IMB missionaries share COVID’s impact on South Asia

Three Southern Baptist International Mission Board leaders were in Middle Tennessee last week sharing about the impact of COVID-19 in South Asia and to thank Tennessee Baptists for their support of the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.

The three missionaries are strategy leaders in South Asia.

“All of the same restrictions and challenges that churches are feeling on this side of the world, we are also facing in South Asia,” said Evert Swenson*. He shared that the real impact of COVID in South Asia may never be known. The vast majority of people in South Asia will never be tested, he continued. “There will never be a test available.”

As a result, medical needs in South Asia have been enormous, he continued. Of 407 total COVID-19 ministry projects worldwide by Send Relief, 113 projects were held in South Asia.

Though the three missionaries are not currently able to be on the field they are maintaining contact with their local Baptist partners. A benefit of COVID has been seeing the responses of local churches, Swenson said. “They are cooperating at a new level in their own benevolent giving … and service to others.”

Mitch Englehart* agreed that local Baptists there have not only stepped up in their humanitarian efforts, they are also stepping up to share the gospel. Churches of 100 people have been shut down, he said, but that has enabled local leaders to meet with 20 or less people in house churches. As a result, these churches are reaching more people than before, many of them who would not have gone to the traditional church there, Englehart said. “So from that angle, the virus has been a bit of a blessing on the evangelism front for us.

Mike McKenzie*, a Tennessean and third member of the IMB group who traveled to Middle Tennessee last week, noted that because of government lockdowns, church leaders were given permission to take rations to different families, most of them nonbelievers with Hindu backgrounds, he said.

He added that relationships were established in areas that previously were difficult to engage. “We actually saw churches started among several people groups that previously had no church.”

Travel restrictions

As one would expect, travel to South Asia has been greatly affected.

The challenges are incredible because restrictions are distinct for the different countries in South Asia and changed from month to month over the past year, Swenson recalled.

“For the sake of those that would come on volunteer trips from Southern Baptist churches, we’ve had a freeze for South Asia,” he said. “In fact, most of our South Asian countries had no international arrivals available.”

He praised the governments of those countries for taking steps in an attempt to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

As the new year begins, he said some of the governments are beginning to ease restrictions but travel as it was before COVID is not soon likely, he shared. “We’re praying those doors would open again,” Swenson said.

Because of the varied requirements, some missionaries are returning to South Asia, but not all, including Englehart and his family.

It’s been a mixed blessing,” he admitted. “Because I’m not there the locals now assume more responsibility. … The good news will continue to be shared. Our absence compels their presence and leadership, so it’s been a mixed bag,” Englehart said.

Grateful for support

As the missionaries visited with church and associational leaders, primarily in Sumner and Montgomery counties, they have been quick to thank Tennessee Baptists for their giving through the Cooperative Program and the LMCO. Those gifts “allow us to go and to be free and to do the work of the gospel,” Swenson said.

He also noted that while they are displaced the visit offered them the opportunity “to foster and develop and strengthen relationships” with churches in Tennessee.

Englehart added that it is their calling to provide encouragement and help for churches in Tennessee who feel led to go to the nations. “We want to lock arms and do this thing (missions) together,” he said.

How to Pray for South Asia

1. Please pray that we would have favor with the consulate and receive new visas for our countries of service, so that we may return soon to resume the work.

2. Please pray for more laborers to come join in the work in South Asia. There is a major need for more families to commit their lives to planting churches among the nations in South Asia.

3. Please pray for the remaining people groups in South Asia that still have no access to the gospel. Today we steward a list of 1,079 unengaged unreached people groups (UUPG). Pray that the Lord of the harvest would raise up laborers to go to each of them and plant churches!

4. Please pray for the equipping of the saints for the ministry until no place is left (Ephesians 4:12/Romans 15:23).

*Names changed for security