By John Evans
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 of Australian families that have been affected by border closures as a result of the pandemic. My wife’s 91-year-old mother was in hospital in Bundaberg and then subsequently died.
My wife, and her two Melbourne-based sisters, were not able to be there, although our daughter, who lives in the Northern Territory, could be. Thanks to technology we were able to be present to some degree and, while understood why we couldn’t be there in person, it was still difficult.
We were not able to be there – but the long standing friends from the Uniting Church in Bundaberg were. The village could rally around. It was the village which this time did not so much raise the child, but supported the dying.
Those from outside the village could not be personally involved. Folk from across the world, or in my family’s situation, from the four corners of Australia, just couldn’t support the dying and each other. In a pandemic, it is only from the village the personal support comes.
Our family like so many across the land, has 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 – many do not; though ironically COVID is hastening the process of leaving our big cities.
COVID 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’ve learnt from different cultures, we’ve received different insights – and the village has been transformed; and what that village can now offer to our children is staggering.
COVID 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, however, we have been starkly reminded how much more we look to experiences and understandings beyond our village. Though when we can’t get there, a loving and caring village is still pretty important.
Rev Dr John Evans is a retired Uniting Church Minister