Christians around the world are facing something new with COVID-19. We need each other — for ideas, for encouragement, for hope. Our “Ministry During COVID-19” series are conversations with a diverse array of leaders, all over the globe, about how they’re coping and how God is showing up to unite and strengthen the church during this time.
To view this conversation, visit https://youtu.be/2X2vNBsCpYk
Rev. Dr. Richard Howell is Principal of the Caleb Institute in Delhi, India and the Executive Secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India’s Council of Churches, an alliance of Evangelical and Pentecostal churches.
What is the ministry like in your context right now?
The government of India announced a lockdown of a little over two months for 1.3 billion people. The lockdown is now gradually opening up depending on the severity of the spread of COVID-19 in particular cities and states. In fact, the surge has begun only now and the number of infected people will drastically increase. The good news is the recovery rate is also high. However, as doctors warn, the trial by fire has only now begun and much depends on people will follow the norms of social distancing, wearing face masks, and regular washing of hands with soap.
The lockdown has created a loss of jobs due to closure of work and unfortunately the worst hit were the millions of migrant labourers who had flooded the cities in search for livelihood. Due to lack of money and loss of jobs they were forced to return home. After facing innumerable delays, thousands were compelled to undertake treacherous journeys on foot, in the scorching heat, covering hundreds and thousands of kilometres without adequate food and water supply. In spite of braving all odds, hundreds died on the way. Even today many are waiting to go home on special trains arranged to transport them at the intervention of the Supreme Court of India.
The Church and Christian NGOs have played a pivotal role in preserving life. They worked tirelessly to feed the hungry and provide other amenities of life; and still continue to be good Samaritans in whatever capacity possible. The tragic condition of millions of poor people, who worked as migrant labourers, including women and children in particular, demands an ongoing relief work for years together. It is also a fact that even now the poor are being exploited. Are the social goods only for the rich?
What relationships or partnerships are being formed across denominations or faith groups?
In difficult times pain and suffering has the capacity to bring people together and function as a family. Therefore, not only churches but various faith groups continue to serve. The churches have come together to regularly conduct prayer meetings on ZOOM and have created a community of prayer and thanksgiving, seeking God’s face and intervention. Technology is now much in use to preach and teach the word. There are scores of testimonies of people turning to God in prayer and dedicating their lives afresh. The reality of repentance and turning to God as the word in 2 Chronicles 7:14 is evident.
What are the lessons you have learned about faith and your people that will outlast this pandemic?
The Word of God teaches us to depend upon Him and be interdependent as the body of Christ. This truth has taken on a deeper significance. Our failure to take care of creation has consequences such as loss of freedom of movement. This was a blessing that we always took for granted. Now the air quality of the most severely polluted cities of India has greatly improved and rivers have become clean due to non-pollution. God created our beautiful world in the freedom of love beckons us all to love one another and follows His ways.
The pandemic has gifted us time to reflect on God’s Word and the Spirit has convicted and guided us to set our priorities right. Being in lockdown has also made us make the best use of technology to connect and bless one another rather than for destruction of the planet.
What has the COVID-19 pandemic revealed about global realities, particularly for the most vulnerable populations?
The global reality of the poor people who are side-lined and live on the margins of society, deprived of social goods and distributive justice must be at the centre of the churches’ care and empowerment. Systemic evil must be addressed, for it is already very late to ask the poor to be patient as things will improve. The poor like everyone else want peace and justice NOW. Conversations must begin about caste and racial justice, and action taken. Domination and exclusion must end as the Church begins to live by the values of the kingdom of God.
Jesus of Nazareth the exalted Saviour and Lord continues to call his community to imitate him by taking up the cross, to be in solidarity with the victims of injustice who have suffered for centuries and continue to do so. The symbols of injustice enshrined in statues of people must be brought low and people must be valued as created equal in the image and likeness of God and be treated equally.
How can we shape the post-pandemic future to look more like God’s kingdom for those people?
We need to identify the victims of injustice and the reason they were pushed to the margins and be in solidarity with them. All need to be treated equally as children of God for all are created equal; and opportunities of empowerment must be created for the flourishing of life for all.
The COVID-19 pandemic and racial injustice, particularly visible in the killing of George Floyd and the death of many low caste, poor migrant labourers, is urgently calling upon the community of Christ across the world to be light and salt of the earth. We need to speak forth the prophetic word of God. If we remain silent at such a time, it is indeed compliance with the agents of injustice. Let us repent of our sins, for the judgement of God begins with the household of God. We must serve as God’s representatives in our multiple contexts, as brothers and sisters of Christ Jesus, of truth, justice and peace. Thy Kingdom Come!