I have always appreciated the insight of the African proverb: It takes a village to raise a child. A whole village, not just the teacher or the direct family of a child, have a responsibility to educate young people about life. It is for the sake of the child and for the village.
COVID-19 is forcing me to consider this proverb in a new light.
My family is one of the thousands and thousands of Australian families affected by border closures as a result of COVID-19. My wife’s 91-year-old mother was in hospital in Bundaberg and then died. My wife and her two Melbourne-based sisters are not able to be there, though our daughter from the Northern Territory can be. With a bit of technology we too can be involved in these significant times. We understand why we cannot be there, though all the same it is difficult.
You see we are not able to be there – but the long-standing friends from the Uniting Church in Bundaberg can be there. The village can rally around. It is the village which this time does not so much raise the child, but supports the dying.
Those from outside the village cannot be personally involved. Folk from across the world, or in my family’s situation, from the four corners of Australia, just cannot support the dying and each other. In a pandemic it is only from the village that personal support comes.
Our family like so many across the land, have all left the home village for education, career, love and adventure. Indeed, in my experience as a country minister, this also happens in rural and provincial city congregations. Young people, having completed their education, move out of town and go off to the big smoke. Some, in later life return but many do not, though ironically COVID-19 is hastening the process of leaving our big cities.
The pandemic has starkly challenged me to think that the village frame of inter-connectedness just may be too narrow. The experience of Pentecost for the followers of Jesus showed a broader frame of reference was needed for this new faith, but even then that was (for a time) limited to Jewish people gathering in Jerusalem.
In Australia over the last generation or two we have seen the wonderful diversity of the world beyond the village, and we have been enriched, greatly enriched.
Nightly we hear of Australians in other parts of the world wanting to return, but cannot. I can only begin to imagine what they are offering in other countries, and in turn how their overseas experience will help our own nation.
It is not a village any more which raises a child. It is the whole world. Our churches have been similarly greatly enriched. We learnt from different cultures, we receive different insights and the village has been transformed; and what that village can now offer to our children is staggering.
COVID-19 has brought a retreat back into the village for health reasons. People beyond our direct border, it even has a number, 5km, are not to be encountered.
Of course, we pray these restrictions will be transitory and we will soon be back into the world raising our children and caring for the dying.
In COVID-19 times, however, we have been starkly reminded how much more we look to experiences and understandings beyond our village. Even when we can’t get there, a loving and caring village is still pretty important.