Gospel for Asia native missionaries—including a state leader—have been driven away, beaten and even arrested by police at the site of the Ardh Kumbh, a massive festival during which millions of Hindu pilgrims bathe in the confluence of two sacred rivers at the north Indian town of Allahabad.

Yesterday (January 22), an estimated 20 million people bathed in the Ganges where it meets the Yamuna River, and up to 60 million are expected to have taken the religious plunge before the 45-day event is over on February 16. To help accommodate the huge crowds and promote safety, officials have set up a “city” of 50,000 tents over a 30 square-mile area, brought in 25,000 toilets and deployed a police force of around 20,000. Traffic has been rerouted from all roads leading to the river.

As a result, GFA native missionaries ministering at the event had to walk or ride bicycles about 10 kilometers (6 miles) to reach the festival site.

GFA native missionaries and Bible college students were attending the event to offer the pilgrims an alternative to the traditional rituals by introducing them to Jesus. The team for the festival outreach included staff members from the GFA state office, women from local churches, students and staff members from Bible colleges as well as pastors from Allahabad.

As of January 21, more than 200,000 pilgrims had happily accepted the Gospel tracts. On that day, however, radical anti-Christians beat up three native missionaries, stole their materials and told them to leave the festival. One of the missionaries was taken to the hospital with severe injuries, although he is responding well to treatment.

Anti-Christian sentiment was also evident yesterday morning, when police told a GFA women’s team to leave. The women retreated, but a men’s team, headed by a state leader and two pastors, continued to share the Good News with those attending the festival.

The police then arrested six of the Christians, questioning them for a day before releasing them. One of the arrested pastors called it “an honor” to be persecuted for the sake of the Gospel.

GFA President K.P. Yohannan asks Christians to pray that the persecution will not escalate.

“Please pray for our workers who were serving at this event, and that many pilgrims will receive the Good News of forgiveness through our Lord,” he said.