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India: Christian women doubly at risk but still reaching out

30 June 2017

Christian women and girls are doubly at risk in many parts of India. Being female is already a disadvantage: in rural areas, many girls are not enrolled in school and are expected to work at home. The 2011 census showed that while the male literacy rate in India is 82.14 per cent, the female literacy rate is just 65.46 per cent. Women and girls are frequently victims of violence and domestic abuse; in one study carried out by the UN in India, 52 per cent of women said they had experienced some form of violence from a partner in their lifetime.

Being a Christian only adds to the vulnerability faced by many women in India. "If you are a woman from a minority, you are a second class citizen," says Arun Pannalal, president of the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum.

Sonika* has experienced many of these challenges first-hand. After she became a Christian, she felt God calling her into full-time ministry, despite having quite a basic level of education. But her husband, who was not a believer yet, was angry about this.

She says, "Because of my involvement in the ministry my husband beat me brutally one day. I was very sad and I started weeping and complaining to the Lord about how my husband tortured me daily. But I felt that God was showing me the map of India. He told me, 'I will use you throughout the country'. ' I replied, 'I will not go, neither am I educated nor have any resources. There are other women, you can use them.' But God told me again, 'You will go in my name and I will meet all the needs.'

"As the days went by God worked in the heart of my husband. He used to see things happening in the name of Jesus, he saw how people were healed. My husband came to faith and asked forgiveness to the Lord for all his wrongdoings. He then started earning for the family and started supporting me in my ministry."

India

Sonika now leads a women's prayer fellowship and is an active evangelist. With help from Open Doors supporters, she was recently able to attend a Standing Strong Through the Storm seminar for women run by Open Doors partners, and it was a great encouragement to her. She says, "This was a life changing seminar for me; here God reminded me through his Word that I was not forsaken and again I saw a vision here wherein many doors were being opened. I believe God is blessing many churches through this seminar and is opening many new doors for people like me."

'Persecution will come'

Reena* is another young woman who is reaching out with the gospel, despite the persecution she has faced. She is just 19, and all she has ever known is persecution - her parents came to faith when she was a child. When she was young, other children wouldn't play with her because her family were Christians, and her parents weren't allowed to draw water from the village well. She says, "My parents explained that persecution will come when you are a Christian. And I was not jealous of the Hindus, because Jesus gave me joy inside."

India

But the persecution became more extreme when she started working at a local school last year. She says, "The headmaster offered me some Indian sweets, which I ate. I don't remember anything after that." She was drugged during a teachers meeting and taken away; she was missing for several days. She says she doesn't remember what happened during that time, but it may be that the memories are simply too painful for her to talk about.

Eventually she woke up on a train, with no idea where she was. When she saw the name of a city on a sign in the train station, she realised she was about 14 hours from her home village. She was able to phone a friend in the city who contacted her parents; they took her to hospital, and Open Doors partners were able to provide her with medical assistance and encouragement.

For a time Reena was very afraid, and struggled to understand what had happened to her. "I had all these questions. Why did this happen? And why did the villagers target me?"

But she felt God comfort and heal her during a church service, and her physical pain and depression grew less. She says, "I was really touched by God. When I came home, I was overjoyed and shared it with my 'friends'. Which friends? My Hindu friends, of course. I wanted them to come to a similar church service and also experience God's healing power in their lives."

Despite all that Reena has been through, she still longs to share the gospel with others. "My future is very bright. I will share the gospel with non-believers."

She says, "I want to thank all those who supported me through prayers, financial help and standing with me in all my struggles and whatever I went through. It is because of all your help that I am a recovered person today."

Support your church family in India

Open Doors local partners are facing increasing challenges as they carry out their work - they are monitored more closely, face greater pressure from the government, and it is becoming more dangerous for them to travel. And yet, they are determined to keep following Jesus and serving His people, and as the needs of our church family grow, we are scaling up our work. The church in India needs our prayers and support now more than ever.

One of the ways that we assist persecuted believers is through Rapid Response teams. These are teams of local volunteers who can help to provide urgent aid such as food and medicines, as well as providing legal advice, immediately after an attack. Open Doors partners have been working with local churches in India since 2000, and our network of contacts and years of experience enable our partners to respond quickly when incidents of violent persecution occur.

Our partners are also providing longterm support, such as adult literacy programmes, Standing Strong Through the Storm seminars such as the one Sonika attended, and legal training so that believers can understand their rights and how to take persecution cases to the police.

After the incredible response to our appeal for our brothers and sisters in India last year, we have been able to increase our work in India by 75 per cent this year. But none of this work would be possible without your prayers and gifts, and as levels of persecution increase in India, more of our brothers and sisters will need support. Please stand with your church family in India in prayer and action.

Please pray:

  • For strength, courage and protection for our brothers and sisters in India
  • For healing for those who have experienced violent persecution
  • For energy and wisdom for Open Doors partners as they step up their efforts to support persecuted believers
  • For God to change the hearts of those who are persecuting Christians, and turn them to Himself.

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*names changed for security reasons

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