COVID-19: Indian Churches lose two leaders in same week

Bishop Emmanuel Panchoo, ELCMP (left), and Rev. Kunja Daniel (GSELC). Photos: UELCI
Bishop Emmanuel Panchoo, ELCMP (left), and Rev. Kunja Daniel (GSELC). Photos: UELCI

India suffering under weight of COVID-19 second wave

(LWI) - The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) joins with the United Evangelical Lutheran Churches in India (UELCI) to mourn the loss of two leaders in the same week. Their deaths, one from COVID-19, come as the nation is struggling to cope with a deadly second wave of Coronavirus infections.  

Rev. Kunja Daniel, president of the Good Shepherd Evangelical Lutheran Church (GSELC) died of a heart attack on 19 April and was buried in his home village of Nandhipadu on the following day. Bishop Emmanuel Panchoo of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Madhya Pradesh died on 23 April after contracting the COVID-19 virus.

Sending “sincere condolences of the Lutheran communion to the two bereaved churches and their members,” LWF General Secretary, Rev. Dr Martin Junge said the global family of churches is “praying for you as you go through this challenging period.” He added: “Sisters and brothers around the world are lifting your situation before the Lord, praying that you may be protected and that you don’t lose strength and hope.”

Ministry to Tribal people

President Daniel was born in 1967 into an Adivasi family in Nandipadu and went on to study theology at the Andhra Christian Theological College in Hyderabad. In 1986, he was ordained and began his pastoral ministry, focusing his efforts on preaching in the remotest tribal areas. He was elected president of the GSELC in 2016. Daniel is survived by his wife, Esther, a son, a daughter and five sisters. One son preceded Daniel in death.  

Secretary of GSELC Rev. N. Daniel, said. “President Daniel was always committed to God's work and with his leadership, GSELC became stronger.” Describing the late president as a “humble and simple pastor,” the secretary of the Church added: “We have lost a dynamic leader.”

Bishop Emmanuel Panchoo began life as an abandoned child, born in 1952 in Shahapur, a small village in Madhya Pradesh. He was adopted by members of the Swedish Evangelical Mission who were active in the region and studied in their mission boarding homes, before going on to Gossner Theological College at Ranchi to train for ministry. He was ordained as a pastor to serve among the Tribal and Dalit people and brought many people to God through his committed ministry.

Bold, visionary leadership

In 2007, he was consecrated as bishop of the ELCMP but shortly afterwards suffered from a personal tragedy when his wife and elder son were killed in a road accident.   

Despite this loss, he continued to serve God and his people, implementing a series of reforms in the Church. In particular, Bishop Panchoo encouraged the participation of women and youth in leadership, ordaining women in ministry despite much opposition in the church.  

Bishop Daniel Jayaraj of the Tamil Evangelical Lutheran Church described Bishop Panchoo as “a good friend, a soft mannered, but a bold and vocal leader always willing to stand for the Lutheran Churches in India, particularly for the welfare of the tribal people and women.” He added: “The Church had lost a good shepherd and it is very difficult for us to accept his sudden demise."  

LWF’s Regional Secretary for Asia, Rev. Dr Philip Lok said: “As a global communion of churches, the LWF gives thanks for the commitment, leadership, and witness to the Gospel of these two Indian pastors. We pray for their families, their churches and communities, during this difficult time. We also keep in our prayers the many Lutheran pastors and their families who have contracted the Coronavirus.”