Responses to the floods in the southern India state of Kerala that began August 8 and continued for nearly a week reminded many here of the indispensable role the church played in the development of India.
Kerala is prone to massive rainfall every year, so initially the intense rainfall raised no alarms. However, within 48 hours, the rains filled all the major dams in the state, and the government declared emergency. Excess water from the dams caused a deluge, making 2 million people homeless.
More than 400 people died and 1.3 million people found temporary shelter in makeshift relief camps. This unprecedented state of emergency meant that the state required massive support from all quarters.
My church in Chennai and my previous church in New Delhi both took special offerings towards the relief fund. Members were also encouraged to drop off essentials such as clothes, food material, sanitary items, and other emergency needs that the flood-affected areas face.
Christ's people reflect the boundless love of God to the world when they help those who are in need, even when they themselves don't have much in life. Many Indian Christians are from the lower-middle financial class, but that did not stop them from contributing towards the relief.
Christ's love for India and its people is nothing new to the State of Kerala. The Apostle Thomas is believed to have landed in the region of Kerala during the first century A.D., when he made his journey to India. He was speared to death in the region of Madras, where I currently reside, some 375 miles from Kerala.
The state of Kerala continued to attract missionaries and Christian settlers in the following 2000 years, making it one of the most Christianized states in India.
Outside Kerala too, the church played a crucial role in India's development. The British colonization of India gave missionaries access to the country.
Contrary to popular beliefs, the missionaries, rather than being political pawns, were always at odds with the British Empire in India.
They fought for the human rights of the native peoples and made sure imperial officials stopped inhumane treatment of freedom fighters in prisons. They led the fight for the abolition of barbaric practices now banned in the country, like sati, the burning of widows after their husbands's deaths.
From the country's first agricultural ministry to the establishment of countless educational institutions, the church played a significant role in the development of the country. Christians were also responsible for breaking the stronghold of class hierarchies and the caste system that oppressed the dark-skinned native people.
Given this strong history of the church in India, it should not be a surprise that churches across the country are rallying support for the relief of flood victims in Kerala.
The floods in Kerala have not just reminded us about the celebrated history of the church in India, but made us realize the greater calling God has for us.
Historically, global Christianity has been the forerunner of charity, including in response to natural disasters. Loving our neighbors means more than just donating a few dollars towards relief. It may involve adopting a real sacrificial lifestyle for the good of others, both inside and outside the church body.
To God's people across the globe, let us be the light and salt in this increasingly hostile world and display Christ's love like how He displayed when we were still sinners.