We now face the most difficult days in the recent history of India. Our president is bound to establish our country as a Hindu nation following the demands of Muslim and Buddhist countries all around him. Hindu extremists dream of annihilating churches beating pastors and prosecuting others for proselytizing. Yet these are possibly the best days the church of India has ever known. The church must BE the church. We must learn to share our faith because it is who we are, not our religion.
India boasts one of the oldest group of oral peoples on earth with nearly 3,000 people groups that make up over 1 billion souls. We will not be reached at the core of our being with traditional approaches to evangelism and discipleship. We are oral first. Yes, the British and others brought us literacy and systems that make us global competitors. But, when it comes to communicating Christ we will only be reached when we use orality strategies to address the heart-felt needs of the region – social injustice, abuse of women and children, lack of affordable quality education and vocational training, and the strongholds of worshipping a panoply of gods that demand sacrifices and loyalty.
The darkest of days, the brightest of days
Enter COVID-19. The people of India are suffering, and the number of new cases continues to rise. In terms of health, this is one of our darkest days. In terms of opportunity to demonstrate the love and power of a risen Christ, it is the brightest of days. Consider what has been happening:
- People are without food, the government unable to fulfill many promises, and the church steps up to bring food and supplies to those without
- Thousands of migrant workers are stranded in distant cities and regions without transportation home, and Christians arrange an exodus to their families.
- Hindu extremists attack and desecrate a church in Dhanbad, beating the pastors and arresting one of their school teachers for proselytizing – potential life in prison. But the church intercedes with government officials and reparations are made.
- State government is allowing Christian leaders to be part of the solution for the hardships brought on by COVID. They are working together with us, not against us.
Some might not agree with this approach…
Some well-respected churches and mission organizations say we ought to just be preaching the Gospel, not spending time married to an unbelieving government. It is our conviction from the Lord that we ARE to engage, and be wise as serpents as we move forward making inroads along the way. We are not all called to this. We are all called to love one another in His body, support one another’s passions and convictions for ministry without negativity and judgementalism. We are SO proud of the thousands of pastors who share our convictions and have joined in this collaboration, but harbor no ill-feelings to those who do not.
Plans are underway to help slow the spread of COVID through church initiated awareness projects that tackle the big problems – social distance, sanitation & hygiene, civil treatment of those infected, and what to do if you feel symptomatic. It is a communication strategy using mass and small media technologies, and believe we will see dramatic results. Then we earn the right to share why we cared enough to act. We don’t start with a confrontation of Christ versus religions, but the confrontation of love in the face of fear, distrust and retaliation.
We’ll get to clearly the sharing of the Gospel, but it will be as we change the story of COVID’s grip to the embrace of God’s love. It will come as we relate the truth of His Word in new songs, in radio-drama and all other Indian indigenous local arts.
Bishop Ponraj is committed to enabling the church work in partnership with all agencies that are in the frontline of fighting Covid19. Through effective partnership we can accelerate relief, improve our service, and expand our impact on the needy. The church has a calling to be the salt and the light of the world, and Covid19 is the perfect storm that for our faith. He is leading by example in his region and is mobilizing churches nation wide to be actively responding locally and globally to the challenges around.