Power in Punjab

Christians see churches—and opposition—grow among Sikhs

The Open Door Church is one of the largest buildings in the tiny agricultural village of Khojewala. With a large cross on top, it stands boldly in the majority-Sikh region in northwestern Punjab state. A sign on the gate reads, "Christ be praised." Inside, villagers sit cross-legged on cotton sheets spread over the cement floor of the main hall. Under the whir of overhead fans, they are calling out, "Hallelujah! Hallelujah!"

Every Sunday, people from across the state attend this church, nestled amid green and golden farmlands. Pastor Harbhajan Singh, a 52-year-old former landlord, built it in 1991. Harbhajan says he was a drunkard who indulged in "all kinds of bad things" until Christ saved him. He converted from Sikhism to Christianity in 1986. Through his ministry, Harbhajan seeks to heal mind and body.

"People find peace here, so they come," Harbhajan told Christianity Today. "The Lord does it. We are incapable. Their deep faith in Christ helps in healing diseases and brings inner peace." This message makes sense to Sikhs, many of whom see Jesus as a figure of mercy and compassion. Harbhajan's church has 2,800 baptized members, plus many others who are awaiting baptism.

The village youth committee initially forbade Harbhajan from building the church. And when he started building, he received many death threats.

"You can't do God's work if you are afraid," he said. "I stood. The Lord saves and protects."

John Dayal, secretary general of the All India Christian Council, said there is a new openness to Christ in the state.

"Punjab has had a traumatic 20 years," Dayal said. "Currently there is … joblessness, drug addiction, easy money, and division between Hindus and Sikhs. In search of a path, people are turning to Christ for ...

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