The story up to this point:
Growing up in a large, traditional Hindu family in South India, Philip was like millions of other young boys until he joined the radical political organization called the RSS in his teens. This faction was dedicated to eradicating all western influences, including Christianity, from India. He took delight in harassing the local Christian community until one day he fell ill to a polio-like disease which left him crippled in all four limbs. Leaving no stone unturned his family searched all over for a cure, but in vain. He was devastated and even contemplated suicide. Then six years later he relented and decided to give the Christians one last try before ending it all. So one Sunday he hobbled over to the same Pentecostal church he had damaged before. The congregation prayed for him. However, nothing happened until three months later when, as he was praying in great agony of spirit, an audible voice instructed him to let his hands down. He was terror-stricken, but obeyed and was instantly cured! Getting on a bicycle he jubilantly pedaled to his father’s house, then on to 25 surrounding villages proclaiming that Jesus was the true God. The impact of his testimony was electric, and many rank Hindus acknowledged Jesus. But the ire of the devil was roused. He began mustering his diabolical forces.
The news of Philip ’s cure spread like fire through a parched prairie. Everywhere he went there was sure to be a crowd of curious villagers to whom he could witness, and he lost no time in declaring that Christianity was the true religion. For a time no one dared oppose him whom the gods appeared to have favored so highly. But the novelty of his cure dissipated soon enough from the hearts of the RSS leadership, his erstwhile comrades-in-arms. The significance of a former cripple going about winning converts to the hated western religion was not lost on them. Their movement was taking a beating in the public mind. The situation was becoming intolerable. The rage within their breasts reflected on their countenances as dark, ominous scowls. An emergency council was convened with one item dominating the agenda: How to stop the renegade. The decision that ensued was unanimous: An ultimatum would be delivered. If Philip did not immediately stop preaching Christianity, he would be eliminated. The last of the last iota of sympathy for him had evaporated. His life could now be counted in days, if not hours.
“You traitor,” the ruffians thundered one day, cornering him in the street, “How dare you’ve joined with the Christians? You must be getting money from the States. Hinduism is the most glorious of religions. We have all we can desire in our religion. If you don’t stop spreading this foreign religion we will kill you.”
Philip’s response was a dignified, eloquent silence. If he was afraid, he did not show it. But the real proof of his courage came with the passing days as he boldly continued preaching to the villagers. He had tasted the ambrosia of the gospel, and nothing—not even dire threats against his life—would be allowed to keep him from sharing the Jesus he had come to love. How could he deny the One who had mercy enough to cure him of his terrible malady? From the depths of hopeless despair he had been lifted to the heights of joy and hope. Far rather would he risk losing his life than chance making his Savior sad by bowing to the edicts of men. And, besides, had he not pledged, in the days of his affliction, to spread the name of the god who could heal him? No, he could never let intimidation cow him.
Rising up early he would take off for the villages around. As might be expected of a newborn Christian, his knowledge of the Scriptures was very limited. He could not give a Bible study on the 2,300 days yet, but he had a testimony which was as powerful as it was simple. Soon he would have an eager crowd of villagers milling around. To them he would relate the story of his incredible healing, and taking out his Bible would begin reading aloud from the gospels. Then, raising the pitch of his voice he would plead earnestly, “Jesus is the true God. He is superior to all our Hindu gods. If you want joy and peace and power in your lives, I invite you to come and bow before him.” The effect frequently would be dramatic. Many would come forward and acknowledge this great God who had cured him.
It quickly became apparent that Philip was not going to be brow beaten into submission by the RSS. He realized he was signing his own death warrant by flouting their wishes, but he could not bring himself to stop. While his obvious fearlessness further irked his enemies to new heights of hatred. Seething with uncontrollable fury they posted his name on the blackboard of the RSS offices and swore to kill him on a certain date. Philip, however, was not informed of this last decision. Nobody leaked the news to him. Thus, unknown to him, his last day on earth came hurrying on apace, while the hands of the clock ticked steadily toward the decisive hour. The fateful countdown had begun.
The day set for Philip’s execution dawned bright and cheerful, no different from countless others before. As always, he had breakfast, then set out boldly, yet unassumingly, on his mission for the kingdom of heaven. He was blissfully unaware that even at that moment grim hands were sharpening knives to plunge into his chest that night. Nor was he aware of the deadly serious, supernatural struggle being waged over him. The mighty angels of heaven had been commissioned to protect this saint of the Most High, while the demonic forces of hell vainly tried to obstruct access to him. A cosmic showdown, worthy of the nail-biting attention of the universe, was in the offing, and he didn’t even know he was on center stage in the spotlight.
Arriving at the fist village, Philip made contact with his interests as usual. Nothing seemed amiss as he prayed and studied with them. Then bidding them farewell, and promising to see them again soon, he continued on to the next village where the same scenario was repeated. Thus he made the rounds of the villages before setting a homeward course late in the day. The sun was westering low by the time he started back. It would be quite dark before he reached home, but he thought nothing of it. He had been over the same dirt road since childhood and knew every dip and curve like the back of his hands. However, there was just one thought which caused him a little apprehension: The road home led past the RSS offices which were somewhat isolated. There were not many houses in the area. With the threats emanating thence it was not the most congenial place in the world to be near at night. But stifling his uneasiness, and sending up a prayer, he reminded himself that he had been that way after dark before. Today would likely be another routine, uneventful passage. How greatly mistaken he was!
It was around nine o’clock when Philip finally came around the bend and saw the dim kerosene lights of his village in the distance. He felt relieved to be so close to home. The RSS offices in the foreground appeared deserted. No lights shone through the cracks in the wooden windows and doors. Everything was quiet except for the chirping of a few crickets in the grass. The huge tamarind trees lining the road were as silent sentinels keeping watch over weary travelers. Silhouetted against the starry heavens they were comforting in their massive permanence, but the shades of night assumed a somewhat eerier blackness beneath their large overhanging branches. A gentle breeze blew through their leaves and rustled in the bushes beside the path. It was a picture of peace. Even the mangy dogs, lying on the cowdung-paved yards of the mud houses, barely twitched their noses as his familiar footsteps approached. After all, the village was getting ready to bed down for the night. Nothing seemed to suggest that danger lurked in the shadows, as Philip unconsciously picked up his pace to go past the dreaded offices of his enemies.
Suddenly, like a thunderclap, the peace was shattered. “Stop!” a gruff voice boomed. Philip froze in his tracks, heart pounding madly in his chest. As if out of nowhere, more than a hundred dark forms quickly materialized from the shadows, completely surrounding him. Escape was impossible. Breaking into a cold sweat, Philip realized his utter predicament. He had walked into an ambush. The time had come for him to bear his last testimony, and seal it with his blood. Breathing a desperate prayer he watched as the figures drew closer, making the circle tighter about him. And now in the dim light of the stars he recognized his former friends. Something glinted in the hands of several—daggers! Others had stout sticks and stones. The leader stepped forward, “You have disobeyed our orders to stop preaching Christianity,” he yelled.” “For this you must die!”
If ever he needed presence of mind, Philip needed it now. He could see no ray of hope, but a strange calmness took possession of him. Heaven seemed near. Turning to the leader he replied, “You wish to kill me. That’s fine. But before you do, please allow me five minutes to say something. At the end of five minutes you can go ahead and kill me, I won’t mind.”
“All right, all right,” retorted the leader impatiently, “Go ahead and say what your problem is. Hurry up!”
This is all the break Philip needed. Seizing the opportunity he looked about earnestly at them and began: “For many years we were friends together in the RSS as we harassed the Christians and destroyed their churches. Then I fell sick and became a cripple. For six years I was among you, a destitute, but not one of you even came near to help me. You did not speak one word of encouragement when I was at the point of despair. Now Jesus has shown mercy and healed me, and you wish to kill me for preaching His name.” Then waxing bolder and more eloquent as the Holy Spirit took control, he continued, “Christianity is not merely a religion, it is the way of truth. Jesus is not only for the Christians, but for all of us too. . .”
For a few minutes there was pin drop silence as Philip’s words burned their way into the hardened hearts of his detractors. But soon, catching himself, the leader realized what was going on—he was the audience at a powerful evangelistic sermon! “That’s enough,” he cried, “Something strange is happening to our hearts as you’re speaking.” He drew imaginary circles over the left side of his chest. “If you keep this up you’ll convince all of us to become Christians too!” Then casting his weapon aside he turned and strode away.
A murmur rippled over the mob. It didn’t sound threatening. Now soft thuds could be heard as those carrying rocks dropped them harmlessly to the ground. The murmur grew fainter. More people were leaving the malicious ranks, their thirst for blood completely gone. A few more moments, and all was still again. Philip was left standing alone under the stars, punctuating the happy silence under his breath with praises to the God of heaven.
It would be wonderful if it could be reported that Philip was never persecuted for his faith again. But unfortunately, this was not the case. Just as the devil left Jesus alone “for a season” following his defeat at the hands of our Lord in the wilderness, so he left Philip for awhile while he licked his wounds and regrouped his forces. He was not about to give up without a fierce struggle. His next strategy was to employ his (Philip’s) parents against him, and the cosmic contest entered a new, more perplexing phase. The plan was to capitalize on an old, proven tactic—fear and human pride. But the God of heaven had His counterplans carefully laid too. The enemy of souls was about to suffer another crushing blow. However, the story must wait until we can meet you again in these pages.