The situation in India due to the coronavirus pandemic continues to worsen daily.
As of 29 April, over 18,700,000 cases had been confirmed and around 210,00 people have died, according to official sources. On that day alone, more than 380,000 cases and almost 3,500 people were added. At this point, India is the second country with more cases worldwide, after the United States.
Finny Philip, principal of the Filadelfia Bible College (Udaipur, India) told Evangelical Focus that “dead bodies are lined up for the funeral pier for hours”, while “people are dying in hospitals without oxygen availability and Intensive Care Unit beds”, so that the real daily death toll is probably “much higher” than the known data.
Philip also pointed out that, in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, “Christians are making a difference”, and called on to pray for India, the families of the victims and the Christians in the country.
Another evangelical leader, Steven David, wrote a letter to the Christian leaders of the IFFEC (International Federation of Free Evangelical Churches), stressing the huge impact this new wave of the pandemic is having. He urges to pray “that the Lord Jesus Christ may console [us] at this time of grief”.
Amid this tragic situation, Spanish news website Protestante Digital contacted Vijayesh Lal, General Secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI). In his answers, he analyses the current situation, explains how evangelicals are responding, and calls on believers worldwide to pray for India.
Question. How do you describe the situation in India right now?
Answer. The situation is very grim, out of control. In terms of cases per day, we have more than 300,000 cases each day. In the last two days, five members of my extended family have passed away, including some close relatives.
On April 29th we had 390,000 cases and 3,500 deaths. So far, the number of people who have died of Covid-19 in India are more than 200,000. These are the official figures, but experts have suggested that those figures cannot be trusted because they are widely unreported.
This could be gaged by the number of dead bodies lined up at crematoriums. Tokens are being distributed for dead bodies to be cremated. New crematoriums have had to be created in parks and public places. There is no place in crematoriums and graveyards have also run out of space.
Most people are not dying because of Covid-19, but because there is no infrastructure. They are dying because of the lack of oxygen and hospital beds, because they are not able to get into hospitals.
Many are dying in their homes, some are dying in their cars, on the roads. It is a very distressing time in India, like a tsunami, like a wave that has hit India. The healthcare system is completely stressed. Many of my doctor friends who were busy on the forefront in treating patients, are now Covid positives. I have lost extended family members and I have lost friends.
The church is also losing so many people. We have lost many bishops. Just in one state, we have lost our 35 pastors and church leaders. The cost has been very high and we are paying the cost of not being well prepared, even after the first wave. The situation is very uncertain, very tense and very distressing.
Q. How are evangelical churches dealing with the situation?
A. Evangelicalism in India is not limited to denominations or only to churches that have the word ‘evangelical’. Evangelicals are found in nearly all churches in India
Churches are really suffering. Leaders are passing away. Every day we are losing pastors and other leaders, and that is going to be very hard for the church, because it has taken time and many resources from the leadership to build churches as they are now.
The church in the centre and north of India does not have too many leaders. There is a very big need for leaders to be trained, especially in that area and now we are losing people. It is very difficult to give an estimation of how many people we have lost but every day we are hearing of people passing away.
Q. What are evangelicals in India doing to help other people?
A. The churches are doing exactly what they have done during the first wave. We are mobilizing prayer, bringing relief and restoring hope. Not only through practical emergency help, but also through counseling, cheering people up, offering them a shoulder to cry on.
Every church I know is active in its community in offering relief. The Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI), the Bishops Conference of India and the National Council of Churches in India have declared the coming 7th of May as a day of prayer and fasting for the healing of our nation.
Christian hospitals continue working, to reach out people in need with medical help. Volunteers and Christian organisations are working round the clock to make sure that people get all the help they need: food supplies, medical supplies.
There are groups made overnight, which are making use of social media tools to transform themselves into ‘small armies’ who are directing people to wherever oxygen cylinders and hospital beds are available.
A helpline has been launched where anyone can call and get free medical advice, to know what to do, where to go. A couple of us are also getting ready to launch, with God’s help, an isolation facility which should be equipped with oxygen concentrators. This is a work in progress and a plan we hope will become a reality soon, so that people will have somewhere to go when they are sick.
The churches are reaching out within their capacity. I know of denominations that have made their buildings available to the government an to others. Churches want to spread hope at this time. The blanket of fear in our nation is so real and we are praying that we would be the carriers of the light of hope in this dark time.
Q. How can Christians in other countries pray for India?
A. Please pray that India would soon recover from this second wave of Covid-19. Please pray for authorities, the Prime Minister. Pray for the rest of ministers, the chief ministers of area states of India, their advisors and the government in general. That God would give them wisdom, so that they could govern this country in a way that would really bring relief to the people.
Pray that God gives them strength and courage at this time, a heart of compassion with which to take decisions and formulate policies.
Pray specially for our healthcare workers. They are at the forefront of this fight against Covid-19. They also have families. They are human beings and they are so exhausted. Please pray that they would be protected and guided by God. Pray for the hospital infrastructure of our country. There is an oxygen shortage. And pray for a better infrastructure of oxygen supply in India, people will only survive if they get oxygen.
Pray that God helps our authorities to plan better so that facilities can be extended with the help of the civil society and the NGO’s.
Poor, marginalised, and migrant people, are the most affected of this wave because of the several lockdowns that have been imposed in some parts of the country. Pray that they would be provided for and they would be kept save from this virus.
Pray for the Evangelical Fellowship of India and our relief arm, EFICOR, that we would be able to carry out relief to 3,000 families in the first phase, especially the poor and the migrants.
The rural population of India is also at great risk. I have read reports of rural people that are dying because there are no healthcare facilities over there. There is no diagnosis of Covid, people are dying thinking it is some mysterious illness. There are drastic consequences of Covid-19, economical and physical. In rural areas, when a family is economically destroyed, they have to traffic their children. Pray that this situation will not come.
Pray also for the civil society, the non-profit and religious organisations that are currently engaged in relief and rehabilitation projects, that God gives them vision and courage.
There are teams of people who are just cremating and burying people because there is fear that relatives of a death people touch their bodies. There are people who are doing this for them. Pray that God will bless these people and keep them save.
Most of all, pray for the church in India that will emerge as a major source of hope at this time. This is a time of uncertainty and fear. Pray that churches might respond even more than we are doing right now, so that we will be able to spread a message of hope far and wide.
Pray for the Evangelical Fellowship of India and our member bodies as we engage in restoring hope through relief actions. This is a time to pray for India because I do not recall a time of such a bad situation.