my view Ludia DigalBack
Religious freedom is a Christian value — not just an American one. Alliance Defending Freedom is increasingly helping keep doors open for the Gospel by defending persecuted Christians even beyond our U.S. borders.
Pastor Akbar Digal was a Christian missionary even non-Christians could relate to — and that was especially important, in the remote area of northeast India he called home. His Kandhamal district is populated mostly by Hindus, but many of them found themselves drawn to Pastor Digal for his warm, friendly demeanor and the obvious sincerity of his compassion for their day-to-day struggles with alcoholism, gambling, and other problems.
He first saw Ludia during a church service in a nearby village, and, in the traditional Indian way, sent a proposal through his parents to her parents. The two were married on Christmas Eve, 1990, and their son, Obedio, was born in 2002. Their home became a happy center of life and celebration in the village of Totomaha — a place where people of all faiths came together during local festivals to share a fellowship that transcended the usual social boundaries.
All of that changed, one summer day four years ago.
Akbar and I led a very happy married life. We didn’t have much money, for our church was very small, but we had many friends, even among the unbelievers, and we were at peace.
My husband was a God-fearing and prayerful person ... a faithful servant of God who always held high the true knowledge of Scripture. His work took him to many nearby churches, where he held prayer meetings for the faithful, and preached the Gospel to anyone who would listen.
He had a joy that was just infectious. People liked him, and it seemed that wherever he went, churches grew. We lived in Totomaha for 10 years, and Akbar took a special delight in finding ways every day to share the love of God with our Hindu neighbors.
During those years, we never felt any real animosity against us, or against the work we were doing. We heard reports of violence against other Christians, in many other parts of the country, but never sensed that we had anything to fear.
Then, on August 23, 2008, came word that a leading Hindu fundamentalist of our area had been killed. Hindu extremists began to spread rumors that Christians were responsible, and we heard that many followers of Christ were being attacked and chased from their villages.
For the next two days, we prayed day and night that our village would be spared. But on the morning of the 26th, the rioters came. They attacked the church first, then set fire to the houses of the Christians. Seeing this, my husband hurried me and our then-four-year-old son from our home, telling us to flee into the jungle while he hid close by in a turmeric field. I couldn’t bring myself to leave him, though. Taking refuge behind a bush a little distance away from where he was hiding, I called to him to come with us, to safety.
“God is with me,” he said. “I will not come. Save our child.”
That afternoon, a mob of 300-400 people entered our village, searching for my husband. They soon found him. They dragged him about 500 yards to our community hall, hitting him with weapons until one of his legs was cut into pieces. Then they tried to force him to deny Jesus.
He would not. So they beat him and stoned him until he was dead. They left his body out on the ground all night, and the next morning, burned it to ashes.
I saw it all. Hiding there in the bushes, keeping my boy quiet, never moving, for fear they’d find us, too. For more than a day, we crouched there, horrified, terrified, in shock. Now, too weak to move, I begged hoarsely for someone, anyone, to bring us water to quench our thirst.
Another Christian found us, bringing water from a nearby paddy field. I asked him to lead us to some shelter, then walked along in a daze as he took us down the road to a non-believer’s home, where several other Christians were already hiding.
They offered us food. Neither my son nor I had eaten anything for days, and the boy, especially, was in a bad way. I fed him, and tried to eat something myself ... but I couldn’t swallow. I kept seeing, again and again, what the people of that mob had done to my husband.
“Mum,” my son finally said, “don’t hide me any longer.” I prayed, asking God to guide and protect us. Soon after, a police van came. The officers took us to a relief camp at Raikia, about 30 hours away. There, I met two of the legal staff of the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) — a Christian legal group allied with Alliance Defending Freedom.
The EFI attorneys urged me to file a criminal complaint to spur an investigation of the murder of my husband. I did, and within a few days, I traveled to their office in Phulbani to offer my deposition. Based on my testimony, and that of many other Christians who saw their loved ones killed during the riots, EFI attorneys were eventually able to bring five of my husband’s killers to justice, and a court sentenced them to life in prison.
Although I had never heard of Alliance Defending Freedom before, I now know that the gifts and resources they provided were critical in helping my EFI attorneys accomplish this justice. My son and I are so deeply grateful for that crucial support.
It still isn’t safe to go back to our home village, so I’m living in my parents’ home again. My son is nine years old now, attending a school in a secure area several hours away. Sometimes, I am lonely, but I draw strength from prayer, and from the memory of my husband’s courage, as he held to his faith even to his last breath.
I hope his faith will strengthen others, too, and I encourage believers all over the world to pray for peace and harmony here in India, and especially in this region of Kandhamal. ★