By Chris West
“If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” – 1 John 3:17
Just two days before the pandemic officially shut down live shows and performances, I was able to see Les Miserables performed at the Durham Performing Arts Center. For me, one of the most breathtaking and memorable parts of the show is the scene after the student revolution where the characters sadly, through tears, sing, “There’s a grief that can’t be spoken, There’s a pain goes on and on, Empty chairs at empty tables, Now my friends are dead and gone.”
Unfortunately, this song seems even more real and heartbreaking today. For, tonight in India, there are thousands of empty chairs at empty tables.
India recently became the first country to report 400,000 new daily COVID-19 cases three weeks in a row, according to a recent ABC World News report. The Indian government has failed to provide basic necessities or access to vaccinations during this time of crisis, leading to further instability in the region. Despite the fact that India is a massive pharmaceutical hub that produces a significant number of the world’s PPE supplies and COVID vaccines, less than 4 percent of the country’s population is currently vaccinated.
Another recent news report estimated that the death toll in India could exceed 1.6 million people. Those living in extreme poverty are not able to receive vaccinations or oxygen treatments to survive the virus, and they are not even able to safely bury or cremate their loved ones.
This is not the first time the Church has been faced with the issue of burial. In the early church, around the mid-300s, a Roman emperor, Julian, wanted to revive pagan religion and commented on how the early Christian church had spread so quickly. According to Julian, the Christians had “been specially advanced through the loving service rendered to strangers and through their care of the burial of the dead.”
We live in a time in which the Church is not only failing to care for the living, but is also failing to care for the dead.
I recently spoke with retired CBF field personnel Sam Bandela about this tragedy and what help churches can provide. Cooperative Baptist readers are likely familiar with Sam, who served as a CBF field personnel from 1994-2000 in Atlanta alongside immigrant communities. In 2000, Sam took a new assignment with CBF Global Missions to serve in India until his retirement in 2017.
However, Sam, with his 22 years of CBF ministry in India, continues to leverage the Fellowship’s investment in him through service with Asian Indian Ministries Inc. (AIM Inc.) and its dedicated board of directors led by Dr. Rob Nash, McAfee School of Theology professor and former CBF Global Missions Coordinator.
AIM is committed to enlisting, educating, encouraging, equipping, enabling and empowering Indian nationals for evangelism and church planting in the Telangana and the Andhra States, South India, through U.S. partnerships and the participation of individuals, Sunday school groups, churches, networks and foundations of similar and like-minded organizations. AIM has helped to build 15 churches in Telangana and Andhra states. These churches average somewhere around 200 people each and are active in bringing people to faith in Christ.
Here in 2021, AIM is working to try to keep people alive.
Sam has been deeply affected by this tragedy.
“I am less willing to take calls from India because so many are calling to report the death of another person,” Sam told me. “Several of my best friends and others that I knew personally, went to school with, or served with in ministry, have been taken by COVID-19. It is heartbreaking.”
“We need to get on our knees and pray,” Sam said. “We need Christians who are willing to ‘put their words to actions’ and send help—not just for the sake of evangelism, but to save lives.”
Sam also wanted to remind congregations outside of India to reach out to the immigrants in their cities who are affected by tragedy. There are thousands of immigrants from India in the United States, many of whom might be in our congregations.
As in other parts of the Global South, the number of Christians in India has been growing dramatically in past years. But how COVID-19 impacts that is anyone’s guess. The question on the minds of many is whether churches are willing to donate life-saving supplies.
“People are dying now in India while waiting in long lines at the hospitals,” AIM President Rob Nash told me. “Some are being denied admission and sent home or to other hospitals, some dying as a result. Hospitals are full. Hotels have been turned into hospitals to try to meet the challenge. The situation is beyond urgent. If you watch the world news, you can see how COVID-19 victims are being cremated 24 hours a day.”
Several CBF congregations have responded to the urgent needs of this crisis by donating funds to purchase oxygen cylinders and oximeters. For only $650, donors can help provide air—life itself— to those suffering from COVID-19 but who have no access to care.
Westwood Baptist Church in Cary, N.C., is one CBF congregation that has partnered with Sam and AIM to provide oxygen, food and water to the people of India during this crisis. Tom Ogburn, Westwood’s senior pastor, stressed the need to help.
“Because of the faith we hold, it is impossible to watch the news and not be moved to help,” Ogburn said. “Sometimes that means that we help in our community; but for our church, that also means sometimes we help globally. We do not know these people by name; we have not met these people living in poverty, suffering from Covid, But God knows them by name. This is a work that is life-giving and redemptive. How could we not get involved?”
To financially support the ministry of Sam and AIM in this desperate moment the people of India are facing, please give online at https://aimministries.net/give/.