After hundreds of meetings on Zoom, Facebook Live, and phone throughout the pandemic, I finally met face-to-face with the church pastors Willow Creek and Enlace serve last December. One pastor after another, some with tears in their eyes, shared stories of suffering, death, loss, and pain. But their stories were also ones of hope, love, and new opportunities to advance God’s kingdom.
Their resilience reminded me of the Apostle Paul’s words, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.” (2 Cor 4:8-10).
One story from Nepal stood out as particularly applicable to our lives and our churches.
Pastors Anil and Nima lead a small Christian church with dirt walls and a thatch roof in Nepal, where Christians are often rejected by their families, neighbors, and communities. At times, Hindu nationalists have even attempted to close Christian churches by force.
When the pandemic hit, Anil and Nima asked community leaders how they could best provide food aid to the community’s neediest families. The mayor’s office made it clear that Christian church members were not to distribute aid. Instead, they were told to give the food to the mayor’s office for distribution, which the pastors did.
As the crisis continued, church leaders continued to meet with Hindu community leaders to ask how they could help. The Hindu leaders began to talk about how helpful the Christians were at the mayor’s office. Eventually, they asked if church members could join them on family visits, and the mayor’s office agreed.
Christian and Hindu leaders began working together to distribute aid and identify needs. They’ve now worked together to replace roofs on 17 homes and extend electricity to 18 families. Currently, they’re working together to set up a school to train single mothers and widows as seamstresses to increase their family income.
Church leaders have since been asked to join village committees, and several church members are now elected community representatives. But the biggest surprise came when village leaders proposed that the mayor’s office help the Christians build a new church. The same mayor’s office that previously forbade Christians from handing out food aid provided $3,000 to help build a new Christian church, and Hindu community leaders helped in its construction!
Pastors Anil and Nima had plenty of reasons to despair, even before the pandemic. Yet they chose instead to love and serve their Hindu neighbors, and as a result, the life of Christ was made visible through them. May we, who face far fewer obstacles, do the same.