Turn around! Go back!
Those emphatic words left us stunned. Our team had been traveling for two days to join a gathering of persecuted Christians in Kandhamal, a small city in the Indian state of Orissa. Now we were being turned back less than five miles from our destination. The pastor at the other end of the cell phone told us that over 100 police officers were waiting just ahead, ready to stop us. He also informed us that 1,500 persecuted believers—20 times as many as we expected—had poured in from the surrounding villages.
A flood of emotions overtook us, but the strongest were these two: first, we felt overwhelmed that the gathering had grown so large and second, we struggled to somehow accept the fact that we could not participate, even though we had traveled so far. Part of us wanted to courageously forge ahead, hoping angels or our American passports would keep us safe. We felt a stronger inner voice, however, that urged us to trust the wisdom of our Indian partners in the front seats. They had been taking good care of us this far—this was no time to argue!
We soon learned that our timing was bad—our visit happened to coincide with Holi, also known as the Festival of Colors, a Hindu holiday that celebrates the beginning of spring. Large numbers of Hindus were also amassing in the same area, and the police feared a repeat of the 2008 attacks upon Christians that left hundreds of believers dead or badly injured at the hands of militant Hindus. At the same time, tens of thousands of believers had their homes destroyed.
Through gifts to the Persecuted Christians Fund, Heaven’s Family has been helping believers in that region rebuild their homes by providing tin roofing sheets. So we had greatly anticipated meeting these believers, seeing their repaired homes, and hearing their stories. Our disappointment was sharp as our vehicle reversed its course.
I now see our experience as a first-hand reminder of the acute need of our prayers and support for our persecuted family members as they persevere in their hardships.During the remaining days of our visit to Orissa, we did have the opportunity to meet other believers in small church gatherings and in individual homes. In each place, we met brothers and sisters who had returned to the villages from which they had been so violently evicted just four years ago—defying all commonsense—to show their neighbors the love and forgiveness of Jesus. We were inspired by their courage. Thank you for standing with our persecuted family in Orissa and throughout the world.