“Yes, we are suffering. But in times of darkness, that’s when the light shines”: Christians in Covid-embattled India unite to offer help and hope
As India reels from tragedy after tragedy, how can the body of Christ rise up? This is the first of a 5-part special report on India's Covid-19 crisis.
by Gracia Lee // June 3, 2021, 4:59 pm
A Covid-19 patient at a medical college hospital in Kolkata. Believers in the nation gripped by tragedy are showing how the love of Christ can be shared, both in word and deed. Photo by Mr Subir Halder/ Shutterstock.com.
No one in India has been spared from the impact of the deadly second Covid-19 wave that has swept through the nation.
“Almost every family in India, in some way or another, has been personally affected. The first wave was only about numbers, but this wave is all about names,” a Christian leader* told Salt&Light in a phone interview from Chennai, India.
About 230 million Indians fell into poverty during the pandemic. Over 9,000 children were orphaned or left without a parent.
Though the government has said the second wave is now on a “downswing”, with the number of daily cases and deaths falling, the nation continues to be enveloped by grief and suffering.
According to news reports, about 230 million Indians fell into poverty in the first year of the pandemic. Over 9,000 children have been orphaned or left without a parent due to the virus. And hospitals continue to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of those who are sick and dying.
Despite suffering from the ravages of the pandemic, however, the body of Christ in India has stepped out in courage and unprecedented unity to offer relief and intercession for their nation.
From sharing groceries with needy neighbours to turning Christian schools into medical facilities, believers in India are growing in the united conviction that God has raised them up for exactly such a time as this.
“Yes, we are dying. Yes, we are sick. Yes, we are suffering. Yes, we are mourning,” said one believer who is persisting in helping others even though he has lost three family members to the virus.
“But in times of darkness, that’s when the light shines.”
From Christian schools to medical facilities
In Delhi, there has been a “movement of God” throughout the city, where believers from various churches, professions and non-profit organisations are working together to provide aid and relief, Pastor Aarav* told Salt&Light.
From sharing groceries to turning Christian schools into medical facilities … God has raised them up for such a time as this.
A group of 24 doctors has volunteered to give medical advice through a hotline for free. Five non-profit organisations and some 60 volunteers from across churches are running a counselling helpline together.
About 10 businessmen and church leaders are caring for the families of pastors who have died in the pandemic. A collaboration of organisations and volunteers are supporting some 5,000 needy families by fanning out to assess needs and distribute essentials.
The movement was sparked after a 12-hour prayer meeting on April 20 that saw hundreds of Christians from all over the city, regardless of denomination, coming together on Zoom to intercede for their city.
Since then, at least nine initiatives have sprouted up, including a collaboration by Christian businessmen, doctors and educators to convert a private Christian school in Dwarka into a Covid care facility with 100 oxygen beds.
The facility was launched a week after the founder of the school succumbed to Covid-19.
“We’re called to be salt and light … The wholeness of the Gospel is what we want to see.”
About a dozen pastors, donned in full personal protective equipment, have also visited patients at this facility to “pray for the healing of body and soul”, said Ps Aarav.
He marvelled at the unprecedented level of collaboration among believers, churches and organisations, which he said is “a great sign of unity” for the Church in India that, according to another pastor, has been “largely fractured”.
“Our heart is to empower every Christian to become part of the movement. It’s not about any leader or entity. It’s about the people of God in the city,” said Ps Aarav, who declined to be named for this reason.
“We’re called to be salt and light, so that they may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). It’s a call on our lives. The wholeness of the Gospel is what we want to see.”
Giving “until nothing is left”
It is not just in Delhi that believers are heeding a call to offer help and hope.
Leaders from cities like Chennai and Hyderabad also recounted to Salt&Light about how they are doing their part, from providing counselling for grieving loved ones and burnt out healthcare workers, to providing garbage workers with hygiene kits and protective gear.
Even those who have few resources are sharing what they have with others.
His church is prepared to give “until nothing is left”.
When her city went into lockdown last year, Pastor Tabitha* wept while alone in her living room: “Lord, we do not have anything to distribute to others.”
Giving had dwindled as many of her members, some of whom are daily wage workers, had lost their jobs. Her income, as a result, has suffered too.
However, that did not stop her from reaching into her kitchen cupboards and sharing her lockdown rations and vegetables with three families in her neighbourhood.
Not too long after, God answered her prayer and sent along a Singaporean missionary who provided her with more funds to support those in her community.
A year on, her church is now providing groceries and basic necessities for some 50 to 60 families, said Ps Tabitha, who requested for her name to be changed due to Christian persecution where she lives in North India.
Her dwindling income did not stop her from reaching into her cupboards and sharing her lockdown rations with neighbours.
Over in the city of Hyderabad, a church leader who only wanted to be known as Pastor Gan said his church is prepared to give “until nothing is left” to provide some 800 migrant daily wage labourers with medical help.
This is despite the fact that all but two of their 76 church members have contracted Covid-19, though none have died.
Since the first week of May, his church has been working with a group of doctors and a nearby pharmacy to ensure that these workers are cared for if they are ill.
As they are mostly migrants from other states, they do not receive the same healthcare or financial privileges that local residents do, leaving them more vulnerable to poverty and helplessness, said Ps Gan.
“The last time a lockdown happened, it was really bad. They didn’t have food. They didn’t have money. Some had to walk 2,000km to 3,000km home with their children. So, we said this time we’d do something about it,” he said.
If these migrant labourers come down with Covid-19 symptoms, they can consult a doctor via the telephone for free and be tested for the virus at a discounted rate.
“The last lockdown, they didn’t have food, they didn’t have money … we said this time we’d do something about it.”
If they test positive, they can collect a medical kit of sanitisers, masks and medication like cough syrup, paracetamol, vitamins and health drinks from the pharmacy, as well as two weeks’ worth of groceries to tide them through their quarantine – all for free.
Having saved on rent through the years – his congregation meets in homes rather than in a building – his church is using its resources to fuel this initiative.
Ps Gan added that the pandemic is a wake-up call for the Church to rely more heavily on Christ.
“For far too long we’ve been comfortable with Sunday services, with Bible studies, church picnics, church camps and all that. Now all those strategies are out of the window.
“The challenge upon us is: How do you keep your people in Christ? How do you keep preaching Christ? How do you preach that God is good when everything happening around is bad?
“And unless we keep tapping daily on Christ and His resources, we can’t do it. Finally, the church has come to a point where it’s not self-sufficient. It cannot rely on itself. It needs Christ. And I think it’s a good place to be.”
Hundreds at 12-hour Zoom prayer meeting
And in this time of deep desperation and overwhelming need, the body of Christ in India is doing what only it can – going on their knees daily to intercede for their nation.
“The challenge upon us is: How do you preach that God is good when everything happening around is bad?”
At the second 12-hour prayer meeting on May 21, hundreds from Delhi and Mumbai gathered on Zoom at each half-hour slot to present the needs of their nation – oxygen, protection, strength, resources, healing – one by one to God.
“Mercy, mercy, mercy!”
“We stand in the gap and plead with You to restore our nation.”
“Lord, we are crying out to You. Heal our land.”
There is also a 24-hour prayer hotline in operation, run by some 50 to 60 believers who have committed to giving an hour every day to listen and pray for anyone who calls.
For the past month, worship leaders from around the nation have also been working together and taking turns to lead hundreds of participants over Zoom in praise and worship every evening from 6pm to 7pm.
“We trust that God is the only One who can change things in this country.”
During these sessions, participants send in via the chat the names of people they know who are on ventilator, in hospital, or in any need of prayer.
And every morning at 6.30am, a few church leaders meet online and pray for each of these individuals by name, persisting in intercession for the groaning nation.
“The hopelessness is so severe that there is a real cry,” said Ps Aarav. “You don’t need encouragement to pray now. Hundreds of prayer meetings are happening all the time.
“We trust that God is the only One who can change things in this country. I think that’s a realisation for everyone. At a time like this, the only answer is God.”
After calamity, an open door
Pastor Jaival* from Chennai, who is involved in hundreds of churches across the country, said believers are seeing how this is an opportunity for the love of Christ to be shared, both in word and deed.
“We’ve always seen that after every national calamity, disaster, we’ve only seen more open doors for the Gospel.”
“It has opened up an opportunity for the Church to be the hands and feet of Jesus, and so seeing the Church serving in various ways is very encouraging,” said Ps Jaival, who spoke to Salt&Light on condition of anonymity due to religious sensitivities.
“We’ve always seen that after every national calamity, disaster, we’ve only seen more open doors for the Gospel as people’s hearts are open. So our prayer is that, through this, the Gospel will continue to progress and flourish.”
He believes this is a time for the Church to come together in unity – not just within India – but across the nations too.
Noting that the Church in Singapore and other parts of the world has been pouring in help and prayers, he said: “I just want to convey our deep sense of gratitude. As we read in the Scriptures, when one part rejoices, the whole body rejoices. When one part suffers, the whole body suffers. (1 Corinthians 12:26).
“I believe the Church in Singapore has already identified in our suffering and so we are deeply grateful for your love and concern for us.”
*Names have been changed for security reasons.
For more information on pandemic relief for India, contact [email protected].
Pray for India
- The number of daily infections and death tolls to continue going down.
- Healing of those who are infected by Covid-19, especially those who are in critical condition.
- Provision of various resources to meet the nation’s great needs.
- Comfort for those who have lost friends and loved ones.
- The mental health needs of people, as many grapple with grief and desperation.
- Strength for all healthcare workers, who are overworked and face death on a daily basis.
- The government to have the wisdom to handle the crisis in the best interest of its people.
- Greater unity within the body of Christ as they serve the community.
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