The pain the world does not see

Different levels of need

Living in Australia, we have been very fortunate, through both circumstance of living in an island/continent and strong government support (financially and in decision-making re lockdowns, border closures etc) to be managing this invisible deadly virus called COVID-19 remarkably well.

Not surprisingly, many of us have been deeply moved by the horror stories coming out of India in the last month or so, as the pandemic took a strong hold on the nation. The virus does not distinguish between rich and poor. Ventilators, hospital beds, proper funerals were no longer available to people whatever their station in life, as the need increased exponentially. Death and brutal, suffocating, gasping dying played out in public and private across the nation. India was and still is, in the grip of an emergency.

Bible Society launched an appeal for India. Our appeal focused both on what we do best, the provision of God’s word, and what was needed most in the midst of this emergency, physical provisions (in the form of medical care) for those desperately in need.

First, the emergency relief

As a society, we tend to respond generously to emergencies. The need plays out on television and in social media. It reminds us of our good fortune in the face of those, who through no fault of their own, are experiencing horrors we cannot comprehend. We give as it is all we can do.

However, as is our want, we can tend to forget about that emergency as another one takes its place. But of course, the need has not diminished, although perhaps the heightened nature of the emergency has subsided.

In the international development world, there is a cycle which often starts with an emergency. The emergency could be a famine or internal conflict or war or a catastrophic weather event. Much of an emergency is about logistics. How quickly can aid be delivered? Where are the trucks? Is there room in the cargo hold of an aeroplane? By what means can we deliver the quantity needed to that region? What are the blockages? How safe is the area? Have the weather patterns improved? What medical care is needed? How many engineers will be needed? There are also political aspects to this along with international cooperation, aid sharing etc.

Then: safety, security, long term shelter

But after the emergency has subsided, the other needs become more obvious. Think Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The bottom rung in the pyramid are physiological needs: food, water, rest, love, etc. The next step up: Safety. Am I secure? Do I have permanent shelter? Are my family safe? The emergency really deals with the bottom rung of this hierarchy. What is being offered in assistance is ‘relief’.

When the world moves its attention away to another emergency, these people might not have  moved off the bottom rung. Relief work continues until some kind of order has been restored before moving to the rehabilitation or recovery stage. A region needs to be safe from harm for this to begin. It could be cleaning up after a climate event, to ensure people’s safety. Ensuring a safe perimeter around a village or informal large community, protected from rebel fighters. In the case of the pandemic, less active cases to enable medical support to treat and vaccinate people. This has been achieved across the world by lockdowns, restrictions of movement, closure of businesses etc.

And as some degree of normalcy returns, children go back to school, healthy adults try and resume work to make an income to support their family, houses are constructed, fences erected and as confidence in their safety grows, the community will start to move out of recovery into a development phase.

Hope and healing, when the world’s attention has passed

As people’s autonomy returns, so too does their desire to engage in plans for their own lives and those of their communities. The next part of the hierarchy relates to psychological needs: love and belonging and emotional well being. Much of what Bible Society does is in this space. Trauma healing, literacy, providing God’s word which tells that all people are made in God’s image, and are loved by God are essential to building people’s self worth and confidence.

Development is about community participation. It includes consultation, collaboration, training, education, working together to strengthen the fabric of each specific community. This is where we feel truly human. Loving our neighbour. Caring for the most vulnerable. Celebrating key festivals, events, achievements together.

In all Bible Society’s work, we are partnering to breathe life and hope both individually and communally, across the world. Sometimes we assist in emergencies. But more often our work is that deep sustaining long term work serving God of the millennia who knows the past, the present and the future. And our prayer is that all people might reach the top part of Maslow’s hierarchy – hope and healing. When our basic needs are met without too much difficulty, we can turn our attention to creativity. We can attend church. Sing songs of praise. Plant gardens. Plan for a future.

We can only do this in partnership with our friends, donors, and partners both here in Australia and internationally. Thank you for helping us give people the most important gift of all – God’s life sustaining word that feeds people’s hearts and souls, enabling them to weather some of the most difficult storms of life.

Bible Society Australia is committed to Opening The Bible with all people, everywhere. At home, this happens across the nation: within families, in churches, among children and youth, in remote Indigenous communities, in hospitals and prisons and anywhere there are hurting Australians. This year we are making a special ask to help us provide 200,000 Bible resources for the work at home. Please help to give all Australians the chance to Open The Bible, whatever their personal circumstance.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash


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