“Nothing will happen to me. They know and respect me. Nobody will harm me.”
Those were the last words Pastor Kantheswar Digal spoke to his son Rajendra and his wife, Karpul.
A Christian for more than 50 years, Pastor Digal was one of the few believers living in the small village of Sankarakhole, in Orissa state, India. He was well-known by the Hindus who shared his neighborhood. Yet, his son says, the family lived there in relative peace.
“We had no enemies there,” Rajendra told our VOM workers about his small hometown. “We could practice our faith in Christ comfortably with no problems with anybody locally.”
Nonetheless, on Aug. 24, 2008, when Hindu radicals began violent attacks against Christians throughout Orissa, venomous threats by agitators forced the Digal family to leave their village.
“They told my husband you better leave,” says Karpul. “He should leave his house and go away if he wanted to stay a Christian because they were not going to allow any Christians to stay in our village.”
The Worst of the Worst
The brutality against Orissa Christians spawned by Hindu fundamentalists was unflinchingly complete. Homes were burned. Churches were destroyed. People were killed. The entire Digal family fled their small village in the Kandhalmal district to the slums of the state’s capital. All eight members were forced to live in a one-room, wooden shack.
On Sept. 20, 2008, Pastor Digal left his family in the makeshift shelter they had carved out for themselves. Over their objections he went to their home village to check on their house and livestock.
Pastor Digal was traveling on a local bus to his destroyed home when it was stopped by 18 Hindu radicals. What happened next was a horror unimaginable.
The radicals dragged Pastor Digal off the crowded, dusty bus. They ignored the sickening crunch of bone as both his legs broke. They proceeded to torture him, demanding that he return to Hinduism.
“I am a strong believer in Jesus Christ,” Pastor Digal said. “You may kill me but I will never become Hindu.”
The 18 men began to beat Pastor Digal. They tied his hands and legs. Witnesses watched as they stripped him of his clothes leaving nothing but a shirt. They burned his face and tortured him in unspeakable ways. Then they dumped this limp body in a creek where it floated for days.
“We Never Got Angry”
Fourteen days later, after frantically calling around Orissa trying to find his father, Rajendra saw his mother on a local television broadcast. She held a black and white photo of his father. He was dead, killed by radical Hindus because he was a Christian. Even though she lost her husband Karpul says “we never got angry after hearing about the news about my husband’s killing.”
Her son agrees. “I do not carry anger towards them because my Jesus was once also killed on the cross for all mankind, for the entire sinful world,” Rajendra said. “My father dedicated his life for my village for people who still did not know Christ. I think for my village, my father also was killed. And by the sacrifice of his own life, they may know Jesus Christ and accept him as their only Lord and personal savior. “
The Digals were one of the hundreds of people helped by VOM ministry partners, thanks to our readers. They received help with relocation, food and other basic necessities. But the aftermath of the horrific violence in Orissa has left tens of thousands of Indian Christians without homes, jobs or stability. In January the government closed the relief camps in Orissa leaving thousands homeless and without protection. Even with the uncertainty, Orissa Christians say they are strengthened by the prayers and love of Christians all over the world. Your love allows them to remain bold for Christ.
“We strongly believe that Christians all over the world are praying for us,” says Rajendra. “We are also praying for all of them. (Praying) that everyone should stand firm for witnessing for Jesus throughout their life.