For almost a month, U.S. Pastor Bryan Nerren has been detained in India, apparently because of his Christian faith. His family and attorneys at the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) are rallying for the pastor’s swift return. As of Wednesday noon, a petition to free Nerren had almost 40,000 signatures.
Nerren, 58, is senior pastor of International House of Prayer Ministries in Shelbyville, Tennessee. After a 2002 missions trip to Nepal, Nerren started the Asian Children’s Education Fellowship, a non-profit that trains Christian Sunday school teachers in India and Nepal. Earlier this month, he and two other American pastors traveled to conferences in those countries.
What Happened to Pastor Nerren?
According to the ACLJ, when the October 5 flight landed in New Delhi, all three pastors proceeded through the e-visa line, passport station, and baggage claim without incident. While going through security for the next flight to Bagdogra, however, a security agent noticed Nerren’s money and summoned customs.
Nerren “was carrying the funds to cover the expenses for the two conferences with 1,000 attendees, as well as for expenses for the 13 ministers for [a] two-week trip,” the ACLJ reports. For an hour, customs officials questioned Nerren, asking if he was a Christian and if the money was going toward Christian purposes. They eventually cleared the pastor but gave him no paperwork to complete.
By the time Nerren arrived in Bagdogra, customs had ordered his arrest for violating India’s Foreign Exchange Management Act and lacking proper forms. He was jailed, denied visitors, and taken to a hospital for medical treatment. The doctor reportedly asked if Nerren was a Christian and spit on the floor upon hearing his answer.
After six days, Nerren was released on bail, but a judge confiscated his passport. A hearing scheduled for October 22 never occurred, and the next one is set for December 12. Nerren’s wife and ACLJ attorneys have contacted U.S. officials to facilitate the pastor’s release.
“My husband has done nothing wrong,” says Rhonda Nerren. “His only crime is living out his steadfast love for Jesus.” She adds that he’s needed at home, where they have a daughter with special needs and young grandchildren.
Christian Persecution in India Has Been Increasing
India’s constitution promises religious freedom, and the country signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Yet in the latest 2019 Open Doors World Watch List, India ranks tenth for Christian persecution. Hindu nationalists associated with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP political party have been cracking down on Christians, with 325 reports of faith-targeted violence in 2018.
At the International Christian Concern, William Stark says they’re “most concerned by reports that Pastor Nerren was targeted by Indian customs officials after he told them he is a Christian.”
The ACLJ urges Christians to sign the petition to free Nerren, who’s “essentially being held hostage” for his faith. The pastor remains active on social media, recently posting the words of Philippians 4:10-13 after identifying himself as “a follower of the teachings of Jesus.”