Covid-19, Faith, International

How the other half lives

Can anything good come out of Nazareth?

The question, posed over 2,000 years ago, was asked with contempt by a man called Nathaniel in the days when where you came from defined you as a person.

In those days – the pivotally defining era between BC and AD – Nazareth, located 16 miles south west of the sea of the Galilee, was considered an irrelevance. Far away from the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem, it barely registered.

Little has changed in two millennia. Some places matter more than others, it seems.

I wonder where you would like to be residing in these COVID-19 times?

Jerusalem or Nazareth, perhaps? How about Milan, or Mumbai, New York or Nairobi. Maybe you’d like to be in Wimbledon or how about Wuhan, to name but eight places on this pandemic earth.

If Coronavirus is so far-reaching, then no continent, country, city or town is immune. Neither are its people.

Could it be, then, that the people are more important than the places where they reside?

COVID-19 affects all peoples, be they Jews or Gentiles, kings or queens, knights or bishops, even us pawns… captive or free. We all breathe the same air.

Categorise us further into essential workers, retired war heroes, architects, disabled women, writers, politicians, internet hackers, charity fundraisers, street children, prostitutes, tinkers, tailors, soldiers, spies and you get some sort of picture of how we are #allinthistogether.

From a poverty point of view, the virus is proving to be a great leveller.

The downsizing of the world’s primary economies will hardly affect those who have little but it may make those who have a lot, countries and financiers, reconsider the benefits of their wealth, or what’s left of it after the storm.

Here in ‘the west’, the northern hemisphere, the talk is of Coronavirus and nothing else. The shadow of COVID-19 hangs heavy over us all, and our chat revolves around survival and perspective.

In the poorer parts of Asia, Africa and south America, where survival is the primary reason people get out of bed (if they have one) in the morning, it’s less of an issue. Social distancing is not really important to those who have no food in their bellies.

Everyone, rich or poor, will have a view about our emergence from this plague on all our houses – mud hut or mansion – and no one really knows what is ahead.

Here in the UK – and discounting ‘Karen’ and Steve and their ilk on social media (who seem to have a lot to say, much of it ill-judged and ill-informed) – there is a daily developing and thoughtful consideration of how we might emerge from it all. That is good (for the UK, at least).

But I wonder what emergence from COVID-19  might look like in the developing world, where some of the charities I am involved with, work.

Let me take you on a 3 flight, 14 hour journey south from our UK supper tables to Bujumbura, capital of Burundi, one of the hungriest and thirstiest countries in the world according to the UN, and a country whose focus is not on the virus, but on achieving successful elections at the end of this month (May).

From this hot and stunningly attractive African country, where most of the population worry about where the next meal is coming from (and – by the way – where there are reportedly just 30 beds allocated for any national COVID-19 outbreak) prayer requests zoom their way across the continents into our living rooms every weekend during Coronavirus season.

A couple of weeks ago, a prayer request came in from a charity worker helping to support the local poor in the capital’s suburbs.

No mention of Coronavirus. Her request was about the rainy season, and how the Hippopotamuses might react during it. Apparently they aren’t partial to the rainy season, and can attack humans during it.

Who knew?

A few thousand miles north of Burundi, lies Uganda. A couple of weeks ago, I was attending a prayer meeting where we heard from a woman who has set up a project in a remote part in the north of that beautiful country. Much like the charity worker from Bujumbura, her prayer need for the poor she served was reflected in her request.

The sewage pipe outside the bush school she had set up had burst, and she was worried about how the orphaned children inside and their widowed mothers outside, would be reunited. Access to someone who might be able to fix the problem – let alone a plumber – was limited, even if they could access the school.

Sewage was the issue on her doorstep – and all of this at the height of the coronavirus epidemic! How the other half lives. Inconvenient for them but helpful for my own perspective.

The point of all this, as I see it, is that where we come from matters to how we respond, not just in the short term, but ongoing, into the future…and not only locally, but globally.

The rich may be getting a little poorer but the poor will always be with us, pandemic or no pandemic. An epidemic isn’t going to change a God spoken fact, is it?

What may change – and probably needs to change – are our attitudes to those around us, and beyond us. Our families, neighbours, friends, charity causes and overseas challenges will all look different in a few months’ time.

Poverty, and how we respond to it as individuals and nations, may well matter more to us in the future, than it does now.

We may well begin to care about how the other half lives – or dies – in the years to come.

A COVID-19 death in Nazareth is as painful as a care home death in Newcastle. A bereavement by hunger in Bujumbura is as much to be mourned as death by domestic abuse in Dublin.

Does where we come from define who we are? Might this pandemic shape a new care and concern debate between continents for decades to come?

Can anything good come out of Wuhan?

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