As India battles the spread of COVID-19, the nation has plunged into crisis with people losing their jobs and even their lives. How do the believers hold on to their faith in God? Simply by hanging on, pastors from CHC’s affiliate body, The Harvest Network, tell us.
Since April, India has been fighting the second wave of COVID-19 infections. The Delta variant has spread through the nation like wildfire, causing more than 400,000 deaths in India.
In the face of death and crisis, how does the church hold on to the promises of God and continue to shine its light in the community? Pastors from churches in The Harvest Network, City Harvest Church’s body of affiliate churches, share their stories.
PASTOR PRASHANTH: “MY PROBLEMS DO NOT STOP ME FROM SHARING THE LOVE OF GOD”
Prashanth Babu pastors Super Vincimus Church in Chennai. “During the second wave, our state recorded nearly 30,000 cases (in contrast to 3,000 to 5,000 cases during the first wave) in one day. And every day, nearly 500 people were dying because of COVID,” he tells City News.
“In the month of May, 100 prominent church pastors passed away in our country. Many elderly pastors and leaders whom we looked up to, passed away. It was really heart-breaking,” he adds.
Pastor Prashanth and his family were not spared. “I fell sick for three weeks. I had a fever, then I lost my sense of taste and smell. I did not test positive, but I had all symptoms. After that, my dad was infected—that was really hard for me to take.”
Pastor Prashanth’s father, a pastor, contracted the virus when he ministered at a funeral. “We cried and we prayed, believing that God won’t leave us,” he says. Thankfully, the senior Pastor Babu recovered, but then “my younger brother also fell sick. He was under home quarantine for three weeks.”
When his family members started falling sick one after another, Pastor Prashanth started questioning God. “I was really emotional at that time,” he admits. “Even though we preach about faith, at a certain point in time, when our family is sick and we hear of so many pastors passing away, we also felt broken.”
All he could do was to look to the Lord and prayed for healing. At that difficult time, he remembered what he experienced in CHC during his student days at the School of Theology. “The best thing that I have learned in CHC is that our sickness and our problems should not hinder us from showing our love to others,” he says.
“When I was in SOT, I was penniless. Whenever I was starving, someone would pop up and offer to pay for my lunch. It happened many times through my cell group members and teammates. It was not something I only read about, but I experienced the supernatural provision of God,” he remembers.
What amazed Pastor Prashanth most was the church members who blessed him were struggling financially too. “They would bless me and say, ‘Brother, why don’t you pray for my financial needs to be met?’ I would say, ‘You’re still in financial crisis, but you’re helping me?’ So then, I understood that our problems should not hinder us from sharing our faith.”
Once he was healed completely from his symptoms, Pastor Prashanth started reaching out to people and praying for them again. “There are a few boys in our church who are really good at cooking. We would cook food, pack them and go feed people. We would do stuff like this just so that people would know Jesus loves everyone.”
In a time of crisis, the pastor saw the community begin to protect themselves and their family. “I received a call from my Muslim friend who works in another city. His parents contacted COVID-19 and were in the hospital, but when they recovered, none of the family members would help to bring them home from the hospital. Even his sister and brother-in-law said that they were really scared and didn’t want to catch COVID.”
Knowing that the church would help him, this Muslim friend turned to Pastor Prashanth. “This is what I have learned in CHC: to find a need and meet it, anyone with a need. So, I went to the hospital, taking all safety precautions, and helped them get home. They were really happy that I helped them.”
As COVID-19 deaths spike, many of Pastor Prashanth’s members are experiencing grief like never before. “During this time, we stand with them. We love them, we’ll take care of them. A few weeks or months, they’ll come back to church.”
He gave the example of an 18-year-old member who had lost his father, and his grandmother just two weeks after. Because of his loss, he started to question God. Through it all, Pastor Prashanth and his team gave this member time to seek God; they just kept loving him. “He experienced the love of Christ through our actions,” says the pastor, “and after a month, he was okay.”
One prayer request Pastor Prasanth has is for his members to not lose faith in this season when movement is restricted, and the church cannot gather physically. “This lockdown is making a way for them to think evil thoughts and unwanted thoughts. Many people got into wrong relationships last year. So, we need to pray for the church members to not lose their faith.”
PASTORS DANIEL AND GRACE: “THE PANDEMIC HAS OPENED UP THE HEARTS OF PEOPLE”
For Pastor Daniel Sandeep Kumar of Victory Church Jalandhar, Punjab and his wife Pastor Daniel Grace, looking after their members in this season means being there for them—even in the wee hours of the morning.
“It’s the least we can do for them—if that person is calling us at 3am, it means he is really desperate,” says Pastor Grace. “If we are not there at that time, then us being there itself is pointless.”
Pastor Daniel recounts how this member called to tell him that he was planning to commit suicide with his wife and two children. “We were just about to sleep when he called—we had been recording our online service and editing it that night. This member’s wife is suffering from blood cancer, and he cannot take (the pressure) anymore.”
Pastor Grace adds, “By God’s grace, we were awake that moment when he messaged us, so we messaged him back and were able to counsel him. The spirit of suicide has left him now, thankfully.”
Another miracle that happened at 3am was when an evangelist in their church received news that his aunt had passed away. “We prayed for him and his family, and he called his relatives and prayed for his aunt who had passed away. After that, a boy from his hometown contacted him to say that his aunt was alive!” Pastor Grace relates, adding that it could have been a case where the aunt had fainted, not died. “ But nevertheless, she is alive, so praise God!”
Victory Church Jalandhar is located in the state of Punjab in north India. The pandemic has hit the city hard, and like the rest of the country, there is a lack of oxygen supply and hospital beds.
While many, including Pastor Daniel’s family, tested positive for COVID-19, everyone recovered eventually. “By God’s grace, nobody died,” Pastor Grace says gratefully. “Really, it’s a miracle. It’s a testimony that even the severe cases have recovered.”
In this time of crisis, the pastors have held on to God’s promises by confessing His Word and worshipping Him while knowing that many others are praying for them.
“I learnt at SOT that when you’re at the end of your rope, you tie a knot and hang on,” Pastor Grace says. “I guess that is what we’re doing.” The church members banded together to support each other through prayers and Scriptures.
“God sustained us, and there are people who are praying for us. Our former SOT friends, our cell group members in CHC—they go on Zoom with us to intercede for us,” adds Pastor Daniel.
This season, the Scripture that every member, even the children, is confessing in Victory Church Jalandhar is Psalms 91. “We are reading it, proclaiming it and reminding one another about it,” Pastor Grace says.
“We also sing songs that encourage us, like ‘Raise A Hallelujah’,” Pastor Daniel added. The song that Darlene Zschech wrote after she survived cancer, ‘In Jesus’ Name’ also spoke to the couple. “The song goes ‘I will live, I will not die’; we play it all the time and it sustains us.”
Out of the ashes have come many positive things. One testimony Pastor Grace gives is that the Hindus in the city have become much more open to Christians. “Religion and caste are very prominent in India,” she explains. “A typical Hindu organisation will have nothing to do with Christianity.” Therefore, she was surprised to be invited to a workshop organised by an orthodox Hindu organization to share the potential of life.
Many other doors have been opened to her as she works in the charity sector helping children with special needs. “God has opened their hearts, and we have a chance to pray for them and share the Good News with them,” she marvels. “God has given us the opportunity to ‘go to the other side’, and that itself is a very big miracle.”
The teachers in the church have also experienced a revival. “It happened that a teacher’s family received healing, and other teachers heard about it. Many of them are non-believers but their hearts were open to prayer. They said, ‘If God can work for you, He can work for us too’. Many people came to us for prayers,” relates Pastor Grace.
She adds, “I think the pandemic has opened up the hearts of people and prayers have become something most sacred. Before, it used to be, ‘Oh I will pray to my god, I don’t believe in your God. But now people believe. ‘Oh, your God, He does miracles. Can you just pray for me? I’m not a Christian, but can you pray for me?’”
Pastors Daniel and Grace have a prayer request: that their church will be rooted and grounded in the Word of God, and that things return to normal so that the pastors can continue to reach out to the people in the villages.
“Please pray that there will be greater acceptance of the gospel, and that even those who are very hesitant to receive Christ would have the courage to accept Him,” says Pastor Grace.
Victory Church Jalandhar rents a school hall for their church services but because the school is closed due to the lockdown, they have been unable to resume services. Her final prayer request: “We really need to move. Please pray that we can find another location for our church.”
PASTOR FRANK GODBERG: “WE PRAY THAT THE CHILDREN WILL BE SAVED, PHYSICALLY AND SPIRITUALLY”
In Kolar Gold Fields, Karnataka, in southern India, Frank Godberg John, senior pastor of Bethel Mission Church has seen many of his members lose jobs amidst the pandemic.
“In this town where we live, people have to travel at least 100km to find a job in Bangalore, the next largest city. But now because all transportation has stopped—trains, buses—it has not been possible for them to find work,” he explains.
Even those who still working in Kolar Gold Fields are struggling to keep their jobs. “Those who can work at home are trying to survive,” says Pastor Frank, “but many of them are underprivileged and are not well-skilled, and it’s hard to find odd jobs to do. This ultimately leads them to not be able to meet their basic needs.”
India has been in a lockdown since March 2010 and the church has not been able to hold services. Unlike Singapore, it’s not as easy for the congregation in Kolar Gold Fields to take service online. “People cannot come out or fellowship with others, and not every person in the church can afford to buy mobile devices or have access to wifi,” says Pastor Frank. “So, we’re not able to reach everybody. But we tried to encourage those who do not have wifi or devices to join their friends and family, to do a watch party.”
The pandemic has sparked off fear among the people, but Pastor Frank believes that “we just have to stand upon the word of the Lord and the promises of the Lord.” Listening to Pastor Kong’s teachings on Instagram and Facebook, and having prayer meetings on Zoom with different church leaders have given Pastor Frank a boost in his faith.
“I try to relay [Pastor Kong’s] messages, and share the revelations from my own meditation, to encourage the people to hold on to the Lord,” he adds. “To hold on to their faith and believe that God can do miracles and that He can relieve us from the present situation.”
Besides visiting his members and calling them over the phone to pray, Pastor Frank also helps them financially. “We have 12 members who succumbed to the COVID-19 virus,” he reveals. “We covered all the funeral expenses and whatever that was necessary to be done. For those who have lost their jobs, we provide them with groceries and take them to the hospital when they need.”
Bethel Mission Church has its own medical clinic, where two doctors serve as volunteers. The church also supplies medicine to members who are exposed to COVID-19 on a regular basis.
Pastor Frank’s prayer request is for God to lead the lives of the people, to keep them safe and to encourage them so that they would not lose their faith.
“Pray especially for our children’s ministry,” he says. “We have not been able to contact our children for the past two years because of the lockdown. That is a great concern for us, so please pray for the children that they may be saved, physically and spiritually. Pray that they would not be discouraged and that they may grow in the Lord.”
Kolar Gold Field used to be a mining area and there are still existing communities living in the mining colonies. “The mining area is a closed kind of neighbourhood. It causes concern because sanitation is a problem over there. We need to pray that the Lord will take care of their basic needs.”
Keep India and our THN churches in daily prayer as they brave through the pandemic. If you wish to help or support our affiliate churches in India, please email firstname.lastname@example.org