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And Wash Your Hands

A Letter from Jo Ella Holman, regional liaison for the Caribbean Region, serving in the Dominican Republic

April 2020

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Dear friends,

We are living in new and difficult days that require daily decisions that would have been unthinkable a short time ago. I appreciate all the messages of concern for my health and safety.

Across the Caribbean, the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 is increasing, and the various governments are taking new measures to control the spread of the virus. COVID-19 was introduced to some countries by tourists. In other countries, the virus was introduced by returning citizens who had been visiting countries where COVID-19 was already present. I thank those of you who heeded my call earlier this month to postpone planned trips to the Caribbean. You have very likely saved some lives.

I have decided not to return to the U.S. at this time and am supported in that decision by my World Mission colleagues, our church partner in the DR, and by family. We all agree that the risks of traveling to and being in the U.S. are higher at the present time than staying where I am. I realize it may be for quite a while. I am set up in my apartment in the DR with what I need and have access to supplies and food. More importantly, I have good neighbors, and we are looking out for one another.
The Dominican government is taking this pandemic very seriously. It has closed the borders; instituted a nightly curfew enforced by the national police; closed all businesses except grocery stores, pharmacies and gas stations; closed schools, and canceled events and gatherings. As of this writing, there are some 901 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the DR and 41 deaths. Many people are being quarantined. So the virus has begun to take its toll here. The Public Health Ministry has set up a hotline to call if anyone has symptoms of the infection. The Ministry responds by sending medical personnel to the caller’s home to check on them, to test for the virus, and to decide if hospitalization is needed or if they might quarantine at home. We pray these comprehensive plans can be implemented well!

If the government can maintain these strict measures long enough, there is an excellent chance the epidemic will abate here. The television educational efforts are many, and the slogan, “In the coronavirus pandemic, YOU are the hero,” is encouraging the cooperation of everyone in confronting this common foe.

I have spoken several times with the General Secretary of our partner church, and he and the church here are ready to accompany me. Medical personnel have told me that the World Health Organization has donated an ample supply of test kits to the DR. There are designated hospitals in the capital for COVID-19 patients, though likely too few beds and equipment, as is the case everywhere.

Those are the practicalities of my decision to shelter here.

On the spiritual side, after several days of reflection, prayer, and conversations with many friends, family and colleagues, I am at peace that this is where God would have me be at this moment, continuing to accompany these people, and these communities of faith even as they accompany me in remaining here. This past Sunday, the pastors started recording meditations, sermons, scripture readings, and songs for transmission to their congregations and the wider population. It is wonderful to hear the words of comfort and hope and to receive the pastoral care of these servants of God, even at a distance. I know this is occurring throughout the Caribbean and the world. I am in daily contact with some of the leaders of other Caribbean church partners, as they share and support each other. I hope that I can also be of some service to the church and to my local community here while maintaining the responsible distance.

To me, this is partnership-in-mission—mutual solidarity and service to each other for our common good. It is a common witness to reflect the values of God’s reign, our “kinship” one with another. I pray that God will give me the grace to do my small part in this corner of the world. I know that my colleagues who have chosen to return to their home communities will also do what they can to witness to the God of Life and Love.

I sincerely hope that the U.S. federal government and the states will unite in common purpose and strategy to minimize the infection and fatalities. As I write, the U.S. is being called the new epicenter of the pandemic. Some sustained and strict measures on movement, widespread testing, and quarantine of those who have had contact with COVID-19-positive people have been shown to be effective in curbing the rapid expansion of the virus, particularly in the South Korea. I hope our leaders will have the political will to enact and sustain what is needed to protect the people in the U.S. and to reduce the risk we now present to the rest of the world.

My prayers are with all of you in the U.S. and around the world. I know you will pray for us here. I know that God is present with you and with us, and I rejoice in that knowledge.

Thanks be to God! And wash your hands!

In peace and hope,

Jo Ella

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