Families in India are on the verge of starvation because of the global coronavirus pandemic, which could easily proliferate due to overcrowding and minimal health services in urban areas. But the Christian missions group Gospel for Asia is on the scene – and has been for quite a while.
With a relatively low 12,800 COVID-19 cases and just more than 400 deaths, India – the world's second-most populous nation at 1.38 billion – has not yet been as hard-hit by the virus as the United States. However, with the inability to practice safe social distancing measures in densely packed cities – compounded by poor hygiene education in those areas – the country is extremely vulnerable to the fast-spreading disease. And many of its citizens who were already living under bad conditions are being forced to stay at home, making life even more difficult.
Gospel for Asia points out that millions of low-paid day laborers in India – many of whom barely made enough to put food on the table to begin with – are now going hungry without enough money to buy minimum rations. But the outreach efforts of GFA World are working to sustain desperate families on the brink of starvation.
"Members of Believers Eastern Church congregations and Sisters of Compassion workers have been distributing emergency supplies in response to the crisis, which also spotlights their ongoing health and wellness efforts to fight disease," GFA reports.
"In many urban centers and rural villages, the helpers have been giving away bags of vegetables, rice and spices, which are helping sustain some of those who have nowhere to turn for help."
The ministry shares that Christians are finding creative ways to meet the needs in their local communities.
"In one village, their volunteers turned a school bus into a mobile 'free store,' [and] residents – mostly day laborers at a local brick factory – were invited to take one of the bags of food hanging from the side of the vehicle," GFA adds. "Organizers of the distribution chalked out waiting areas to ensure people followed official 'social distancing' guidelines."
Congregations are also stepping up to show God's provision.
"In one large city, Believers Eastern Church has been feeding 500 people a day, [as] members cook and prepare meal packs that are then left in the open at strategic spots for people to come and collect – while keeping a safe distance," GFA describes. "Elsewhere, teams have been taking food to some of the most vulnerable – the poorest of the poor living in the open and forced to beg."
Venkatamma – a 37-year-old widow who received food from helpers in her village – was grateful for the assistance, telling GFA that many in her village are starving under the conditions imposed by the lockdown.
The go-ahead to give
Even though India's government has strictly limited the general public's movement, local authorities have given Believers Eastern Church permission to freely help the community.
"One local official gave the go-ahead for a food distribution outreach after hearing that the church wanted to feed people of all faiths who were hungry," GFA recounts. "Visiting groups have also given advice on how to help avoid spreading the virus through good hygiene practices."
GFA had been serving the destitute in India long before the COVID-19 outbreak by providing freshwater wells, building community toilets, running medical facilities and teaching about personal hygiene – all as a means of showing God's love for the poor and needy.
"One of the amazing things that happens in the midst of catastrophic events like this coronavirus is that you will always find the Body of Christ – the holy Church – rising up because of the love of Christ," GFA World founder Dr. K.P. Yohannan explains, noting how South Asian Christians are modeling the New Testament Church's actions. "[Two thousand years ago, believers in Macedonia supported outlying churches because they were] willing to give out of their poverty to help people who didn't have anything."
The American missionary of Indian descent, whose faith-based missions agency is based in Willis Point, Texas, encourages Christians around the world to do as the Macedonians did – a group from what is currently Greece that was commended in 2 Corinthians 8 for their generosity during biblical times.
"It is extremely important at this time to fast and pray and give our resources to help people who have nothing," Yohannan emphasizes. "We have an opportunity to help demonstrate the caring love of God – as Jesus spoke about in Matthew 25. He said that when we look after 'the least' by feeding the hungry and caring for the needy, we are feeding and caring for Him."