HYDERABAD, India (Morning Star News) – A Christian pastor in northern India who drives a taxi for a living didn’t think he had anything to fear when a well-mannered Sikh asked him to take a slight detour.
Pastor Sukhdev Mark, 47, had dropped him off the previous night at a hotel in Ambala, Haryana state after picking him up from a gurdwara, or Sikh place of worship. During their conversation, Pastor Mark gave him a gospel tract, which the Sikh politely accepted, he said.
The Sikh called him the next day, Sept. 15, requesting that he take him from the hotel to the airport in Amritsar.
“I said, ‘Fine, I have no problem,’ then he asked me again, ‘Are you a pastor?’” Pastor Mark said. “I told him, yes, I lead a small church and also share the gospel, and I drive a taxi for a living.’”
The Sikh told him to pick him up at the hotel at 4 p.m., he said.
“Throughout the journey to Amritsar, we didn’t talk much,” said Pastor Mark, a married father of two. “He was working on his laptop and had an iPhone, and so I thought he must be an educated man. I didn’t find him suspicious as he appeared to be a well-educated gentleman. He asked for my phone and set the location for directions to follow the route.”
As they approached the Celebrations Resort on the Majitha-Verka bypass road, the Sikh asked him to take a small by-lane, Pastor Mark said.
“There were some shops and, I thought he would want to buy some refreshments or snacks,” he said. “But he asked me to drive out of the by-lane, and as we got out of that route adjacent to the resort, three men came on a scooter and stopped the taxi on the main road.”
The Activa scooter didn’t have a license plate, he said. Pastor Mark asked the Sikh if he knew the men, and he replied that they were friends.
“I parked the taxi on the other side of the road and stood there,” he said. “He asked me to take his bags out of the trunk, and when I went to the rear side of the taxi to take the bags out, the three men pounced on me with knives. They had cutters and knives and started slashing me as the Sardarji [title used for Sikh men] looked on.”
The assailants cut his hands and caused internal injuries in his abdomen, he said.
“I was bleeding profusely, and I started shouting for help,” Pastor Mark told Morning Star News. “When I started shouting for help, the three assailants crossed the road and ran away, and the Sardarji also was trying to escape from the scene.”
Pastor Mark ran after him, shouting for him to stop.
“He too ran in the same direction as the assailants,” he said. “He didn’t pay me the taxi fare and instead was cussing at me as he ran from there.”
The pastor was unable to catch up with him, he said. It was about 9 p.m.
“Hearing my screams, escort teams [hotel security guards] came in their vehicles but they were afraid seeing my state in blood-soaked clothes,” he said. “They told me to go away from there. I kept asking them to tell me where is the nearest police station, and I shared what happened.”
He tied a piece of cloth from his car around his waist to support his injured stomach and drove with one hand to the police station, he said. After Amritsar police confiscated the taxi and took his statement, officers took him to a hospital, he said. There he called his wife and Christian leaders in Ambala, and they helped connect him to church leaders in Amritsar who transferred him to Gurunanak Hospital.
“But that night, I didn’t receive any treatment,” he said. “By morning, I was in a bad state. The doctors told me that I should be operated on immediately.”
Surgery on his abdomen left him with 30 stitches, he said. He was released from the hospital on Sept. 23.
ADF India’s ally for Punjab and Haryana states said Amritsar police apprehended and charged the three assailants with attempted murder under Section 307 of the Indian Penal Code.
Sikhism, which originated in the Punjab area of India at the end of the 15th century, emphasizes faith in the name of the one creator, divine unity and equality of all humankind, selfless service, striving for justice and honesty.
Previously an alcoholic and ardent worshipper of Hindu deities, Pastor Mark first heard about Christ from other taxi drivers in 2007, he said.
He half-heartedly practiced the faith until he attended an open-air gospel meeting where the preacher spoke of the evil spirits of addictions and deliverance from alcoholism and drugs, he said.
“He cast out the demonic spirit in me, and I never touched alcohol from that day on,” Pastor Mark said. “I stopped speaking in foul language and decided to follow Christ wholeheartedly.”
He began undertaking gospel outreaches with church friends, he said.
“Although I have not been formally trained at a Bible school, God gave me opportunities to learn practical lessons from evangelists and bishops as I drove them on ministry work by my taxi,” he told Morning Star News. “By God’s grace, with the support of believers and Christian leaders, I was able to plant three home churches in surrounding villages.”
The hostile tone of the National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, against non-Hindus, has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, religious rights advocates say.
India ranked 10th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2022 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, as it was in 2021. The country was 31st in 2013, but its position worsened after Modi came to power.