An Indian pastor who was in a coma after being beaten up by a gang of masked and drunken Hindu extremists has told how he had fearlessly shared the gospel with his attackers, and is now praying for them.
Pastor Banothu Sevya, 26, was in a coma for 48 hours after the attack in Govindapuram, on the outskirts of Jamandlapalli village in Telangana state, last month, after converting five tribal families to Jesus, according to Morning Star News.
He had been threatened by the gang twice before, he said. However, Sevya told Morning Star News: 'But I didn't pay attention, knowing that when the Lord's work is taken up, there will be hurdles, and I never complained the police officials.'
The assailants had accused him of fraudulent or forcible conversions of others.
'I told them, "I only share the gospel, that we are all sinners, and this world is to come to an end some day. Only Jesus Christ can cleanse us from the sins. He was crucified for our sake, and rose again to present us eternal life." I ask them if there is life in the rocks, trees and water – why worship them?'
Sevya added that he told the extremists that he spoke to every person individually when they came to ask him about Jesus.
'Most Banjaras [tribe people he was accused of converting] say they get afflicted by evil spirits,' he said. 'They want them to be sent away. Some want to be healed, some need the Lord's help in their pursuits to get educated. I share the gospel and pray for them. We witnessed the Lord doing miracles among them. He does not forsake anyone who comes to Him.'
According to Morning Star News, Sevya first preached about Jesus in Jangi Thanda, a village in Govindapuram, at the request of a relative. He was surprised when five families came to Christ.
'I too belong to the same Banjara tribal community, and it is not possible by human strength to separate them from idolatry – they have a number of gods enshrined in rocks, trees, water and the like,' he said. 'The five families left everything behind and have been walking in the Light since they invited Jesus Christ into their hearts. It is a miracle.'
On the evening of Octover 5, more than 60 villagers had reportedly gathered at his relative's house for Bible study and worship in a service that lasted until 9pm, Sevya said.
It was as he rode home on a motorcycle that he noticed the masked men following him.
'I didn't see where they came from,' he said. 'They pushed me off the bike and started beating me with sticks and kicking me. My nose and ears were bleeding. I lost my consciousness.'
Sevya's wife, Banothu Anusha, told Morning Star News she received a phone call at 11pm informing her that her husband had been injured and admitted to the Government Hospital in Mahabubabad.
'I immediately rushed to the hospital with my father-in-law,' she said. 'I was told my husband was found unconscious lying on the road by passengers of a State Road Transport Bus. They saw about 10 men fleeing from the scene, and one man lying unconscious as the bus approached.'
'They attempted to murder him,' she added of the assailants. 'Doctors in Mahabubabad and Warangal districts told me he would die, and my father and father-in-law arranged for 100,000 rupees [US $1,545] and shifted him to a private hospital in Hyderabad.'
She said that doctors told her that he had blood clots in the cerebral area, brain coordination problems, injury to his eye and a damaged eardrum.
The pastor said that he was alive only by the grace of God.
'I forgive the youth who attacked, and I am praying for them,' he said.
His wife told Morning Star News that she had filed a written complaint with police in the Mahabubabad Rural Police Station, but they did not register a First Information Report.
Sevya added that police claimed they would continue to investigate, but that they offered little hope as the assailants were masked and he could not remember most of the assault, having entered into a coma.
Sevya is pastor at a 60-member church in Sri Raja Thanda, a tribal hamlet in Mahabubabad District where he resides with his family.
Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, his National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians, according to religious freedom campaigners.
India is ranked 15th on the Open Doors' 2017 World Watch List of the countries where Christians experience the most persecution.