The Voices of Kandhamal: Part 2
By ICC’s India Correspondent
A Pastor’s Testimony of Staying Committed to the Church Amid Chaos
08/09/2018 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – In 1997, while in Bible college, Pastor Abasalom Anand received a vision from God to go to the Baliguda area of Kandhamal district of Odisha State and begin church ministry even though he hailed from another district known as Gajapati.
For all practical purposes, Pastor Anand was considered an “intruder” among the well-established pastor community of Baliguda.
To make matters worse, Pastor Anand’s vision and missionary zeal was not well received by the anti-Christian forces. Many perceived the young pastor as a “threat” to the Hindus of the Nuasahi area of Baliguda because of his successful healing programs and the number of people he was attracting with his Gospel work.
Pastor Anand’s first church member was a leprosy patient who was healed through prayer. Two more families joined the church in 1998. His church continued to grow and the congregation began to hold worship services in a rented house where 10 families gathered for the first 10 years of ministry.
When the frenzied mobs decided to decimate the Christians of Baliguda in August 2008, Pastor Anand was one of their prime targets.
Recalling the terror-filled days from August 23, 2008 onwards, Pastor Anand, now 40 years old, told International Christian Concern (ICC), “Fear and terror still grip me when I think of those days. We heard about the murder of the controversial Hindu godman Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati and the mob violence which followed soon after.”
“At 7:00 a.m. on August 25, 2008, mobs of people, numbering roughly 5,000, armed with swords, guns, axes and petrol overran our neighbourhood of Nuasahi and overturned our lives like never before,” Pastor Anand recalled.
Struck with horror after seeing the mobs, Pastor Anand shouted to his wife, Manita, to take his daughter and son and escape to the jungle. Then he grabbed their second son and ran into a different part of the jungle.
Thankfully, Baliguda is nestled among rolling hills and thick forests, making it easy for many Christians to flee from their attackers in August 2008. However, the mobs set fire to most of the homes of the believers, including that of Pastor Anand.
“My first thought was that my wife and two children were set ablaze. I cried bitterly thinking of that,” Pastor Anand recalled with tears in his eyes.
Thankfully his fears did not come to fruition as most of his church members and his wife and two children had managed to escape into the jungle.
“Fanatics have prepared a hit list of missionaries who came from other districts and places to convert people in Kandhamal. And my name is there right on top.”
Then, by the grace of God, Pastor Anand met a newly converted believer, named Pavitr, who was spared by the rampaging mobs that thought he was still a Hindu. “Pavitr became an angel and supplied food under [the] cover of darkness to all of us who were hiding in the jungles,” Pastor Anand told ICC.
“Then some of my believers said the mobs are hunting for pastors and told me to return to my hometown of Tikamala in Gajapati district. I escaped with my family to my hometown, but my heart was tugging at me to return to Baliguda,” Pastor Anand said.
“With this yearning, I didn’t feel like eating or drinking for days. My mind was on the 10 families and how they would be faring and whether they would backslide due to fear of the mobs. My parents scolded me, telling me to forget my ministry in Baliguda and start afresh in some other district,” Pastor Anand recalled.
Pastor Anand was torn between pressure from his parents and the longing to know the fate of his believers in Baliguda.
“After 10 days, I made up my mind,” Pastor Anand said. “I will not leave the scattered flock alone. I was ready to sacrifice my life for my church which God gave me. So I returned to Baliguda and made my way to a believer’s house one night in Nuasahi.”
Upon seeing him, the family was shocked, surprised, and overjoyed. However, they were also fearful.
“So I went to the house of Pavitr around three kilometers away,” Pastor Anand continued. “But one woman spotted me and informed the pujari (a local Hindu priest). This pujari came and threatened Pavitr, saying, ‘We will burn your house because you are hiding a pastor.’”
Following this, Pavitr hid Pastor Anand in the jungle and fed him.
“As my church members realized I was here to stay, two families came forward and said, ‘We will start worship again,’” Pastor Anand said. “On hearing this, my joy knew no bounds because I had risked my life for them and now it was bearing fruit.”
Pastor Anand began renting another house and silently worshipped there. All of the families slowly returned in spite of the trauma of the mob attacks. Despite the risks, only one family returned to Hinduism.
After months of worship in secret, the government declared that Christians in Kandhamal would be able to celebrate Christmas under police protection, signalling the return of normalcy.
Because of his boldness and commitment to ministry, Pastor Anand’s church grew exponentially and the Lord added many new believers. Currently, Pastor Anand’s church has grown to include 32 families.
In addition to the growth of his church, Pastor Anand started another church in Pavitr’s home. “The wondrous thing is that the pujari, who threatened to burn down Pavitr’s house, got saved and now attends fellowship with his family,” Pastor Anand reported. “Now we are constructing a small church over there.”
Following that violent period, Pastor Anand began to teach more about persecution and enduring hardship for the sake of the Lord.
“I have trained Pavitr and other believers to take up leadership positions because I may be killed anytime,” Pastor Anand explained. “But even if I die, the Lord will continue to build the Church.”
“Since 2008, three attempts have been made to kill me so far,” Pastor Anand told ICC. “But God saved me. I have been warned to stop my ministry and return Tikamala. My wife was also beaten up once near the community well when she went to draw drinking water.”
“Fanatics have prepared a hit list of missionaries who came from other districts and places to convert people in Kandhamal,” Pastor Anand said. “And my name is there right on top.”
As ICC continues to remember the stories of those who suffered following the 2008 Kandhamal riots, it is important to also remember how God works through tragedy to expand His Kingdom. Pastor Anand’s bravery and commitment to his ministry stand as a bright example of how persecuted Christians are among those closest to God’s heart.
For interviews with William Stark, Regional Manager, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: firstname.lastname@example.org