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About this series
A Gospel Response to Prejudice and Persecution
Do you know what it feels like to be persecuted for your faith? To be singled out and ridiculed just because you follow Jesus? In this series, Andrew Accardy and Ronald Raj – two members from our international team – sit down to talk about the persecuted church, specifically, what’s happening to pastors and believers in India. Hear what our brothers and sisters in Christ are enduring in other parts of the world and what their resilience and faith teaches us.More from this series
ANDREW: My name is Andrew Accardy. I lead the international ministry here at Living on the Edge. You may be saying to yourself, International ministry, I didn't know you had one of those. Yes, we do. We're working in many countries around the world. In fact, we've trained about a hundred and fifty thousand pastors face-to-face over the last couple of years.
You know, in the United States, you will experience Living on the Edge mostly through our broadcasting ministry on radio, on app, and streaming and the podcast. But overseas, our focus is on making disciples through leadership development of pastors. And so, I'm thrilled today to have with me Ronald Raj, who leads our ministry in South Asia, primarily focused on India. And so, Ronald, welcome to the program.
RONALD: Thank you, Andrew. It's a pleasure and an honor to be here with you.
ANDREW: So, you've come to Living on the Edge through some unique circumstances. God has really called you to the ministry here. Why don't you just tell us a little bit more about that?
RONALD: Sure, Andrew. I've been coaching CEOs primarily in: how do you unlock exponential growth in organizations? And God has been very gracious. He's been very kind in how we grew. And there was this time during COVID, you know, there was a bunch of us CEOs, we had met in the office and then we came back and then I just suddenly saw a message from one of them saying that, “Hey guys, get yourself tested. I've tested COVID positive.”
And so, I preempted, I took some medications and then it didn't affect me as much as I soon realized it affected my wife. And she was becoming sick and she was getting worse. Now, that was something which kind of crumbled me on the inside. And I had to literally go on my knees and then really intercede and asking the Lord to spare her life. And the Lord has been very gracious. He healed her. And now I'm left wondering, Why did the Lord heal her? Why did He spare us? The only reason I could think was that He wanted us to serve Him.
And in that context, you know, the Living on the Edge Vice President Tim, Tim Innes was traveling to India. I had met him in D.C. at a conference, Movement Day conference. And so, I said, “Hey, why not catch up in India?” And then, sure enough, we caught up. And then he said, you know, “We are focused on training pastors.” And I said, “Well, best of luck. My focus is on the marketplace.” And I gave him some inputs and we kept in touch and during one of the calls Tim just heard the voice of the Lord and then he kind of challenged me saying, “Ronald, I hear a prompting from the Holy Spirit, and I'm going to release it.” And then he said, “We're looking for a leader for India, and it could be you, it might not be you, but pray about it.” But he also said something interesting. He said, “We are looking to reach about a hundred and fifty thousand pastors in India alone over the next couple of years.” Now, that number was astounding.
And so, I also felt the presence of the Lord very strong when he released this challenge. And he said, “How can a businessman move from making millions to impacting millions?” And that was, I would say, a God moment for me. And that sentence would never go. It kept coming back. I said, “Okay, let me pray about it.” And the Lord said, You need to say yes. To cut the long story short, I said yes to Living on the Edge, but fifty percent of the time. And sometime in June, July this year, I said yes to one hundred percent and so this is where I am.
ANDREW: It's amazing how God really works in the hearts of His people, creating some of those circumstances for you to hear His voice. And yet now, it's interesting, you mentioned a hundred and fifty thousand in India. I just got a note today that said we had covered a hundred and fifty thousand pastors globally so far. So, our vision is much broader than that. But certainly, God has already got the ball rolling. It's quite amazing what is happening here at Living on the Edge. So you live in a part of the world, You're in Bangalore, India right now.
RONALD: That’s right.
ANDREW: And so, you live in a part of the world where persecution and prejudice is felt every day. And Chip has just come off of a couple of programs where he's talked about prejudice and persecution. Is that what's going on? Is prejudice really deeply rooted in India?
RONALD: That's a very, very powerful question, Andrew. The caste system in India is at its highest, though one might not see it happening to a large extent in the cities, but it's there definitely predominant, more towards the northern half of India and what we've seen recently in Manipur as well.
Here's a story that I wanted to share. We were at a church camp, and I had two older couples who were traveling in a place in north India. And on the way, they said, “Okay, let’s stop by and let’s get some tea.” And so they got off the car and they were treated very well with respect, and they got the tea. But here's the stark contrast that I want to bring. When the driver of the car got out and he was asked to stay at a distance, he was asked to wash himself up, and approach, you know, and take the teacup, from a distance and, you know, he had his tea.
So, this kind of brings the sharp contrast in terms of while at one level we as a nation are growing, progressing. India is one of the largest countries, seventh largest country in the world, one of the oldest civilizations with rich cultural heritage. We are the fifth largest economy and well, pretty soon, we might overtake, you know, Japan and Germany to become the third largest economy in the world. But at the underbelly, these are some of the things which might undermine that growth or even sabotage the growth itself. So, until and unless we really change the demographic, the social demographics within our country, we are not going to make real progress.
ANDREW: Ron, you mentioned the caste system. Can you just explain for our listeners what the caste system is in India?
RONALD: Sure. Well, Andrew, there are, traditionally there are about four caste systems. The Brahmins is the member of the higher caste and what's considered as they are the incarnation of knowledge. So they're treated as the priestly class and they enjoy a superior status of the country. The Kshatriyas are the second highest and they represent the warriors, the aristocracy, the kings and the rulers come from this caste system. The Vaishyas are the business people and they're the third class of the caste system. And the Shudras are the laborers. They're the lowest of the four classes of the caste system, the untouchables. And they feel that their fate is resigned to that, and they can't really do anything about it.
This is where the gospel steps in and changes the power of their identity saying that they are not really the downtrodden in the society, they are made in the image of God. Every human being is made equally in the image of God. And so, their identity is really in Christ and not in the society or the caste system which the society itself defines. Christianity really hit the caste system, turned the whole thing on its head, they never experienced love the way they experienced from the Christian community.
Now you had a Christian pastor or a missionary caring for them, clothing them, giving them food. And they also gave them an education and they gave them hope. The caste system never gave them hope, the gospel gave them hope saying their destiny need not be written by how they were born but can be rewritten by the way they can be reborn in Christ. That changed the political setup, that changed the conventional mindset in India. And that was not something which people liked. And that's when they started raising the issues of conversion, saying that, you know, Christians are paying people money so that they can convert.
Well, money, healing cannot be bought by money. Transformation cannot be bought by money. It's only the gospel and the Holy Spirit who can actually convict people from within and who can heal people and who can actually show them who they are in Christ Jesus. And that's something which was not accepted by people at large in India.
ANDREW: Yeah, a friend of mine says that Jesus has a special place in His heart for the least, the last, and the lost. That certainly is the case in India. So Ronald, after the Church now started to get some momentum in India, now the persecution starts, right? Because the government, and India is a Hindu nation, primarily.
ANDREW: I mean, that's where the Vedas come from. And now, just like in China, China's moving towards nationalism. India is moving towards nationalism or really Hindu nationalism. You know, let's get back to the way it was. These Christians and some other people are now being an irritant. So it's leading to persecution of Christians across the nation. Can you just tell us what's going on?
RONALD: Yeah with the onset of this new government, they're saying: let's go back and see India as one of the richest, most prosperous, most developed countries if you go back three to five thousand years ago. The movement is focused on saying that, you know, it's only we the Hindus can actually help develop our nation. And therefore, Christianity as well as Islam are imported religion. They're not really ethnic to India. So let's have an ethnic cleansing.
And the way they're doing this is in a very, very systematic way. They're brainwashing the country. They're looking at different ways, they're sowing the seeds, it's a mass campaign. It's not just something which is happening in a matter of months, but this is happening over a period of years. And mind you, Andrew, this is actually being done in a very, very violent way.
You know, just earlier today, I was going through a report on one of the states in northeast India, Manipur. What happened there is heartbreaking. Several hundred churches have been destroyed, have been burnt down. Recently in the state of Chhattisgarh, at least about two thousand Christian men, women, and children had to flee their villages. They were threatened with death unless they renounced their Christian faith.
In December 2021, there were massive religious parliaments, in which prominent leaders brazenly called for the genocide of Muslims and Christians to facilitate the establishment of a Hindu Rashtra or Hindu nation state. So they not only promoted hatred and enmity but it actually shook the very fundamental principles of secularism and religious tolerance which was enshrined in the Indian constitution.
So, hundreds and hundreds of churches being burned and people have been displaced. Relief camp is being organized predominantly by the Church and the support which is being raised to take care of the needs of the people is again supported by the Church. To a large extent, the government in the state is not supporting any of the relief efforts, although they have promised funds and relief measures, but that's really not reached to the people in the Christian community.
ANDREW: You know, it's amazing in the United States, and it's a horrible thing for any one church to be burned. It just stops you to think if four hundred churches had been burned in the United States, what would our reaction be? It would certainly be strong. But in India, the government's, like, turning a blind eye.
RONALD: That’s right.
ANDREW: And that's real persecution… The Church obviously is responding. I mean, God is doing amazing things throughout the nation. And, and there are just some amazing stories about even in this moment, God is doing great things.
RONALD: Absolutely, Andrew, absolutely. You know, the core team of about twenty pastors who actually know each other for over twenty to thirty years decided saying that, “Hey, we need to do something. You know, we love the Lord and we have about forty thousand churches in our state. We are going to encourage every pastor of these churches to at least encourage the believers in the Church to win one soul per month into the Kingdom of God, So now we're looking at end of the year, we're looking at easily about half a million believers, new people added to the body of Christ. And this is an interesting thing, how…
RONALD: Living on the Edge is making a difference. Now they have embraced The A.R.T. of Survival and they said, “You know what? Let's take this message of hope to every single pastor out there in our state and make sure that we would encourage them, equip them, build them. And they're seeing A.R.T of Survival as a catalyst towards making their movement of adding at least five million new souls to the kingdom over ten years happen.
So A.R.T of Survival, we are really using this as an evangelistic tool as well. But here's what we've also seen. A lot of pastors post-COVID were discouraged. They lost hope. In fact, one story is there was one pastor who actually had decided that he and his family would end their lives and they made that decision and they said, “Okay, somebody has invited us to attend this training. Let's give this a last chance and let's see if the Lord is going to touch or not.” And they finished attending this A.R.T of Survival and the entire family recommitted their lives to the Lord and they gave up the idea of committing suicide.
And there was another pastor who was actually totally discouraged. He was, he had wanted to give up ministry altogether and try and find himself a job. And after The A.R.T of Survival, he had tears in his eyes. And then he said, “I'm recommitting my life to serving the Lord.”
So what we found is every other ministry is focused on either the children or the youth or, you know, helping the downtrodden in the society. There are so many ministries focused on many other things. But every time we come and share that, you know, we are here to build, equip, inspire, encourage, edify pastors, and that's when they actually become very excited because saying that, “Hey, there's no other ministry which is dedicated to helping me in my ministry.” And they're walking, pastors are walking a very lonely journey. Sometimes they're on the verge of suicide, they're on the verge of giving up on their families, on their ministries, and you never know how, you know, just one simple four-hour training can make a significant difference.
ANDREW: Yeah, it’s been, it's an amazing story and The A.R.T. of Survival, for those of you who don't know about this, we stumbled into this. I mean, Chip, tells the story about how, he was just thinking about doing a series during COVID and he was challenged by a leader in Egypt to do it. And now that message from James chapter 1 has gone to all around the world. We stumbled into it very literally. It was just following God's direction and then look what He’s done.
And, you know, so one of the reasons we work with pastors is, if you want to know the health of a church, it usually starts with the health of the pastor. And so, for us, we want to invest in the leaders of churches to help them become the disciple that Jesus wants them to be themselves first. You need to be who you want your people to become, is what we say. And so that's why we do what we do.
We were talking with another pastor and what struck me was that, you know, he said, “Yeah, persecution happens.” And it's not mentioned in a flippant way, you know, like persecution is always bad, but he's a business leader and he kind of goes, “You know what? It's just part of the deal. Part of the deal is somebody's going to get arrested and you're going to get thrown in jail. You may get beaten. Our job is to bail them out.” I mean, it was like a business leader just saying, “Well, part of the whole industry model is persecution is going to happen, we're going to spend our money to bail people out of jail.”
And I thought to myself, In what other parts of the world is that just like a common occurrence? Like, well, it’s just part of the plan. But that's what happens when you're dealing with persecution, it's like there's this rallying together of pastors and leaders. And they're not intimidated. I mean, it's scary, but they're, they're moving forward with the gospel. I mean, it's, it's just amazing to see that, well, in spite of all of that, you know, not to be flippant, it's not like bring it on, but it's like, “We're going to persist anyway.”
RONALD: Absolutely, Andrew. There's another story which we heard during that meeting was a pastor who was persecuted and then now he's the missions director for AG in India and he's looking to collaborate with us for The High Impact Church. He wants to take this training to a thousand cities across the country because he believes, saying that, “Let's look at which city has church, can we strengthen the existing church with The High Impact Church training? And if they don't have a church, can we look at planting a church?”
So, I think what we have done through our training on The High Impact Church in Dubai is really the Lord has brought entrepreneurially minded pastors who have a vision for their cities, who have a vision for the state, who have a vision for India, who want to make a difference to India.
ANDREW: You know, India has some challenges in front of it, but God is really working in that nation. And we're honored to be just part of that journey with so many great leaders there. And they're the ones, we're resourcing them. They're the ones who are doing incredible work there. God's using them in an incredible way.
So, if you're a financial supporter of Living on the Edge, you just need to know that you're making an impact all around the world. I mean, if we could play a role, some role in five million people coming to Christ in India, that requires some resources. So if you're supporting us, thank you for doing that.
And the ministry of Living on the Edge, we've talked about India, but, you know, there's also Ethiopia and Kenya and Malawi, Uganda, there's Jordan, there's United Arab Emirates that we're working in, in Egypt and Mexico, Philippines, China. God has really opened some doors, really over the last three to four years. And He has given us great opportunity to have an impact on the lives of pastors all around the world.
So, Ron, thank you for being with us today. We enjoyed hearing from you but probably more importantly, just the hope that God brings in every circumstance. And so, thank you, and we look forward to seeing what God does in the future.
RONALD: Thank you so much, Andrew. Thank you for the opportunity to serve Living on the Edge in India and South Asia. Thank you for investing into so many leaders and pastors in India. We'll only get to heaven and see the kind of impact that the ministry has done within the country. thank you, God bless you.