Last week was another difficult week for us. Two more children in our baby home tested positive. The municipal health authorities extended our sealed premises status by a week to 4 September. So for another 10 days our children cannot use the public spaces in our compound. We have wrested a concession to have our children play outside in very small groups.It is still very hard on the children.

Three former colleagues died last week. A doctor who joined us after early retirement from the state medical service and built up our community health programme for over a decade of service with us died, as did an army engineer who joined us also after early retirement and ran our vocational training centre. A lady connected with our Women’s Work Centre also passed away.

The current situation has badly impacted the way we mourn death. When someone dies,pastors and friends are expected to visit the home and spend at least an hour condoling with the immediate family members. Friends also attend the funeral and the memorial services that follow for the next 40 days. Traditional South Indian Christians hold prayer and thanksgiving meetings on the third, eleventh and fortieth day after death.

The pastor of the family is usually part of all the events. I am considered a“ family priest” of quite a number of families in the Bangalore churches where I was the senior Pastor. One is expected to be at all important events in the life of the family. There have been more than 15 deaths in such families in the past four months and I could not go and be with any family. It has been very hard, as praying with the family over the phone is woefully inadequate. It cannot replace the hour I would have spent sitting with them, often with the body in the home, reading passages of scripture and praying in the presence of family and friends.

In each case last week there was no church funeral service. Just two members of the family were allowed to go to the hospital mortuary from where the body was taken to the cemetery or crematorium where a brief service was allowed.

Among Indian Christian families the funeral, thanksgiving and memorial services of their loved ones are captured in video, treasured and passed on to grandchildren. Our family members who have passed away are very real to us and we remember them regularly as families, not just think of them occasionally. This pandemic has not only brought death in large numbers but shattered our ability to mourn our dead properly.

We have completed nearly three weeks of online teaching for our school children. We are seeing where it is working well and where it is failing. Even parents with very low income have invested in a smart phone so that their child does not have to go to the facility we have for them, but is safe at home. A smart phone with basic features necessary for online studies costs about £110. Poorer parents are spending about £40 for a device that is inadequate for regular use by a student. The children who are struggling and tend to not attend online classes are often those with poor quality phones.

We have now decided to insist that all students will have a basic instrument we have selected with the necessary features and which should last a few years. We will appeal to individuals and organisations to sponsor one or more phones. We will invest in them up-front and encourage the parents to pay for them in affordable instalments. To begin with we need to buy 120 Tablets for our high school students.

Meanwhile our plans for training teachers from six schools in creating teaching and teaching online material move ahead and should launch in mid-September. We are encouraged that both the younger and older members of the Rotary Club, our partners in this venture, are very committed to making this work.

Our focus last week was on the spiritual needs of children at this time. Our pastoral team is praying directly with children and encouraging them to pray. Our children were hoping to join the St Nicholas Church, Oxford, online Holiday Club last week but had to drop it suddenly as the municipal doctor did not allow them to meet in a hall, even following social distancing rules. I am encouraged that our team is finding ways to minister spiritually to children.

Church of England Newspaper August 28

Letter to CEN August 28

Supporting Divya Shanthi’s Work in Bangalore

Divya Shanthi Mission Support (DSMS) is a small Oxford-based charity that exists to support Divya Shanthi’s work in Bangalore. We run a child sponsorship programme, support the school and the residential homes, and occasionally have special fundraising projects for particular needs. We also share news about Divya Shanthi’s work through our website at DSMS.org.uk and through our Facebook page, facebook.com/DSMScharity.

The DSMS charity was set up in 2002, after members of St Nicholas Church in Old Marston, Oxford, had visited Divya Shanthi the year before. DSMS has been strongly supported by the church ever since – through individual donations, group events, the very popular annual Christmas bazaar, quiz nights, special services, visits to Bangalore, and more.

On 24th July, we ran an online event to celebrate Divya Shanthi’s Founders' Day, and to pray for hope as they face incredibly challenging times and an unprecedented amount of need during 2020. This let us connect with supporters and donors around the UK, and with members of Divya Shanthi in India too.

You can watch the video from our event on our website at DSMS.org.uk.

The coronavirus crisis has hit India badly, and over the past few weeks, several children, young people, and staff members at Divya Shanthi have been unwell with Covid-19. We’re particularly appealing for new donors at this time, and would welcome anything you can give.

To make a donation or find out more, you can visit our website at DSMS.org.uk, our Facebook page at facebook.com/DSMScharity, or email us at info@dsms.org.uk.

Divya Shanthi Mission Support is a charitable incorporated organisation with registered charity number 1091054. The charity is regulated by the Charity Commission for England and Wales.

Ali Luke, Secretary DSMS, Oxford