shame. They shouted, 'Look, look here is the man who follows Jesus Christ. God who could not save Himself, how can He save the world? How can He save you?"'
They continued mocking him, spitting out derogatory, hateful words against Christianity and Christ, he said.
Police took a written statement from him and released him. After coming home from the police station that day beaten and bruised, Pastor Stephen went to his knees in prayer and began reading the Scriptures.
"The Lord spoke to me from Isaiah 64 in the verses 10, 11 and 12," he said. "I am confident that the Lord will establish His church in that very place and among those very people."
A convert from Hinduism, since he began pastoring in the area five years ago he has never faced any opposition, he said. His visit to Mohanpur drew attention to his ministry, as the assailants know some of the church members there.
"I am asked to not enter the village," he said. "But with this incident, my faith grew stronger. I am spending more time in prayer for the believers there. I'm hoping even more strongly that the Lord's house be built there, and the people who attacked me, that they must know Christ. They must experience His love."
He asked for prayer for the Christians in Mohanpur, saying they are living under great pressure.
Waiting on God
In Uttar Pradesh state, also in northern India, pastor Mahendra Pal, 45, was attacked by Vishwa Hindu Parishad extremists on July 30. Police then arrested him.
Five days earlier he has been arrested on charges of forcible conversion in Nawabganj, Bareilly District. Police soon released him when they found the allegations were baseless, as they did on his re-arrest on July 30.
"Police were under pressure by the RSS and VHP activists in the village," Pastor Pal said.
The assailants, Akhilesh Kumar Gangwar, Amit Kumar, Sathyendra Gangwar, Naresh Gangwar, Sarvesh Gangwar, Guddu Gangwar and Sunil Saini are aides of village President Jamna Prasad Gangwar, who filed the complaint with police, Pastor Pal said.
Kumar made false allegations that the pastor would get him married and pay him 200,000 rupees (US$3,117), and secure him a house and job if he converted to Christianity, Pastor Pal told Morning Star News. Another VHP member accused the pastor of promising him a gas cylinder.
"I passed the first test of arrest, and when the re-arrest happened, I stood firm in faith that even this time the Lord will come to my refuge," Pastor Pal told Morning Star News.
Pastors from other parts of India came and spoke to authorities, and he was released, he said. Calls from organizations in Delhi questioning his re-arrest also helped.
Last week, Hindu extremists warned him not to lead any worship services, he said.
"The Lord spoke to me from Isaiah 41:10 - I am waiting on Him for the doors to open," he told Morning Star News. "Very recently, a Muslim brother also has come into faith. When we gathered to worship as church, it was being filled by at least 150 attendees, on non-Sundays too. Even the rich and the Hindus from upper castes came into light, hearing the gospel. The Lord will lead His sheep, He will not leave them alone. I am waiting for His call, I am ready to go whichever direction Christ points me to."
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.