As the first COVID-19 case was identified on the island, our church planting team had a conference where Jeff had the opportunity to train local leaders how to make hand washing stations with water and clorox available to their communities. Hand sanitizer and hand soap may be difficult to get their hands on, but clorox and water would do the trick. They quickly passed on the simple instructions to all the other leaders.
On March 17, the Dominican president announced that all travel into the island by land, sea or air was shut down and flights for foreigners to their home country would be available until March 19 and then ferry flights may be available if necessary. We decided to stay and got groceries and learned how to do classes online as the girls amazing school quickly made adjustments. Jeff began working diligently with the seminary team to move all classes online as well.
The Dominican President issued initially a 8:00pm-6:00am curfew to keep people quarantined and slow the spread of the virus for the limited medical resources available for the population. We moved the Central Church English Bible study for adults that Jeff leads and the middle/high school group that Vicki leads online. Interesting cultural difference, there was plenty of toilet paper left at the grocery, but rice and beans went quickly. Our street was eerily quiet on our daily walk with the dog.
Wednesday of that week we received a call from a pastor friend in the US. Two of their congregants had just gotten married and continued with their plans for their Dominican honeymoon. They were going to be evicted from their hotel on Thursday. We helped them secure a flight out of Santiago Saturday morning and hosted them at one of our ministry apartments until then.
The following week things were getting more restricted in the Dominican. Non-essential businesses were closed; a mandatory curfew from 5pm-6am was put in place. Being found out and about would lead to arrests. The country was taking this very seriously due to lack of resources to care for this outbreak. The US embassy sent out messages that any Americans that fit in the high risk category for medical need should return to the states.
As many of you know, our twins were preemies, born 2 ½ months early. They spent the first days of their lives on ventilators and then the next months on various levels of oxygen. They were diagnosed with “mild chronic lung disease” prior to their being discharged from the hospital. Sophi came home on oxygen for another two months or so. We spent months in quarantine during the RSV seasons for two winters with a nurse coming to our house each month the first winter giving the girls shots to strengthen their lungs. They were on consistent breathing treatments during allergy season for those first few years. As the Dominican government’s efforts to slow the fermenting Covid-19 outbreak we realized that the twin’s might likely be in the higher risk tier. After a call to our specialist in the states, we decided to try to get back to the states for the girls’ medical needs. However, flights out were being canceled left and right. We put this fleece before the Lord, if we should go, let our flight not be canceled. As we prayed and wrestled over this decision we invited several to join us in prayer. One of our dear friends contacted us and said they had arranged housing for us if we made it through.
We booked a flight on Jetblue from Santiago to Fort Lauderdale on Saturday, March 28. We had a friend at the American Embassy that kept us informed of the situation in the country and another missionary friend who was a Jetblue pilot (he had been a part of our Bible study before returning to the States) giving us insider info on the situation with Jetblue. Saturday morning at 6:30am he texted us that the Jetblue plane was in the air headed to our airport so we left the house. The last thing we wanted to do was expose our family at the airport and then have the flight canceled. We had prepped the girls. “Remember the game, ‘the floor is lava,’ well we’re going to play ‘EVERYTHING is lava.’ Don’t touch anything, sanitize frequently, whenever you can, keep your distance
from others.” We made it through a packed flight to Fort Lauderdale, changed our clothes in the bathroom, disinfected our luggage, rented a car and began our nearly non-stop 15 hour drive to Kentucky. As the Lord would have it, it turned out that our Jetblue pilot friend was driving his two college students down to their home in Naples, Florida from Trevecca University in Nashville, Tennessee. We were able to social distance meet
up at a gas station on I-75 as we were headed North while they were heading South to thank him in person! We also discovered that we were the last flight out of Santiago to Ft. Lauderdale. They cancelled the rest of the flights and would close that airport three days later.
We’ve had special touches from the Lord nearly every step of this unexpected journey. We left at 6:30 Saturday morning and arrived at 6:30 Sunday morning to our quarantine home for the next 20 days or so. We are currently 1 ½ hours outside of Louisville in Leitchfield, Kentucky in a friend of a friend’s home. The generosity of the Church has been unbelievable! Our friends had stocked it with food, sharing again what they had with us and simply saying, “It’s all God’s.” We will be here until mid-May and then will be relocating to a farmhouse some friends of ours have about 20 minutes outside of Louisville. We cleared our quarantine period with no Covid symptoms but will continue to “shelter in place.” As we entered the house, we noticed a large cross over the fireplace with the same scripture we had printed on the girls isolettes when they were in the NICU for two months, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we can not see”. Hebrews 11:1 God is in the details.
Our work with GO continues. Before we left the island we were already working remotely. Gatherings have been shut down so meeting for seminary was not an option. Like our children, we have moved to an online format that we continue to work to build out across 3 platforms: Google Classroom, Zoom meetings, and WhatsApp. We had wanted to establish an online component of the Seminary. Covid has made that a front burner issue. The Seminary team that we have developed have embraced this challenge and are running with it. We’re so grateful, impressed, and proud of the efforts to adapt to the current times and continue to empower others to better understand the good news of the Kingdom of God and better learn how to demonstrate it for others.
Our church planters continue to serve their communities in meaningful ways providing pastoral care, practical relief where needed, and constant follow up with their affected communities. Covid-19 has brought many unexpected and difficult things. It has also brought with it the opportunity for the Church to embrace a fresh authenticity and a new opportunity to love others well. It’s happening in the Dominican Republic right now just as it is in the US and elsewhere. We are grateful for the generosity of the citizens of God’s Kingdom. He has graciously provided for us through them, through you, and through so many others.