It’s high time you got another life-and-ministry update from our family: so much has been happening in these days of πανδημία and panic. We have been healthy and working hard to minister the Gospel despite some real obstacles in the short term, and we believe that we have many good things to share with you—apart from the fact that the baby we are expecting in September is a boy!
You may recall from my last update in March that Mary Beth and I had made the heart-wrenching decision to evacuate from Belize when we received word that all borders and airports would be closing. The material reason for our departure was that Mary Beth is pregnant with our second child, and we wanted to ensure that given the very real possibility of an overwhelmed health care system that she could still receive the prenatal care in case of an emergency. Our departure was sudden in the extreme: we made the decision late in the night on Friday, March 20 and began travel early the next day. Those days and decisions felt traumatic to us at the time, although nothing compared to what COVID-19 patients, health professionals and other front-line workers have been going through over these past weeks.
In retrospect, we still believe that evacuation was the best decision. Soon after we left Belize, the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed and the country leaped to contain the outbreak, rapidly progressing to a full country-wide lockdown that began Easter weekend. We were right to be concerned about access to routine and emergency medical care for this new pregnancy: the clinic where Austin was born ended up closing, and Mary Beth’s OBGYN is not seeing patients with the exception of deliveries. Indeed, early on travel was prohibited within and between the Cayo District (where we live) and other regions, because one of the initial cluster of COVID-19 cases emerged in our town of San Ignacio. This meant that we may not have had access to the private clinics in Belize City either, but would have to pass through a public health system that—if those in Belize who have had COVID-19 are to be believed—has often been more like a labyrinth than a haven.
These measures have taken an incredible toll on the families in our town and the surrounding villages, and parishioners at both of our churches have been heavily affected. In addition, with the authorities’ attention focused elsewhere the burning of fields for farming—traditional this time of year—got out of hand throughout Belize, and especially in our agriculturally-oriented community. For weeks the air was hazy with extremely high levels of smoke; in fact, this posed a much greater respiratory danger to our fellow Belizeans than the novel coronavirus ever did.
But the news from Belize has been getting better and better. The Ministry of Health launched a herculean effort to get contact tracing and mapping off the ground, and although not everyone who wanted to was tested, thousands of tests were administered, the vast majority of which were negative. In the end, only eighteen people were confirmed to have been infected with COVID-19, and for the last three weeks no one new has tested positive. Of those eighteen confirmed positive for COVID-19, two died and the other sixteen have fully recovered. It will take some more weeks to declare Belize free of this new coronavirus, but even so the Ministry of Health and the healthcare workers throughout the country deserve credit for a job (so far) well done. And what is more, rain has begun to fall during this hot and dry period and the air has begun to clear in post parts of the country as fires have been put out. God has been very good.
Because of these positive steps, the country has begun to open up elements of its economy once again: certain kinds of businesses that were closed can now open, and many government ministries and agencies are operational again. However, a mandatory curfew is still in effect, face masks are obligatory in public (at the pain of a $5,000 fine), and churches and schools are still closed. Local airports are opening up again, but the international airport is still closed, as are the borders with Mexico and Guatemala. But … things are getting better, and people are rejoicing that Belize may have been spared the worst.
In the meantime, we have been doing our best to reach out and conduct the same kind of ministry from the U.S. that we would have been doing if we were locked down in the Rectory in San Ignacio. We have been in regular communication with folks in our parish and missions, and with the diocesan bodies of which we are a part. Google Meet has allowed me to hold meetings with the staff at each of the schools, with the Church Committees of St. Andrew’s and St. Hilda’s, and to hold a Wednesday Bible study on St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans (it’s going really well!). Coordinating with our leadership on the ground, we have also been able to put together lists of families who have been adversely affected economically by the lockdown, and over forty families received aid last week due to the church’s coordination efforts.
If you are connected with our Facebook pages, you are probably aware that Mary Beth and I (and often Austin) have been broadcasting a livestream Morning and Evening Prayer service, not only to our churches and schools but often for the entire Anglican Diocese of Belize. Because of this, I have been forming part of a diocesan team that is crafting and planning for future “online” ministry that will continue long after the lockdown has come to an end. I’ve had Zoom meetings with the Bishop and the other clergy, and tomorrow I will be participating in a meeting of the Diocesan Education Board. All of this is being accomplished through the incredible medium of technology, which both allows us to do the otherwise inconceivable and also shows us how much distance ministry can fall short of actually being present.
But we know that being physically present in Belize right now would still mostly require us to minister remotely from the Rectory, and that until the international airport and borders open up, being here will be safer for Mary Beth in what could be (based on her experience with Austin) a high-risk pregnancy; in fact, here in the U.S. she has not only seen an OBGYN but has already been referred to a doctor specializing in high-risk pregnancies. We are not sure when the airport will reopen and we can find a return flight to Belize: much (it appears) depends on the case trajectory in neighboring Mexico and Guatemala. For the moment, the State of Emergency will remain in effect through the end of June, although it could end sooner or later than that, depending on what the Government of Belize decides. Until then, we are waiting, watching, praying and ministering alongside of our beloved parishioners back in Belize.
If I can, I would like to share one more concern for us. Like many in ministry, we are particularly vulnerable to the winds of economic downturns, not to mention century-defining crashes and depressions. Long before we expected, giving to our missionary account in March dropped to half its February level, and given the state of the U.S. (and global) economy we are concerned that giving may drop off even further. In this we need your help: if you are one of our regular donors, please do not stop giving at this time … and if possible, we encourage you to set up an automatically recurring donation, so that the occasional check won’t slip through the cracks. In fact, if you feel led to give towards our ministry—even as a one-time gift—we would be incredibly grateful for your contribution to our work as missionaries. We need your support (giving, prayers, and encouragement) now more than ever before as we look to receive a new family member in September, and as we discern how God may be leading us in the months and years ahead.