Last Thursday night (March 19), President Jovenel Moïse announced that the Haitian government was implementing measures to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus in Haiti. Two positive cases of the virus had been identified earlier that day.
Among others, the measures included:
Closing all schools, universities, and factories
Prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people
Closing all borders and ports of entry, except for merchandise
For Lemuel specifically, this meant closing our school until further notice, as well as temporarily suspending both fòmasyon groups and our Sunday gatherings in the chapel.
Friday was the last day of school, and we held the final fòmasyon groups and service in the chapel over the weekend to make the announcement. More importantly, we took the opportunity to remind our staff and community how we as followers of Jesus are to react to such situations as we see unfolding in the world right now. We also did our best to educate them about the virus, since there were already many sensational rumors circulating. (Click here and scroll down to see the Day by Day post about this.)
Sunday morning, we took the chapel service time to look at five verses in the Bible that should shape our perspective and conduct as followers of Jesus:
Job 14:5--My days have been determined by God. My life is in His hands.
Philippians 1:21--As a believer in Jesus, death is a gain for me. It is not a punishment or something to fear.
Matthew 6:31-34--We are not to worry, even about our basic needs. God takes care of us.
Joshua 1:9--We don't need to fear BECAUSE God is always with us.
1 Timothy 2:6--Jesus laid down His life to save us. As His followers, we need to be willing to do the same for others if the situation requires it.
As I mentioned above, much false information was already circulating. So, Judy then presented carefully researched information about the virus, how it is spread, the reason for the government actions, how we can protect ourselves against the virus, and what to do if someone gets sick. We tried to focus on what is actually possible in our context, as some things being done in developed countries are simply not realistic here.
Until the government bans are lifted, we encouraged people to gather in their homes on Sunday (less than 10 people) and read a chapter out of Philippians each week.
Over the next several days, we continued to monitor the situation in the world and in the country, so as to make the best decisions possible. Without giving in to worry or panic, we carry the same concerns as many of you regarding the virus itself, as well as the secondary effects (especially economic) of the worldwide crisis and how it will impact an already bruised and broken Haiti.
After taking several factors into account—including the fact that the government measures had already closed most normal activities for an unspecified amount of time and the fact that nobody knows what the days ahead may hold and what resources will be available—we have decided to temporarily suspend all routine functioning while still reaching out as we are able to the unique needs that will arise from this unique situation in the world.
Life and ministry continue; those never stop. It will just look a little different for a time.
For example, we can’t currently hold the Saturday Fòmasyon groups as they were. However, Williamso has identified a small group of young men who show potential as future leaders and human resources for their community. They will be taking responsibility for the upkeep and maintenance of the campuses during the suspension of regular activities. He will be living with a small group on the Lemuel campus and Djeffson will have another group on the DDL campus. This is “fòmasyon” done another way, as these young guys learn how to be responsible, to take care of the grounds (including sweeping the yard, taking care of the plants, etc), and follow principles, in addition to the other knowledge and experience that Williamso and Djeffson can share with them. They will also be learning computer skills.
Investing in people never stops.
No one can predict tomorrow at any time. But, it is times of upheaval that make us more keenly aware of this.
As we look ahead, we don’t know for certain what is coming or exactly what the details will look like. However, we already anticipate (and indeed are experiencing) some of the challenges we will face:
Supporting our community in preventing COVID-19 and in dealing with it if it does hit our area. This could include things such as subsidizing the cost of water and soap, providing access to food if local stocks run low, and facilitating access to medical care if the need arises.
Supporting our community in the resulting economic crisis that is likely to occur after COVID-19 has run its course. We have no way of knowing what this may look like, but we hope to be prepared to meet whatever crisis we may encounter.
Assisting those who are sick (whether with COVID-19 or any other sickness) to seek medical care. We currently have several families in our community who are facing serious medical crises that are threatening to wipe out their entire survival buffer - livestock, savings, everything - and send them into serious debt on top of it. This is not directly related to COVID-19. This is something we have faced many times before and will continue to face - the need to help families with suffocating medical costs.
These days frequently bring to mind the words written over a door in our chapel:
“Whatever may come, my trust is in God.”
We know that many of you are experiencing your own hardships due to the COVID-19 phenomenon. Know that we are praying for you as well during this time.
If you are interested: A Brief Note about COVID-19 in Haiti
As of this writing, there have been 8 confirmed cases in Haiti. To what extent this indicates the number of cases or a lack of testing, I cannot say.
As mentioned above, the government has implemented measures to prevent the spread of the disease and has been enforcing them pretty strictly in some cases, especially in the cities.
As far as we see it, the biggest concerns for Haiti are
The life conditions that make hygiene, sanitation, and social distancing not only difficult (if not impossible), but even hard to comprehend for many people.
The reality of a health care system that cannot even adequately respond to “normal” medical issues. If there is an influx of people who need oxygen, it is likely few will actually be able to receive it.
On a positive note, we have heard that, like many of the Coronavirus family, heat and humidity slow COVID-19’s propagation. We pray this will indeed be the case for Haiti.
Apart from the disease, there is deep concern about the future repercussions of the worldwide shutdown on a country already suffering from extreme poverty, severe inflation, and political instability.