Jesus in the Hindu Heartland

Woman praying in IndiaIn a cinder block sanctuary that could pass for a sauna, about 130 people cram together to sing, pray and learn.

They resemble 1,000 other churches meeting in 1,000 other Indian communities this muggy morning. But these people are singing and praying to Jesus Christ — in a city that’s a bastion of Hindu learning and worship.

Men, women and children sit shoulder-to-shoulder on the floor underneath a pair of clackety ceiling fans. They sing local worship songs to the beat of bongo drums. They’re led by Harshvardhan, who plays harmonium (a kind of table-top accordion) and also directs the out-of-town ministry that oversees the church.

Some here already follow Jesus. Some have come to learn more about Him. They share a common status as outsiders in this sacred city, where pilgrims flock to bathe underneath the many idols and temples that overlook the Ganges River.

Heart for idol-worshipers

“From the beginning, when I accepted Christ, I had a burden for those people who worship idols,” says the church’s pastor, Aiman, who worshiped the monkey god Hanuman before turning to Christ in 1991. “I wanted to settle among those people.”

Aiman and his wife came to this city in 2000 and soon began a church in their home. Since then, they’ve helped to start nine more. The cell churches average 20 members each and meet for corporate worship on Sundays in a rented one-story building.

“We started with nothing,” Aiman says. “We started the ministry in one house. It is a tremendous work of God.”

Persecution as a way of life

DSC_2864Aiman comes from India’s warrior caste, one of the highest castes in Indian society. But Christians are considered the lowest of the low — untouchables, tainted by a foreign religion.

After hearing the gospel message and reading the Bible, Aiman became convinced that the God of the Bible was the real God, and that the stone idols he was worshiping were just stones.

When he was baptized in 1993, Aiman was single, working at a local newspaper and living at home with his parents. He was so excited about his new faith, he published his testimony — and photo — in the paper, which had about 25,000 subscribers.

Bold, yes. Safe? Not in a strict Hindu community, it wasn’t.

His parents immediately kicked him out of their home. His boss fired him.

Suddenly homeless and jobless, Aiman slept on a railroad station platform for an entire year. Food was scarce. But during that time, Aiman became convinced that God’s promise in Matthew 6:33 was true for him: “But seek first His kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

After that year at the station, he found another job. About a year after that, in 1995, he entered Bible school in another city, eventually finishing his studies in 2000. He moved to his current city, began his first church — and immediately got flak from the neighbors.

“Some people from the neighborhood where we were worshiping were (saying), ‘You are making Christians. You are high-caste people. How can you do things like that?’” Aiman recalls. “Many people — educated people — when I shared my testimony, they abused me [verbally] many times. I said, ‘This is my testimony. God has saved me, and I want to do these things to tell about Jesus.’”

Devadas, who pastors one of Aiman’s cell churches, smiled when asked about his difficulties there.

“We don’t really care about that, because in the ministry, that is always expected,” Devadas says. “God knows all our needs, even before we ask Him. He’s always aware of what I need, and He provides.”

Even with 10 active churches meeting across the city, Aiman wants to see many more.

“We are praying for every block (in the city) to have a cell group established there in the coming days,” Aiman says. “I want to do more to win souls.”

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