Churches of God in NE India Respond to COVID-19
By David Neidert
“Today, I am going to announce a very important measure in our fight against COVID-19. The entire country will be under lockdown from today,” announced India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24. Pointing to world infection rates, Modi locked down the country of 1.3 billion people for twenty-one days as reported by the Hindustan Times.
The Church of God has thriving congregations and schools across India. One of the oldest church regions of the movement is in Meghalaya, particularly the city of Shillong. It is there in the northeast that pioneer Indian leaders A. D. Khan and John Mohan Nichols-Roy opened the state to the Church of God’s teachings in 1903.
Rev. Dr. Bakyrmen Nongpluh (pronounced nong-ploo), a DMin. graduate of Anderson University School of Theology and Christian Ministry, is principal of the Asian Theological Association-recognized Nichols-Roy Bible College near Shillong. He recently shared news from this region and what is happening during the national lockdown.
“We have been following the world news,” Nongpluh shares. “TV, text messages, newspapers, and family phone calls are helping us stay aware of the happenings in the world but also across India.” It is a challenging time, he concedes, with inaccurate news and stories, but church leadership in the region is attempting to share the latest with congregations in the state.
Nichols-Roy Bible College responded quickly to Modi’s lockdown announcement. Convocations and classes were postponed immediately with students sent to their homes. Some students, however, became stranded at the college because interstate bus and rail travel, the primary transportation systems in India, were quickly suspended. “The prospects of those going home who could not get tickets is bleak,” Principal Nongpluh stated. These students and a few faculty will remain at the school. They are helping with projects on campus to “minimize boredom.”
Nongpluh is visiting the campus occasionally to check the health and safety of these individuals, as well as food supply. A “curfew pass” is required by the local authorities in order to make this commute to the campus. Nongpluh’s upcoming challenge is reopening the school, scheduled for June 1. “This opening time is surely affected,” he commented. “We will see what we can do.”
Churches, too, are closed. Nongpluh, also a pastor, remarked that congregants caring for each other in these difficult times is a part of their culture. “The Khasi people (i.e., the region’s ethnic people) are very good in helping and caring for the aged and each other,” he shared. While the churches are following the governmental guidelines on infections and protection, they will help where they can by preparing food and making people comfortable.
Believers in Meghalaya are meeting isolation and physical distancing much like others around the world with a variety of activities. “Some are completing cleaning projects and fixing their homes, things they did not have time to finish when the routine of life was happening,” observed Nongpluh. He has heard of families going through photographs or telling stories about their heritage. Others have turned to a staple in all cultures: cooking, which includes the simple or ethnic meals of the region.
Nongpluh shared Khasi church members are in prayer for the country, their families, and those infected by the virus. Some elders, however, attempting to hold small group prayer meetings in their churches, “have been pelted with stones by neighbors concerning their disregard for the social distancing.”
Rev. Nongpluh is encouraged through these days as are the people in the Meghalaya churches. “We need to cooperate with government authorities who are giving precautionary measures. Yet, while we are being realistic about the virus and these precautions, we have hope in Christ.”
Nongpluh believes physical distancing and isolation during this spread of the virus should not be seen as “odd or meaningless.” “The Old Testament shares often about ‘isolation’ as a way for preventing infectious disease spread. It is nothing new,” he observed. “Washing our hands with running water and caring for each other in isolation is advice in the Old Testament, as well,” he continued. “We can do our works later. We need to be positive, helpful, caring and, if needed, sacrifice ourselves for others in these difficult times. Isolation is challenging, but again, not meaningless.”
Rev. Nongpluh and the Church of God in Meghalaya are not discouraged as this world event unfolds. He exhorts his people and Christians around the world, “I think this is the best opportunity for the church, as in past centuries during crises and plagues, to demonstrate the gospel in how we live, act, and share with our neighbors and each other.”
David Neidert serves as a contributing writer and editor for Church of God Ministries. Born and raised in the Church of God, David Neidert worked at Anderson University for thirty-eight years and served the Historical Society of the Church of God as editor for one year. His published works include curriculum, numerous articles, and two books.
Learn more about the response of Church of God Ministries to the coronavirus (COVID-19), including resources for you and your church, at www.jesusisthesubject.org/theway.