By Mohsin Ilyas
Due to the lockdown imposed during Covid-19, the worship places across Pakistan were shut down. This affected church activities as well. Many pastors struggled with their finances as worshippers weren’t allowed to visit the holy places and most of the Pastors’ living depends upon the support of church members and visitors.
COVID-19 impacted every single person, across socio-cultural and geographical boundaries. Be it an entrepreneur, a scholar, a daily wager, or a home-maker everyone had to adapt to the unique set of circumstances caused by the pandemic. The case of pastors in the Christian community of Pakistan was no different.
Pastors usually do not have a source of income other than the monetary support by church members. As a monthly practice, the regular church members contribute to the church and this amount collected as tithe makes up for the salaries of pastors. During the lockdown, many of the church members lost their jobs and directly affected the revenue generated from and for the churches.
Pastor Inderyas, 34, resides in 66 Quarters a slum located in the G-7/2 sector of Islamabad with a Christian majority. He works with Ocean of Life Ministries (OLM) as a volunteer and is a full-time pastor. “I responsibly take care of the church 24/7 and support my family consisting of five members”, he said. “I live in a rented house and I’m thankful to God for providing me with sufficient food to eat and survive”, Inderyas added.
Churches closed, no tithes for pastors
The pastor spoke of the financial strain his family faced during the lockdown as all the church activities like birthday celebrations, wedding ceremonies, thanksgiving, and other spiritual occasions could not be observed. “Even the routine Sunday services were stopped”, he said. “Our earnings and other finances of the church are generally managed by the funds of these services. It was hard to pay the utility bills of the church”, Pastor Indervas added.
When I asked him to discuss the challenges he faced, he answered that the church members used to send tithes and alms from their monthly salaries but most of them have now lost their jobs, causing a further reduction in the funds. Some of them are still employed but they’re unable to support fearing uncertain expenses caused by the pandemic.
He said that he didn’t receive any financial assistance from the Government or a civil society organization. “Even after the lockdown, people were avoiding coming to Church. It was hard to survive without any support, but I’m thankful to God that my friends and acquaintances helped me in these trying times and sent multiple food packages”, he elaborated.
Pastors started preaching online
Pastor Shahzad Boota, 31, serves as a chairman of the church, Alfa Grace Ministries in Hansa colony, Islamabad. “When I heard about the spread of Covid-19 in Islamabad I confined myself so as to follow the quarantine protocol. That was when I started thinking about how I could fulfill my responsibility as a Pastor during the pandemic as my church closed in March. I started preaching the words of God through a YouTube channel. The challenge was to speak before the camera as it was my first experience.”
“I shared some spiritual and motivational insights with the church members on a daily basis. One of my friends caught Coronavirus and asked me to pray for him. I asked him to watch my videos as he felt hopeless. In a few days, he called me again and said that he felt consoled after watching those videos. But on the downside, I feel that Youtube is mainly a one-way conversation”
“A few more weeks into the lockdown scenario, I used the online App ‘Zoom’ for the Sunday Church prayer and a church member sent their alms through internet banking. I used to not only discuss the word of God but also stressed the need to practice caution against the spread of Coronavirus. We even started working on a new form of street evangelism during the 4 months when Covid-19 had peaked. During this time almost 50 people were baptized”, in the words of Shahzad Boota.
He adds that “the concept of setting up churches in homes gained popularity and that changed many lives. Upon visiting the church members I learned that they were suffering financially. The Church resumed in August.”
Weaker financially, stronger spiritually
Another Pastor from France Colony, Sunny Yousaf shared the problems that he faced while he was in quarantine. He volunteered at Efatha ministries besides working as a full-time pastor. “I had to spend all the money that I had saved up for our future”, he spoke. “I have learned that times don’t always stay the same and I was also able to identify my true friends whom I could count on”, he added.
Yousaf described that his connection with God has become even stronger as he spent most of his time alone at home focusing on his spirituality.
“I have been struggling financially as the church was closed and my savings were shrinking by the day. On a positive note, I grow spiritually.”
“Although it was my responsibility to visit the houses of church members, due to the risk attached I could not. Moreover, due to my financial condition, I was unable to provide them any monetary support”, said Sunny
During the trying times of the pandemic, pastors from the Christian community continued to pray and spread the message of peace, hope, and patience.
This article has been published on Daily Times.