Australia currently ranks as the second most developed country in the world according to the United Nations Human Development Index. Cambodia, from where I write this, ranks 139th. With its high levels of poverty, underdeveloped infrastructure, and corrupt government, Cambodia is often described as a “developing” country. Australia by contrast is described as “developed”.
This language is unhelpful, for it implies Australia has become whatever it is supposed to be, while Cambodia hasn’t. The reality is altogether different. Neither country has arrived. Both are still developing.
If we define development from a biblical perspective I believe it would be something like this: development is to move towards right relationship with God, with creation, within community, within households and within self, as diagrammed below
By this measure every country is still developing. For example, Australians have largely turned away from faith. This is a huge area for us to develop in. Similarly, our consumption levels are contributing to an unprecedented degradation of the world environment, while many of our corporations source products and trade in ways that exploit the world’s poor. By measures such as these it is impossible to claim we have reached maturity.
I find this perspective sobering. It reminds me that the goal for countries like Cambodia is not to become “like us”, but to find their own path to right relationships. It reminds me that there will be areas Cambodia has made more progress in its development than Australia, and vice versa, and that we can learn from each other. And it reminds me that the journey to development is never complete, that at the same time I ask how I might help a country like Cambodia develop, I need to ask, how can I help my own country develop? And included in that must be the question of how I am developing.