“We had to send students away…” Pandemic Complicates Pastor Training at Solomon Islands Seminary

“We had to send students away…” Pandemic Complicates Pastor Training at Solomon Islands Seminary

Because of a lack of proper sanitation facilities at the Trinity School for Ministry and Theology at Airahu in the Solomon Islands, faculty and staff, including SAMS Missionary Jonathan Hicks, were forced to send students training to become pastors home when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. Thanks to the support of SAMS senders giving to the World Relief Fund, the seminary is receiving funds to build the proper facilities to support students in their studies.

SAMS missionary Jonathan Hicks provides this update to show where the new facility is planned. Video transcript is below:

George: Welcome to Airahu School of Ministry and Theology. I’ve been here for attending this school for three years. I am just walking around in the campus with Father Jonathan to show how campus is like.

Jonathan Hicks: We wanted to give you a picture of our bathroom situation.

This is the road that leads to our outdoor pit. And the new plan is to make a bathroom facility that would go underneath the new, the dormitory. Here’s some of the housing, that’s our house. And then over there, you can see the site where the school was founded as well as the new classroom building, and then this is the dorm here.

So we had to send our students home because of the COVID outbreak, because of a lack of water and sanitation. And our, our hope has been to put a sanitation block under this building here. And, thanks to your help, it looks like we’ll be able to put in a block that will have two shower heads and two toilets as well as two rain tanks as well. So this is, these are the students at Trinity. And they’re just having their breakfast before class right now. And that’s the site of the new sanitation block.

George: That’s all. I’d like to thank you for your generous support towards this project. And we are very happy for the support you give to us. Thank you.

Mental Health Ministry during COVID-19

Mental Health Ministry during COVID-19

Statistics are hard to find in Zambia, and they are even harder to find in a pandemic. One thing we do know is that we have been getting twice as many need requests for help than we usually do.

My work in Zambia centers around providing mental health support. Even at normal times, the need is dire and the numbers are shocking. There are less than 15 psychologists for the whole country of 17 million people and those few are centered in the capital, which is 6 hours away from where I live and serve. I live in the second largest city in Zambia. My Zambian friend Luyando and I have built a program to provide mental health support through trained volunteers for people that need it. Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic started, the need for support has doubled.

The pandemic is like a hot stove that a pot of water is placed on. We all have stressors and pre-existing mental conditions, and during normal times we might be able to keep them under control through routines and coping mechanisms. But turn the heat up on that stove and the pot will boil over very quickly.

With a limited amount of volunteers, an even smaller amount of psychologists to refer people to, and increased demand for help, it is getting harder and harder to open email and see requests like this:

Hey, I’ve been feeling low lately and my boyfriend has been repeatedly trying to kill himself, I feel so useless and I guess I’m just trying find out how I can help us both feel better.

At this time, we are certainly not the only ones feeling overwhelmed and limited in our ability to help. And all we have is: to do what we can and turn to the Lord. For He is there to help us when every other avenue fails. He will still be there.

We pray for those that are suffering in mind and body at this time of pandemic.

We pray for mercy dear Lord.

“I thought to myself – they’re not going to die from COVID, they’re going to die from hunger” – Video Update from Margarita

“I thought to myself – they’re not going to die from COVID, they’re going to die from hunger” – Video Update from Margarita

SAMS is sharing missionary updates about ways ministry is adapting because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many missionaries are already called to areas of great need, and those needs are increasing in light of the pandemic. We invite you, as you are able, to provide these dioceses and communities resources through the SAMS World Relief Fund. More information is on our website.

[Video Transcript Below]

We have four shelters that care for about 150 children. I received a video from one of the administrators, that showed the Ministry of Health in Honduras talking about the first two cases of COVID-19. Shortly thereafter, like a couple days later, the country went on lockdown. It was very frustrating for me whenever I heard that the government had completely shut down. And I thought to myself, “They’re not going to die because of COVID. They’re going to die from hunger”.

For example, we have a case of a mother who prepares tortillas and she sells tortillas for the neighborhood. Well, under COVID 19, she can’t do that. So whatever little living she could provide for her family, it’s gone. She can’t do it. And that’s where we really felt like we needed to come in so that we can at least provide for food. So I became very concerned and, I, I’m always communicating with the administrators.

So I started a group chat with them in about how could we help them out? One of the shelters is in the mountains, which is a more remote area, and therefore not as affected by COVID-19. But they had the same lockdown as everybody else. The administrator of that shelter said that he and his wife and his family would prepare meals. And have the families come and get a prepared meal to take home. Because the country’s in lockdown, it was interesting trying to figure out how could they provide food for the children. I am so proud also of our young graduates. Some of our graduates participate and help each of the shelters buy food and put it in bags to provide for one or two weeks of meals. And we really have seen God at work in many ways.

We have an administrator that has diabetes and she has an elderly mom, so she was really scared to go out. So we brainstormed, and we thought about a graduate from that neighborhood. And it’s, it’s a slummy kind of neighborhood, and it’s kind of a dangerous neighborhood. And, this young lady who graduated with us from high school two years ago and it’s now going to university and working also volunteered to go ahead and go get the keys from the shelter. Her mom is a cook at the shelter, so the two of them, they like got it together to be able to get the food.

Christ’s Love Made Known Through Maize

Christ’s Love Made Known Through Maize

A pandemic is difficult any place in the world. Yet, it is especially difficult in the towns and villages of rural Uganda, in East Africa. Uganda has been very aggressive in restrictions attempting to stop the spread of COVID-19.  Because the health system was inadequate before the pandemic and is woefully prepared for the disease now spreading here, the restrictions are very harsh: all public and private transport forbidden and all but essential stores and businesses closed.  The severe lockdown has left many hardworking people suddenly stopped from their jobs with little or no savings and no economic assistance from the government. There is some government distribution of food, but it is not enough and generally focused on the most urban areas in and near the capital city.  Our diocese, Masindi-Kitara Diocese, Church of Uganda, is upcountry rural, and people here are mostly expected to fend for themselves. So, someone who say runs a clothing, stationary, or sewing supplies store here or pretty much anything other than food stores, pharmacies, agricultural supplies and designated essential services has had to suddenly close their stores. People working in hotels, bars, clothing stores, and so forth have lost their jobs. Public taxi drivers (which function like busses in the US) and private taxi drivers have no work.  Further, while some people might have relatives in a farming village who would feed them, travel is virtually impossible for most people due to our health laws.   Even if they are willing to walk for days, a night curfew forbids this, too. 

As a result, many people are scrambling looking for food. The other day, I had an elderly woman at my house who couldn’t do her regular work. Her food pantry consisted of only one 2-pound bag of cornmeal. There are lots of people in such situations–trying to stretch what little food they have or going hungry. Many families here have a number of children to feed also. No one should have to face choosing between risking jail or getting shot for breaking the laws versus having their family starve. Family food stores have been used up. Many people have little to no food—surviving on handfuls of maize meal only, eating one meal a day, or even sleeping hungry. Food relief, basic survival food like maize, is needed. People here need help to live through the crunch of this pandemic, and later will need food to help them work back towards a normal life.

Through my SAMS Special Project and a grant from SAMS World Relief Fund, the Masindi-Kitara Diocese is receiving direct funding, in addition to what they have raised and are continuing to raise locally, to provide food. The diocese is purchasing basic foodstuffs, primarily maize meal, which is being distributed to the needy with the cooperation of the Ugandan Government COVID-19 Taskforce in the three government districts covered by the Diocese. The bags for the maize meal are marked as coming from the church so the community can see how the church is active in helping mitigate the hunger problem. The Diocese is eager to continue with helping to provide food relief should additional funds become available. Additionally, after the immediate emergency food relief is done, in order to assist children in educational institutions the diocese would like to provide food to church-related educational institutions for when they resume schooling. It is very clear that with the economic hardship many parents will be unable to provide lunches for their school-children. This has historically been a challenge and food aid will assist the children who are a significant part of the vulnerable population here.

A basic Biblical principle is that Christians are to care for other Christians in need and also for other people, especially the very vulnerable (James 1:27.) This is not limited to teaching or praying, though those be important, but also extends to the physical needs. (James 2:16) Indeed, real love is a hallmark of following Jesus and a key to evangelism. There is an old saying, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Every bag of maize delivered, labeled as being from the church, is showing in deed the love of Christ.  The love of Christ draws people to the Father. When the Church shows love in practical, tangible ways meeting severe immediate needs this makes Christ’s love known, leading to more people knowing God.

 

An offering of maize in church, during better times.

Family in Christ: A Way of Missionary Sending

Family in Christ: A Way of Missionary Sending

SAMS Missionary Mary Chowenhill teaches business as ministry at Uganda Christian University. She recently helped launch a small-business “incubator” at the university where she also lives. She shared a story with me about some of her Senders who support and love her through Christ in remarkable ways. The following first-person testimony, edited for clarity, is based on emails and a phone conversation with Mary. – Kate Ulrich, SAMS Communications Coordinator

As a missionary, I am truly humbled by the faithfulness of my senders—in prayer, financial support, and also in the ways they care for me when I am at home. There is even one family who has “adopted” me!

I am thankful for Wally and Virginia Pillsbury whose home, in Orange Park, Florida, is now my home when I’m in the USA. When I went to Florida in 2018 for Home Ministry Assignment, my Sudanese-American godchildren were staying at my house and the space was tight. Wally and Virginia saw my situation, and they sat me down and said, “Mary we prayed about this and we think you should stay at our house whenever you come back from Uganda.” About 3 or 4 years ago they had begun looking at downsizing to a smaller house, but the Lord laid it on their heart to adjust their current set-up so that their home could be a place of refuge for others.

Wally and Virginia steered me to those who helped with the sale of my house, and they made their home my home, too. Home ownership in the United States was a burden for me, and now I am freer to serve in Uganda. Now I live with them as part of their family when I’m on Home Ministry Assignment. They not only welcome me, but also my guests, including a touring choir from Uganda during my last stay! Virginia said, “This is your home.” They give me a car when I am there. We eat many meals together. I have the run of the place as a home, and have the flexibility to come and go as I please.

Wally and Virginia Pillsbury with their adopted son Shane, one of seven grown children. Wally and Virginia sensed the Lord calling them to make their house a refuge for people like their sister in Christ, SAMS Missionary Mary Chownhill.

When I was there last, we had my godchildren at “my house” for Christmas – anyone that is my family is their family. The Pillsbury’s have seven children. One of their sons, whom they adopted, was my student when I was a high school teacher in Florida years ago. It was wonderful to be together and it was like we were all part of the same family. All of these family members make for an amazing Christian community because we have a phenomenal opportunity to show each other how God loves us in so many ways.

Virginia (center, in plaid) and Wally Pillsbury welcomed Mary Chowenhill’s family into their home for Christmas. They have told Mary, “this is your home,” for when she is in the U.S. on Home Ministry Assignment. Their generous hospitality frees Mary to devote more energy to her ministry in Uganda.
Mary reflects on her experience at the SAMS Retreat and New Wineskins Conference with her Sender Nikki: “As was said at New Wineskins, ministry is much better together.”

In addition to this family there are so many Senders who faithfully give monthly, quarterly and annually to my ministry. My faithful prayer partner Nikki attended the SAMS Retreat and the New Wineskins Global Missions Conference with me last September. All this is a reinforcement of Ecclesiastes 4:12 – “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

My Senders’ example teaches us to ask: what do we do to show Christ’s love in our world? What is it that God calls us to, and how do we reflect his love in the circumstances he places us in? With physical distancing in the COVID-19 situation we need to ask: how do we touch the lives of those beyond our physical touch? We need to “think outside the box” and ask God how he is leading us to bless others.

COVID-19: Update on Missionaries and SAMS Response

COVID-19: Update on Missionaries and SAMS Response

The SAMS home office is complying with government directives to help public health efforts. Though our staff is dispersed, we continue to minister at full capacity focusing on our mission and supporting your missionaries around the globe. Standard contact methods are still available.

Dear friends in Christ,

As the global threat from COVID-19 spreads, SAMS wants to assure our Senders and Missionaries that our home staff team is monitoring the impacts of this virus so that we may seek to respond appropriately in harmony with our global church partners and mission networks.

We know the Lord is our strength and protector, our strong shield. We also know we live in a broken world, and that brokenness includes disease, danger, and even death. While we ought not be afraid, we do want to be prepared and wise, and thoughtfully protect our missionaries, their families, and those we serve. We also must be faithful to the One who has called us to serve and glorify Him both among the nations and in our neighborhoods.

Missionaries’ Status

SAMS is not requiring missionaries to leave the field, nor are we requiring them to stay. We are asking them, however, to monitor and follow the crisis as it unfolds using guidelines from the U.S. State Department*, the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and SAMS Contingency Plan that includes evacuation and emergency preparedness protocols. We have offered counseling and guidance with staff and SAMS Safety and Security Coordinator.

In terms of the work done by your missionaries across the globe, it is important to consider that those whom they serve often don’t have the option of leaving their city or country to escape. Staying in an affected country can be interpreted as a demonstration of their commitment to those they minister among. Your missionaries recognize the need to be wise and good stewards of themselves, their families, and their teammates, but they also balance that stewardship with the call they each discern corporately within the Body of Christ, by the grace and wisdom of our loving Father.

What more may we do to continue to support and encourage both Missionaries and Senders as we walk through this together? How do we continue to faithfully share the Gospel in word and deed within a world that is being jolted and the poor are especially hurt? We thank you all for continuing to partner with us through your prayer and giving as we seek God together trusting that in the midst of darkness, God’s redemptive hope shines brightly.

To do our part as the home staff to help contain the virus, especially seeking to protect the most vulnerable, we are now working almost entirely remotely. SAMS also has a 24-hour hotline for our missionaries. Senders may reach us at:

  • (724) 266-0731 – General inquiries for sending, praying, and going and for sharing your prayer needs to be lifted up to the Lord by the staff during virtual daily chapel.
  • (724) 266-0669 – Questions about giving, giving via phone, and support in that arena.

Prayer

Pray for your missionaries who are sharing the Good News of Jesus in word and deed to the spiritually and physically needy all over the world. Pray for strength and encouragement, for health, safety and security.

Pray for your Society to serve and respond wisely and well to our Missionaries and Senders around the world and at home.

Pray for provision of resources for missionaries, senders, and faith communities in the midst of the financial loss and ongoing insecurity due to layoffs, markets, and economies where they reside.  As it is written: “In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.” (2 Cor. 8:2) and  “For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.” (2 Cor. 8:12)

Pray for those who are sick and dying, and for the healthcare workers who are risking their lives to minister to them.

Pray that the Gospel would go forward and for God to draw many to Himself. There are many who are hurting, sick, or fearful, and we know only God can bring about true and lasting redemption.

Join Us

Let us together hold on to encouragement in the Lord. We invite you to join your SAMS family for Noonday Prayer on Thursdays via a ZOOM conferencing call 12:00-12:15 PM EDT. Please email info@sams-usa.org to receive an invitation and instructions for phone dial-in or computer connection. Use the instructions to join the call around 11:55 AM to intercede before the Lord.

Our staff will also be praying together via ZOOM every weekday, and we would love to pray for you during those times. Please feel free to submit prayer requests on our website.

Thank you for being such a vital part of the SAMS family. We will update this page as new information becomes available. Your Society is praying for you, that you would know the presence and peace of God in the coming days, weeks, and months.

Your partner in the Great Commission standing with you in prayer,

Stewart Wicker
Mission Director and President

*On March 19, 2020 the U.S. State Department released the following statement:

The Department of State advises U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel due to the global impact of COVID-19. In countries where commercial departure options remain available, U.S. citizens who live in the United States should arrange for immediate return to the United States, unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period. U.S. citizens who live abroad should avoid all international travel. Many countries are experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks and implementing travel restrictions and mandatory quarantines, closing borders, and prohibiting non-citizens from entry with little advance notice. Airlines have cancelled many international flights and several cruise operators have suspended operations or cancelled trips. If you choose to travel internationally, your travel plans may be severely disrupted, and you may be forced to remain outside of the United States for an indefinite timeframe.

Since this statement advised “U.S. citizens who live in the United States” to return to the United States, all of SAMS Missionary Bridgers and Associate Missionaries who were on short-term assignment internationally and who are not prepared to “remain outside of the United States for an indefinite timeframe” have returned home (one is en route as of this blog post).

SAMS has emphasized to Career Missionaries, whose homes are where they currently live internationally, that “U.S. citizens who live abroad should avoid all international travel” (most are already heavily restricted on domestic travel, too) and that if they choose to come home, to be aware that countries are “implementing travel restrictions and mandatory quarantines, closing borders, and prohibiting non-citizens from entry with little advance notice” and “airlines have cancelled many international flights.” Consequently, many of those who have already had plans for some time to return to the U.S. in the next few months for Home Ministry Assignment here and others who have grave concerns about what is transpiring in the country where they live have made difficult decisions to return to the U.S. (or will do so if a route opens for this to happen.) Most SAMS Missionaries have made equally difficult decisions to stay and continue serving (perhaps in unique ways), in the communities where they are currently planted. Please keep all these missionaries in prayer as they continually seek the Lord for wisdom and guidance.