This is an update with some really good news about our family, and some complicated news for our ministry due to COVID-19 in Belize (but let’s be clear at the outset, there’s no reason to panic!).
Mary Beth and I found out a short while ago that we are expecting our second child in late September! We are thrilled to be able to announce God’s latest gift to our growing family, with the good news that Mary Beth and the baby are doing wonderfully here at the beginning of her second trimester. We couldn’t be happier.
However, the emergence of a global coronavirus pandemic has thrown the long-term planning we had been starting into serious disarray. You may have heard of this thing, and it may have thrown your life similarly into pandemonium. It certainly has ours, and an uncertainty regarding health, finances and safety has been hanging over us and many other missionaries in our situation.
Until recently, no confirmed cases of COVID-19 had popped up in Belize, and for this we can praise the providential hand of God. As we have witnessed from afar the overwhelmed health systems of Wuhan, Lombardy, and now New York and Los Angeles, we have been made painfully aware that much more advanced infrastructures than ours have been crushed by an onslaught of critical cases needing oxygen, ventilation and constant care. But if and when this novel coronavirus spreads through Belize, the healthcare system has the potential to be disastrously inadequate, whether this is measured by beds, ventilators, medical staff or supplies.
Nevertheless, Mary Beth and I were determined to stick it out in the country, hopeful that our youth and relatively healthy bodies would keep us from needing the most severe forms of hospitalization. Two weeks ago, we began taking the strongest social-distancing measures that we could: we only left the house to shop for essentials, cancelled other meetings and plans, kept distance with people that we encountered in the way, and washed our hands regularly and thoroughly. As the Bishop began suspending services—first on Sundays and then on weekdays as well—and as the Ministry of Education cancelled school for the two weeks leading up to Easter break, we felt confident that we would be able to protect our own health as well as keep others safe in the process. Our ministry turned to remote methods, and the Rectory became our base of operations. We even began to broadcast daily Morning and Evening Prayer on Facebook Live, and it seems to be reaching people that would not normally come to church or seek out a priest for help.
However, cautious family members and other supporters began to voice another concern to us: if the health system in Belize were to become overrun and overwhelmed by respiratory patients at every hospital and clinic, would Mary Beth and our unborn child be able to get the help they would need in the event that this pregnancy were to develop complications? You may remember that serious issues popped up with Mary Beth’s first pregnancy with Austin, and if similar (or other) problems were to come about, would an overtaxed and flooded emergency health system be able to give her the care and attention that she and this growing baby would need?
Much of our comfort with medical care in Belize up until now has depended upon contingency plans: both Guatemala and Mexico have excellent health care systems, and both are a short drive away. In an extreme emergency (like what happened to Fr. Juan Marentes back in 2013), we could probably even leave for treatment to the United States. However last week, one-by-one international borders began to close in our area; most notably, the Guatemalan border twelve miles to the west became closed to North Americans, and then to everyone else. Still the Northern Border remained open, as did the international airport in Belize City. And then, last Friday (March 20) we received word that the northern border with Mexico would be closed within 24 hours, and that the international airport in Belize City would shut down (except for transporting cargo) within 72 hours. The closure would last for a minimum of 30 days.
We realized we had to make a decision immediately: should we stay, or should we go? We didn’t want to leave. We had already received word from our missionary society SAMS-USA that they would support our staying or leaving: both were justifiable and the decision was ours. However, we were also told that our concern for Mary Beth’s ongoing care during pregnancy should probably be the deciding factor. But again, although our ministry had by then gone 95% online/remote, we did not want to leave our people, our home, and our community. Finally, we spoke with friends of ours who serve as missionaries in Italy, and hearing our situation and our concerns, they told us unequivocally: we needed to leave until we were sure it was safe to come back.
After receiving the Bishop’s encouragement and blessing, we made our final decision late Friday night: we would come back to the U.S. for the next 30 days, or until it was possible to return to Belize, in order to give Mary Beth a better chance at accessing emergency healthcare during her pregnancy. In haste we packed that night and the following morning, and by Saturday evening we were holed up with Mary Beth’s parents at their home in north Georgia. After the mounting stresses of the last couple of weeks, we feel blessed to destress a little bit with family as we continue almost all the same remote ministry we were carrying on from the Rectory in Belize.
We realize that this temporary relocation carried with it many risks. We left Belize when there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 to come to a place with tens of thousands of cases. We also were painfully aware of the risks in traveling through airports and airplanes without masks or much other protection apart from soap, water, hand sanitizer, and dirty looks at people who tried to get too close. But in the end, we believe that the higher possibility for Mary Beth to receive better care in her pregnancy should she experience any emergencies outweighs the risks we have taken in relocating while we wait for Belize to reopen to international travel.
Please pray for us, and pray for Belize. Yesterday Belize confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on Ambergris Caye, and fear exploded across the country. Before the government could shut things down, residents of San Pedro Town tried to flee on boats to the mainland. Entire villages have threatened to prevent any visitors from entering, and across social media platforms people have attempted to doxx the Belizean who had traveled back from Los Angeles before testing positive for the virus. So many Belizeans we know (and many we don’t) are terrified, panicking, and desperate for safety against an unseen assailant. Medical institutions are taking all kinds of precautions—suspending services like routine vaccinations or in-person maternity check-ups—and yet we have seen pictures of hospitals full of worried individuals and parents seeking help before it becomes impossible. All of this has come on top of the disappearance of basic food staples like flour, sugar, or baby formula.
So as you pray for our safety, and the safety of this new baby on the way, please pray also for our effectiveness in ministry. We aim to use all technological means at our disposal to reach out to our parishioners and other members of our community over these next few weeks, and we are praying that the Lord will use this global threat, unparalleled in our lifetime, to bring people to know him through his Son Jesus Christ. Pray that the Lord would pour out his Spirit upon the means of grace, that sinners would turn to him and find healing and forgiveness. Pray that the Lord would spare Belize and Belizeans, not just from COVID-19, but from death itself forever. And please pray that our financial support holds firm as the world goes through a global economic contraction!
We will try and keep you posted about Mary Beth and the baby, and about any new plans or developments that arise in the next few weeks and months. We love you all, and we are so grateful for your support. May the Lord richly bless you!