"We will cut you. We will kill you. We will do anything we want to you." The threat, Arjun and Neha knew, was real. Banished from the village well -- the only source of water -- the family left, carrying what they could hold. They had just become Christians, and like a lot of places in India, the decision to follow Jesus was a dangerous one. "God didn't call me to a life of comfort," one of the persecuted said. "But He does promise to walk with me."
Mohan points to a field of wheat. "I loved my village," he says. "It was my favorite place. We worked the farm." Then, one terrifying day, people broke down his door and destroyed everything in his home. "We made a small hut by the church and live there. We have nothing." For people watching from the West, the stories are more and more alarming. New reports show a record number of violent attacks against Christians in India is rising -- and fast.
"By all accounts, 2019 was a very difficult year for Christians living in India... and 2020 promises to be as bad if not worse," Breitbart warns. In the first quarter of 2019, hate crimes and targeted violence against Christians in India [jumped] 57 percent." More than 100 churches closed in 2018 alone, Aid to the Christians in Need (ACN) notes, either "because of extremist attacks or intervention by authorities." In the meantime, Hindu radicals have sent some believers into hiding, while others -- like Arjun and Neha -- are determined to witness, no matter the price.
Horrifying photos have emerged of the victims -- people like 68-year-old Lakhpati Devi, who was covered in bloody bandages after being beaten with an ax. Pastors like Eswara Rao Appalabattula describe being surrounded by angry mobs, punched and whipped by poles until their hands are broken. "I was lying there on the floor screaming for help," Appalabattula told Morning Star News. "My wife came running and begged them to stop beating me -- it was traumatic." Other Christians say they live in constant fear, some even renouncing their faith to stop the abuse.
President Trump will have an opportunity to address the crisis when he meets with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in late February. And it won't be a moment too soon. Religious freedom conditions in India have been deteriorating, especially with the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) at the end of last year. Under the CAA, Muslims are almost entirely excluded from naturalizing to India, sparking a huge protest and deadly police crackdown in response. "Close to two million long-time residents... may soon be deemed stateless," my fellow USCIRF commissioner, Anurima Bhargava, explained.
Just east, the Rohingya aren't faring much better. More disturbing reports from Bangladesh confirm that attackers did beat, loot, and vandalize innocent people in the refugee camps. A Christian school and church were destroyed, and the whereabouts of a father and 14-year-old daughter are still unknown. "No one can give me any clear information," the girl's mother cries, "but my relatives told me that my daughter has been forced to convert to Islam and marry." As for her husband, the widespread concern is that he's dead, killed by armed militants.
The news doesn't get any brighter for Christians in Hong Kong either, where a hardline political chief is about to replace Zhang Xiaoming. Xia Baolong, a fierce ally of the Chinese president, is set to take the reins in a city roiled by democratic protests. For men and women of faith, "If the central authorities want a crackdown, he would not spare any efforts," a divinity professor warns. "This would definitely have an impact on Hong Kong's civil society."
Baolong, "who is known for removing hundreds of crosses from churches," will be an enemy of religious freedom at a time when the region desperately needs a champion. According to the Christian Post, "A pastor in Zhejiang, who was not named due to security concerns, told the U.S.-based group International Christian Concern, 'This shift [from Zhang to Xia] is not a good situation. It is possible that Xia will oppress the churches in Hong Kong.'"
The situation is a powder keg -- not just in Hong Kong, but India and Myanmar as well. Join me in praying that the Lord would use the United States to bring hope and help to our brothers and sisters in dark places. "He is simply asking us to follow in His footsteps," Arjun says humbly. Thousands of miles away, may we follow those footsteps to our knees.