Responding to the Ravages of COVID in India

Shedding light on the incredible need for relief and the gospel

This article originally appeared on MissioAlliance.org and is reposted here by permission.

“Proud citizens now have been reduced to beggary—begging for a gasp of breath, a ventilator, hospital bed, medicines, a chance to be vaccinated on a non-discriminatory basis, transportation of the sick and the deceased, sources of information for medical relief, and above all a cylinder of oxygen to buy time in a hope to live, have robbed us of our innate dignity that defines our humanity. The trauma of seeing a loved one slip away gasping for breath while struggling to hold on to life wanting to live is a burden too heavy …” —Ashwani Kumar, “COVID-19: A Nation’s Soul Scarred Beyond Recognition in United Grief,” The Wire

By now you must have seen harrowing pictures and videos of how the second wave of the pandemic has ravaged India and continues to haunt families in every city, state and remote village. I am writing this piece, driven by a compelling sense of grief and hopelessness, as a supplication for God’s divine mercy in these calamitous times on behalf of the people of India who have been abandoned by the health care system due to decades of corruption, acute poverty and negligence of the government. This government—which in the midst of the pandemic has intensified the misery of common people who are burdened to provide for themselves and their families’ needs while also navigating countless challenges to survive in a corrupt country—has provided no relief to their daily struggles. But India also suffers from the moral and spiritual impoverishment of an ancient society and wanton abandonment of empathy as the essential condition of our coexistence, which has been alienated from the life-giving gospel message of Jesus Christ for centuries.

It’s hard to convey the full depth and range of the trauma, the chaos and the indignity that people are being subjected to in India due to decades of corruption, government incumbency, communal discord, caste-ism, religion-biased politics and egregious apathy by our present leaders to even provide free vaccines or economic stimuli during this difficult time.

India officially descended into “a time of weeping and mourning” as described in the book of Ecclesiastes in March 2020 as the world’s strictest lockdown was imposed on a country of 1.3 billion people for three months with only a four-hour notice late in the night. Our economy was already ravished due to poverty, corruption, opportunities, illiteracy and unemployment, and it was further traumatized by this emphatic move by the government which did not seek professional advice on how it might affect those hustling on the streets on a day-to-day basis to provide for their families. According to the United Nations, about half of India’s population is now considered to be pushed further into poverty (defined as earning between $1 and $5 a day) due to this crisis. Without the security of welfare, unemployment benefits or economic stimuli for the people to fall back on, this pandemic has suffocated the soul of an ancient nation which now experiences the full force of abandonment and dehumanization, as the country struggles without access to health care, medical supplies, vaccines or even food and clean water during these troubled times.

The scale of human misery due to sickness, death, despair, hopelessness and destitution has truly numbed the soul of our nation. The vastly understated official figures of daily deaths at 38,000 with over half a million new cases every day and rising, with a positivity rate of 36%, tells a story of pain and ineptitude. With less than 2% of the nation’s population adequately vaccinated to date in a country of 1.4 billion people, our flailing and floundering response as a nation to an unprecedented catastrophe will be etched in public memory as an unpardonable sin by those entrusted with the destiny of the nation.

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BEYOND PHYSICAL NEEDS

As we hear and see news about the plight of human misery and death, we are reminded that this is a cause and effect of the fruits of sin that took root into this world due to our disobedience against God. Countless individuals globally remain separated from knowing the gospel of Jesus Christ and much more so in India. India is considered to be one of the most unreached nations in the world, hands down. More than 80% of Indian communities still lack any witnessing body of believers, meaning four out of five Indians will go their entire lives without knowing a single Christian.

Fortunately, the gospel came to our family some four generations ago through Western missionaries, possibly in the late 1800s or early 1900s in North India, which was passed down diligently to us through our parents’ and grandparents’ faithful witness, for which I am forever grateful. To give you a sense of why we should consider ourselves grateful and privileged to have had access to the gospel: Growing up, I never met anyone in my entire academic life through college who knew about Jesus Christ personally. People knew about Christianity and about this man on the cross, but it was mostly prejudiced based on what they saw on television, which formed their bias against Christianity as a western religion that manipulates marginalized people by coercive means to convert them. India is a country in which every day, every minute you can share the gospel to someone who has never heard of Jesus Christ and the salvation that comes through his sacrifice.

A WITNESS OF LIGHT AND LOVE IN THE DARKNESS

The reformer Martin Luther lived during a time of death when the Black Plague or Bubonic Plague ravaged Europe, taking at least one third of its population. Imagine if every third family on your streets was gone within the space of few months. Imagine if one-third of your coworkers just vanished. Even Luther’s Wittenberg faced two such plagues in the 1520s. Luther also lost his 12-year-old daughter Magdalena to the plague. Martin Luther’s time was a time of darkness. Less than 1% of the population was literate. Even most of the priests were uneducated and illiterate. They mumbled through the Mass, and the congregation didn’t know any better. The days in which Luther lived was a time of intellectual, economic, cultural and spiritual darkness.

Martin Luther believed it is the job of the church and of Christians to believe the gospel, cherish it, love it, proclaim it and broadcast it. For the most part, the institutional church in the Middle Ages did not do this. It had not grasped the gospel message of light to speak into the darkness and failed to fully understand God’s message of life in order to speak into the death which closed in from every direction. The light of the gospel was hidden, as in the primordial days, darkness covered the earth. The situation in the sixteenth century could not have been more dire. And then an unknown Augustinian monk made the historical scene by not fleeing the city of the plague but by continuing to serve his neighbors, colleagues, and people in his city in their desperate hour of affliction. Luther did not find the message of light and life in the wisdom and knowledge base of his day. But rather he found the message of light and life by following ancient paths which led him to the Scriptures and the greatest commandment to ‘love your neighbors as yourselves.’ Ultimately, Luther’s answer to combat the various forms of darkness was the timeless message of the gospel revealed in the Bible and modeled through actions in service of those who were desperate, helpless, dying and abandoned by the society.

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In the words of Luther, “For when people are dying, they most need a spiritual ministry which strengthens and comforts their consciences by word and sacrament and in faith overcomes death.” Luther then concludes with a practical example of how we might consider when to help our neighbor: “You hear that the command to love your neighbor is equal to the greatest commandment to love God, and that what you do or fail to do for your neighbor means doing the same to God. If you wish to serve Christ and to wait on him, very well, you have your sick neighbor close at hand.”

PRAYING FOR PEACE, SALVATION AND SUSTENANCE

I served in Delhi, India through the pandemic and lockdowns with an essential worker pass from March until December 2020 alongside the non-profit organization Cooperative Outreach International, distributing masks, water and food rations to thousands of families living in desperate poverty and setting up “Hope Kitchens” that would continue feeding thousands of children every day through the involvement of the local church. Our family tested positive for COVID-19 in October 2020, but the Lord graciously allowed us to not have any concerning symptoms. While we are in the U.S. currently raising funds for relief work in India, we also continue to advocate the need of propelling the gospel message urgently to the unreached people groups. Our teams across India continue to host prayer gatherings for the hurting, and serve food rations and midday meals to communities living under extreme economic stress due to the pandemic while also extending financial support for nutrition to missionaries and pastors serving in extremely hostile areas of India who are affected due to this crisis.

I would like to invite you and your congregation to pray for God’s peace to prevail over those who are grieving and also for salvation to penetrate the most unengaged people groups in the world through the local church. If you are led to give, please consider opening your hearts to release the love of Christ to flow to the most disadvantaged communities and persecuted missionaries who are desperate to keep food on their tables due to the intense lockdowns and the pandemic. I would like to end with two quotes to imply the urgency of propelling the gospel to the most unreached people groups so that no one might be lost:

“Whatever we do, we must not treat the Great Commission like it’s the Great Suggestion.” ―Charles Swindoll, author and pastor

“The gospel is only good news if it gets there in time.” —Carl F.H. Henry, author and theologian

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