When hard times hit and people are searching for hope, a phrase we commonly hear in the West is: “There is light at the end of the tunnel.” We are beginning to hear that the peak of the pandemic has been reached in some countries and certain situations; and now these areas are laying plans as to how to reopen their economies. The people of the world are praying and hoping that human governments will lead them out of the darkest days we have seen for decades.
I would draw your attention to this truth from the Word of God found in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NASB). (Bold emphasis and underlining are mine.)
Therefore, we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
The light at the end of the tunnel for myself and all believers is not a worldly confidence found in the wisdom of man. Rather, our Hope is in heaven, sitting at the right hand of God the Father. In some manner, we will emerge from this present crisis. But there may be more serious disasters and plagues waiting for us in the future. This is why, no matter what is thrown at us, it is not world leaders who will solve our problems, but rather it is Jesus in whom I put my faith—the true Light at the end of this tunnel, and all tunnels.
I was taught this lesson several years ago by a leader of millions of believers in the house church movement of China. We were sitting together looking out over Haifa, Israel. I asked him how believers handle severe persecution in China. He explained that one of the first lessons taught to new believers is that whatever befalls them in life—physical persecution, mental torment or any other personal struggles—that they must look to and depend totally upon Jesus—the Light at the end of the Tunnel of Life.
And this is especially true for the country of India today—a country of over 1.3 billion people or almost 20% of the world’s population.
Note: This synopsis of the situation was obtained through a recent call with the national leader of one of the largest evangelical church planting denominations in India.
At the time of writing, there are 13,835 known cases of coronavirus in India with 452 confirmed deaths. There is a strong belief that the true number of infected is not being accurately reported by the government.
The government has placed a gag order on the Indian news media; they are forbidden from writing anything that would cast the government in a bad light. The supreme court of India has backed up this ruling. Criminal cases are mounting against anyone who circulates truth regarding the situation developing on the ground. Therefore, it is impossible to accurately know the depth and scope of the current situation wrapped around the COVID-19 outbreak. But some news has leaked out through members of the foreign press.
On March 24th, the Modi government imposed a complete lockdown on virtually every facet of society, with a stay-at-home order being enforced by police—sometimes vigorously and brutally. Modi has set a date of May 4th to hopefully lift the lockdown.
People in the upper middle class are doing relatively well. Some of the “wealthier” poor families may have had enough food stored for a week, but after that, it has been a matter of finding overpriced food in stores/markets when available.
The lower middle class and the poorest of the lower class (300 to 400 million people) eat possibly one meal per day, at best. Scavengers are very active. Families are begging for food or any small amount of money.
For migrant workers or lower caste workers, the picture is much bleaker. Unemployment and the order to lockdown means that if no one in the family works, then no one eats that day. It is a hand-to-mouth existence, with the average wage of this group being between $2 and $5 per day. For these daily workers who comprise approximately 20% of the population, starvation looms as well as possible rioting.
In various regions, the extreme lower caste of the Dalits (previously known as the “untouchables”) is facing starvation in addition to their usual mistreatment.
In one region of Delhi, only one local medical clinic remains open. This is in an area housing nearly 1 million people and with a local slum population of 100,000 adjacent to it. The doctor at this clinic is the wife of a major leader of the national church. She has one set of medical gloves and one mask, plus a small quantity of medicine. With few exceptions, in this region, there is no local testing for coronavirus.
No other democracy faces the struggles of India in the upcoming months/years due to the extreme poverty of the country and the poor medical health system.
The Good News
Note: A Jesus Festival is a large gathering of believers held in areas of rural church clusters to provide training, new believer discipleship, water baptisms, and weddings. Just a few years ago, the largest of these had 200 believers attending. Today, the smallest gathering is 2,000 Christians.
During the lockdown, people are not supposed to leave their homes, except possibly one member searching for food and medicine. This includes pastors and believers, especially in the cities.
In the rural areas, the lockdown is enforced by police visiting a village once a day. When they depart, the village chief is appointed to enforce social distancing and government restrictions. Someone is always watching. Christians, who are and have been under ever-increasing persecution and surveillance are now under even closer scrutiny by officials.
Many pastors have multiple churches in nearby villages. During this lockdown they must stay in their own village and cannot minister to their other congregations. But God has raised up Christian elders from these other village churches who have taken up the call to visit Christians and unbelievers alike, going door to door - hut to hut - as the authorities allow them. They offer food and help as they are able, counsel from God's Word, pray over the dwelling, and offer individual prayer for those inside with requests. There are now hundreds of thousands of elders whom God has raised up and mobilized to minister in areas the pastors cannot reach.
Immediately following the countrywide shutdown, for the first 10 days pastors and church leadership were somewhat confused and apprehensive, with the limitations on their movements and lack of ability to acquire food and medicine. That has now changed completely. The leadership and all church planters/pastors regard this as an exceptional opportunity to share the Gospel and display the peace of God through hardship.
The leader of this ministry shared with me the following:
“Panic is growing among the Indian people—but trust is growing among the people of God. Not one pastor has said that they are worried or scared. They know God is sovereign. One pastor said, ‘God is up to something and we have to pray for God's will.’ Another said, ‘It is time to bring God's people back to Him. India ‘has been sliding into materialism and we need to come back to putting Jesus first.’ And one other pastor said, ‘Maybe this is God's way of bringing us back to what is truly important in life. We need to be still and watch God work. If God could provide for Elijah in a time of testing, He will also provide for us.”
At the end of our phone conversation the leader of this massive church planting network shared with me these thoughts:
“The Church is doing excellent and is in a good place.”
“The virus is opening the hearts of unbelievers. They are questioning so many things, including life and death. They are extremely hungry for truth. And this is all over India.”
“God is preparing the soil now for future evangelism and outreach. Interest in online outreach is growing. And not only this, but as Christians reach out and share what little food they have, the unbelievers are watching with amazement.”
“Good days lie ahead.”
A Recent Story Revealing “Gospel Lift” in India
Satabi is the name given to a cluster of villages tucked into the crevices of mountainous east-central India. Inhabited by the Dora tribes, these villages still maintain centuries-old customs and practices. Untouched by civilization and highly dependent on the surrounding forest, these tribesmen are independent, self-sufficient, and loyal.
Modern health care services have not yet reached most of these villages; electricity is slowly infiltrating the area; roads are absent in most places. Hunting and farming on small strips of land cleared from forests, are still the primary vocations of the men in these communities. The village women often bear tattoo marks on their faces, and are fearless and industrious providers for their families.
The Satabi villages are known as dangerous places, filled with violence, injustice, and murder. Appaswamy, one of the elders of the tribe, said, “We were plagued with killings. There was no year when several murders were not committed by our men. Villagers killed residents in other villages, and even sometimes killed their own people.”
The killings might happen for any reason. Breaking the village laws, quarrelling with a neighboring tribe, or even a minor bout of jealousy could lead to murder, sometimes resulting in the deaths of multiple family members.
VILLAGES OF DEATH
There was a time when enemies trapped by Dora tribesmen would be slaughtered, and their bodies would be kept in a big basket, serving as gruesome reminders of the wrath and cruelty of the Satabi villagers.
“Even demons feared us,” said another man with a sharp axe in his hands.
“But this was before the footprints of the Gospel entered our village,” reminded Appaswamy with a smile.
DESPERATE FOR HOPE
Appaswamy was one of the first villagers to hear the Gospel. According to his tribe’s culture, at the age of 15 or 16, a young man is encouraged to marry an older girl. When he reached his mid-teens, he chose a young lady and they married. After several years together, the couple did not have any children. Because polygamy is permitted in the Dora tribe culture, Appaswamy chose a second wife. “My second wife could not conceive either,” he said. This brought considerable shame on his manhood.
“I went to every temple, did every possible sacrifice, eventually even going to the ‘healing man with the knife that heals,'” said Appaswamy, referring to a physician in a nearby city who examined his wives. “But nothing changed.”
He was humiliated, with no children and no answers. One day, Appaswamy went to visit the nearby village market, where he encountered an evangelist. He came to Appaswamy and said, “You look tired, young friend. What is the matter?”
The two talked for several hours and the evangelist shared the Lord Jesus Christ. Finally, Appaswamy asked, “What can your God offer that mine cannot?”
The evangelist replied, “A peace that passes all understanding.” Curious, Appaswamy began a two-hour trek on foot through mountain trails to the closest church.
Appaswamy continued to visit the church, and one day he met a tall man who was speaking from the Word of God. This evangelist—leader of a national church planting ministry—was visiting the village to conduct an open meeting. Several hundred had gathered.
Appaswamy sat in a corner listening to the Word of Life. “My heart was deeply moved. I bent my head that evening and decided to follow Jesus Christ. And, as I was told, a peace that passes all understanding immediately engulfed me.”
Appaswamy trekked back to his village in the mountains with a light heart and a song on his lips. He began meeting with the village pastor to be discipled in his new faith. And soon his transformation was noted by other villagers. Appaswamy was no longer filled with rage and hopelessness. And to everyone’s surprise, that very year, he and his wife had a beautiful daughter. Appaswamy remarked, “My Lord was enough for me. But he decided to be gracious and also bless me with a child. Praise be to our God and Lord.”
As the villagers began to see the transformation in Appaswamy’s life and the presence of God uplifting him, they started inquiring about the “God to whom you now offer your worship.” When the evangelist started visiting the Satabi villages, he found the peoples’ hearts were open to receive the Gospel. Soon, a congregation of more than 150 believers was planted in this once unreached village.
PEACE THAT FLOWS
These believers are now bringing the Gospel to other villages in the Satabi cluster. The pastor ministering in this region said, “We now have churches in each of these villages. The central church is in the village where Appaswamy lives. And God is transforming these communities. The peace of the Gospel that penetrated the life of Appaswamy has now flowed into each of the villages of the Satabi mountains.”
Appaswamy nodded, adding, “We have had no murders in our villages for the past several years. The villages which were the most dangerous in this state are now the most peaceful.”
He credits the Gospel of the Lord for this transformation. The police could not control them, and the government could not change the people. Only the Gospel could transform the Satabi villages from within.
This is the Good News as to what God is doing during the dark days of COVID-19 in India.
Thank you for standing with Empower and the national church around the world. The Gospel is penetrating into the darkness and the Light of Jesus Christ is shining everywhere!