DULUTH, Ga. (BP) – Heartbreaking images from India show human suffering on a scale beyond anything most people have ever seen as the COVID-19 pandemic races through a nation of 1.3 billion people.
Hospitals are full and can’t accept more patients. People are caring for sick loved ones at home. Their greatest physical need is oxygen.
That’s where a group of Georgia Baptists have stepped in, supplying oxygen concentrators to the hard-hit states of Delhi and Odisha. They’re working with the Good News Centre, an India-based Christian ministry that has Duluth, Ga., connections.
Kadmiel Kumar, a deacon at First Baptist Church in Duluth, has been leading the effort to help Good News Centre purchase and ship oxygen concentrators to his native India, where an average of 300,000 people are contracting COVID-19 each day.
The official government death count stands at 330,000, but international relief agencies believe the actual number is far higher.
Kumar volunteers with the Good News Centre as a liaison between churches in the U.S. and India. The Good News Centre’s goal is to get the oxygen concentrators into churches to help people who are being turned away at hospitals.
Kumar said the cost to purchase and deliver the devices is $1,800 to $2,000 each.
Mark Hearn, pastor of First Baptist Duluth, said the goal is to raise $300,000, which will be used to buy the oxygen concentrators, to pay funeral expenses for pastors who have died from COVID-19 and to provide food to church members who are going without while grocery stores are under lockdown.
First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Ga., and Dunwoody (Ga.) Baptist Church also are helping with the initiative.
“To date, we’ve raised $170,000 of the $300,000 goal,” Hearn said last week. “We need another eight or 10 churches to give $10,000 to $15,000 each to reach our goal.”
In the Atlanta suburbs, home to many immigrants from India, the initiative hits close to home.
“We have multiple partners on the field in India, and with the need being so remarkable, we tried to dig deep and stretch ourselves and trust God to meet all of our needs,” said Jeremy Morton, pastor of First Baptist Woodstock. “One of our contacts who is a personal friend of mine – I’ve traveled with him in India and he’s traveled with me in the United States – is with his wife and children under strict orders to not leave his home except for food or a medical emergency. But, yet, what encourages us is how, even in this crisis, our field partners in India refuse to quit. They feel called to the work there like never before. Seeing their faith as their country goes through this dark time inspires us.”
Hearn said his church lost an India church-planting partner to COVID-19 last month.
“It’s extremely personal to me,” he said. “I am getting reports almost daily of people I personally know who have succumbed to COVID.”
Kumar said he feels a variety of emotions, from frustration to despair, as he watches the pandemic sweep across India. His brother, Daniel, a pastor in the state of Delhi who runs Good News Centre, took 62 calls in a single day from people who were sick and asking for help or who had family members who had died and were in need of comfort.
Churches in Delhi and Odisha are being hit especially hard. At last count, 135 pastors in those two states had died from the virus, Kumar said.
Hearn said churches have an opportunity to help people truly in need by taking part in the initiative.
“This may be the best investment in ministry dollars that I’ve seen in my 40 years of pastoring,” he said.