Christians in India are often last in line for essential Covid-19 food and aid because of their faith - and this is on top of the persecution they already face for following Jesus. Akash*, an Open Doors partner in India, explains how his team are helping those in crisis.
“We see people in great need. We have to help, even if it is risky,” says Akash*, an Open Doors partner from India.
Akash is facing the risk of the pandemic and the risk of persecution, but he and many other Open Doors partners are courageously going to those in need. He says these words as he’s preparing to take another delivery of food to vulnerable Christians in his region. For them, the sight of Akash and his team arriving is the difference between survival and starvation. Things really are that stark for many thousands of the poorest Christians in India. And this is on top of the persecution they already face.
When India went into lockdown to combat the coronavirus, hundreds of thousands of people lost their jobs overnight. Many of these Indians usually work as daily labourers and earn each day what they need to survive: without the day’s income, they have no money to buy food. There is no financial safety net or furloughing scheme, and official aid isn’t anywhere near enough for the number of people who need it. Even worse, Christians are often deliberately overlooked when this aid is distributed. As the months have passed, the situation hasn’t got any easier for many believers.
"They are not able to provide even a single meal for their family.” Akash
“People are so scared,” says Akash. “They don’t know how long this is going to last. They are not able to provide even a single meal for their family.”
Christians are often from the Dalit caste, which means they are among the poorest communities in Indian society. Many live in slums where social distancing isn’t possible and even basic hygiene would be a luxury. As another Open Doors partner shares, “In the slum areas, people are now totally dependent upon the food being distributed by the government and social organisations. We constantly receive calls and messages from Christian communities where people have no food for their children or family members.
“It is heart-breaking to hear about the difficulties our brothers and sisters are going through.”
Many hundreds of families are relying on the courage of people like Akash, bravely travelling to bring them vital aid. In India, thanks to your giving and prayers, Open Doors partners can provide relief packs including, for example, wheat flour, rice, pulses, tea, cooking oil, turmeric powder, sugar, salt, matches, chili flakes, snacks and soap. Where possible, they also include masks and sanitiser.
Open Doors partners are among a small number who are still trying to bring resources to these desperate people, as Akash relates: “Very few NGOs are reaching out to them properly. In fact, agencies are scared to help – scared of the movement restrictions imposed, and also of the disease. God enables us to be strong and courageous and keep serving.”
This service is certainly received with gratitude. Akash is emotional when he describes what it’s like to arrive with the aid. “In many places, people are so desperate,” he says. “We provide them food sufficient for at least 15-20 days – and people have tears in their eyes while receiving it, as if we are giving them a treasure.”
“We provide them with food - and people have tears in their eyes while receiving it, as if we are giving them a treasure.” Akash
You can provide that treasure to your persecuted Indian family. When Akash uses that word, it reminds us of the times ‘treasure’ is mentioned in the Bible – whether it is a simile for the kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 13:44), a reminder that ‘where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’ (Luke 12:34) or a comparison with wisdom (Proverbs 2:4). It’s an important word in Scripture that speaks to our values as Christians.
“It was challenging to provide food for the family,” says Kabir*, father of a family of five. “Thank you for remembering us in these tough times. I am grateful for your kind and timely help.” Sandhil* is head of a household of six, and agrees: “I thank God for rescuing us. We have no job and no food for the family. I thank you for the help you gave to us.”
These Christians are just a handful of the many who have expressed their thanks – your gifts and prayers have made an extraordinary difference in the lives of these believers. With relief aid, believers can be strengthened to be the light of Christ in their communities. But there are many thousands more who need help just as urgently, and Open Doors partners are ready to take the risks needed to help sustain their, and your, family.
It’s not just risky because of the virus – though Akash and other Open Doors partners have already made a personal sacrifice on this front, deciding to isolate from their families to avoid spreading the virus. It’s also risky because the persecution of Christians is continuing in India, and there are Hindu extremists still attacking vulnerable believers and those trying to reach them with help. In fact, Christians in rural areas are facing more opposition than ever from their communities because of their faith. It’s a long-term problem and it’s peaking. Not just being last in line for food: reports have surfaced of our brothers and sisters being falsely accused, threatened and attacked. In perhaps the most serious incident reported during the lockdown, a Christian girl named Jyothi* was shot twice by extremists. She and her family had previously received threats.
One attack has taken place against an entire community of believers. Some villagers forced the Christians in the area to come to the village community hall. As the believers gathered, the villagers started beating them. One of the Christians managed to call the police during the attack, but they took no action. Christians in the area are now living in intense fear.
It’s particularly hard for secret believers. A lady called Kavita* used to spend time praying in the fields where she worked and reading her Bible away from home, because her husband is angry that she is a Christian. Now she has to try to find opportunities to pray, read the Bible and worship in her own home – but faces severe abuse from her husband when she tries to.
Reports like these are likely to be the tip of the iceberg. Open Doors local partners say that many incidents are going unnoticed due to social distancing restrictions, poor connectivity and lack of resources.
"India needs more prayers than ever during this time.” Open Doors partner in India
An Open Doors local partner says, “There is no doubt this is a time of wilderness for many of us, and the thing about this pandemic and isolation is that we don't know where it's going to lead, or how long it will last. It seems that there's no end in sight. India needs more prayers than ever during this time."
There’s no quick fix to the persecution faced by Christians in India. This is a long-term problem, made all the worse by coronavirus. Will you stand with your family so that they can survive the impact of this pandemic, and grow as a mighty church for the future?
*Name changed for security reasons