Around the world, followers of Jesus experience opposition, marginalization and persecution. To encourage and strengthen the church worldwide, BGEA is holding the World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians this May in Washington, D.C. One of the scheduled participants is Pastor Bachitter “Jolly” Singh, of Punjab, India. Singh’s story illustrates the kind of oppression many believers face both in his own country and elsewhere.
I grew up in a high-caste Sikh family. My father was part of a movement that seeks an independent Sikh state in India. Our family was passionate about the Sikh religion, and my father and his friends even built a Sikh temple.
My parents sent me to a Christian school, however. When I was about 13, one of my classmates asked me, “Jolly, do you know God?”
I said, “God is waheguru” (the Punjabi word for god).
“Who is he?” my classmate asked.
I did not have any answer. He told me that if I wanted to go to Heaven, I needed to accept Jesus Christ as my Savior.
I was offended by the idea that I needed to follow this Jesus Christ when we had our own religion and our temple worship. I got some of my friends together and we insulted the boy for his Christian faith. But he just kept smiling, and he said, “One day you will have to accept Jesus.”
His words proved to be prophetic. I went to college, and everything was going well for me, partly because my father was respected as a religious figure, and one of my uncles founded an organization that teaches about Sikhism.
But I started to feel like all that was not enough, that I needed something more. That led me into drug use, and I became involved with a very bad group of friends. Soon I realized that I needed to stop that behavior, but I had no idea how.
I went to see one of my teachers. “Is there any hope for a guy like me?” I asked.
“Jesus Christ,” he said. Again I was shocked by this idea and wondered, Why Jesus only?
He told me that Jesus died for me, and he explained what that meant. He encouraged me to give my life to Jesus. A pastor also shared the Gospel with me, and I was convinced.
I went home and prayed: “Jesus, I believe You came to this earth, died for my sins and rose again from the dead. Please come into my life and forgive me and change my life.”
My life was drastically changed. At first, my father was not too concerned. But the temple was the highest priority for our family, and one day I was with my grandmother when she wanted to go there. I had read in the Bible that I should not bow down before idols, so I told her that I would not go in because I had become a follower of Jesus.
She told my father, and he became very angry. This was the start of a great struggle. My mother would cry and say, “Please leave this belief in Jesus.” My parents forbade me to leave the house on Sundays, knowing that I wanted to go to church.
My family would tell me that I had become low-caste and untouchable. They would say I had become a pig, which is the word they use for Christians. They took away my Bible, but I got another and separated the pages, hiding them in other books so my family wouldn’t find them.
The local church didn’t really know how to help me; all the other members came from families that had been Christian for several generations. But during this time I obtained two books by Billy Graham: How to Be Born Again and Peace With God. Those books laid the foundation for my Christian life.
Eventually my father gave me an ultimatum: Attend a Sikh seminary or leave.
“I’m sorry, Dad, I cannot leave Jesus,” I said.
He gave me 10 days, and then I was kicked out.
A Christian couple let me stay with them for a short time before sending me to a Bible school in a far-away town. But my father figured out who had helped me and threatened to harm their son if they did not tell him where I was.
My friends told me about those threats, and I called home and asked my family not to harm my Christian friends. They backed off for a while, but then they lied to me, saying my father had had a heart attack so I needed to come home.
When I arrived, they saw that not only was I still committed to Jesus, I had also cut my hair and no longer wore the turban that is the sign of a Sikh man’s identity. My father said he felt like the world had come to an end for him, and he disowned me. Sixteen years later, my parents still say, “We used to have three sons, but one of them died.”
I’m now the pastor of a Baptist church in a city several hours away from my family. The church is part of the North West India Baptist Association, and it is growing. We have planted 20 more churches within a 60-mile radius.
We have found the most effective means of outreach to be the kind used in BGEA’s My Hope project, where believers hold small gatherings of friends and family to reach them in a very loving manner. God has worked powerfully through this, and we baptized 70 people in the first 10 months of 2016.
But Christians in India continue to face persecution and opposition. All the members of my church here in Punjab are first-generation Christians, and all of them have suffered emotionally and relationally. Some Indian Christians suffer physically also, especially in states like Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. People are beaten for converting to Christianity, and some are threatened with prison if they are seen being baptized.
I pray that the World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians will encourage many believers. When you’re persecuted, the biggest temptation is to start feeling that you are all alone. This Summit will bring many people together with the message that we care for each other.