ORISSA STATE, India (BP) -- A group of criminals sits jam-packed in the filthy Indian holding cell. The smell of urine permeates the dank air.
Two bedraggled men in the corner stand out from the other detainees -- not because of their threadbare clothes or clean-cut features but because of their actions. Pabitra Kata hums a hymn while Niladri Kanhar prays.
Their alleged crime: "proselytizing."
Local authorities accuse the two of coercing a Hindu man into becoming a Christian. Neither denies the fact that they were sharing a Bible story, but the word "coercion" makes them shake their heads in disbelief.
Claiming Christianity in India's Orissa State means persecution and brutal beatings. Both men have the scars to prove it. Kata sports a hairless, jagged line above his right ear where his head was caved in from a beating; Kanhar has an eight-inch scar along his right side.
Kata glances at his friend deep in prayer and remembers his own fervent prayer that started their journey.
SIX YEARS AGO
"Lord, give me just one family to build Your church on," Kata begged God in 2005. "We need a family that can stand strong like a rock -- like Your disciple Peter."
The Holy Spirit answered the pastor by leading him up a mountain path and through the forest. When he stopped at the edge of a well-known terrorist village, Kata couldn't believe it. This para-military group often killed or terrorized Christians in a nationalist effort to keep India strictly Hindu. To make matters worse, one of the most feared leaders who lived in this village -- Kanhar -- was responsible for destroying churches and the beating, rape and even murder of Christians.
"Surely, God isn't this crazy!" Kata thought. He had made a wrong turn in the forest, the pastor thought as he walked back home, pleading the entire way for just one family.
Inside the village, Kanhar sat in his house, a broken and angry man. All five of his children were sick. Despite his powerful position as the local terrorist leader, there was nothing he could do to make things better for his family. He already had tried everything -- medical doctors, offerings at the Hindu temple and witchcraft.
At one point, Kanhar sensed that one of the gods to which he had made sacrifices told him someone in his house would die.
"I did everything you asked. We have become beggars and still we are suffering," Kanhar screamed. "If you are not able to save us, go away and send us someone who can!" Read More