Raucous laughter floated over the cinder block wall. The humid air carried the sound through slightly swaying palm branches to the covered porch where ITMI partner, Molly, stood.
Thirty-five miles from the city, the millions of stars twinkled overhead in the night sky, obstructed only by the bright moonlight that spilled through the night.
From the slightly elevated position of the covered porch, she could see over the wall that protected the property she hadn’t left for over a month.
A daytime view from the porch over the low wall.
The uncultivated land beyond the wall was dotted with pockets of darkness where wild scrub brush plants cast low shadows over the ground below.
She could hear the voice of her husband, Paul, who had stepped outside the yellow house to field a phone call and was pacing the rows of fruit trees as he spoke.
Fruit trees growing on the property.
Since the COVID-19 virus had prompted the Indian government to lock everything down and insist with force that everyone stay inside their homes, many families and churches were thrown into crisis.
Paul was receiving an endless stream of calls and texts from rural pastors from a group he normally meets with monthly for discipleship.
With no prior training and little access to written materials they can grow from, the pastors of these small rural churches trying to follow Jesus look to Paul for wisdom.
For churches among the impoverished, like those of many of these pastors, many of the flock don’t have access to the internet. In Paul and Molly’s own young church plant, only about half have access to the internet, so shepherding them poses a challenge.
Under normal circumstances, church members lean heavily on their church family to face the constant barrage of devaluation, exclusion and persecution of being low caste members and Christians.
Some in Paul and Molly’s church are the only believer in their hostile homes. For these church people, the isolation of the lockdown has felt unbearable.
Molly's attention turned back to Paul as he turned back toward the house, his call ended. Before he made it back to the covered porch, another call came in. Molly heard him greet the caller, one of the men on Paul’s church staff.
Pastoring a church in India is beyond demanding. Something no one can do alone, so Paul pours his life into 12 “disciples” whom he is training and equipping to help him shepherd the church.
Paul attempts to keep up on the demanding job of shepherding his flock from his makeshift office in the village, where electricity and internet connection are unreliable and digital storage space is causing issues.
Molly’s attention turned from Paul to the too-loud laughter outside the wall that momentarily drowned out Paul’s voice.
From her position at the waist-high rail that surrounded the covered porch where she’d momentarily escaped the chaos of the house, Molly could see three darkened figures shuffle through the low bushes scattered outside the wall.
The bright moonlight glinted off the bottles of liquid-escape they carried as they found a few bushes to lay under.
Though they, too, weren’t supposed to be stepping outside their doors, the men had left their tiny homes in the nearby village, likely out of desperation to escape their wives and families.
The families in the villages surrounding Paul and Molly's property have faced difficulty their entire lives.
Their marginalized upbringing has rendered them utterly unequipped to handle the relational challenges of living with others.
The families in the villages surrounding their rural property where Paul, Molly and their 23 children were spending the lockdown have faced difficulty their entire lives.
Their bottom-of-the-barrel caste position means cows and dogs are more highly esteemed than they. They are shunned. Devalued. Marginalized and rejected. Constantly.
The treatment is emotionally crippling, and these villagers respond to the trauma with constant defensiveness and quarreling. Amid this inner turmoil, relationships and everyday interactions are dysfunctional, confusing and painful.
People dwelling in the nearby village are rejected and devalued constantly.
The men outside the wall were quiet for a moment.
Molly was thankful for a quiet moment, even if it was just that - a moment - as any mother locked down with 23 children would be.
As an American living in India, Molly is strictly unable to leave their property during the lockdown. She really shouldn’t even be seen by the low-flying government helicopters that periodically circle overhead.
She also had to avoid being seen by the same villagers now drinking outside the wall when, during the day, they poked their heads over the wall to peer in.
To many uneducated and superstitious Indians, those with light skin were the ones who had brought the coronavirus to India and are responsible for their current suffering.
That means Molly has to keep her light-colored skin inside the house for much of the time, but under the cover of darkness, she could slip out to the porch for a change of environment.
Paul’s phone call ended and he joined her on the porch. His staff member had passed along something encouraging.
The church staff, back in town, continued to remain unified. This was in spite of other, less mature church members bowing to the temptation to gossip, slander and blame the church leadership for their discomfort.
But his staff said the discipleship they’d received from Paul - specifically how the Lord called them to live Biblically with their families and treat their wives - had prepared them for this extended time in close quarters with their families.
"Paul prepared us for this time," the caller told Paul, “This isn’t new. We’re used to helping our wives at home.”
One thing Paul focuses on with the men he disciples is 1 Peter 3:7,
“Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.”
Paul also sets a wildly counter-cultural example of a Biblical marriage by the respectful and considerate way he treats his wife.
The sound of another round of loud laughter and glass bottles breaking wafted over their fence and into their ears, reminding them of what family life is often like for those they’ve been sent to reach and disciple.
They praised the Lord for His work through them and those who stand behind them in support.
They were also grateful that outreaches have already begun to reach these village families with the Gospel as well as reminded of the urgency of reaching them with the Good News, so that their heartaches might be healed through a sanctifying relationship with Jesus.