Imagine growing up with very little education, knowing that when you’re older you’ll be lucky if you earn the equivalent of one pound a day. This is the reality for many Christian women in India’s rural villages. They and their families live in deep poverty. Often, no one, except other Christians, wants to talk to them.
That’s why, through local church partners, Open Doors has set up sewing schools in remote villages in central India where persecuted women can learn tailoring skills for free. After graduating from the school, most of the ladies are able to earn a living by working in tailor shops. Some even start their own businesses!
"I can stitch clothes now; I have stitched salwar suits for myself and I have also started stitching for customers," said Deepa, a 36-year-old mother. "Our teacher taught us very well. I can stitch professionally. Now I stitch blouses and salwar suits for ladies using the machine."
Deepa is from a Hindu background. When she became a Christian she faced opposition from her family and village. "I was extremely disheartened," she said. "Many times I even considered returning to my old faith."
Deepa was forced to leave her village by her community who spread false rumours about her husband. "The people in our old village falsely testified to the police that my husband was a Naxalite member [an armed revolutionary group advocating Maoist communism]. He was locked up in prison. This is a serious offence and I doubted I would ever see him free again. But I learned from the book of Matthew that if I prayed unceasingly God could release my husband from prison. So I continued to pray."
After nine months in prison, Deepa’s husband was released. They moved to another village, but the persecution followed them. And sadly, after the ordeal of prison, her husband no longer called himself a Christian. "My husband had no interest in God after his release, though he was the one who had introduced me to Christ. But I am still praying and I am confident he will regain his faith."
Every £67 could provide persecution survival training for four church leaders, training them in a biblical response to persecution and helping them to understand their legal rights.
Deepa attended the sewing school because she needed to provide for her family financially. But thanks to the classes, Deepa has been encouraged to stand firm in her faith. "Many times I considered returning to my old faith," she said. "But I am so glad now."
Strength to face persecution
"This is more than a tailoring centre," said 45-year-old student, Neeta, who was able to fulfil a lifelong dream when she heard the sewing school was free. "Every day we begin our morning with singing and then hear from the Word of God. We also share our prayer concerns and then pray for each other."
When she became a Christian, Neeta was rejected by her Hindu family. She thought her days of persecution were over when she married a Christian man. But her husband’s family were Hindu, too, and they persecuted her just as her own family had. "I often felt very lonely," Neeta said, "I would pray and cry before the Lord."
But over the six-month sewing course, Neeta has found strength to face the persecution from her family. "I thought I would just learn how to sew. I had no idea that I would also be spiritually nurtured," she said. "The time spent here refreshes us and gives us strength to move ahead in our spiritual lives despite the difficulties we face."
Shikha works as a teacher in the centre. She has seen first-hand the amazing impact the sewing school has on countless persecuted women. “I know some women who are constantly beaten by their husbands. Many of them work alongside their husbands as daily wage labourers and have minimal family income. These families are often living in destitute conditions. Before we start our training we discuss our problems and seek strength from the Word of God. It is amazing how God has used this centre to minister to these sisters.”
‘Free of Christians’
Persecution in India is becoming more extreme as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a militant Hindu nationalist group linked to the government, have stated that they want to see India free of Christians and Muslims by the end of 2021.
As persecution in India becomes more extreme, Open Doors local church partners have a plan to double their impact. Your prayers and support can help them show believers like Deepa and Neeta that they’re not alone. Every £22 could resource a local Rapid Response team for a month as they bring emergency aid to victims of violence, such as food and medical care.