Happy New Year from ScholarLeaders! May God supply all the grace we need to meet the year ahead with faith and courage. In a time of new beginnings, Matthias Gergan from India points to the hope we have in Christ.
India has a rich and ancient Christian heritage. According to tradition, the Apostle Thomas planted the first Indian church along the subcontinent’s southwestern coast in 52 AD. Today, Christians comprise approximately 2% of India’s 1.38 billion-strong population. As a religious minority, India’s 28 million Christians continue to endure persecution from Hindu nationalists, particularly in the country’s central, northern, and western regions. According to a 2011 census, India’s population is around 80% Hindu, 14% Muslim, 2% Sikh, and 1% Buddhist.
Matthias is pursuing a PhD in Intercultural Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary (Kentucky, USA). He seeks to equip the South Asian Himalayan Church to address social unrest triggered by rapid demographic shifts and cultural changes. The family photo above shows Matthias and his wife Roseline at their wedding last January. Matthias’s parents and Roseline’s mother are also pictured. Matthias recently returned to India for Christmas break, allowing him and Roseline to be together for the first time since their wedding one year ago.
Matthias shares the following devotional and prayer requests:
|United in Hope|
The year 2020 was full of uncertainty, fear, and despair. These are not unusual sentiments – they are part of being human. However, 2020 was unique in how it brought the world together around these feelings. A tiny virus brought the world to a standstill, and revealed the frailty of systems, structures, and routines we often take for granted – air travel, jobs, shopping in stores, or just meeting people and seeing their faces.
The Christmas season is often referred to as the season of hope and joy. What does it mean for us to celebrate Christmas in such a time? As I reread the Gospel narratives surrounding Jesus’ birth, I see various biblical characters united in a sense of uncertainty, fear, and despair. Their circumstances were different, but their sentiments were not unlike those we experience today.
Zechariah and Elizabeth, both from the priestly line, were an elderly couple who had been faithful and righteous for their entire lives. However, infertility had been a source of despair and disgrace for them (Luke 1:25). While serving in the temple, Zechariah might have been filled with awe for God, but perhaps he also carried a sense of despair over their advancing years and barrenness.
When the angel of the Lord appeared, Zechariah was terrified! But he was told, “Do not be afraid… Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John” (Luke 1:13). It was perplexing news, but it led to rejoicing when Elizabeth conceived. God had “looked favorably” on her and taken away her disgrace (Luke 1:25). Their situation of despair turned into rejoicing, but it also included a period of uncertainty and fear.
Mary, a young girl, may have been imagining what married life would be like with Joseph – perhaps even making plans for the future. An angel of the Lord appeared to her and told her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God” (Luke 1:30). The message was a message of hope for all of Israel and ultimately the world. But for Mary, it was a message that brought confusion and likely uncertainty. She submitted to the will of God, but it is hard to imagine that she could have made perfect sense of it all.
Joseph may have been looking forward to married life with Mary. But his plans would have been thrown into uncertainty when he learned that Mary was pregnant. What was he to do? He may have been full of fear. What will people say? How will they ever live this down? An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in this situation and said, “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:20b). Joseph was told to not be afraid because God was present and active, despite his uncertainty and fear.
For Jesus himself, the Word become flesh, life was full of occasions for uncertainty, fear, and despair – “the world did not know him…his own people did not accept him” (John 1:10-11). Yet, he was the reason that the angel told the people, “Do not be afraid.” “’They shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means, ‘God is with us’” (Matt. 1:23).
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the world together in feelings of uncertainty, fear, and even despair. Perhaps some of us grimly press on like Zechariah, while struggling to see hope. Others may eagerly await the lifting of despair through God’s intervention like Elizabeth. Some may be confused like Joseph, wondering what to do next. Others may be like Mary, submitting to and trusting in God’s will, despite not understanding it completely.
For all of us, Christmas brings hope and a message that unites us. “Do not be afraid” – not because things will magically turn out well, but because our God is with us. Jesus entered into our human situation, and experienced our uncertainty, fear, and despair. Jesus entered our human situation and conquered it beyond the grave, giving us a hope that unites us even as we stand united in suffering.
Despite the uncertainties, 2020 has also been a year full of major life events for me. I got married on January 10, 2020, but had to be back in the United States at the beginning of February to finish my coursework. My wife Roseline and I had hoped that she would get her visa approved so we could live together, but her visa got denied and the US embassy in India closed down due to the pandemic before we could reapply.
Despite the difficult year, God has been present and good. I finished my coursework in the spring and completed my comprehensive exams on November 5. This puts me on the cusp of the writing phase of the PhD.
The pandemic caused many educational institutions and businesses to move online in India (like in most of the world). Roseline also started teaching online and has started getting clients for personalized courses (she’s a Japanese language instructor). This was a mode of work that would not have been as viable and attractive before the pandemic.
In the meantime, God has kept Roseline’s mother and my parents (all senior citizens) safe and provided for, and has also supplied a new job for my sister. God has been good and has provided for us, despite ongoing uncertainties.
I would appreciate prayers for Roseline’s and my marriage, that we may continue to grow together and with God, despite a less-than-ideal first year.
I would also appreciate prayers for our parents as India struggles to cope with the pandemic.
Finally, I would appreciate prayers for my writing phase, that God would direct me to research and write in accordance with his will and direction. Pray that God would prepare me for the work that lies ahead in teaching and research in India and the broader Asian context.