During the Pastor’s Training seminar I closed my “Jericho Wall” session with Joshua’s inditement to the nation of Israel. It is easier coming from a Christianized culture to openly confess we are “choosing” God, because after all we have the slogan stamped on the money we have come to worship. And although here in India there are millions of gods openly deified, I explained the American “idols” are hidden in things like toothpaste that guarantees happiness, perfume that promises love, and programs for perfect bodies. We are bombarded by an arsenal of advertising luring our trust away from the truth. The truth of where the source of our happiness lies, into believing the lie of the magic elixir that will fix us and find us all that will satisfy and satiate our desires.
Christ is very specific in His part of the “choosing”:
“You have not chosen me, but I chose you and ordained you that you should go and bring forth fruit.” John 15:16
These were words spoken during the lat meal He would share with His friends, and as we set off on an early spring morning in April to the Gokak Children’s Festival, we were praying for a huge harvest!
When Pastor P arrived at the hotel we were a bit discouraged facing the discomfort of riding three hours with three people crammed in the back seat. As we prayed (once again that peril) and adjusted and readjusted ourselves and our old (V & I) bodies we did find things to make us laugh. A2 got giddy about half way through the journey and began telling silly jokes and laughing at himself. We kept reminding him not to distract our driver – least … well you know - the road or the bus or the passing cow escape his view and create a not so funny situation. About 30 minutes outside Hubli on the straight-a-way road, Pastor picked up speed and then suddenly pulled off the road. We were puzzled, but P’s instinct was right and we had a flat tire. Out came all 200 pounds of luggage from the trunk to access the spare tire. Passing taxis, scooters and bikes all honked and added to our humiliation, standing there on the side of the road – bags piled high, white skin and blond hair shining like a beacon to identify our foreignness.
We got back in the car and praised God, realizing our predicament could have resulted in a blow out or worse. The tire incident was only a minor inconvenience. We finally arrived in Gokak and pulled up to the same hotel we stayed at in November. We were surprised by the abundance and beauty of floral decorations surrounding the outside of the entrance. As it turned out, the owner’s son was getting married that day. Many people were arriving at the same time we did, and being welcomed by a four piece brass band added an amusing soundtrack to our arrival.
We got our bags up to the room and regrouped. We stretched our folded aching bodies realizing our age once again and the gravity that sets itself against us as the years pass. We gathered our cut twine, extra scissors and set off for the conference center where the children were already waiting.
This was a new location, down a crowded street filled with people and cars. The building was newer and nicer, and we were greeted by children who were waiting for our arrival. They quickly grabbed our hands, gave the familiar greeting, “Auntie, Auntie” and led us up to where the rest of the group was gathered.
We were seated in front of a large multi-paned window that allowed the sunlight to illuminate the bright cloth adorning the girls. Many of them wore jasmine garlands in their hair, and the fragrance was intoxicating. As the performances began, I took my seat among the children to try and get better video, not to mention the camaraderie of rubbing shoulders, toes and feet. The little girls were painted with glitter and dots above their eyebrows, dressed in beautiful saris and anxious to perform. One by one the acts marched in and sang and danced a variety of praise and worship numbers. Of course we didn’t understand it but their costumes and dramas were great. One group had fashioned jungle costumes from branches and painted their faces as comical garish wild men. They motioned for me to join the play, put vine garlands on my head and then feigned a beating to which I dutifully fell down on the floor. I could see V and A2 laughing hysterically as one of the workers interpreted the meaning of the show. As soon as it was over, I rose from the dead, sat down and asked “what was that all about?” V explained it was “Kill the Missionary”, and then of course the villagers get saved by the next persistent spreader of the Word; a prophetic drama to the soon unfolding events.
Next, a group of four flowered and bejeweled girls came up to sing and dance. As they finished their performance and set their microphones down we applauded as things suddenly took a dramatic and irreversible turn for the worse.
“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On Him we have set our hope that He will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many." 2 Cor 1:8-11
From our vantage point facing the crowd, to our left was the entryway staircase and doorway. We could see young men pushing past the workers in a strange and aggressive manner. Then “all hell broke loose”. They began kicking things, throwing chairs, tossing the table upside down. They picked up the amplifiers and tossed them into the air. They broke legs off the tables and chairs and began beating A2 with them. V and I were backed into the corner as they began to throw chairs at us. They continued mercilessly attacking A2, assuming he was Indian. He ran out the door in an effort to escape and suddenly it seemed as if we were in the hall all alone with only the two nephews of Pastor P.
We ran to the back of the hall, and into a bathroom and locked the door. We held the boys hands tightly as they cried and tried to keep them quiet. We knew if we were discovered there would be no chance for escape – we were cornered. We began praying only simple prayers as quietly as we could. “Thank you Jesus. Help us Jesus. Dear, dear Jesus, we are with you we have nothing to fear.”
Outside the door in the conference hall – we heard the attackers return, searching for things to destroy. We listened while the glass of the windows broke across the now empty floor. And then silence. We continued to wait and pray and hold the shaking boys in an effort to spot ourselves from shaking. Suddenly, the door shook as someone tried to open it. Fear gripped our hearts, thinking we were discovered, but the boys listened to the Hindi voices and recognized that of their father. We opened the door and asked where A2 was – to hear his voice come reassuringly from the locked bathroom next to ours was a great relief.
S, (Pastor P’s brother) hurriedly explained how we were to make our escape. A large angry mob had gathered around both exits of the building so we would go up and over the roof and into the adjoining hotel until we could exit safely. We ran up and over the rooftop and down the staircase into the hotel. Solomon thought we were staying there for the evening, but we weren’t and couldn’t even think of the name of our hotel. I offered my description (there is a waterfall) and the fact the owner’s son was getting married today. How many hotels could fit that description was not the issue, how we were going to get there safely was.
We sat on the couches, trying to compose ourselves with one of the missionaries, his wife and the two boys. They spoke fairly good English, despite their youth and began telling of the last time this happened. As it turned out they were also present when the villagers attacked in December. I encouraged them saying, “God will make you great and mighty men, if He has trusted you as children to endure such hardship.” They smiled, but they were still shaking.
After an eternity of moments and minutes, S returned and motioned for us to come quickly to a waiting rickshaw. We made our way through the throngs of people gathered in front of the building but we felt very visible and very vulnerable. The curious bystanders peered in at the white foreigners wondering what part we had played in what had just taken place.
For once the hazardous driving and weaving through traffic was a relief. We were out of immediate danger, but did not know anything that was going on. We were told A2 and Pastor P were being taken to the hospital, but we did not know the extent of their injuries. The atmosphere we entered at the hotel (the ongoing wedding reception) was a far cry from the violence we left behind. The guest looked at us with strange curiosity as we were again obviously not part of their celebration. S escorted us to our rooms and said. “Don’t open the door for anyone, and do not leave.”
The door to the room closed, we slid the latch to secure it and quietly fell to pieces.
There was no sense to be made of what happened. There was no explanation of for the violence and destruction these young men came and wrought. With each utterance, “the children” “A2” “Pastor P” “the children” “the boys”, more tears fell. And then we praised the God we serve for finding us worthy to enter into a small part of the persecution of the church. We praised Him for protecting us from harm even though evil threatened us with such senseless violence. We praised Him the children had escaped. We praised Him because He is worthy to be praised.
After several hours and a chance to regain our composure, we took the advice given to Elijah and ate to strengthen ourselves for the journey ahead.
Sister J (P’s wife) and another of the women came to the door. We embraced and corporately wept and praised together. Sister J was in the conference hall watching and yelling at the men from the sidelines while they attacked. From her vantage point, she saw us being hit and was frightened for our condition. We assured her nothing had touched us. Through her tears she replied, “Are you sure? I saw them striking and throwing the chairs.” It seemed the unseen angels he has set charge over us took the blows.
“For He will give His angels orders concerning you, to protect you in all your ways. They will support you with their hands..” Psalm 91:11-12
We knew A2 had borne the blows for us as well. He stood between us and the attackers and when we were backed into the corner, he ran from the hall taking the aggressors with him. It made the truth of Christ “bearing the iniquity of our sin” and “by His stripes we are healed” more of a tangible reality. Little by little information on what took place came to us through the broken English and broken hearts of the two women who now sat with us side by side, sobbing but always ending their phrases with “thank you Jesus.”
“Sing to the LORD, you saints of his; praise His holy Name … His favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:4-5
Around fifty young men (age 17-25) were responsible for the attack. When we arrived, we noticed some of them at the back of the room but assumed they were there to help us with the program. As we were hurriedly taking Polaroid film out of the boxes V said, “this is going to be chaos” and I said “no, look in the back at all the people here to help.” She was right for the wrong reason (it was chaos) I was just wrong.
The attack had been planned far in advance given the publicity of the event (a Children’s Festival) among the village communities. They were angered at the “forced conversion” of the children. Their intent was to destroy; the enemy’s to stop the advance of the Kingdom. Destruction was certainly wrought this day, but the saints and the Kingdom go marching on. P and A2 were not the only ones beaten. One of the van drivers suffered the most severe injuries as well as the owner of the conference hall, who appeared to see what was happening and insisted they stop. This only turned the violence to him and his son.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:10-12
Once the police arrived, four of the attackers were arrested, but charges were also filed against P, who told the officers he alone would be responsible. “This is my job, I am a Pastor, I am in the conversion business.” Forced conversion is one thing, but the financial responsibilities of the damage of the hall as well as the immediate financial burden to repair the damage to his vehicle (identified by the Thank you Jesus on the windshield) and the orphanage bus that bore the cross as well as the word “Christian” are Pastor P’s.
The men also grabbed three of the women workers, threw them in a vehicle and drove them to the police station to be arrested on the “forced conversion” charge. However, in the process they made lewd remarks as well as assaulting them in a sexual manner which is a punishable offense in this society.
We listened intently to all that happened that we didn’t see or know about fully realizing the Lord saw it all and allowed it. Later, as Pastor P came in praising God, he assured us, “Satan asked the Lord if he could interrupt this meeting today. The Lord said “sure take your few minutes”. But God was never out of control. So many miracles happened” he said. “Only a few moments before the attack I sent my son and the head Pastor in charge to go and get another sound system because this one was so bad – so you see God let the devil have the bad one, but spared my son and the other Pastor a beating, for surely my son would have intervened while I was being beaten and would have gotten it worse because he is young. About four days before the conference, I called the organizer and said I want no chairs in the hall; the children will be better sitting on the floor. Can you imagine what would have happened if there were chairs? The children would have been falling over them to get out and the enemy would have that much more to destroy!” He went on to say at the beginning of the meeting he noticed a new cricket bat being passed back into the hall. He couldn’t figure out what it was doing there, but assumed it was one of the children’s. The men had brought it in to do the damage, both physical a well as material. Yet at the time of the attack, the bat had disappeared. We were very aware of how much worse it could have been. The children were ushered out of the hall quickly (with no obstruction of chairs) none were injured in their flight to safety, and the children that did not go directly to the bus stop, ran to the neighboring Pastor’s house and sought sanctuary there.
Around 9:00 pm S and his sons arrived and he said, “Let’s go – we must leave the city immediately, the incident is all over the news and on the television. The police are afraid of more violence, because two of the men were Muslims.” We grabbed our belongings, packed luggage and moved quickly through the hallways surrounded by the missionaries and we knew “the Almighty”!
A uniformed police officer armed with a club fashioned form sugarcane, rode in the front seat of the van with us until we were 10 miles outside of town. Once again, the speed of the driver seemed a blessing and a reason more for praise than the typical fervent prayer for safety. The vehicle was taking us away from the harm we were facing as the darkness of the night shielded us from our unseen enemy.
We arrived back in Hubli close to midnight, checked back into the same hotel, collapsed on a familiar bed under the comfort of cool air-conditioning and cried.
“Those who sow in tears will reap with shouts of joy. Though one goes along weeping carrying the bag of seed, he will surely come back with shouts of joy, carrying his sheaves.” Psalm 126:5-6