Pastor Ponnachan George, a senior leader of Gospel for Asia in India, is recovering in a hospital today after being held hostage for nearly a week by a terrorist group before he was finally released on Sunday.
GFA Founder and President K.P. Yohannan told The Christian Post on Monday that the terrorists targeted George because they believed they could ransom him for money. George is a prominent leader in the region – he oversees about 300 missionaries, 200 churches, 26 Bridge of Hope centers, three radio broadcasts and a Bible college – and he was the only person kidnapped by the terrorists.
"For years we have been doing tremendous amount of community development ... but all these things we do so that Christ's love can be communicated. So these terrorist groups must have concluded, 'These people have a lot of money, so you kidnap their leader and that means they have to give the money,'" said Yohannan.
On the evening of July 23, a group of five armed terrorists kidnapped George from a GFA Bible school campus in the Karbi Anglong district of Assam, India. With a blindfold over his eyes and his hands tied together, the group marched him several hours into the forest, where they then tied him to a tree.
But what they did not likely know was that GFA has had a policy for the last 20 years stating that they do not negotiate with terrorists. After several days, information about the kidnapping reached the national media, and several known terrorist organizations said they had nothing to do with the incident. The police and military became involved in the situation once the media reports were released, and Yohannan says that added pressure is likely what caused George's captors to eventually release him.
Yohannan speaks highly of the government troops, police officers and state and federal officials whose influence led to George's freedom, but he also believes it is nothing less than a miracle that he is still alive.
"And I'm certain the living God intervened, because, humanly speaking, we thought there was maybe just a five percent chance for them to release our brother, because usually they don't give into publicity," he said. "These people are just mean, that's all they do."
After news of the kidnapping made national news in India, Yohannan sent an email to approximately 400,000 people telling them to pray for George. During a phone conversation after his release, George told Yohannan that he could sense people were praying for him during his time in captivity.
"When I talked with him yesterday, all he could do was just weep and cry," Yohannan said, although George was able to speak a little. He was convinced he would die, he said, knowing how brutal the terrorists can be, and was saddened by the thought of never seeing his wife and children again.
He was also reportedly within earshot of the terrorists when they were discussing whether or not to kill him, adding to the "mental anguish" he experienced while he was tied like "an animal to a tree," as Yohannan put it. After being tied up for a while, though, George began to meditate on the cross of Jesus Christ, and it was then that he felt peace.
He began to think "that Christ's suffering and death was needed for redemption, and he must continue the journey following Christ and not hold on to his life," said Yohannan. GFA teaches its missionaries a "don't hold on to your life" mentality, he says, just as Jesus taught in Matthew chapter 10, recognizing that sacrificial living is the only way to reach those nations where Christians are persecuted.
George has already said that he wants to continue working in his mission field. GFA workers are in the process of discussing safety and security plans, but Yohannan doesn't think George will be captured by the same group again since they now know they won't receive any money from his organization.
Gospel for Asia supports national missionaries across South Asia, and has 67 Bible colleges throughout the region. The organization also offers impoverished and Dalit, or "untouchable," children the opportunity to get an education, food and medical attention through its Bridge of Hope program.