~Wati Longchar

Wati Longchar

Unstoppable Covid-19 and Challenges

The Covid-19 continues to be an unstoppable pandemic with the capacity of locking down the whole world, causing many deaths and infecting millions of people. The virus is going to be endemic, it will stay with us. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Gherbreyesus, concerning the discovery of a vaccine, said “It won’t end the Covid-19 pandemic on its own and there’s no guarantee that scientists will find one”. Many experts have expressed similar opinions that “No guarantee for permanent eradication!” WHO Director-General further said, “We will not, we cannot go back to the way things were.” We just have to adopt a new normal way of life.

The Covid-19 brings many new issues, challenges, and also opportunities to re-examine our journey of faith: How do we address the humanitarian crisis brought to the marginalized communities by Covid-19? How do we respond to the food crisis brought by Covid-19? What kind of long term strategies are required to help the marginalized communities? It is a fact that Covid-19 is related to climate justice. How do we address climate issues in our congregation/ministerial formation program? The Covid-19 has intensified pandemic of racial discrimination – how do we address the sin of racism/casteism/tribalism in our society and church? Online education has created a digital divide between the rich-poor and rural-urban people – How do we help those who are digitally marginalized? What is the role of church leaders in times of pandemic? Why should our young boys and girls migrate to cities for a meager wage? Why should people live and work in cities like slaves? Why do people go for petty jobs like domestic work in cities that leave them lonely, homesick, grieving, and yearning for family love and care? Why do we suffer from a lack of jobs and opportunities in our places? Why do we suffer from a food crisis when we have abundant land, water, and air? How do we discern God’s love or God’s liberating presence amidst pandemic? All these questions relate to justice concerns in the realm of economic, political, and social life.

Is Covid-19 a Blessing or Curse?

Social media is full of gospel messages. We have heard many videos saying that Covid-19 is a warning sign of the end time; the signs of divine wrath; or the consequences of violations of natural laws. It is the end time, the fulfilment of 666, and China is branded as anti-Christ/Christian because of their anti-Christian attitude and activities; it is God’s punishment for the sinful people. Instead of discerning God’s love amidst suffering, many preachers have over-emphasized on an angry God. This is nothing but a prosperity theology. When we measure God’s works only from abundant blessings and miraculous cure perspective, then it is prosperity theology. In other words, such people can be termed as the worshipers of mammon (money and wealth).  Some even prophesied that Israel will be the only country that will not be affected by Covid-19 (It also got affected by the pandemic). For me, it is not a curse/divine punishment, but a blessing – it makes us realize our mistakes and open up new opportunities to work for God’s kingdom.

Urbanization and Neglect of Rural

According to ILO, the number of international migrants globally reached an estimated 272 million in 2019, an increase of 51 million since 2010. They comprise of 3.5 per cent of the global population. They are mostly from the lower strata of society. The global unjust economic system forces some communities to sell their labour as a commodity. They have no option except to sell their labour. The majority of them are from vulnerable communities who left the country due to poverty and political violence, oppression, and exploitation. Many of them are informal, casual, and daily wagers. Even skilled workers are on casual work. Many of them live in deplorable living conditions – indecent housing, congested living space, and without insurance, they face harassment every day and sometimes labour with no pay. Some people are forced to work from early morning till midnight. Without adequate food and nutrition, they suffer from many diseases. The migrant workers are considered as modern day slavery. Every day they are forced to work 3Ds – dangerous, dirty and demeaning works, without proper rest and food.

All the development works are concentrated in urban areas. Rural areas are neglected in some states; one will see that even basic amenities such as dispensary, power, and water supplies are not provided. There is no road connection and people have to walk for miles. There is a strong notion that investment in rural areas is a waste of resources. The development planners advocate that smart cities are the only paradigm of civilization; moving to and settling in the urban cities should be the prime objective in one’s life; the rural area is projected as uncivilized and primitive. This wrong understanding has contributed to urban population growth. The urban population has grown rapidly from 751 million in 1950 to 4.2 billion in 2018. As of 2018, around 7.6 billion people are living in the world (4.2 billion in urban and 3.4 billion in rural areas). Tokyo city has reached a population of about 40 million, and Delhi, Shanghai, Mumbai, Beijing, Dhaka are approaching and some have crossed a population of 30 million. While numerous metro cities in Asia are over-populated, the majority of the population survives by selling their labour and many of them live and work like slaves. Due to the negligence of rural places, no one is interested to work and live there. The education system is also designed and controlled by the urban elites to gather the need for urban dwellers. The same is seen in theological education too. Graduates do not want to work in rural places. The worst is that those who cannot get an opportunity to work in an urban setting or acquire white-collar jobs are looked down upon as incapable, ones that cannot compete with other colleagues. This elitist paradigm is a serious mistake in human civilization. Many pandemics, including Covid-19, are spreading due to overcrowding and unhygienic living conditions in urban locations. Covid-19 originated in Wuhan City, China, and it is said that about 80% of Covid-19 infected people in the world are from the cities. Covid-19 challenges us to re-examine our urban consciousness, education, and Christian witness.

A Call for Rural Transformation

A healthy world is not possible without developing rural contexts. The Covid-19 has exposed to us that the future of human civilization lies in rural transformation, and not only on the development of urban cities. After the Covid-19 outbreak, millions of migrant workers across the world have travelled back to their respective countries. It is said to be the greatest exodus in human history. Is not Covid-19 calling us to relook at the urban centred development and life? Is not Covid-19 challenging us to transform rural places? Is not God using the coronavirus to bring people back home? Is it not a challenge for us to commit to homecoming theology?

Urban Lifestyle and Pollution

The concentration of the population and pollution of air is interrelated. A massive population means an increase in pollution, global warming, and death. The urban lifestyle is the major reason for pursuing climate justice. For example, it is estimated that 4-7% of the global carbon emissions are by the aviation industry. An ocean-going ship can generate emissions of more than 12,000 cars. It is expected that the vehicle population will cross 2 billion by 2020. Consumption of oil reached 100.1 million barrels per day in 2019. India alone installs 10 million ACs per year. All this equates to global warming, pollution, and death. The poor who do not contribute much to carbon emissions is the one who is affected most.

 Racial Discrimination

The Covid-19 has also exposed how racism is deeply rooted in society and how it has the potential to create violence and division among people based on race and color. During the Covid-19 pandemic, racist attacks against the black, Chinese, and Asian communities intensified all over the world. They face hate speech on the street, elevators, neighbourhoods, and market places. In a French television news broadcast, two medical experts suggested that coronavirus vaccines could be tested on people in Africa, “where there are no masks, no treatments, no resuscitation.” Such comments expose the deep racial divisions, injustices, and inequities in our society based on race. The blacks are seen as less valuable than whites. Many migrant workers who continue to sacrifice their life in building bridges, roads, supermarkets, and railways have been abused, attacked and many continue to live in fear of being attacked due to the surge of racism. God sees migrant workers being attacked mercilessly. Racism is sin and it is attached to God’s purpose of creation of humans. God wants people to celebrate the life of love, care, solidarity without any racial barriers in their homes. God hears their cries.

God brings People Home

In the bible, we have many stories of God bringing back people home from slavery. For example, God brought back the Israelites from Egypt. Joseph’s relatives thought that Egypt would be like milk and honey, but the Pharaoh and his ministers decided to oppress them. Exodus 1:11-16 records:

slave masters were appointed to oppress them

they were forced into labour

they were forced to build Pithom and Rameses as store cities             

the Egyptians treated them ruthlessly

they were forced to perform harsh works with brick and mortar

the Egyptians made them do all kinds of manual work in the fields

the King ordered to kill all baby boys

many Israelites died of starvation

People can live as free people and build a nation with a distinct identity only when they are rooted in their homeland. God saw and heard the pain and cries of the people and God bought them out from slavery because God desired them to restart a new life. Can we compare the Exodus Event with the Covid-19 migration? It is not only the Israelites, but God liberated other nations too. Amos 9:7 reads: “Are you Israelites more important to me than the Ethiopians?” asks the LORD. “I brought Israel out of Egypt, but I also brought the Philistines from Crete and led the Arameans out of Kir.” It means God’s liberating act is not only confined to Israelites but even to other nations, cultures, races, and religions.

God hears the Cries of Migrant Workers

Slavery is against the will of God. God wants people to live as free people with dignity and identity. Thus, God brought back the Israelites from exile in Persia and Babylon during different centuries. Our God is the liberator and God suffers pain when people are oppressed. James Cone rightly said that “Yahweh is known and worshipped as the One who brought Israel out of Egypt, and who raised Jesus from the dead. God is the political God, the Protector of the poor, and the Establisher of the right for those who are oppressed. To know God is to experience the acts of God in the concrete affairs and relationships of people, liberating the weak and the helpless from pain and humiliation.” God wants to establish a new world order by bringing back the migrant workers.

For our dear brothers and sisters who have returned home and are in different states/provinces and villages, God has brought them back so that they can rebuild a new life. Covid-19 opens up the opportunity to re-start a new beginning. They need food, home, and a job to earn their living and some of them do not have land for cultivation. If we do not care for them, we will face more problems in our churches and society. Being driven by poverty and frustration, they will indulge in substance abuse, robbery, and will engender social unrest and commercial sex works. Resettlement requires long term intervention – what steps should we take to address the issue? Is charity work enough? We need a theology of justice, equality, and solidarity. Covid-19 evokes us for the need of theology that affirms the centrality of land/creation; community transformation over individual freedom; relationality or interconnection over disconnectedness of all living beings; simple functionality over luxury; respectful and reciprocal attitude overexploitation of natural resources; sharing over-accumulation of wealth; and promotion of people’s oriented development and management of resources over corporate controls of resources.

Solidarity with People beyond Four-walls of the Church

The Covid-19 is challenging us to go out within the four walls of the church. We have been so satisfied with normal get together worship services. Worship services are now locked down for months. It is demanding a new Christian ministry in action. It is like telling us “Come out from the church and go to homes, market places, and preach there!” The church was started at home. God is there where one or two are gathered in God’s name. The church is the people and not the magnificent building. The church becomes vibrant when we build the whole people of God. We need to build an inclusive church where all are treated justly and equally. Today people see only money, fame, and power. Nothing else. The world has lost the value of love, care, and support. Humanity has no place in society. The story of Jyotikumari and her father testify to it. She is just a fifteen-year-old girl, but she dared to take her father home on a bicycle. They were evicted from the room where they lived in Delhi. The father, who had a broken leg, was seated on the carrier of an old bicycle, and she pedalled him to their home village in Bihar. The journey took seven days. The distance covered was around 1000 miles. The landlord asked them to leave since they could not pay rent during the Covid-19 lockdown. We live in a world where human beings are treated worse than slaves. There is no love and care. They also passed through many churches, mosques, and temples, but nobody came forward to help, not even to shelter them. The Covid-19 is challenging us to show love and justice in action. It is urging us to go to the homes of drunkards, killers, commercial sex workers, and preach there! Pray there! Sing there! about justice, love, care, and solidarity.