“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12)
In August 2008 the worst anti-Christian violence in the history of independent India broke out in the state of Orissa. More 50,000 people were forced to flee their homes. Many of their houses, churches and schools were destroyed, and more than 40 people were killed.
I would like to tell the true story of Swaroopa Naik (courtesy Barnabus Fund, a UK based charity working for persecuted Christians around the world).
Escape in the jungle
Swaroopa was brought up in a Christian home with her brother and two sisters. Her father, Sunil, is a farmer. On Monday 25 August 2008 the family was busy with the housework as usual while Swaroopa was having a bath. Suddenly she heard terrible noises outside, and running out of the house she saw her family rushing into the forest. Swaroopa ran too and was chased by the attackers, but she was quick enough to escape them.
Swaroopa eventually found her parents in the jungle. Taking shelter under a tree, they heard the dreadful sound of homes being destroyed and saw a plume of smoke rising into the sky. But Swaroopa says, "Both of my parents were consoled by the very thought that this tragic attack has been due to the fact that we believe in Jesus Christ and are Christians." "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven." (Matthew 5:10)
After a while the family heard the attackers coming along the path they themselves had taken, so they ran and hid themselves in the bush. The sunny weather changed to cloudy skies, and they prayed that the Lord would send rain. And then - a heavy downpour! The pursuers called off the chase and went back the way they came. Swaroopa and her parents praised God.
The Lord who provides
When the rain stopped the family went back to their village. There they found that their house had been reduced to a pile of ashes and debris. No one in the village would take them in for the night, so they returned to the jungle to shelter under the trees. Early next day they set off to escape the pursuing assailants.
In the evening Swaroopa and her family reached Phulbani, a large township, where they felt safe enough to stay for two weeks. After this they moved on to Cuttack, the largest city in Orissa, where they stayed with a family member.
After the anti-Christian violence had subsided, Swaroopa's parents were able to return to their village to visit what was left of their house. They learned from their pastor about a ministry (supported by Barnabus Fund) that offers vocational training to young people displaced from Orissa by the violence. This is designed to equip them to return to the region later, not only to live there, but also to make a positive contribution to the community and to witness for Christ.
Swaroopa obtained a college place to study nursing and midwifery and is about to complete her first year of training. She writes, "We thanked and rejoiced in the Lord for having miraculously saved our lives and now for providing me with an opportunity to become a nurse. The Lord is really 'Jehovah Jirah' (the Lord who provides)."
Swaroopa’s story is both touching and uplifting. It demonstrates the reality of persecution that Christians often have to suffer, particularly in non-Western countries, simply for their faith. Despite their hardship, Swaroopa and her family did not renounce their faith but trusted in the Lord. Their faith was rewarded, for in their darkest hours they saw the Lord guiding them. They came out of the experience with their faith strengthened, not weakened.
Anti-Christian hatred is nothing new. From New Testament times to the present day Christians have had to suffer for bearing witness to Christ. Jesus warned his disciples that this would be the case, but those who persevered would be rewarded in heaven. We too must heed this message. Do not cower and renounce your faith, even if you are persecuted, but boldly witness to Christ. That way you show your fidelity and love of Christ, for which you will be rewarded.