An Indian pastor has told of how he was attacked by Hindu extremists and forced to leave his village.
Sujit, 34, told Open Doors: 'When I first accepted Jesus, my family was forced, by the local villagers, to expel me from the house because of my faith. I went to another village and have been ministering there for 15 years. I have faced much opposition, but I have never suffered persecution like the one I suffered a few months ago.'
Sujit's congregation became too big to meet in houses, so they wanted to build a church. However, local villagers opposed the construction work and vandalised the church three times: 'When we began the construction of the church, one of the well-known people in the village, who is also a retired army officer, made a false complaint to the RSS [a Hindu nationalist group] leaders that we were luring people to Christianity using money,' he said.
'After this, the RSS groups from other villages made many visits to our village, conducted meetings with the villagers and instigated the Hindus against us. There were constant attacks on the construction sites.'
According to Sujit, the authorities were unhelpful. 'I made a complaint to the village chief and the police, and they assured me of complete support from their side and protection,' he said. 'But then, there was another attack. Again I questioned the authorities, and again they assured me that the criminals would be punished and that I should continue the work.'
However, the vandalism continued. When Sujit heard the site was again under attack, he said: 'I ran to the spot and confronted them. Two of the extremists caught me from the sides and the third one bashed my head with a brick.
'They showered continuous kicks and blows on me, threatening that they would kill me if I continued preaching Christianity in the village. I suffered severe head and spinal injuries; I was bleeding and was rushed to the hospital by my church members.'
Despite being severely injured Sujit continued to file complaints with the village chief. But the threats did not stop. A few families stopped coming to church out of fear. 'My wife and I had to leave the place I had been serving for the last 15 years. It was heartbreaking,' he said. 'I still pay secret visits to encourage the church members in the village. The village needs the church, people need a place for worship. Houses are too small to accommodate all the Christians who come from nearby villages. Please pray. I believe God would certainly open the way to resume the construction work.'
Since the attack, Sujit has attended Persecution Survival Training run by Open Doors partners, a programme that gives isolated pastors an opportunity to work through some of the questions they have and equip them to face the persecution that may come in the future.
'"In my distress, I was greatly comforted when God spoke to me through the teachings in the seminar where I was reminded of Mary and Joseph who also had to flee to Egypt when Herod was seeking to kill Jesus. The lonely feeling in my heart also disappeared when I heard about so many people who were suffering with joy for Jesus. I was also able to share these teachings with my church members during my secret visits to my previous village,' he said.
India is number 11 on the 2018 World Watch List, its highest ever position.
Open Doors partners estimate that almost 24,000 Christians were physically attacked last year because of their faith.