Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Why the COVID crises in India and Brazil matter for the church and mission

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Mission Theologian at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

As those who have been following the world-wide progression of the coronavirus pandemic know, recent weeks have not been good for India and Brazil in terms of caseloads and deaths from COVID-19. Brazil has been struggling to contain the virus since last fall, and over the past two months, India has experienced one of the most dramatic spikes in cases of the pandemic, straining hospitals, health care systems, and crematoriums. These two countries are now the top two countries in terms of new cases of coronavirus and the second and third countries in terms of total deaths from COVID-19.

Commendably, many Christians in the United States have been moved with compassion at tales of the pandemic's effects in India, Brazil, and elsewhere and have wanted to help. And The United Methodist Church, through UMCOR and Global Ministries, has been helping, since at least last July in Brazil ([1] and [2]) and more recently in India ([1] and [2]).

Yet to cast COVID-19 in India and Brazil solely as a humanitarian crisis is to miss important dimensions of the impact of the religious impact on the church in those countries (and others).

First, it is important to keep in mind that COVID-19 has been a crisis for the church in India and Brazil. Brazil is home to the second-highest number of Christians in the world, following only the United States. India has nearly 30 million Christians as well, a very sizable number.

I know of no attempts to break down the impact of COVID-19 in either India or Brazil by religion. Still, given that Brazil is a majority Christian population, it is clear that the pandemic is affecting Christian communities in Brazil. And while there are regional variations in terms of numbers of Christians in India, COVID has been present among Christian communities there as well.

Thus, all of the organizational, logistical, financial, spiritual, and theological problems that Christian churches in the United States have had to face because of the COVID-19 pandemic, churches in Brazil and India have had to face as well. And they have not always had the same resources in terms of technology and government financial support that churches in the United States have had to do so. By the time it abates, the pandemic will have taken a significant toll on Christians, Christian communities, and Christian leaders in India and Brazil.

Second, it is important to keep in mind that COVID-19 has been a crisis for mission in India and Brazil. Both countries are not only home to many Christians, but many missionaries as well. Brazil was the #2 sending country for missionaries and the #3 receiving country pre-pandemic, with 40,000 missionaries going out from Brazil and 20,000 serving in Brazil. India was the #8 sending country, sending out the same number of missionaries as Germany or France (10,000).

I do not know of any attempt yet to systematically figure out how these numbers of missionaries sent or received have been impacted by the pandemic. Given the number of Brazilian and Indian missionaries that serve embedded within diaspora networks, many of these missionaries may have been able to remain in their places of service. Yet, with heightened travel restrictions, especially imposed against virus hot spots, the movement of missionaries from Brazil and India must be impacted.

Moreover, not only the movement but the operation of missionaries, both from and within Brazil and India, has likely been significantly impacted. Given the impact of the pandemic--economically, socially, and organizationally--around the world, Brazilian and Indian missionaries cannot have escaped the wreckage that the pandemic has caused.

Consider this another way: The United States is the world's top country in terms of number of Christians, number of missionaries sent, and number of missionaries received. Think of the impact of the pandemic on religion in the United States. Brazil is #2 on all of those measures and has struggled similarly with the pandemic. Thus, the top two Christian countries in the world have also been the most impacted by the virus.

Mexico, Russia, and the Philippines (#3, #4, and #5 in terms of Christian population, with Russia #2 in terms of missionaries received and the Philippines #4 in terms of missionaries sent) have also been majorly impacted by the pandemic. Europe and the Americas generally, which constitute two of the three most strongly Christian areas of the world, have been among the hardest hit by the virus. Africa is the only major Christian population center that has been relatively less affected by the virus.

The COVID-19 pandemic is far from over, and much is unclear about what the world will look like when it finally is. But this much is clear: the Christian church and Christian mission will have been deeply impacted around the world.

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