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Jamaica Missions Covid-19 Edition

How does Isaiahsixeight respond in the face of Covid-19?

Romans 15: 24-25 - At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem.

The Apostle Paul, Christianity's greatest missionary, did not forget the poor. He had received funds from supporters so he delayed his upcoming mission trip and he took those gifts back to Jerusalem to distribute among the poor in the church there.

This Covid-19/coronavirus pandemic has certainly stopped us from going to Jamaica, but faithful supporters of the mission have made it possible for us to help. Just like here in the U.S., the Covid-19 has not stopped church, because, through technology, we can participate in worship via livestream or recorded services. We can continue in Sunday School and Bible studies via Zoom and similar technologies. Technological advances make it possible for us to wire money to Jamaica, to move money among bank accounts via Internet banking in Jamaica; to communicate with our Jamaican brothers and sisters via Skype, texts, emails, and WhatsApp. Before we tell you what we have done and are continuing to do, let us tell you about healthcare in Jamaica, what is happening in Jamaica, and a few related stories.

Heathcare in Jamaica

Well the news is not good. First, let us put it perspective and comparing it to Alabama.

Land and population:

  • Jamaica has 1/6 (17%) the land mass of Alabama.
  • Jamaica has 59% as many people as Alabama.
  • So, their population density is about 3.5 times that in Alabama.

Healthcare:

  • U.S. healthcare expenditure per capita is almost 20 times that in Jamaica.
  • In Jamaica, there are a total of 55 ICU beds. In Alabama alone, there are 1600 ICU beds.
  • So, in Alabama, we have approximately 17 times more ICU beds per capita.

Socioeconomic risk factors for Covid-19 in Jamaica

  • African-Americans in the U.S. are at high risk and probably 97% of Jamaicans are of African descent
  • Hypertension is prevalent
  • Diabetes is very common
  • Sickle cell disease is common
  • Public transportation is very crowded
  • Schools are very crowded
  • Most churches are small and very crowded
  • Average age of church members is high
  • Large parties are common and the bar scene is big
  • Nutrition is not good
  • Funerals are very big events with many functions, very large crowds, etc.

Well, how is the Covid-19 pandemic playing out in Jamaica?

Well, you would expect it to be very bad (medically speaking), but the following graphic is from Memorial Day (May 25, 2020)

We work in St. Thomas Parish in lower right corner

So for comparison, the State of Alabama has about the same number of deaths as Jamaica has cases! Jamaica only has 9 deaths - Alabama has approximately 566 deaths.

So, this is good news, but is there bad news?

Yes! To achieve this tremendous reduction of cases, the government essentially locked down the whole country. Most businesses were closed. Most taxi drivers stopped running. Churches were limited to 10 people wearing masks and socially distanced. Most people who had jobs lost them. When a case of Covid-19 is discovered, the patient and frequently their families are forceably moved to the Kingston area and placed in controlled quarantine. Whole neighborhoods have been quarantined with the Army and Police monitoring the quarantine.

Curfews have been in place, such as from 3 PM until 8 AM on weekends and holidays, then 5 PM until 7 AM on workdays. People mostly have to stay at home. Apparently, they are not even allowed to walk in the street for exercise. The bars were closed as were most businesses other than essential business like food stores. Many stores with Western Union offices were closed, causing even more financial hardship for those who receive remittances.

Most Jamaicans have complied. We have talked to many Jamaicans and there was/is fear in their voices. They were seeing the news out of New York. New York has the second largest population of Jamaicans than any city other than Kingston, so many Jamaicans there were getting sick. Jamaicans know their medical care system cannot stand up to widespread Covid-19.

The bad news is that the economy has almost stopped - much more drastically than here in the U.S. People who could barely get by in the past, now are hungry and getting desperate. We started receiving calls asking if we could help buy food.

How has Isaiahsixeight been responding?

Identify Community Christian leaders:

  • Pastors we know and trust
  • Teachers who need to monitor children
  • Soup kitchens

Provide telephone credit to leaders:

  • Allow pastors to contact their congregation
  • Announce worship changes and restrictions
  • Check on children in poor families
  • Shepherd their flocks
  • Communicate with us about food distribution

Provide money to:

  • Support immediate small food subsistence in an emergency manner
  • Purchase food for two soup kitchens in Port Morant
  • Organize pastors and leaders in Port Morant, Stokes Hall, Wheelerfield, and Rowlandsfield to work together to identify hungry people, make a list of bulk food products needed, and purchase same.
  • Repackage food items into smaller bags and distribute bags of food to the poor and hungry - many who are as Paul said: "for the poor among the saints".
Soup kitchen at work, repackaging food, gifting food with some recipients

Summary of our Covid-19 response in Jamaica

These are the largest non-construction expenses we have ever had in Jamaica. Unfortunately, we expect them to continue. Just the bulk food purchase last week was approximately $3,000 US and that does not account for the soup kitchens, phone credit, or other emergency food purchases. We are expecting that there will be more needs and in a larger geographic area. We have wise Jamaicans who really know how to stretch a dollar involved in the planning and purchases. We are buying food at wholesale prices.

We are deeply appreciative for the support we have received, but we will need more. It is such a blessing to be able to help these people. We know you receive a blessing in helping as well.

Here are some comments we have received:

  • From a pastor: "what a blessing it was to receive the phone credit. On Friday, the government tells us we have to restrict our church service to 10 people. I am wondering what to do because I have almost no phone credit and I need to call each member. A few minutes later I receive the credit and I say "Thank you God". I knew it must have been from Isaiahsixeight."
  • We "have being so grateful for you and your group which we have appreciated so much and my rest of people that get groceries and anything else your group offer thank you so much and appreciate it ."
  • "at times I cry ... but i am so grateful for all you have done we have never gone to bed hungry because you are always there for us THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR EVERYTHING LOVE !ALWAYS"
  • "thanks very much for your support god bless you"
  • "Thanks for everything man and for helping us a lot. I get it and they all say thanks a lot they all appreciate it"

Just the numbers:

  • The two soup kitchens we help support in the Port Morant feed about 50-70 people. The local churches supply most of the help.
  • Food packages were given to over 50 people in the Port Morant area
  • Food packages were given to over 30 people in the Stokes Hall area
  • Food packages were given to over 50 people in Wheelerfield and Rowlandsfield area
  • We assist Audrey and Tamaula (our associates in Port Morant) who also house two children. Neither has had a payday since January and have no other assistance.
  • We help the extended Brown family (10 or more) - our taxi drivers' families

When Not Being Ready is Too Late!

Men playing dominoes before Bible study

Just as the Covid-19 issues starting affecting Jamaica, there was major jolt in the Wheelerfield community. If you remember from our last Newsletter, we talked about the Men's Bible study/Fellowship we had helped start in the Wheelerfield community. When we were there in January, we had 25 men and 15 male youth. Included in this group were two brothers - Adrian and Lando Williams. One of these men lived adjacent to Pastor Courtney Spence. After our Bible study, one of them accepted Christ and was baptized the second week of March. The other said he was not ready. Later, I heard he was at another church crusade and he said again, he was not ready. Two weeks later, something happened. I will give you the quotes from the newspaper article:

Two brothers died in a crash along the Golden Grove to Hordley Crossing main road in St Thomas Tuesday night.
They have been identified as Adrian Williams, a 30-year-old bus driver and Lando Williams, a security guard, both of a Wheelerfield address in the parish.

Are you ready?