In the face of ongoing attacks, Indian pastor continues to preach healing
The attack came out of nowhere. One minute, Vipur was walking home from a ministry meeting. The next, he was fighting for his life—unarmed—against a man wielding a machete. The man, a Hindu extremist, hid behind a bush, waiting for his target: the 46-year-old house-church pastor from Madhya Pradesh.
The blade fell once, twice… five times. Vipur crumpled beneath the brutal blows. Miraculously, he managed to escape and limp home. His wife and friends rushed him to a local hospital, but everyone, including Vipur, feared the worst. The clinic was not equipped to provide the help he needed, and he had lost so much blood; death seemed imminent.
It was not the first time the church leader has feared for his life. Nor would it be the last. Four years ago, Vipur was beaten the first time. “The Hindus kept threatening me, and they also kept saying to each other that I forced people to convert,” Vipur says.
For Vipur, his wife, and the couple’s three teens, persecution for their Christian faith is all too real in their home state, where 90.9 percent of the 75 million residents follow Hinduism, according to the 2011 Census. Hindu extremists regularly and brutally target Christians in the large central Indian state nicknamed the “Heart of India.”
“Wherever I go, persecution follows me,” he says.
But instead of giving up his ministry, leaving his village or hiding himself and his family in seclusion, Vipur chooses to press on despite growing persecution against Christians. He leads several house churches. Of the 60 members of Vipur’s house church movement, 40 have been baptized. The others, he says, are still “getting to know Jesus.”
But as his insistence on sharing the Gospel grows, the violence and threats against Vipur and his family do too.
“That’s what God tells me to do: to stay and be strong,” he says. “Besides, I cannot run. What’s the point of fleeing? Wherever I go to serve the Lord, persecution waits for me. Persecution is part of Christian life in India. God’s intention with persecution is to test our faith.”
The attacks are not the only times God has saved the house-church leader’s life. A painful illness and a devoted friend led Vipur to leave Hinduism and follow Christ in 2000.
“My wife was pregnant with our second girl when I got sick,” he says. “I went to many doctors, and they gave me all kinds of advice: ‘Do this. Do that.’ But nothing helped. I started going to witch doctors, but the suffering only increased.”
Enter Vipur’s Barnabas. Like Barnabas who came alongside the Apostle Paul after his Damascus Road conversion, one of Vipur’s old friends heard about his illness and set out to find him.
“This man shared with me how Jesus had changed his life and how Jesus wanted to help me too,” Vipur says. “I didn’t believe a word he was saying. I just thought he was trying to comfort me. Besides, I probably didn’t understand half of what he was saying. I was in too much pain to listen.”
“What’s the point of fleeing? Wherever I go to serve the Lord, persecution waits for me.”
Each week, Vipur’s friend returned and prayed for him. Each time he prayed, Vipur says he felt a little better. He started to listen more to his friend about this Jesus that he had found. Compelled to discover more, Vipur joined his friend at a worship service at a nearby church, where the pastor prayed for him. Something kept drawing him back to the church, again and again.
“I kept visiting that service, and after six months I was completely healed,” he says.
His healing was the final “sign” that Vipur needed to turn from the religion he had grown up in all his life and follow Jesus. He chose to be baptized in the church. But Vipur soon found himself alone in his new beliefs and commitment.
Criticized and ostracized
Becoming part of a persecuted faith minority didn’t make for an easy life. Vipur’s wife left him and took their two young daughters with her. His family shunned him.
When a Hindu converts to Christianity, family members criticize and often ostracize their loved one. Christian converts face societal pressure not only from family, friends, community members and local Hindu priests, but also from radical Hindus.
“Everybody I knew and had good relationships with stopped talking to me,” he says. “I told Jesus, ‘First, You saved me, but now everyone [has] stopped talking to me. I have no friends and family left. Why did You even save me?’”
He spent days weeping—not unlike the psalmist David who repeatedly shook his fist at God in confusion and in the same breath praised his Creator. In his 88th Psalm, David cries out: “You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them… I call to you, Lord, every day; I spread out my hands to you” (Psalm 88:8-9, NIV).
Vipur wrestled with his newfound savior in frustration yet still cried out for comfort, searching the scriptures and praying. He admits he was angry at his wife for leaving, but also prayed for her return.
His prayer was answered when one day, unexpectedly, she and the children came home.
“My wife said, ‘Whatever your religion is, I will follow you.’ Eventually, she grew genuinely interested in Christianity, and after about six months she wanted to be baptized too, despite the wishes of our families.”
The social isolation continued when his wife’s family disowned her for her decision to leave Hinduism and trust Jesus. But when his own brothers became sick, Vipur was able to do what his friend had done for him when he was ill. He prayed for them; eventually, they came to know Christ. “They were healed and became followers of Jesus too,” he says.
“I will have to forgive”
Nearly a decade ago, Vipur began leading his first house church in the village. More congregations in surrounding areas followed. Today his church has grown from a house to its own building. Still, practicing his Christian faith is anything but easy in India’s second-largest state.
“He spent days weeping—not unlike the psalmist David who repeatedly shook his fist at God in confusion and in the same breath praised his Creator.”
He and his congregations regularly face persecution from Hindu extremists. After the machete attack, he spent three months in bed. As his body slowly heals from the slashing, Vipur’s spirit is mending too.
“Now, I can walk and move, but I’m still very weak,” he says. “I always need someone to go with me. I’ve lost sensation in my face and am deaf in one ear. My eyes are dehydrated and are ultra-sensitive to light, which is why I have to wear very dark sunglasses.” He also suffers from breathing problems.
Vipur admits he struggles spiritually, knowing he lives in a village where people want him to die. He identified his attacker to the police; and the man was arrested, then released. He believes influential locals are protecting his assailant. Sometimes, Vipur sees him in the market square.
“People tell me that if he drew my blood, I should draw his,” Vipur says. “But God is our judge. I will have to forgive. It’s really difficult. My wife wants revenge too.
“I will have to forgive”
“Whenever I see him, it’s like there’s an explosion in my chest. That’s how angry I am. But I know I need to listen to what the Lord says and forgive.
“It’s not easy to forgive the man who almost killed you.”
Vipur says until God directs him to leave, he will stay in his village and continue in ministry.
“I feel physically weak, but He makes me strong. My passion for the Lord and seeing others meet Him has increased. I firmly believe what the Apostle Peter writes in his first letter: it’s good to suffer for the Lord.
“Pray that I will recover fully; that’s my deepest wish. I want to be able to do what I did before the attack and even more.”
* Name changed for security reasons.
This story was first published on Open Doors, an organization that serves persecuted Christians around the world and one of Nations Media’s valued partners. You can read more stories from Open Doors here and read our interview with CEO David Curry here.