I looked forward to visiting my group of GMP partners each year. It was great to see their situations for myself, to meet the teams, to sense the issues that they were facing and, most of all, to spend the time that building a relationship needs.
I miss it.
Like everyone, GMP has had to stop longing for the way things used to be and start working out how we will continue our work using the communication channels that we have. The internet has become more important than ever – someone commented that we should think of it as a human right! – and certainly upgrading internet connections for our partners is high on our agenda.
COVID-19 has precipitated a lot of workarounds, but it has also created its own opportunities.
A little while ago the term ‘localisation’ came into the development vocabulary. We wondered why at first. It sounded like what we had been doing all along. Localisation is about putting local people in charge of the decisions that affect them. It is about only doing for people the things they really can’t do for themselves. Sometimes it feels like stretching people and organisations to their limits!
COVID-19 has redoubled our efforts to work in this way. We have had to find different ways of “visiting” partners and have found ourselves interviewing people over WhatsApp, sending even more emails and having even more online conversations and, in one case, engaging a local NGO to collect information for us. Partners are responding with great resilience; they are much more accustomed to coping when things go wrong than we are!
COVID-19 has thrown everything up in the air. In particular, we have realised that our world is even more connected than we thought. A disease that spreads from person to person can find its way into the most remote parts of our world. The health of those places that we too often put out of our minds can affect our own health. Join the End COVID for All campaign (as GMP has) to help promote this idea.
There is some evidence that this realisation of the human connectedness of our world and, along with it, the reminder of the fragility of life, have readied us for change in the global system. We are more focused on things that matter: on people, on relationships and on our ultimate destiny. We want a new way of living together where the strong and the wealthy take more care of the weak and the impoverished.
In Australia, COVID-19 has placed development at the heart of our foreign policy – traditional distinctions between domestic and international events no longer hold. When we see that poverty, inequality, and inequity in accessing healthcare growing among our Indo-Pacific neighbours, we now know we must act not just for their sakes but also for our own. These things can cause the deterioration of the rule of law, conflict, the disruption of trade and supply chains, economic decline, and irregular migration – all of which can have a direct effect on Australia.
I still miss our friends overseas and we will be back with them as soon as we can because being with them signals our care and connection like nothing else. But for now we look for the things that God is teaching us and the character that God is building in us. We know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character and character hope (Rom 5:3-4). And now we know it more, by experience.