AVARAIKULAM, INDIA (BosNewsLife)-- A young pastor and his wife are recovering of injuries after a Hindu mob attacked them and reportedly torched their church building in southern India.
Pastor Joseph Thomas of the evangelical 'Zion Harvest Ministries-Independent' church and group told BosNewsLife that the December 16 attack in Avaraikulam village, in India's Tamil Nadu state, completely destroyed a tent-like structure of corrugated metal sheets, where people regularly gathered for evangelism rallies and worship.
"A big team of more than 30 Hindus attacked us with iron rods and set our church on fire during a Bible study meeting, which was attended by some 45 people. They burned our microphone, amplifier and loudspeakers. Everything was destroyed. I also lost my bike," Thomas explained.
"My wife Merlin has been admitted to hospital, while I am recovering of my pain," he added. Monday's violence followed several other attacks, Thomas recalled. "They beat me once so badly that I could see blood. Two times I escaped from a knife attack. That was because of God's grace. They also burned my bike with petrol, entered my home and broke everything."
Thomas, 31, linked the violence to anger among local Hindus about the growing interest in devoted Christianity in the area, where nearly 40 Hindu temples tower over the rural landscape.
Church members pray despite reported persecution.
"Within the last seven months we have seen spectacular growth. Over 100 non-Christians are among those regularly attending our Sunday service every week," he said. "God heard our prayers to add many souls as a gift to the church." Additionally, "Somebody converted from Hinduism to Christianity. That's why angry Hindus rejected our fellowship members from their society. They told me that I would be punished if we would not leave village."
The pastor said he faces a difficult future. "We need money for a church building for our mission work. Please pray for us that God should meet our needs through His children."
Yet the married church leader and father of a seven-year-old baby girl doesn't seek revenge and even prays for those, he said, persecuted him. "May the Lord bless them."
Despite the difficulties, the pastor doesn't want to leave the region. He said God told him "through a vision" to go to the village, where he arrived after marrying in 2010.
"Initially we stayed in a rented home some 22 kilometers (14 miles) from this village. We lived by faith. Two months we had almost no food and were living mainly on water. We initially felt rejected because they did not respect our Christian faith. But little by little villagers became our friends."
BLIND BOY MIRACLE
The breakthrough came, he added, after God "opened the eyes" of a young blind boy. "He and his whole family accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior," Thomas recalled. "They gave us a 10 by 10 feet room."
What began with seven people grew into a big evangelical congregation. Another Christian family offered their land where the pastor and his wife built this week's destroyed church structure.
People worship in tent-like structure.
Following the arson attack, they will have to start all over again, the pastor acknowledged. "We were saving one and half year to be able to build this church. There was no proper food to us, no good dresses to wear. We were eating just once a day. Our aim was to save money to build this church structure, despite lots of persecution."
However, he told BosNewsLife, his wife encouraged him to continue. "My wife said: 'We must be prepared to die for God so let us continue our ministry here, let them come'." It also helps there is a Christian in the local police force, he said.
"The police called me to the station and enquired about all my activities following complaints. However the police inspector is a born again-Christian. He encouraged me a lot and helped me in various ways not to give up," despite the hostile environment.
HINDU INDIA HARDSHOP
Church structure, here seen before destruction, will have to be rebuilt.
Thomas grew up with hardship in heavily Hindu India, where radical groups oppose the spread of Christianity.
"I was born and brought up in a Christian family as my parents are Christian workers. I understood my calling for the ministry when I was about to finish my school," he stressed.
"As the Lord directed me, I completed my theological degree in the year 2001. From then onwards, the Lord used me in His ministries in different disciplines and places throughout India and Nepal. God trained me as Bible college teacher, social worker and assistant pastor."
However, "After much prayers and conformations, I certainly understood my place of ministry."
Something he and his wife Merlin want to carry on. "I am not discouraged, I will continue my work for God," Thomas said.