There have been many words spoken about COVID-19, and in 2020 there were many times where we would anxiously sit and wait for word on the latest statistics telling us how many Australians had contracted COVID-19 and how many had died. We now rejoice that our numbers are low here in Australia. And rightfully so.
We are aware that this is not the case globally. At GMP, we’ve been tracking the figures in India over the past month with alarm. Our concern is not restricted to India, but is also focused on Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Thailand and the Philippines, where cases are growing and so is the anxiety and complexities of their citizens. However, statistics never tell the whole story. Yes, they show trends; they display areas that need our immediate attention, and they show the results of not doing the right thing at the right time.
What statistics fail to do is tell the story of the person behind the number. Of the family that lost a mother. Of the community that lost a leader. Of the church that lost its most devoted prayer warrior. Of the vulnerable group who lost their most vocal advocate. We need to remember that behind every number is a story, a set of relationships and a hole that remains where the person once was.
When Jesus walked through crowds, they weren’t just numbers to him. They were people. People with individual stories, with unique circumstances and needs. Even if they brushed against him briefly, touching the very edge of his cloak, he knew them and their circumstances. In one famous incident, he stops and calls the woman out who touched him and gives her the opportunity to tell her story of what he had done for her: Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet…she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed (Lk 8:47).
Let us, too, take notice of the people in the crowds – they are so much more than statistics. We say at GMP ‘that we know the locals, and the locals know us.’ This knowing is not based on counting the numbers in a crowd – but knowing actual individuals, their needs, their strengths, and how we see them and can partner with them. While numbers help, they can never tell the story of the names, the relationships, and the stories behind them. When we pay attention to the an individual in the crowd, we can make them feel noticed.