India (MNN) — In three short months, COVID-19 turned the entire world upside-down. See our full coronavirus coverage here. Now, all eyes are on India as infections rise in the world’s second-most populated nation.
Keeping the virus contained with 1.3+ billion people and a failed healthcare system is challenging, to say the least, but efforts are underway. Last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi started a three-week national lockdown, but it could be too little, too late.
“Travel from one state to the next is prohibited; all transportation has been shut down. People are filled with all kinds of anxiety,” says Todd VanEk of Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Mission India.
And yet, hope remains.
“God is still at work and creating great opportunities to share the name of Jesus Christ with others.”
Of storm clouds and silver linings
Typically, India is one of the world’s most difficult places to be a Christian. More about that here. Religious radicals and government oppression challenge Gospel growth. However, “persecution has radically decreased because people are so consumed with the coronavirus,” VanEk says.
In fact, “Parliament was going to meet and consider a national anti-conversion law, but then they shut Parliament down so it didn’t even come up for discussion,” he adds. “So, we see a lot of positive even in the midst of all the problems that come with COVID-19.”
As described here, the nationwide “shelter-in-place” order ended Mission India’s typical ministry activities. However, “we’re still doing ministry; just the way we’re doing it has changed,” VanEk explains.
“The opportunity for the Gospel has radically increased during this time. We really think this could be the most critical and catalytic time in terms of the kingdom of God.”
Daily life in the villages is changing, too. “India is 70% rural, so the impact in the villages is completely different than the impact in the major cities,” VanEk says. “In the villages, people are conducting worship services outside their home. People have more time because there’s this lockdown going on so they’re engaged in more conversations.”
By redirecting authorities’ attention, the coronavirus lockdown “really kind of created an openness and freedom of the Gospel,” he adds.
Even India’s biggest challenges present Gospel opportunities. As described here, the lockdown left millions of migrant workers without work or pay. With no transportation, scores are walking home – in some cases, the journey is hundreds of miles long.
“Day laborers are really being impacted. So, we’re already in discussions about how we might provide some of this relief and, of course, the hope of God’s Word,” VanEk says.
“Pray for all the people who live in the slums,” VanEk requests. “Hygiene… social distancing, it’s just not possible. They don’t even have clean water.”
Header image courtesy of Mission India.