Jaanvi* doesn’t know exactly how old she is - she thinks maybe 37 or 38. She’s married and has four children. She lives in a village with about 500 houses – but no church building. There are just four other Christian families in her village. She’s seen God work in amazing ways, but she has also faced rejection and anger from her neighbours because of her faith. She tells us her story.
Tell us about your childhood.
I grew up in a Hindu family. Of course, I was compelled to worship idols. That’s what all parents teach every child: to worship the idols and take part in the many Hindu ceremonies. There are lots of gods and goddesses in Hindu culture. For example, we would buy dried coconut and sacrifice it to a certain goddess. We offered it through a certain ceremony. Then we would eat that food.
Did somebody explain those rituals to you?
Nobody explained anything. We just did it. It was the custom.
Could you explain it to me now?
In Christianity we come to Jesus for forgiveness. In the Hindu culture we sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins.
What was life like for you growing up, before you became a Christian?
Before coming to Christ, I brought a lot of sacrifices to the gods. We lived in poverty. We were extremely poor, had no money at all.
So your main concern was to earn enough money to survive?
No, we had other concerns. My daughter suffered from epileptic fits. I was afraid of those attacks, and we tried everything we could think of to cure her. In the end, it led us to Christ. We went to a prayer meeting organised by Christians. She was healed!
Before she was healed, did you try anything else to help your daughter?
We went to so many idols and took part in so many Hindu ceremonies. Every morning and evening I went into our garden to worship the most important god of my tribe. It didn’t help. My daughter continued to suffer.
My son also suffered. He ate well, but he was severely malnourished and very skinny. He had no strength when he was one year old.
How did you eventually come to faith?
One of my relatives had become a believer. She shared the gospel with us and told us to go for prayer. So we went. It was held in a small house in a small village. There were about 50 or 60 people around us. The pastor prayed over our children and both were healed. Not instantly, but over time. It took five Sundays. My son, for example, gained so much weight in such a short amount of time.
The pastor did warn us: ‘If only [the Christians] pray, the children may not be healed fully. You [as Hindus at the time] must also pray and stop worshipping idols. You must also pray for yourselves.’ So we did. We stopped with idol worship immediately and went to church instead. My husband was addicted to tobacco chewing and alcohol and he stopped that too.
What did you expect to happen when you went to the prayer meeting?
I had made a decision before I went into the meeting: if my son and daughter were healed, I’d give my life to God.
That’s a real mother’s prayer, isn’t it?
(She smiles.) Yes.
You were still a Hindu before those prayer meetings, but then someone told you to stop idol worship – did that concern you?
I hesitated to go, for sure. I thought: If I leave the Hindu gods, they will be angry with me. But I took the step anyway.
Did you expect to encounter persecution when you came to faith in Jesus?
Not at all.
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.
What persecution did you encounter?
(The corners of her eyes grow wet.)
It was about two years after we had come to faith. We owned a small field, but we didn’t have any water supply. I asked the villagers if they could help me to get a water supply for my field. But they refused.
My father and father-in-law had to dig our well. While they were working on it, all the people in the village were mocking us and laughing at us. Every day, I had to climb 32 steps to take mud out of the well, to get to the water. One day, I was crying so much. I prayed: ‘You have to help me!’ God answered my prayer.
I was able to earn some money so we could finish the well. The well gave us water for the field and we were able to grow some crops and sell them. This gave us an income.
Was there further persecution?
The persecution takes place daily. One big thing that happened shortly after we had dug the well was that my father-in-law passed away. He wasn’t a Christian, but he lived with us. That’s why nobody from the village came to our home for the funeral. Nobody helped us. ‘We won’t come,’ they said. ‘Ask your Christian friends to bury the body.’
How did you bury him?
In our village, we have four other Christian families. We held a small service with them.
How difficult was this for you?
It was so painful. I didn’t cry for my father-in-law, but for all my worries: how were we going to survive in this hostile environment? I really cried a lot in front of God.
Did you feel lonely or weak?
No. I knew God would help me. That’s why I prayed with tears.
What happened after the funeral?
Three months ago, the villagers organised a special meeting for the Christians. We had to go. They asked us why we didn’t just leave Christianity. They told us to sacrifice to idols right there and then. They said, ‘If you don’t, we will not have any kind of relationship with you. Nobody will visit you. Nobody will marry your sons and daughters, and you will not be allowed to talk to us.’
Can you describe the atmosphere of that meeting?
It was aggressive. The people used foul language. They cursed and swore a lot. They told us that the gods would become angry with us. If we left the gods, we would die. They didn’t beat us, but we are now treated as complete pariahs. People don’t even look at us. Or if they do, they spit at us, or abuse us verbally.
Is there any Bible verse that gives you comfort?
God has spoken with us through many words, but specifically through 1 Peter 1:12-19:
‘It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.
‘Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: Be holy, because I am holy.
‘Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things, such as silver or gold, that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.’
I was reminded of the struggles of Daniel and Job too. These Bible books really encourage me.
You are being rejected by almost the entire village. What’s the result of that?
Other Christians used to come to my house for prayer meetings. Now, that’s not possible anymore. The village leader sometimes came by too. It wasn’t a friendly visit. He always shouted at us: ‘You must stop doing this!’ People became scared. Now they only come by themselves , or sometimes in a very small group.
Has there been any violence?
Not yet, thank God. We fear that it will happen one day. But we are ready to face that. It’s written in the Bible: ‘Bless those who persecute you.’ We are not going to swear or curse against them.
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.
How old are your children now?
The two girls are 14 and 19, the two boys are 12 and 15.
Do they have any friends?
Fortunately, yes. The children don’t care about social boycotts. They still play with them.
How important is it that people outside of India are connected to you?
Very important. It makes me so happy to be connected to them through you. We are from different cultures and countries, but we unite. Unity gives joy and strength.
Would it make a difference if those people also prayed for you?
Yes, that would be very nice.
How would you like us to pray for you?
I have a big desire. I see the Hindus around us suffering from illnesses and lack of peace, just like my family once suffered. I pray that they will come to prayer meetings and receive the healing and forgiving power of Jesus, so that they come to know the same knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Who are you thinking about?
Especially our village leader. He’s a family member and he persecutes us a lot. He says: ‘There are many of us, you are only a few. You will lose.’ It’s my deep desire that he repents and comes to Christ. He and the others don’t know Christ. They put all their faith in idols. Because of that, they are not able to listen to us and understand the truth.
Is there anything you’d like to share to the people who pray for you and support our ministry?
Please pray for my village, so that all will come to faith.
Stand with your church family in India
India is number 11 on the 2018 World Watch List, Open Doors’ annual ranking of the 50 countries where Christians face the most extreme persecution. Open Doors church partners estimate that almost 24,000 Christians were physically attacked in India last year because of their faith. Others, like Jaanvi, face discrimination and social boycotting.
Open Doors has been working through local churches and partners in India since 2000, and the work they do is already extensive, but they have a plan to double their impact and extend their reach to every corner of India over the next two years. Your long-term support can help to make that plan a reality. 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.
And please pray for our church family in India. We will be including prayer points for India in our prayer diary and our monthly email every month for the next two years to help you pray for your church family in India on a regular basis. If you'd like to pray with others, come to our Standing Strong celebrations to hear Samson* share stories of faith and courage from the church in India, and stand with him and others in prayer.
- For protection, provision and courage for Jaanvi and the other believers in her village
- That Jaanvi's desire to see others in her village come to know the peace, love and healing power of Jesus will be fulfilled
- For Jaanvi's village leader, that he will encounter Jesus and decide to follow Him
- That God will continue to work though Open Doors local partners to care for believers like Jaanvi, and reach those who are in the greatest need of help and encouragement.
*Name changed for security reasons