I looked them in the eye.
All twenty-seven of them, one by one, even as they bowed or touched my feet or did whatever ridiculous thing they do just because I’m white and rich and whatever.
They were Indian believers. They had just shared their stories. And I made a point of looking them in the eye. Because I do not want to forget them. Shame upon me if I forget them.
There was Sarad. Sarad was the prince of a tribe in India that numbered over 600,000 people. His father had led the tribe. His father’s father before him had done the same. He was destined to serve in leadership as well. But when he was sent to the city to be educated he spent all his money partying. He used and sold drugs. He abused alcohol. In the States we call this, “sowing our wild oats.” In India, it got Sarad kicked out of the family. He had been a prince. He would not be king.
He was rejected by his family in a very public manner. When he returned home at his father’s call, he was cast out in front of dozens of relatives. Ashamed, he returned to the city, to the life he had been living. Though he continued to party, he was hurt.
One day he heard a street preacher proclaiming the Gospel. Sarad heard the sotry of the boy who betrayed his father by living a wild and useless life. Returning hom, desperate, just as Sarad had done, the boy was welcome home by his father who loved him unconditionally. The preacher said this was what Jesus is like. Sarad responded to the Gospel that day.
Trained at Central India Christian Mission to be a preacher, Sarad has since planted six churches and baptized over 6,500 people. Twenty other young men from his churches have gone on to be trained by CICM. When his paretns were very old and ill, they called for him once more. They also said to “bring the man who turned this sinner son of our into a saint.” Sarad took the evangelist who had reached out to him along, but he also took the message of Christ.
Protige and mentor spent three days with his parents, and they accepted Christ as well.
Sarad now preaches in Orissa, one of teh most heavily persecuted areas in India. He has witnessed a young lady being stuffed into a bag, doused in kerosene, and set on fire for her faith in Christ. His own daughter has been kidnapped and tortured
Still, he preaches.
Sanjay’s story would be cruel if not for the ending.
Sanjay serves Jesus in an unreached area of India. When he and his wife moved there, there were no churches, no Christians. For six months, the Gospel was rejected. Then, thirty-five families were converted over the next year. 185 kids became a part of their children’s ministry. This attracted attention from extremists in the regions. They began to threaten Sanjay.
One day, Sanjay’s wife was ill. After Sunday services he took his wife by motorcycle to a hospital several kilometers away. En route, they were attacked by eight masked men. Sanjay was knocked unconscious with sticks and iron rods. When he awoke, he was in the ICU of a hopsital.
“Where is my wife,” he began to ask.
“She is dead,” was the reply. Because of his injuries, he was not able to attend his own wife’s funeral.
Sanjay returned to CICM after recovering from the hospital. He was asked what is next.
Sanjay replied, “I must go back and preach to the new believers in our churches. I must boldly preach Christ and share my testimoney. I don’t care what happens to me.”
Sanjay returned and preached boldly. Therea re now over 1,000 worshippers in his community. God took a tragedy and turned it into something beautiful.
I know that it is hard to wrap your mind around these stories from a distance. I’ve been there. But now I’ve met these men. I’ve shaken their hands. They’ve touched my feet out of respect. We laid hands on them and prayed. At risk of life they preach. They will preach until they die. Their bodies bear the bruises that indicate this reality.
It will be hard to stomach a teenager lsoing playing time for going to church camp. It will be difficult to empathize with a family who prioritizes a football game over fellowshiping with the church. What are we doing if we’re not doing everything we can to make Christ known? Sarad and Sanjay go before us. May we follow their bold, daring, faith-filled example.