Last week in one of our services we sang the chorus ‘I have decided to follow Jesus’, following on from the reading in Mark’s gospel in which Jesus instructs his disciples ‘Whosever will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.’
The song repeats a refrain ‘No turning back’ in each verse. Interestingly, the song was written by a man from Assam (northern India) named Nokseng, who converted to Christianity in the 19th century when there were very few Christians in the region. One line in the song says ‘Though none go with me still I will follow’. His walk of faith must have been a lonely one in a culture devoted to the worship of other gods. He would have faced open hostility and social exclusion, just like those converted to Christianity from Judaism in the first centuries of the church.
This is not only history. The website of International Christian Concern reported that over the year 2023 there were 720 incidents of persecution and violence against Christians in India. This has increased since the election of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister in 2019, and his party’s populist Hindu majority message which has incited mobs against their Christian and Muslim neighbours.
India is not the only country in which it has become challenging to be a practicing Christian. Worldwide, almost 5,000 Christians were killed for their faith last year, and nearly 15,000 churches were attacked or forcibly closed. A January report in ‘Christianity Today’ magazine, entitled The 50 Countries Where It’s Hardest to Follow Jesus in 2024, makes it clear that to be a Christian in many other nations is a very risky business.
While Christianity is increasingly a minority religion in this country, our daily practice of faith does not generally involve risk to life and limb. But perhaps it should involve praying for our brothers and sisters who face extreme hardships, and who show us the fuller extent of what it means to walk the way of the cross.