India’s COVID Impact on GBC

L-R Shiva, Ritesh, Diptanshu and Bharat from the 2021-22 Freshman Class

India – What have the past two years been like for our Grace Bible College faculty, staff and students? Difficult and challenging, just like everywhere else. But how difficult? Perhaps the fact that the Indian government is in a heated debate with the W.H.O. (World Health Organization) regarding the anticipated release of global COVID deaths sheds some light on this topic. The W.H.O. has recently re-calculated that 15 million died due to the pandemic; this is more than double the original estimate of six million, and more than a third of the additional nine million are attributed to India. India’s government, in a statement released to the United Nations Statistical Commission in February, stated, “India feels that the process was neither collaborative nor adequately representative.”

While in India, we asked people their opinion on the number of COVID deaths; the response was always the same: since cremation the same day as death is mandatory (for Hindus; for Christians, the body must be buried by evening), in remote villages which were in tight isolated lockdowns for months, no one really knows how many people died, and there are no bodies to count. The consensus is that local death tolls were significantly higher than the government reports, especially when the second wave hit in February 2021.

An especially sensitive subject is the number of Christians and Christian leaders who died due to COVID. Within India’s population of 1.386 billion is a comparatively small Christian community, and news of Christians dying due to COVID traveled fast. In Nagpur (central India) alone, 48 local pastors lost their lives in the 2021 second wave. The trauma of so many deaths and unattended funerals is still painful.

India’s number of trained national evangelical pastors were few and far between prior to COVID, and with the shocking news of so many shepherd-less national churches, the question is being asked, what now? Where do we find prepared and trained pastors?

This crisis drives home in a new way the importance the role Christian schools like Grace Bible College play in preparing and training Christian workers for ministry in India. Now with the ranks noticeably thinner, GBC’s role just became even more vital.

On GBC’s campus, students we spoke with have changed their initial plans, as God appears to be using COVID’s hardships to re-shape their futures. Several who were going to attend a vocational school nearby have decided to stay. The reason? Love.

Most of the 2021-22 freshman class (the largest GBC has had so far) are from a nearby hostel, Boys and Girls Christian Home. Either orphans or half orphans from Hindu and Buddhist background, these students are ground zero for tomorrow’s ministry staff. Their stories resonate with abandonment and abuse, yet in the midst of a terrifying pandemic, they have experienced sacrificial Christian love in action from the GBC leadership, faculty and staff. Even during the extreme lockdowns the government imposed, the care and love was consistent. This is a love that is hard to look away from, and is compelling and impressionable to young people in need. This summer 22 students are living on campus because they quite literally have no place else to go until their vocational schools reopen in July, but they want to stay at GBC. To help pay their way, they are helping with maintenance projects even through the summer heat where temperatures reach 115 and 120.

What has this love in action produced? After a year at GBC most from this class have changed their minds and have asked to stay at least another year. When asked why, they smile and said, “I love it here…the staff really care about me, especially during COVID they met all my needs and took care of me, and I love studying the Bible. I think I now want to serve God in ministry.” Even graduates have adjusted their future plans. Pallavi, who graduated with her Bachelor of Theology this month, was headed into the police force, but she’s changed her mind. Instead, because of the influence and ministry of GBC’s faculty, she wants to return to her village with her church sharing Christ. She said her three years at GBC have prepared her in ways she never imagined and now feels God is leading her into ministry.

Visit our new Grace Bible College website page. Learn how you can impact these students and join in praying for and supporting this work. In July we will release the number of new students who will need sponsorship for 2022-2023. *