Embracing the New Normal

Embracing the New Normal 

A conversation about the challenges and opportunities of COVID-19

On the heels of a global pandemic, Rev. Julia Bowering began her new role as CBM’s Team Lead, International Programs, in March. In this interview with Mosaic, Julia shares her heart for the global church and explores how “we’re all in this together.”

MOSAIC:

In addition to your international development background, how has your experience as a pastor prepared you for your current role with CBM?

Julia:

I’ve always had a love and passion for the global Church. In fact, my passion for international development led me into pastoral ministries. That’s why this role with CBM is particularly exciting for me because it blends my international development experience with my background and training in theology.

My pastoral background has given me a perspective on what it’s like for many of our partners who are pastors in churches or denominations. My job, of course, involves keeping a bigger picture in mind and looking at what God is doing amidst our partners around the world. But I think having that pastoral understanding of what it’s like listen to God for a particular place and people has really helped me to connect with CBM’s church partners and support their needs.

MOSAIC:

What was it like to start a new position in the midst of a global crisis?

Julia:

I had two days in the office before it closed, which was just enough time to get the files and tools I needed before the lockdown.

CBM has been adapting to this changing context and so have our church partners around the world. Sometimes, I jokingly tell my colleagues that I don’t really know what “normal” at CBM looks like. But in many ways, I think that’s probably good: We’re not going back to normal; we’re going back to a new normal.

When systems and structures get shaken up, I think there is a lot of opportunity for healthy reflection and change. In my team, we’ve been reflecting on our response to COVID-19 and how we can best support our partners going forward. And all of this comes with exciting ideas about new ways to engage with our partners, build capacity and walk alongside them in our shared mission.

MOSAIC:

Can you describe the impact that COVID-19 has had on the communities we serve around the world?

Julia:

COVID-19 has affected our communities in different ways. For most of our partners so far, the biggest impact has been related to the lockdowns that countries have imposed in order to curb the spread of the virus. Some countries have economies that rely heavily on tourism. The travel restrictions and border closings have been very tough on their economies.

In some cases, people in rural communities have been better off than those in urban settings. In Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, those living in urban areas tend to rely on daily wage labour to pay for food. We’ve seen that in the areas where we work in East Africa, people in urban centres have been hit the hardest. However, many people living in rural settings have farms where they can grow their own food. Throughout the pandemic, they have been able to continue feeding their families.

Mosaic is a community forum of local and global voices united by a shared mission. Mosaic will serve as a catalyst to stimulate and encourage passionate discipleship among Canadian Baptists and their partners.

Fall 2020

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But things aren’t “business as usual” for all farmers. In other contexts, farmers that rely on selling their produce have been affected by breaks in the supply chain. Although they have the ability to grow food, they face significant challenges with getting it to market. That causes a breakdown in their livelihood and the ability to feed their families.

Generally, much of the impact of COVID-19 is that it’s making other crises worse. Our partners in Lebanon were already experiencing political tension and financial crisis, and COVID-19 just intensified those effects. The same can be said about South Sudan. The impacts of COVID-19 are not black and white – it really depends on the country and context.

MOSAIC:

How is the COVID-19 response unique to our other programming?

Julia:

I don’t think we’ve been in a situation where we have received so many relief proposals from all over the world at the same time, and in such a short period of time. That has been a learning curve for us as we have sought to process this well and help support our partners.

One of the benefits through all of this is that there’s a real sense of community and unity among our partners. The fact that “we’re all in this together” has really strengthened us as a global community. And there’s an understanding that we all need to share the resources.

Dealing with this global crisis has also opened our eyes to the possibility of connecting our partners with one another – not just with us – to build capacity. Some of our partners are really experienced with relief work because they live in areas where food insecurity is quite prevalent. But our partners in other parts of the world have never faced this before. COVID-19 has created an opportunity for our partners to build and grow alongside each other.

I think we’ve seen a glimpse of what it means to be united together as global partners. I’d love to see that grow even more in the future. When systems and structures get shaken up, I think there is a lot of opportunity for healthy reflection and change. In my team, we’ve been reflecting on our response to COVID-19 and how we can best support our partners going forward. And all of this comes with exciting ideas about new ways to engage with our partners, build capacity and walk alongside them in our shared mission.

MOSAIC:

In light of the quarantine restrictions, how have CBM’s partners adapted their existing projects?

Julia:

Many of our partners have had to adapt their projects or put them on hold. One of our partners in Lebanon normally runs a camp for refugee children, but they had to stop their activities at the outset of the pandemic. To adapt to the restrictions, our partner developed online videos and innovative ways of reaching out to kids. This became very popular. In fact, they’ve been able to reach a lot more kids than they have before.

Many of our partners have moved workshops online, and they’ve found ways to connect with people to keep relationships going. I’m sure this process will continue as we look towards 2021 and the new context that we’re all working in.

MOSAIC:

How would you describe the impact of our work so far?

Julia:

One of our earliest relief efforts was with our partner, KPM, in the Philippines. They work closely with some of the hospital staff there and noticed a shortage of masks and personal equipment. Also, due to the lockdown measures, most of the doctors and nurses were unable to return home. Many of them were sleeping in the hallways of the hospital and it was difficult to find food.

KPM invited CBM to join them in providing masks to hospital staff, which we secured through one of our partners in Asia. We were also able to provide meals for the doctors and nurses.

We later received a note from one of the nurses that basically said, “For many of us hospital staff, our main concern was not even for ourselves but for the patients that we serve – we didn’t want to put them at risk. So because you provided meals for us, as well as personal protective equipment, we were able to continue to work and help save lives. While we were the direct beneficiaries, we actually see our patients as beneficiaries of your project as well.” It was encouraging to hear how a project like this can have an impact that multiplies.

MOSAIC:

How do you think the impacts of this crisis will affect the most vulnerable in the future?

Julia:

Global agencies are predicting that hunger and poverty will increase significantly around the world over the next few years. At CBM, we will continue to work alongside our partners to help support the most vulnerable and assess what programming looks like in this new context.

Looking ahead, we plan to focus more on rebuilding livelihoods. We’re looking at Marketplace Ministries, which is an area of our work that we’ve been really investing in and growing over the last little while. The aim is to help our partners develop projects that help rebuild the market and the economy – and do that well from a missional perspective.

When it comes to international development, we often say our aim is to “work ourselves out of a job.” But in the context of CBM’s work and ministry, we serve alongside church partners. So we’re not trying to work ourselves out of partnership. Instead, we’re trying to grow our partnership to the point where it matures and we are giving and receiving from one another. I would love to see our partnership continue to grow in sustainability and reciprocity, as we work together as one global body.

Interview by Nicolette Beharie who serves with CBM as editor of Mosaic. Based in Ontario, she specializes in magazine editing and feature writing for non-profit organizations.

Joining Hands in Partnership

CBM continues to work with our church partners around the world to support children, families and communities affected by COVID-19. We invite you to join in our efforts.

Please visit cbmin.org/covid-19-appeal to make a donation and learn more about our response. 

Thank you for your support and prayers.

2020-11-04T17:06:10-05:00Tags: , , |