HYDERABAD, India, November 1, 2021 (Morning Star News) – Pastor Raj Masih and his three children have not been able to return home to their village in eastern India since Sept. 28, when Hindu extremists attacked him.
“I returned home bruised that night. My children saw me and were frightened,” Pastor Masih told Morning Star News. “Since we lost my wife to COVID-19 in April this year, I am all they have.”
The 36-year-old pastor was at a market about half a mile from his home in Simri village, Bihar state when about 25 Hindu extremists surrounded him. After taking him away from onlookers, they told him to stop leading worship services as they kicked and punched him, he said.
“For the first time in the nine years of ministry in Simri, I took this extreme step of taking a break from Lord’s work there,” Masih told Morning Star News. “My children, ages 12, 9 and 7, have missed their school for more than a month now, but I thought it is enough if I am alive for them. I need to care and provide for them.”
Pastor Masih said the assailants seized him by his clothes and forced him out of the market where he was buying vegetables to prepare dinner for his children.
“They dragged me for about a kilometer as they shouted and abused me in extremely filthy language,” he said.
They stopped in a secluded area, slapped him on both cheeks, punched him in the stomach, kicked his chest and struck his back with their fists and shoes, he said.
“They kept repeating, ‘Stop Christian prayers. Shut down your church. If we see you conducting prayers, we will not spare you alive,’” he said. “They kicked very hard on my chest.”
Early the next morning, he packed up the kids and left for an undisclosed location.
“At least 300 members from different religious backgrounds were attending worship services in Simri,” Pastor Masih said. “More and more Hindus were putting faith in Christ as they witnessed their family members or relatives become strong in faith, leaving behind idol worship.”
As the church grew, Hindu extremist opposition rose, he said.
“Even after leaving Simri, they continued sending threats to me through text messages and phone calls,” he said. “They were having an impact on my young children. Some of the clippings of me praying for the sick and sharing about Christ started circulating on social media. Every other day, a video of me would appear on Facebook or WhatsApp groups accompanied by a post urging Hindus to resist such Christian preachers and inform the Hindu extremist groups.”
He also received calls threatening to hand him over to police to face serious charges, he said. Representatives from legal advocacy ADF India gave him legal advice and arranged for Christian volunteers to accompany him to Buxar District police to submit a complaint. Police on Oct. 1 said they would investigate and take action, he said.
“The believers are very scared to gather,” Pastor Masih said. “For now, it is only an attack on me, threats and warnings, but they are afraid this will be followed by the worst. There have been past cases of brutal attacks and murders of pastors and believers in Bihar.”
His parents have also faced opposition for becoming Christians. Elders and relatives in their village have forbidden them to gather for worship, he said.
“The friends and relatives I spent years of my childhood with turn their faces away if they see me,” Pastor Masih said. “We are alone, but Christ is with us. Nothing about my situation is hidden from him.”
Pastor Masih requested prayers for the church in Simri and for his children.
“I do not know when we will be able to return to Simri. We are waiting on the Lord to make a way for us,” he said. “The worship services stopped completely in Simri, and my childrens’ studies have come to an unexpected halt. They also miss their mother very much.”
The hostile tone of the National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, against non-Hindus, has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, religious rights advocates say.
India ranked 10th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2021 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, as it was in 2020. The country was 31st in 2013, but its position worsened after Modi came to power.