The following testimony is of Narayan Gowda, former leader of a radical Hindu gang that persecuted Christians, who now serves persecuted Christians.
WE WERE TREATED LIKE HEROES
As a young man, I attracted the attention of the leadership of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the fountainhead of all of India’s radical Hindutva groups. In Hindutva training camps, they encouraged us to use violence against anyone who did not subscribe to their ideal of the Hindu nation.
We recruited gang members from the poor families with no economic future. We planned our attacks by first going to a bar and drinking. While the gang got drunk, I would teach them to hate Christians. Every time we did some ‘brave’ exploits like intimidating or beating up some unarmed Christian preacher or group of Muslims, we were treated like heroes and provided with more liquor. However, I struggled with guilt and feared the God of the Christians would punish me for my acts against them. I became a heavy drug user.
Protected by the RSS, we became tremendously unpopular with the local police because they were never able to make any charges stick. They paid me back by subjecting me to severe torture, including immersing my legs in ice while they beat me up. The injuries never showed when they produced me before the magistrate the next day. Of my family, my mother was the only one to welcome me or speak to me.
One day, my RSS mentors showed me a small, brick building where a pastor had constructed a place of worship with contributions painstakingly collected from his flock of poor migrant workers. They had saved for several years to build this basic facility. I was told to break it down and kill the pastor and his family. My gang and I chose a dark night and quickly and quietly pried apart the building using hammers, pickaxes and other tools. Providentially, the pastor had sent his family away on a family visit and he was conducting an all-night prayer meeting elsewhere.
Informed of the demolition of their church, the pastor rushed to the ruins. A police officer met him and urged him to name anyone he suspected. The pastor knew, but refused to name us. He gave a statement in writing that he did not charge anyone with the crime, and that he had prayed for their forgiveness. The police officer begged and threatened, but the pastor was unmoved. The church we destroyed began a fasting and prayer meeting to pray for the salvation of my gang. The actions of these Christians and those of others we attacked clearly showed me God’s grace and forgiveness.
THIS STRANGE BLACK BOOK
My mother, a Hindu, had also been praying for a change in my life. When her Hindu ceremonies and fasting produced no change in me, she began to get discouraged. She became ill and was rushed to the hospital.
The chaplain in the hospital occasionally visited her gave her the New Testament. Though she refused to be prayed for, she asked for prayers for her wayward son—Narayan Gowda. He recognized the name, but did not reveal he had been praying for my salvation. My mother took the New Testament home with her when she was discharged, believing it to be a holy book, and carefully placed it on the bookshelf in the front room.
When I went home a few days later, my eyes fell on this strange black book with a cross on it. I demanded to know why she had brought this book home. She had a superstitious fear that any harm to the book would bring bad luck and implored me not to disrespect it. During my visit, I picked up the book and read it a few times. I found a new kind of peace in my heart. I left home a few days later after some good sleep, leaving behind a full drug syringe under my pillow. This was the first time in years I had slept soundly and even forgotten about drugs for any length of time! I could not understand it.
My mother told me the Bible had been given to her by the people in the hospital. I went to the hospital one day and asked to see the chaplain. I introduced myself as Narayan Gowda, the son of the lady who had received the Bible from him. Upon seeing me, alarm jumped into his eyes. I assured him I had not come to pick a quarrel with him and I wanted to learn more about the Bible. He invited me to attend the hospital’s church service.
A PEACE STOLE INTO MY HEART
On Sunday morning, I visited the church. The large gathering sang songs and praised God together. I sat alone in a corner, overwhelmed with this experience of worship of God by His people. When the Bible was preached, I began to listen with my whole being. A peace stole into my heart that morning.
That week I joined my friends at a roadside eating house. Drinks were served, but mine remained untouched. One of my friends asked, “You seem different, silent. And why are you not drinking?” I replied, “I have no desire to drink or smoke. I don’t know why!” Everybody began to talk of the change in me, how I had become calm and no longer violent.
Things changed for me at home. The same mother who prayed to her gods to change me was not able to accept my changed life and said I had been brainwashed and lost my mind. My neighbors showed their disapproval of my hobnobbing with the Christians, accusing me of praying to the gods of the untouchables.
In spite of the persecution, I did not leave home, nor did I go back to my old friends. One day, I was thrown out of my house and had to take refuge in the homes of Christians. I assisted a pastor with his evangelical work, and he took care of my needs. I was given a small shed to live in.
I went to the police station to meet the assistant commissioner of police in my area, the one-time inspector of police when I was active as a local tough. As I walked in, he stood to greet me. Though surprised, I introduced myself as Narayan Gowda. He was unable to believe I was the same person who had been such a headache to the city’s entire police force! He listened with incredulity as I related my life story, disclosed several crimes I had committed and asked to be charged for them. After looking at me for a moment, he called for my files, made a note on them, and walked towards me, adjusting his belt. I thought he would lash me to pay me back for the numerous times I caused him trouble. Instead, he laid a hand on my shoulder and said, “Your Yesu Christu [Jesus Christ] has done what the entire police force and the laws of this country could not do—He has changed you into a law-abiding citizen. I have closed the files against you. You are a free man. You can go!” Can there be a better example of God’s grace in operation? Hallelujah!
Eventually my pastor arranged my wedding with a poor but committed Christian girl, and we are blessed with two children. We serve the Lord as a family, and sometimes I share the same pulpit as the dear pastor whose life and family I threatened and whose church I demolished. The joy that fills my life cannot be explained in words. All praise and glory be to God, who saved me from the darkness and brought me into His marvelous light!
The entire account of this life story can be found in the book “Saul to Paul” Living Sacrifice Book Company
Printed with permission by The Voice of the Martyrs, www.persecution.com.