AUGUST 2020

RECOVERING THE POWER OF LAMENT IN THE CONTEXT OF COVID 19

Lamentation, a prayer for help coming out of pain, is very common in the Bible.
Over one third (50 or so) of the psalms are laments. One classic example of a Lament is

Awake! Why are you asleep, O Lord?
Arise! Cast us not off forever!
Why do you hide your face,
forgetting our woe and our oppression?
For our souls are bowed down to the dust,
our bodies are pressed to the earth. (Psalm 44:24-26)

How long, O Lord? Will you utterly forget me?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long shall I harbor sorrow in my soul,
grief in my heart day after day?
How long will my enemy triumph over me? (Psalm 13:2-3)

Lament frequently occurs in the Book of Job: “Why did I not perish at birth, come forth from the womb and expire?” (Job 3:11). The prophets likewise cry out to God, such as Jeremiah does: “Why is my pain continuous, my wound incurable…?” (15:18) and Habakkuk: “…my legs tremble beneath me. I await the day of distress that will come upon the people who attack us” (3:16).

One whole book, Lamentations, expresses the confusion and suffering felt after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians.

We find something similar in the New Testament as well. People who are afflicted cry out to Jesus for help. Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, shouts out, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!” (Mark 10:47).

Jesus himself laments to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me…” (Mark 14:36). In his agony on the cross, Jesus makes his own the words of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me…?”

Despite its wide-ranging presence in the Bible, we have by and large lost touch with this dimension of prayer. It is something we need to recover. First, we feel, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” and we might think, “I should not feel this way! I am losing my faith!” Lament corrects a false, naïve and overly rationalistic view of faith.

In the Scriptures, faith is not simply an intellectual assent to some statement about God. It is the trusting of our entire selves to God. At times, we do experience God’s absence; we do feel alone and confused, and we doubt. Doubt is not opposed to faith; despair is. We see this in the case of the father who brought his son to Jesus for healing. When Jesus encouraged the father to have faith, he replied, “I do believe, help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

Even Saint Paul tells us he was “perplexed, but not driven to despair” (2 Corinthians 4:8). In despair we give up on our relationship with God. Doubt, on the other hand, is a sign that our faith is alive and kicking; it is part of the rhythm of faith itself.

Lament is not a failure of faith, but an act of faith. We cry out directly to God because deep down we know that our relationship with God counts; it counts to us and it counts to God.

Even if we do not experience the closeness, we believe that God does care. Even if God seems not to hear, we believe that God is always within shouting distance. In the Scriptures, God does not say, “Do not fear, I will take away all the pain and struggle.” Rather, we hear, “You have no need to fear, since I am with you” (e.g., to Isaac, frightened of the Philistine king—Genesis 26:24; to the anxious Moses being sent to confront Pharaoh—Exodus 3:11-12; to the disciples when they see Jesus walking on the sea—Matthew 14:27) and together we will make it.

We will survive, yes, even death itself. In the present context of the Pandemic, our security can be shaken, and our faith as well. Perhaps it is not lamenting, but the failure to lament that expresses a lack of faith.

Secondly, in lamenting we cry to God, “Why, O Lord?” Our suffering is so big; it does not make any sense; it lacks meaning. The desire to find meaning is a strong one.

In our search for meaning, we can be tempted to look for cheap and easy answers. Lament teaches us that there are indeed things we do not understand; in fact, we cannot understand. God does not say, “Do not fear; you will understand everything and have all the answers.” Our human mind can take us only so far. At times we can do no more than speak our confusion to God, and lament tells us that we should do no less.

Thirdly, we feel against people who hurt us, personally or as a community, “Happy the man who shall seize and smash your little ones against the rock” (Psalm 137:9), and we think, “I should not feel this way; it is against charity.”

Lament counters a false, naïve and overly romantic view of charity. Charity does not mean that everything is lovely, that we never get upset, that we sit around holding hands and saying how wonderful everything is. This is unreal.

Negativity, injustice, hatred, brokenness are part of our lives and part of our world. In the face of this, we can have an instinctive feeling for retaliation in kind, for returning hatred with hatred. I do feel pain, hurt and anger, but these are not a good basis on which to act. The fact that I feel a certain way does not give me permission to go out and dump my negativity wherever and on whomever I want. Lament suggests that it is all right to express our uncensored feelings before God. We need to accept Lament as an act of Faith. There is power in Lament and Lament brings in healing to all who are affected or infected by the present COVID 19 Pandemic. When we cry out to God or lament to God, we get the assurance that God is in control and God will take care of God’s Creation in accordance with God’s will and in God’s way and time. The Scripture Engagement Programs undertaken recently by the Bible Society of India under the supervision of the Department of Church Relations and Resource Mobilization Department are precisely attempts to bring in this unshaken truth home to the suffering people due to the Corona virus spread.

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SCRIPTURE ENGAGEMENT ACTIVITIES WITH THE CHILDREN

The Bible Society of India, through one of her projects called “Scripture Engagement with the Poor Children of India” is reaching out to thousands of poor and deserving children across India. This year, amidst Covid19 Pandemic situation, we were able to distribute 930 copies of Children’s Pictorial Bibles in most of the major languages in India free of cost. It is amazing to have a record of reaching out to 2237 Children Bible free of cost last year. Under these project activities, we were able to host hundreds of Scripture Engagement programmes, interacting with the children through story telling in a simple language, enactment of Biblical stories, singing and dancing, having fellowship lunch/tea, etc. Join us in this humble and amazing Children’s Ministry through the Word of God, enabling them to have copies of their own Bible thereby bringing hope, joy, satisfaction and communion with God in their own level.

It is a call to every one of us who loves Bible and who cares for the poor children to take part in this project of reaching out the disadvantaged and the poor children of India, such as slum, auto rickshaw drivers’ children, migrants, tribals and dalits children who were denied of their socio-economics rights in many villages and cities. Your participation in kind and/or in cash of any amount will help reaching out more poor children who cannot afford to buy Children’s Pictorial Bible for their own possession.

TESTIMONIES

AIZAWL AUXILIARY

They cried and we cried – we cannot hold back the tears of joy,” says one of the members of the Mary Jones Women’s Fellowship during the Scripture Engagement programme with children as they distribute the Bibles and food provisions among the poor children in Aizawl. “The ministry of the Bible Society of India does not only bring peace of mind but it also gives us the physical needs. The BSI is doing what Jesus was doing during his earthly ministry …. Jesus feeds those hungry 5000 people, 4000 people and now the BSI is following the footsteps of Christ. They are feeding us when our Rice bucket is empty …. I am so thankful and I cannot hold back my tears” says Lily Lalduhawmi (10), Aizawl. Lily and her siblings have no parents and they are looked after by their aged grandmother. Their grandmother was extremely excited and happy to receive such huge packets of food items. She mentioned that they have never seen such huge amount of groceries in stock, in their own home.

When I saw this beautiful wild lilies radiantly blooming in such an open and unprotected place, must be by the roadside, beside the pipeline! It reminds me of this biblical passage as quoted above. And my thought wanders around, and looking at myself and my fellow human beings who are struggling, if not physically but mentally fighting against Covid19 Pandemic, which is causing havoc to our lives. Our pain and our struggles are real. Our cry and the loss of our dear and loved ones are real. Our trauma is real.

 

Rebecca Lalremruati (4), Aizawl A four-year-old little girl Rebecca Lalremruati did not seem to be aware of the struggles and challenges that her family is facing. Due to the Covid-19 lockdown, her father, a stone worker, could not find any work to earn their living, and for the family life has not been as easy as it used to be. To make the situation worse, her father, on whose earnings alone the family depends, was diagnosed with liver cancer. When she was given the Children’s Bible and a food pack, she just smiled, and randomly turned the pages of the Bible which she has never seen in her lifetime. A radiant manifestation of joy could be seen from her face. Her mother, while unpacking the food kits, repeatedly expressed her gratitude for receiving the much-needed food for her family. We came to hear that a few days after the BSI visited the family to give a gift of Bible and food provisions from the BSI, Rebecca’s father passed away due to liver cancer, which was not detected earlier. May God be with the family and console them in this trial time.

Lalhlupuia (7), Aizawl Lalhlupuia has two other siblings. His father passed away while he was a toddler. He is mentally retarded and his mother sells vegetables to earn their living. COVID-19 is far more than a health crisis for them. It is affecting the family economy at its core. He was really happy to receive the food kits and enjoyed the pictures from the Children’s Bible that was presented to him.

Laltanpuii (9), Aizawl Laltanpuii’s mother is a sex worker and she, therefore, does not know who her father is. Her mother left her when she was just 9 months old. She left her in the hands of a busy widow who has plenty of kids. Even though she is just a child, she is a good girl and she has joined the school as well. She is happy at school. As her caretaker is poor too, she is extremely happy to receive the gifts, especially that of the Bible.

Andrew Malsawmdawngzela (7), Aizawl A seven-year-old boy Andrew and his two siblings have been undergoing extreme difficulties. His father had died at an early age; their only caregiver – their mother – has recently been diagnosed with cancer. When they were visited, their mother was at the hospital for chemotherapy treatment. They were looked after by relatives nearby. Andrew and her sister Priscilla received the gifts from the BSI, and one could recognize their happy faces when they were given the food kits and the Children’s Bible.

Chaitra: Chaitra hails from Doddaballapura. Her father works on the farm and her mother is a homemaker. Chaitra has completed her B.Com. She was dejected in life owing to the family problems and because she was not able to get a proper job after completing her degree. Hence, she decided to end her life and made an attempt to commit suicide at least 10 times to date. She was also attacked with evil influence. But by the grace of God, she was taken to St. Andrew’s Church and there the Pastor nurtured her to grow in the love of Christ.

KARNATAKA AUXILIARY

Now she says that she has the joy that Christ has given her in the midst of all her difficulties as she is now a faithful Church attender. Chaitra states that owing to the unprecedented times as of date, she was exceedingly joyful when the Karnataka Auxiliary team visited their Church. She was grateful when she received the kit box from our items and more excited when she could now have a Bible of her own. Chaitra desire is to go to a Bible College so she requested prayer and other means of support. Chaitra also highlighted the bravery of the Karnataka Auxiliary team of venturing out during this pandemic and visiting them. She assured and encouraged everyone to pray for the ministry of the Bible Society of India.

KERALA AUXILIARY:

Aadi Thejas from Trivandrum is an 8th standard student. His father is a kidney patient, having 3 dialysis in a week. His mother is a paraplegic patient, due to her last delivery since 2013. He told our branch officials that the stories of Jesus healing the sick give him hope and he is praying to God every day for the complete and speedy healing of his parents. He was so excited and thanked the BSI for providing him the Bible for his own, now he can read it whenever he has time, without borrowing from others and other items free of cost. This is one among the many responses we received from the beneficiaries.

SHILLONG AUXILIARY:

A.W. Thomas Girls’ Home of Khasi and Jaintia Presbyterian Assembly Orphanage home where 45 inmates with 15 staff and 25 children from very poor families were rejoicing when we visited them with the gifts of Children’s Bible and food kits. Their eyes spoke a thousand words of joy and trust in God, knowing the Church and the Bible Society of India are with them in their times of difficulties. Children’s Bibles in their hands gave them the assurance of the presence of God in their difficult journey of life.

TAMILNADU AUXILIARY:

We had a very emotional yet joyful Scripture Engagement programme at the CSI Risen Redeemer Church at Kodambakkam, with the support of the Presbyter Rev. Anand Antony. Kodambakkam area is the worse hit area in Chennai city by the Covid19 Pandemic. At the close of the programme a girl child, Shanti, who received the Children’s Bible and Food kits stood up and said, “due to lockdown, we could not go to school or to any other places.

All the time we are inside the house. We are not able to meet our friends and classmates. It’s really a frustrating time. I was praying to God, ‘Lord help me to come out of this frustration. God indeed answered my prayers. There was good news from the Bible Society telling us that we are going to receive a colorful Children ‘s Bibles and essential food stuff for our family. Yes, it was a great joy to open the Bible. I was fascinated to see the beautiful pictures of Bible stories and the encouraging God’s Word in the simplest of language in my own mother tongue in Tamil. My heart is filled with and I am thankful to Bible Society for these wonderful gifts.”

Reported by Rev P. Moses Devadason, Secretary, BSI Tamilnadu Auxiliary

TELANGANA AUXILIARY

The Bible Society of India Telangana Auxiliary organized a Scriptural Engagement program at Living Prayer House, Gudimalkapur slum, Hyderabad. The Church is located in slum just next to a scrap dumping yard near one of the biggest vegetable markets of Hyderabad. Pastor N. V. Solomon Raju is serving in this Church for the past 20 years enriching and touching the spiritual lives of 100 families. This region was one of the containment zones. COVID-19 crisis had badly affected these families because all of them are daily wage laborers, lack of work left many families in hunger. Through this Scriptural Engagement initiative, we directly catered to the monthly ration needs of 25 families.

This Scriptural Engagement programme was a spiritual awakening experience for us looking at how children make their choices amidst hunger and poverty.

‘Becoming like little Children’s experience: In our quick interaction, we asked a few children which one they like the most the food kit or children Bible? We heard a spontaneous single answer in unison, it’s the Children Bible.

Geetha says, “I love the different colors and pictures in this Bible, usually the adult Bible has only two-color black and white”. Vasanth was more excited admiring the Bible and least bothered about the food kit. Gayathri, thanked the Bible society for giving both food for living and spiritual growth.

The parents and the Church Pastor expressed their gratitude to the Bible Society of India, the General Secretary, Director CR&RMD and the sponsoring bodies for helping them at the most crisis times. The Telangana Auxiliary likes to thank The Bible Society of New Zealand for sponsoring the food kits and Children Bibles.

Reported By: Rev. John Basy Paul – Auxiliary Secretary, BSI- Telangana Auxiliary

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A paralyzed boy who met Jesus Christ on his Hospital Bed.

The Bible Society of India, through one of her projects called “Scripture Engagement with the Poor Children of India” is reaching out to thousands of poor and deserving children across India. This year, amidst Covid19 Pandemic situation, we were able to distribute 930 copies of Children’s Pictorial Bibles in most of the major languages in India free of cost.

Reported by Pastor Vilbert, Chaplaincy Department, Baptist Hospital, Bangalore.

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74th YEAR INDIAN INDEPENDENCE DAY

This year, India celebrates her 74th Independence Day on August 15th 2020. India accomplished freedom after a long Independence movement, which started in the year 1857 and ended with the formation of Independent India in the year 1947 marking the end of British rule. The struggle for freedom was a long and tiresome one. Thousands of people have laid down their lives on the line so that our country breathes this day. The tricolor flag of India that is hoisted in this day engraves the feeling of patriotism in the heart and minds of every Indian and showcases the feeling of gratitude to all the freedom fighters. Till last year, we celebrated Independence Day by hoisting the National Tricolor; put up saffron, white and green decorations; march in parades without any fear of apprehension.

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Appointment

Rev. Gershombhai Khristi, was virtually inducted to the office of the Auxiliary Secretary, BSI North West India Auxiliary on July 31, 2020, by Most Rev. Dr. P. C. Singh, President, Bible Society of India for the holy office in the presence of Rev. Dr. M. Mani Chacko, the General Secretary of BSI. Rev. Gershom is married to Mrs. Shalini Christian and they both are blessed with two sons.

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