By Andrea Vogt, Operation Mercy International Director
Our vision for Operation Mercy is to restore hope, build capacity and promote community. We are specialists in community development. But how do we do this in a world where we are urged to keep our distance, stay home, or reduce the number of people we have contact with, in a world in the grip of a virus none of us knew about 4 months ago?
While I am practising social distancing and absolutely want to do my part to flatten the curve and to keep people as safe as possible (especially the high-risk groups, but everyone else as well) - I still believe in our vision. I still believe in promoting community and I see glimpses of us doing community in both new and old ways, that encourages me.
1. Being a good neighbour during a time of individualism
I have been amazed at the level of support offered online, in notices placed in stairwells, through organisations or simply as spontaneous individuals help those who are in quarantine or full isolation.
I have lived in Soviet high-rise buildings in Central Asia, in rural German villages and in busy London, in the UK. It is not easy to meet and get to know your neighbours even in community-oriented societies. The current crisis seems to drive people into action to find out about their neighbours everywhere. We ask: “Who are you? How can I help you? How can I encourage you?” COVID-19 is bringing people closer and is building community because suddenly our individualism and isolation is imposed and forced. This gives us permission to reach out to our neighbours without first thinking: “… maybe he/she wants to be alone, maybe they don’t like me, maybe they don’t want to know me.” COVID-19 and isolation rules give us permission to be good neighbours!
2. Grieving together – Rejoicing together
My mum (aged 72) said yesterday that she thinks that one of the hardest things for her would be if someone in her family died of the Corona virus (or something else) and she could not go to the funeral. At the same time, I find myself sitting in front of the TV and tears run down my face as I watch coffins transported in anonymity in Italy. We grieve as we read stories, and we rejoice when we hear the good news of someone recovering, or of people finding hope in their faith, or helping each other. We know that the person in the story (whether it’s good or bad), could be us or someone close to us tomorrow. All our countries are affected. From Afghanistan to the USA, from Mauretania to Korea – there is no more “them” and “us”. No more helper and beneficiary. So, we feel solidarity. We are finally a community that looks eye to eye, that can grieve and rejoice with each other’s losses and gains.
3. Virtual Community (of course!)
For many of us in Operation Mercy International the virtual office is nothing new. But over the last two weeks we have grown closer together and I feel that we have become truly a virtual community. We talk more, we share our fears and how we deal with stress. We are people from many different backgrounds, but we pray together for God to give us wisdom and clarity of thought in this crisis. At the same time, my community here in Germany has become more virtual. It is a great privilege that I could be an “community promoter” here in my own setting.
During April 2020, in Operation Mercy, we still promote community. It looks different as our projects have currently suspended face to face activities and are looking at new formats. But our core value of building hope, capacity and community stands and is still transforming lives daily, including our own.