Part Two: How Collaboration could solve isolation in Western Europe and Southeast Asia
We need each other. God’s intent was that the church would be a global family, a global entity to reach ALL people, in ALL locations, at ALL times. And while most of us know and recognize the importance of interdependence in the economics and politics, we might not have given serious thought to how the global Church is increasingly a similar force in our lives. The Church is a group of global people connected in local ways that can change the fabric of our world through interdependence and collaboration.
The Church is a group of global people connected in local ways that can change the fabric of our world through interdependence and collaboration.
An example of how similar the Church’s experiences can be despite seemingly disparate exterior circumstances can be seen in comparing Cambodia and Norway. A quick look at these two countries wouldn’t suggest that the emotional landscape of the people are similar, but they are in surprising ways.
For several decades, Cambodia experienced civil war and genocide as different factions fought for political supremacy. The fighting ended a few decades ago, but not before distrust became woven into society. For years and years, people hadn’t known if their neighbors were informants for one of the other sides, causing vast chasms in people’s emotional lives. This distrust and isolation separated people into intensely loyal family groups, but bred loneliness and isolation into the very culture.
In Norway, in contrast, an economic boom and stable government combined with traditional Norwegian independence has had unintended emotional results. Fierce independence and the desire to succeed has resulted in 41% of people now living alone. Long-term marriage or partnership has dropped off, and a rise in the construction of single-occupancy apartments and houses reflects this trend. Loneliness is now cited as one of the biggest struggles for most Norwegians.
Increasing economic affluence also ensures that Norwegians have a strong governmental safety net, lessening opportunities for church involvement in poverty prevention. It is a situation that many countries can only dream of being in (not having poverty as a prevalent issue in our communities), yet it has brought about unique struggles for the Norwegian church. Churches in Norway increasingly have to justify their existence in a society where the church is still linked to complicity with the Nazi regime, and is seen as flat-out irrelevant to modern society.
This loneliness is not the result of trauma, as it is in Cambodia, but the results of this emotional isolation are the same. In both countries, people are suspicious of large gatherings of people and of organizations. Staying isolated means staying safe, not opening yourself up to disappointment when people inevitably disappoint. It’s often easier in the short term to live a lonely life than to risk being caught up in someone else’s struggles or deal with someone else’s quirks. The result is isolated and lonely people who are suspicious of the church and its emphasis on communal living and deep connection.
Yet human nature hasn’t changed, connection is a human need, and so loneliness rises up with isolation.
Today, churches in Cambodia are seeking to reintegrate trust into people’s lives by mentoring and discipling new believers. Yet the Cambodian church constitutes only 0.4% of the population and struggles with finding older mentors in the faith? Who will leaders learn from? This is where global connections are helping Cambodian churches meet needs with leadership resources that are contextualized. As the first generation of Christians are mentored, the bedrock for a strong Cambodian church is laid.
And the Norwegian church is staying relevant is by focusing less on alleviating the virtually non-existent poverty and instead seeking to connect people in vital emotional ways. This includes connecting to churches in other parts of the world for needed poverty-work and providing opportunities for Norwegians to be changed through this work. The church seeks to become a place where loneliness is eradicated by providing real, human-connection and life.
Given the huge increase in access to technology, it’s now possible that leaders in Norway and Cambodia could sit down to talk about how loneliness looks in their countries and brainstorm ways to come alongside lonely people. Loneliness, no matter the root cause, is increasingly an epidemic in modern society. Together these different countries can work to find ways to salve that emotional pain with the love of Christ.
Join the conversation next week to explore other global connections.