By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
NEW DELHI (BosNewsLife)-– Christian missionaries and church leaders already suffering persecution in several areas are among those dying of severe symptoms of COVID-19 raging in India, aid workers say.
News of their deaths came as footage emerged of crowds fighting over oxygen tanks in this mainly Hindu nation where years of neglect and corruption added to hospital difficulties. BosNewsLife also received dramatic footage of a rundown hospital in Guntur city, in India’s south-eastern state of Andhra Pradesh. The hospital was overwhelmed with dead bodies in corridors and on beds.
“Please, please, please. Pray for my country as things worsen,” said David Paul, director of local Christian mission group Ruben Ministries who provided the video material. Paul told BosNewsLife that many Christians and others suffer in Andhra Pradesh where he is based.
Coronavirus restrictions added to difficulties for devoted Christians to worship, impacting the income of pastors, BosNewsLife learned. “Pastors are unable to feed their children and other family members,” Paul noted, adding that the his group was running out of resources. “In the first coronavirus wave we gave rice, oil, gram and salt,” he recalled. “But now people are starving.”
“The Indian Christian community, like their compatriots, are suffering” of the coronavirus,
added aid group Barnabas Fund in remarks to BosNewsLife. “Reports coming in speak of many, many church leaders contracting the virus and dying. Others are ill, languishing at home because there is no treatment,” the group stressed. “Their congregations, also sick and dying, are left without pastoral care in their anguish.”
Barnabas Fund said that the coronavirus pandemic “has overwhelmed many parts of this vast country, its health services and institutions. Hospitals have run out of oxygen; medical staff cannot help the queues of desperate patients. And bodies are piling up as people die in vast numbers.” It cited contacts as confirming that in some cases, “at least over 50-60 senior church leaders have died.” It cited a Christian, identified as Pastor M, saying that “in the last seven days, we have lost four pastors to COVID.”
Additionally, “Another organization lost three missionaries within a week. These examples are just the tip of the iceberg,” stressed Barnabas Fund, citing local sources. Many native missionaries and church leaders work in regions where Hindu hardliners oppose their work, BosNewsLife established.
The persecution and ongoing coronavirus lockdowns cause additional stress among Christians, according to a BosNewsLife assessment. Additionally, “the lockdown is causing severe suffering to the poorest, the day-laborers, who now have no work and no income amongst whom are many Christians,” Barnabas Fund explained. “They desperately need help, but there is nowhere to go.”
Barnabas Fund said it is working with Indian Christian leaders “to provide assistance, both food, and medical help, for our brothers and sisters.” It is raising funds among supporters to help Christians in India impacted by COVID-19.
Some 200,000 people have died of COVID-19 on a population of 1.3 billion, official statistics show, though outdated hospitals often fail to manage the influx of patients. Amid the turmoil, India’s ultra-rich are reportedly paying tens and thousands of dollars to escape the country in private jets, including the nearby United Arab Emirates and even Brittain.
But those options are out of reach for most people, including Christians who comprise just over two percent of India’s mainly Hindu population, according to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
Many devoted believers also face attacks by Hindu groups over alleged conversions or are pressured to convert Hinduism, said several sources and rights activists.