Impact of Covid Pandemic on Theological and Ministerial Training
Dr. Rajeevan M. Thomas
The advents and advancement of pandemic crisis is not a new phenomenon. It has a long and varied history that can be traced back to the very creation days. Secular and sacred history including biblical history gives a lot of illustrations. The fall of men, the flood of Noah, the plagues in Egypt, cholera, tuberculosis, Spanish flu, small pox, cancer, H1N1, Ebola, SARS, NIPPA, birds flu, HIV AIDS etc are select classical examples. History also records two world wars and its aftermath as a pandemic of the modern world. The First World War (1914-18) consumed close to 20 million lives within four years and the Second World War (1939-45) also snatched around 30 million lives within six years. Nevertheless, Covid 19 surpassed all these record within a few months as it spread from Wuhan to the end of the world, steering the world into a lockdown.
According to UNO, there are 195 nations in the world with a population of 7.8 billion of which more than 60 million people were affected by Corona. Though around 5 crore people recovered from this pandemic, around 15 lakh people were pushed to death in yester months. Around 2 crore active cases are still challenging the world. It is obvious that none of the above official or unofficial numerical data is accurate due to the lack of proper reporting of cases as well as the asymptomatic nature of its carriers.
Intensification of Covid 19
Corona Virus Disease (Covid) is a pandemic disease caused or spread by a special virus named SARS-COV-2. It started as an epidemic in China in 2019 and soon became a global pandemic. More than a disease, it is an all-compassing turmoil affecting the socio-economic, religious and other avenues of humanity with its rapid intensification. It is ready to brutally celebrate its first birthday throughout the world by chaining and locking down the world, including the first world countries. It is the era of ‘coronacracy’ (rule of corona). While scientists and medical workers of the world relentlessly combat the Covid day and night.
Corona has been a bonafide ‘teacher’ teaching us new vocabulary, ideas and a way of life - quarantine, social distancing, red zone, national lockdown,, sanitizer, mask, PPE kits, RTPCR, antigen tests, unlocking, break the chain etc. More than all this, the corona virus is trying to chain humanity while humanity is desperately trying to break the chain of corona. It is not unwise to allege that this is the ‘first world virus war’.
The Corona pandemic has opened an era of lockdowns of all public institutions and gatherings including churches and seminaries/Bible Colleges. Government strictly enforced it to control pandemic from spreading. It totally affected the production, distribution, income and expenditure, employment and all other physical and spiritual branches of personal and public life of the people in all continents. Various official and unofficial reports showcase this fact.
The reports of ABD and ILD on the initial crisis of this pandemic show that around 4.1 million jobs were blocked in India alone, affecting our youth. This is besides the reports of existing ratio of unemployment. Similarly, it is reported that 25 million jobs opportunities were also lost due globally during this to the pandemic months. The great economic consultant of IMF has also inferred that the global GDP loss during this financial year (2020-‘21) is around $ 9 trillion. It would be greater than the economies of Japan and Germany –all of these portending an upcoming worldwide fiscal crisis.
Besides economic upheavals, the Covid crisis is anticipated to leave a long term impact on secular and theological education. The UNESCO reported that around 154 crore students are seriously affected due to this pandemic crisis and warns us that close to 24 million children are at the risk of dropping their studies in the next academic year. World Bank predicts extended lockdown of educational institutions in India itself would mean a decrease of 400 billion dollars in the future earnings of the nation. This would certainly have adverse effects on the development of national and international programs and institutions, including those of the Christian church.
Ministerial and Theological Training during the Pandemic
Christianity is primarily a missionary religion initiated by the Triune God. The very order of the New Testament books itself express it. The four Gospels (to be preached to public), Book of Acts (Church of formation by adding the saved), Epistles (giving doctrinal exhortations to church believers/disciples), Revelation (waiting for the end of recession – hope of parousia, 22: 10-12). The five fold ministers (Eph. 4: 11-13) are the chief executives of the holistic process of mission (outside the church) and ministry (inside the church) programs. In order to train and mould them, ministerial and theological institutions are needed. As per the scope of mission, the available numerical ratio is insufficient. The present Covid crisis further complicated its progression by locking down the daily activities.
The present global Covid crisis is a new experience for all of us. In fact, none are competing enough to execute the pandemic-resilience educational training in a professional ways. The virtual or online mode of teaching was earlier optional and uncommon. Let’s take a look at the synopsis of a survey undertaken by the Outlook & Taluna – to understand the response of the present online class recipients - 73% of the students are comfortable with this system; 70% students experience ‘loneliness’ in this system; 79% parents happy that their children now have more time to study. 71% are worried about that it will affect the overall personality of their children and anxiety about health issues fills 77% of them. Similarly 77% of the students are also worried about the uncertainty of studying abroad (2020, 42-53). Though the students are technically attending classes, the quality of their studies is affected. Holistic training is now reduced into ‘exam-oriented classes’ only. Whether secular or theological education, the online class mode will never be a substitute but can only be an alternative in emergency.
Theological or ministerial training at seminaries and Bible colleges are not merely an impartation of scriptural knowledge. It is the residential and holistic training in theological and practical ways modeled as per the Academy of Jesus. Pursuing online classes are a great challenge to the management, teachers and students. Following are some challenges faced by the educational facilitators and its recipients: (i) lockdown of theological seminaries and the adoption of virtual mode (2) lack of proper electronic devices (3) poor network coverage (4) overheating of devices (5) inadequate practical training (6) lack of discipline, monitoring of classes (7) failure to receive personal attention and guidance (9) lack of study material affecting quality and quantity of class assignments (10) overloaded teachers as they prepare study materials (11) inadequate time for discussion and interaction (12) reduced syllabus and working hours (13) difficult to do field visit and other empirical research processes (14) health issues (15) financial crisis of the institutional management due to the withdrawal of the donors and sponsors on the ground of unemployment and subsequent drain of income.
The success and the future of every individual and institution predominantly depend on how they respond to the challenges. Corona is a life changing global pandemic causing all round changes. It has practically shut down the world, turning mega churches into house churches, actual churches into virtual churches and on campus studies into off campus, full time learning into part-time, offline into online etc.
The Christian church and its auxiliary institutions survived even the most severe inter-continental Roman Empire and the early centuries of the Christian era. All of humanity has realized its limitations, the vanity and helplessness of wealth, health, name, fame etc. Even advanced technology, world military powers, political leaderships and all similar human agencies have no solution to the crisis.
People around the world are responding to the pandemic in diverse manners. They are debated on the real authors of this pandemic. Even the intellectual world has not arrived at a conclusion whether this is a natural or human made crisis. The world famous virologist Dr. Li-Meng Yan alleges that it is ‘Made in China’. The theologians who were regarded as the international interpreters and editors of the world events have not yet reached a consensus. Some argue that it is the wrath of God; a ‘wake-up call to the church’, end-time pandemic related to the second coming, punishment to the sinful words and deeds of Christians/Church etc. It may be a divinely appointed time for people to use this ‘offer’ period for genuine confession and turning to God.
Theological academies and facilitators should undertake proper planning and preparations to keep the theological training relevant for pandemic and post-pandemic era. They must obtain adequate training in crisis management to benefit the church and society, crisis counseling particularly for the victims of covid, children, youths, backsliding and single believers, koinonia and diaconal ministration, academic integrity, self-discipline, strengthening of digital libraries and online resources, nurturing academic spirituality, orientation to become voluntary health workers (good Samaritan model), etc to execute Covid pandemic-resilience educational training.
Being responsible citizens of the nation, let us cooperate with the government and health workers to fight again the eradication of this virus. Shall we appreciate the scientists who work day and night to develop a vaccine and the medical staff for their sacrificial service. Shall we bring hope to the hopeless, be a voice to the voiceless, help the helpless with our God-given spiritual and material resources. We need to continue our fight against not just the corona pandemic virus but also against the biggest and most powerful virus attacking entire humanity – SIN! – so that we may be counted as the ‘physicians of the souls.’ Being the disciples of Jesus, let us change for a change without changing our unchanging spiritual resources for a more meaningful and relevant involvement in church and society.