October 27, 2020

Mission First, At Any Cost

Atop a hill near the town of Jowai, India, in March 2020, one of Maranatha’s local crews was hard at work on the Jingshai Mihngi Adventist School. The school is in desperate need of a new campus; it is currently situated next to an open sewer line in ramshackle buildings.

Despite the inadequate facilities, Jingshai Mihngi attracts many students from the local community because of its high test scores and caring staff. Yet, for years, families have been patiently waiting for a better setting and infrastructure for their children. Now, their dreams were becoming a reality, as work was underway, led by site leader Braj Pal.

Pal has worked for Maranatha in India since 2002, and he has worked on many projects like Jingshai Mihngi. But this one took a turn that Pal had never experienced before. When COVID-19 began to lock down India, it included the crew’s work in Jowai. “I heard about it on the news,” said Pal. “Our prime minister announced that he would address the nation.

Maranatha employee Braj Pal is reunited with his family after nearly seven months apart due to India’s COVID-19 lockdown. [Photo: Maranatha Volunteers International]

“I thought it might be locked down for one day or maybe a week. I was supposed to go home to visit my family in another state, but I had told one of our workers, ‘You go first, and I’ll take my leave after you.’” But the timing of the lockdown meant it would be months before Pal himself could return home.

After shutting down construction briefly, the team asked local officials if they could get back to work, but they were denied. A couple of days later, they returned, promising to adhere to safety measures like social distancing, wearing masks, and using hand sanitizer. Maranatha’s country director in India, Vinish Wilson, recalls local officials trying to understand this project’s urgency in the face of such an extraordinary situation.

“The question was asked to us, ‘Why are you in such a hurry to start this work?’ And we said, ‘The day this lockdown ends and school is open, these kids will not have a proper place to go to school.’ We showed them pictures of the old school. So the leaders saw these conditions, and we told them about the open sewer line, and they said, ‘OK, you can start working again, making sure that you maintain social distancing, and keep all of the norms and regulations in place.’”

Also helpful in gaining permission was the crew’s decision to shelter-in-place at the worksite. The new campus is removed from the main town, and the men worked, ate, and slept in the classroom buildings each day. “We cooked all of our food,” says Pal. “We didn’t always get to have the most familiar food, but the principal brought us food, and we were thankful.”

The team sheltering in place at the Vakkad Seventh-day Adventist Church in India. [Photo: Maranatha Volunteers International]

Beyond living conditions, other challenges sought to derail the work, like large amounts of monsoon season rain constantly halting the work. A cyclone passed through. “Almost daily rain for more than three months. Every day,” says Pal. 

With interstate travel restrictions, construction materials didn’t arrive for months. These same restrictions prevented the workers from traveling to their home states to be with their families. Some were stuck at the school for months. As the site leader, Pal was away from his wife and two young children for more than half a year.

“I knew they were safe at home, but one time there was a snake in the house, and I felt bad because there was nothing I could do.” Faith pushed Pal forward through these trials. “Sometimes we didn’t know what would happen, we didn’t know much about COVID-19, and we were isolated at the worksite. But we prayed every day.”

Now, because of the dedication and determination of Pal and his team, the new Jingshai Mihngi school campus is nearly complete. 

Across India, local crews overcame unique challenges safely and responsibly, constructing new churches and drilling water wells throughout the pandemic. Soon after work resumed at Jingshai Mihngi, crews in the state of Kerala received permission to continue constructing churches, and water wells followed. As interstate travel restrictions eased, church materials were transported to the state of Tamil Nadu for construction. Wells were drilled in Tamil Nadu, the state of Jharkhand, and in the Sundarban Islands, where materials must be brought in by boat.

Around the world, after an initial pause at the start of the pandemic, other Maranatha teams began working too. Like Pal, many of them were separated from their families for months as they sheltered in place to continue the mission.

In Côte d’Ivoire, a local crew completed a church in Anan, as well as a church and classrooms in Abbebroukoi. They are now constructing a new secondary school in the town of Niangon. 

In Kenya, another local crew received permission to continue the transformation of the Kiutine Adventist School. They added new landscaping, additional facilities, and a campus church. At the Kajiado Adventist School and Rescue Center, an MVI team constructed secondary school classrooms, dormitories, and bathrooms. One-Day Church and well-drilling crews were allowed to travel into the bush, and as of mid-October, they have constructed more than 80 churches and drilled 30 wells so far in 2020.

And in Zambia, an MVI team has been sheltering in place at the Emmanuel Adventist Secondary School, constructing a three-classroom building and a girls’ dorm. In 2020, the One-Day Church team has built more than 60 churches, and 164 communities have new wells as of mid-October, providing life-giving water to all.

Around the globe, MVI teams’ dedication to the mission has been unwavering throughout this historic time in our world. Looking back on Maranatha’s history, one can see a similar thread of resolve in the founders — people so devoted to the mission, they made personal sacrifices and lived uncomfortably at times. In 2020, MVI field staff has embodied this spirit of steadfastness and resolve, and because of them, the mission has not stopped in these countries. In fact, it is flourishing, even in the face of the pandemic. 

Maranatha will always be synonymous with volunteers — they are the heart and soul of the mission. The next time you’re praying for Maranatha, keep the crews in the field at the top of your list. For years, they have proven to be the behind-the-scenes backbone of Maranatha’s work, and during this pandemic, they have stepped up and out in faith to continue sustaining the mission.

The original version of this story appeared in the summer 2020 issue of  The Volunteer magazine.