NEW DELHI (Morning Star News) – Contrary to the reasons communist guerrillas in India gave for murdering a pastor in July, area church leaders said he was killed for carrying out his Christian calling.
Communist Party of India (Maoist) guerrillas known as Naxalites killed Pastor Yohan Marayya in East Godavari District, Andhra Pradesh state on July 29, leaving a note near his body stating that he was killed for being “very friendly” with police (an informant), accumulating wealth and “exploiting the poor.” The note also warned that 10 more people wold be killed, including six pastors.
Area church leaders, however, said the accusations were untrue and told Morning Star News that Pastor Marayya was killed for the thriving ministries he and his brothers were carrying out, which threatened the communists’ influence in the area.
“The real reason behind the brutal killing of pastor Yohan was because of their ministries, and the churches being where the interests of the area people lie,” a church leader told Morning Star News on condition of anonymity. “They lost control of the people who now believed in Christ rather than in weapons, and they chose to handle the matter in this way.”
Christian leaders told Morning Star News that the death of the 45-year-old father of four came six months after the Naxalites abducted his nephew and tried to kill Pastor Marayya’s older brother, pastor Elia Kannayya, who had led the whole family to Christ, as the Naxalites were upset at the Christians for encouraging people to put their trust in God rather than join the rebel movement.
About 150 Naxalites had broken into the house of Pastor Kannayya in their attempt to kill him, but he was not home, so they abducted his teenage son, holding him hostage and demanding Pastor Kannayya be handed over to them, the church leaders said. Negotiations led to them releasing the boy after 14 days.
Pastor Kannayya had begun the healing and evangelistic ministry 15 years ago, and Pastor Marayya and other brothers helped it to flourish as they planted 60 churches in the tri-state border areas of Chhattisgarh, Orissa (now Odisha) and Andhra Pradesh. The life transforming ministries led area young people to hold the Bible rather than weapons, and as the Naxalites saw fewer recruits they began to oppose the brothers, church leaders said.
“Over the 15 years, Pastor Yohan and his brothers were doing cultivation work on 40 acres of land where many church members were also being employed,” said a church leader who visited the area as part of a fact-finding team. “Around these areas, they have about 5,000 church members, and the ministries support 60 evangelists and 40 orphans.”
Prior to the murder of Pastor Marayya, the Naxalites had warned Pastor Kannayya to leave the area several times, the church leaders said. As part of the Naxalites’ effort to frighten Pastor Kannayya away and get rid of his ministries, they killed his younger brother, an easier target as he lived deep in the wilderness, according to church leaders.
On July 29 Pastor Marayya and his wife, Manama, woke at about 11 p.m. to the sound of barking dogs; when the pastor rose to investigate, he found about 100 armed Naxalites around his home in Lachigudem village. They pulled the pastor out and beat him with sticks. His wife came out and started crying for help, and the assailants pushed her back inside and began beating her as well, church leaders said.
Taking the pastor farther away and continuing to beat him, the Naxalites took off his lungi (garment wrapped around the waist) and used it to tie his hands behind his back. They beat him for several minutes before stabbing him and cutting his neck with a sharp axe.
The assailants left their note near the body. Besides accusing the church leader of being a police informant, it accused Pastor Kannayya of converting people through deceit and claimed both pastors deceived “our innocent people” to accumulate wealth for themselves through “criminal activities,” according to researchers from aid group The Voice of the Martyrs.
“Pastor Yohan’s wife and other Christian workers in the area said that the two pastors are not involved in criminal activities,” the organization reported on Aug. 26. “Pastor Yohan and his brother have ministered to the poor and indigenous tribes in the area for more than 15 years and lived simple, humble lifestyles.”
The same night that Pastor Marayya was killed in Lachigudem – and his church building reportedly set on fire – the attackers went to a neighboring village and abducted a member of his church, identified only as Raju, area church leaders said.
After three hours of walking in thick jungle, the kidnappers stopped and began severely beating the Christian and warned him to stop going to church, church leaders said. Raju told them that he had been on the verge of dying from illness when Pastor Marayya had prayed for him and taken him to the fellowship, where he had met Jesus and received new life, and that therefore he could not stop going to church.
Further enraged, the attackers crushed his hands and fingers with their boots, asking again whether he would return to the church. When he said he would, they threatened to kill him, the church leaders said.
“Raju said, ‘Okay, it is in your hands to kill me; go ahead, I will go to heaven even if you kill me,” a church leader said.
The Naxalites told him to go to the village of his pastor, Yohan Marayya, and decide whether he still wanted to go to church, and then released him, the church leaders said. When he reached the village at dawn, he found hundreds of church members mourning over the pastor’s body.
As of this writing, Naxalites continue to issue threats to Pastor Kannayya to leave the area or be killed as his younger brother was.
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