The Hindu Hit Man: Changed Through Prayer

The Hindu Hit Man: Changed Through Prayer

Recounting the life he led before coming to know Christ, Ravan’s voice thickened with emotion. “Thinking about that … brings me to tears,” he said.


Today Ravan is a church planter in southwestern India. Before he became a Christian, however, he worked as a paid assailant for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu nationalist organization affiliated with India’s ruling, right-wing political party. He and a gang of other recruits were the muscle behind RSS harassment of area Christians and Muslims.

As a young man, Ravan was recruited by a Hindu nationalist organization

For seven years, Ravan relished his role as a hired hoodlum, enjoying the power, good pay and free alcohol. But even as he carried out violent attacks as directed by his Hindu bosses, he was being prepared for a new role in God’s service. His mother, who had become a Christian years earlier, prayed fervently that her son would turn to Christ. “Ever since I was small, my mother used to pray for me,” Ravan said. “I used to tell her to pray quietly, and sometimes I would wear headphones to drown out the sound of her praying.”

Enticed to Hate

Before joining the Hindu gang, Ravan had suffered multiple hardships. His family had struggled financially, and Ravan had dropped out of school in the seventh grade. His father, whom he described as a nominal Christian with alcoholism, died when Ravan was 15 years old. And Ravan was on track to follow in his footsteps, drinking himself to an early death. “I was very much an alcoholic,” he said.


In 2003, when the RSS began recruiting in his area, Ravan was eager to take up a cause. The Hindu nationalists sent squads of recruiters throughout India to lure young people to join what was portrayed as a social organization dedicated to India’s resurgence and global peace. That resurgence and peace could be attained, according to the RSS, by forcing other religions out of India and creating a “pure” Hindu nation.


Ravan underwent special training in a nearby city before being assigned to a team of eight that covered a 10-mile radius around the city. His team’s mission was to create chaos when the RSS leaders called for it. His first jobs involved intercepting small shipments of cattle headed for the slaughterhouse; in Hinduism, cows are venerated and protected as sacred. “Our goal was to attack the drivers of the trucks carrying cows, bulls, oxen or buffalo,” Ravan said. “If the person driving the truck was a Hindu, we were directed to warn them and let them go. But if it was a Muslim or a Christian, I was directed to stop, warn, beat, and hand them over to the police. Then I was to bear false witness and go to any extent to get them arrested.


“We were taught to inform the Hindu people that the Christians give free goods, money and convert the lowcaste people,” Ravan said.


The RSS also told activists like Ravan that Christianity was a foreign religion imposed on Indians by a European country, so Christians should not be allowed to establish churches.


“If there were no pastors in a village, we were told to go to the Christians living in the villages and [pressure] them to turn away from their faith,” Ravan said. “If they didn’t, we had to attack them, inform the local public distribution centers to not give them their government-approved rations, and warn new believers of the consequences of leaving Hinduism.”

Meeting for worship is risky in India, where gangs like the one Ravan joined operate with impunity in nearly every village.

If there was a pastor in the village, the plan was straightforward — violence. “I attacked a pastor … traveling with his wife and child,” Ravan recalled. “We made him get off his motor scooter and threatened him not to do the work he was doing converting people. I broke his leg,” Ravan said tearfully.


The group targeted pastors in the hope that by eliminating church leaders, they would prevent Christians from gathering and keep Christianity out of their villages. They followed the same systematic plan for each attack: Identify a pastor’s name and address, physically assault the pastor, and then arrange for two or three people to file a case against the pastor accusing him or her of trying to convert them. They timed it so that the case would be filed within 30 to 45 minutes after the attack.


“This prevented them from ever filing a case against us,” Ravan explained. “If the case against [the pastors] did not stick, we would arrange for one or two Hindu families to give a false testimony that the pastors had given them money in an attempt to convert them to Christianity.”


For seven years, Ravan relished his role as a paid thug for the Hindu nationalists, enjoying the money and drinks his leaders offered after every assault. But when he considered his position in the organization, he realized that his team was composed of uneducated, lower-caste people, while the leaders were from higher castes. “They used us for their own gain, to make money for themselves,” Ravan said.


One night in July 2012, Ravan’s RSS leader asked him and his team to beat someone up. As always, they carried out their orders. But when Ravan and his team awoke the next morning, they learned that the police were searching for them. “The leaders distanced themselves from us,” Ravan said. “Only our names were involved. We … had no one to help us in that situation.” The team decided to split up and leave the city.


The next day, Ravan had a motorcycle accident. “Since I was drunk, I don’t remember much,” he said. “It was only after the accident, when I found myself lying in a pit, that I understood I had been injured.”


Ravan’s facial wounds were so severe that his entire head was wrapped; only his eyes could be seen through the bandages. While checking in at the hospital, a hospital manager had told him the reason his eyes were not injured was that someone had surely been praying for him. “The first thought that came to me was that it was my mother who had been praying for me,” Ravan said.


While Ravan’s team members eventually paid bail money to the police and returned to their work for the RSS, Ravan had had enough. “I didn’t go back,” he said. “I felt betrayed.”


On the first Sunday after Ravan’s motorcycle accident, his mother asked him to go to church with her. He did not want to go, because he did not want to be seen by other villagers. “They knew how much suffering I had caused pastors,” he said. But his mother persisted, and Ravan gave in.


The church was small, with room for only 30 or 40 people. Ravan sat next to the door and listened intently as Pastor Chandreshekar spoke from Psalm 1. “It was as if God was speaking to me personally,” Ravan said. “Until then, I had only heard teachings of preserving my religion and not allowing other religions to grow. What I heard here was completely different.” 


The pastor prayed with Ravan after the service, and that day marked the beginning of a profound change in his attitude and behavior. Within two months, he had overcome old habits of drinking and smoking too much.


Ravan married a Christian woman in 2013 and soon became the father of two children. Then, during a prayer meeting on Dec. 31, 2016, he suddenly felt called to a new work. “I saw … how I had been in my old life and how I lived now,” he recalled. “I felt a burden within me to do something in return for God.”


Ravan and his wife decided to plant a church in a nearby village. A few others gradually joined them, until their small fellowship included 12 people. 


Ravan and his wife planted a church in a nearby village. At first it was just the two of them praying together.

From Persecutor to Persecuted

At the encouragement of other pastors, Ravan attended a pastor’s training course supported by VOM. Through the training, he learned how to develop disciples, what a church should look like and how to preach through the Bible. “Earlier I used to pick a verse,” he said, “but they taught me how to continue to teach from certain passages … teaching the believers profound truths from the Bible. If I start a topic now, I remain on it until I am finished.”


The training also changed Ravan’s understanding of what church growth should look like. “My idea of ministry was only to bring as many people as I could to my church,” he said. “But I realized that when people were saved, I needed to let them establish their own church in their villages and allow the ministry to grow in different places as well. This gave me a burden to visit the villages and start prayer cells in different villages.”


Today Ravan leads a church of 50 to 60 believers and has groups in six other villages. During breaks from working construction jobs, he visits the villages often to pray with believers and teach the children stories from the Bible.


“I know from the way things are going that I will soon face a lot more opposition from radical groups,” he said. “When I had only 12 believers in church, they tried to stop me. Now that there are close to 60, there will soon be a lot more opposition. In the coming days, I know that my ministry will grow as well.”

Because the community opposes his ministry work, Ravan has been unable to rent a house in the village. Several times a week, he rides his motorcycle 40 miles to minister in his church.

Expecting More Persecution

In 2021, Ravan and other church members gathered at a believer’s home to celebrate a birthday. While they were there, the RSS arrived with the police and accused Ravan of forcing people to convert to Christianity. Threatening to beat the believers, the RSS pressured them to support their accusations. But the Christians boldly told them they would continue to go to church no matter what happened.


The police did not arrest Ravan, but the RSS members shared his phone number with other Hindu radicals. Ravan now receives frequent threats as well as constant pressure from his landlords.


Recently, Ravan had the opportunity to share the gospel with one of his former RSS teammates who was a devout Hindu when Ravan knew him. During the pandemic lockdown, the man returned to his village after losing his job in the tourist industry. Ravan helped him find construction work and in the process learned that his friend had many family problems. His parents both suffered from alcoholism, his sister was sick and the family was struggling financially. Ravan shared with the man how the gospel had changed his own life.

Just as his mother once prayed for his salvation, Ravan continues to pray for the nonbelievers in his country.

“My friend had known me before,” Ravan said. “He had seen how I used to live and saw how I lived now. That made it easier for me to share the gospel with him. He accepted what he heard because he had seen the testimony of my life. This allowed him to accept it easily and follow the Lord.”


The village where Ravan planted his church has many Hindu temples. Some pastors who had previously worked there eventually left because of persecution, but Ravan remained there for three years. “God has led us wonderfully,” he said. “I know that there will be problems, but I trust that God will protect us no matter what comes. That is what gives me the courage to continue my ministry in the village.”


Ravan hopes to lead at least one family to salvation in each of the 60 smaller villages near the main village. Although he expects to face more persecution as he pursues his goal, he remains resolute. “There is a zeal within me that no matter what comes, even if it comes to the point of losing my life, I am determined to never turn back from my ministry,” he said. “God gave me new life, so it doesn’t matter even if I die. I have an immense burden to somehow share the gospel with others.”


“We face a lot of persecution, but when I read the Bible and pray, I have experienced God speak to me. He strengthens and leads me. I have certainly learned that persecution is a part of the Christian faith. However, my desire is to never turn back from the faith; I have that burden to always remain faithful to the Lord.”


As he remains faithful and continues his work among well-established persecutors, Ravan recognizes the power of prayer in his life. “Just as someone prayed for me and that prayer led to my salvation,” he said, “I ask that you would pray for the nonbelievers of my country, even if you do not know their names.”