A drunken beating by his brothers led 18-year-old Nikhil* to make the brave and heartbreaking decision to leave his family. This was just as lockdown was imposed in India due to Covid-19, making survival even more difficult. A local pastor and Open Doors are helping Nikhil through this desperately difficult time.
It was a remarkably brave decision for a teenager to make – even more so with lockdown having just been imposed across India due to Covid-19.
Earlier this year, the day after being beaten by his brothers, 18-year-old Nikhil* went to his room weeping. He packed a set of clothes and some schoolbooks and told his father, “I am going away and will never return to your house. I have spoiled your name and reputation with my faith which I cannot deny at any cost.”
Nikhil comes from a wealthy, high-caste family. He became a Christian a few years ago, having learned about Jesus through his pastor. Initially Nikhil kept his new faith hidden, secretly attending church meetings, but he was spotted by people who informed his family. They hated Nikhil for it, and thought it brought the family shame. To them, Christianity is a foreign religion which only poor people embrace for money or material benefits.
“Why don’t you understand when we are telling you something?” the brothers angrily told Nikhil the day before he left home. “Didn’t we tell you to leave Christianity? Why do you continue going to church? Now, because of you, people from our caste hate us! We are a laughing stock in our village.” The brothers were drunk and, out of control, kicked and punched Nikhil. His father added to the ridicule, saying, “You have brought complete shame to my name in the village. Leave my house and go stay with the Christians.”
Leaving was particularly difficult during Covid-19 – Nikhil knew he would no longer have the financial help of his family to help him combat the economic difficulty brought about by the pandemic.
It was not the first time Nikhil had been beaten black and blue. He explains, “So many times I suffered the beatings and the bruises silently because I had just some time left to complete my schooling. I wanted to wait for that. However, it was getting too difficult to bear all this. That day they beat me terribly; the pain was beyond what I could bear.”
The brothers have also threatened the pastor – who has previously attended Open Doors persecution-preparedness training – for ‘polluting’ their brother’s mind.
Nikhil’s experience is not unique. In India, violent attacks on Christians by their own families and communities are a regular occurrence.
"You stood by me in my desperately painful situation. I am so grateful.” Nikhil
After leaving home, Nikhil stayed a few days with his pastor before arrangements were made for him to stay in the church hall. The pastor’s income has dried-up due to the Covid-19 and he is struggling to provide enough food for his family. He was able to share some with Nikhil, but it was very little.
Even before lockdown Christians in India were discriminated against in shops or at the local well but since the pandemic hit the issue has only worsened, with Christians last in line for aid distribution and often turned away – and that’s even if they have a food ration coupon. Many persecuted Indian Christians are jobless, hungry and in urgent need of help.
It makes the work of Open Doors partners even more essential. After the pastor made contact, vital food and basic supplies were immediately given to Nikhil as well as food to the pastor and his family.
Nikhil, with encouragement from his pastor, remains steadfast in his faith, despite continued attempts by his family to recant. “His parents called a few weeks ago and said that if he can give up his faith, he would get his share of land, houses and other things, but he refused,” the pastor says.
“I was bit afraid at the beginning, but I knew what I was doing,” Nikhil shares. He has no experience living alone and is still studying. “I will never leave Jesus. I count it joy to suffer for Christ.”
His eyes shining with boldness, Nikhil adds, “When my family members, especially my eldest brother, were beating me, I was not able to think anything but pray in my heart. Though I suffered in all this, I never felt God was very far. In fact, I know deep inside that God allowed all these things to happen for good.”
Nikhil’s words – and indeed his story – echo the Old Testament character Joseph, who was driven away from home having been beaten up by his brothers. Despite the painful separation from his family and a stint in prison, Joseph could still later tell his brothers, when they had reunited, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20)
The Biblical comparison aptly reflects Nikhil’s growing affection for Scripture. “I remembered the words from Matthew 5:10-11 where Jesus said, ‘Blessed are those who suffer for my sake and for righteousness for theirs is the Kingdom of God,’” he reflects. “I am even stronger in my faith now.”
And reflecting on the help of Open Doors partners, Nikhil knows that behind it is the loving support of a family – his new brothers and sister across the world. “I thank God so much for my pastor and all of you who supported me,” he says. “My own family disowned me but now you are my family. You stood by me in my desperately painful situation. I am so grateful.”
*Name changed for security reasons