Lockdown struck March 2020 and Hope Alive Clinic became very busy. Our volunteer interns were needed for the huge task of community feedings, with so many extra families now without food. Yet our numbers at clinic were also growing rapidly, with only our amazing Filipino Midwife Rona and I (Registered Nurse from New Zealand) managing over 30 mothers a day for antenatal checks including ultrasounds. Rona was also delivering all the babies, often overnight. We had to reduce check ups to fortnightly instead of weekly for those under 34 weeks. We started purchasing rice and sardines through our Angel Fund to give out to all the mothers coming through for check ups. The need was staggering.
There were many mothers not able to come for check ups due to where they lived and not being unable to get through checkpoints. Once we realised the lockdown would be ongoing for some time, we started visiting 5 communities on a weekly basis, made possible as Rona was able to get us Frontliner’s passes to provide this essential service. Our largest of the five communities started with about 12 mothers, and within a month had grown to 50. We gave out food, vitamins, iron tablets as needed, Bibles, and did check ups in the car as we were able.
The reality is that life here is already hard for so many people. But this lockdown has caused so much despair and desperation. While the government has provided some help, it took two months to get that help into the hands of those needing it. And by those needing it I mean a very small percentage of those needing it. The local frontliners have been working incredibly hard to get this help to people, and with schooling only available online or by distance, children (and their parents) have been struggling. Several in one area that we visit have attempted suicide. The isolation, stress, and malnourishment is wrecking havoc on people’s lives, including the unborn; there has been a significant increase in miscarriages too.
Those living in poverty are discriminated against. An area we minister to is locked up as their entrance is inside a rich subdivision. The gate is only opened at certain times and these times have lessened further because of the lockdown and assumption that they would spread Coronavirus throughout the rich subdivision.
While the quarantine has been an inconvenience to us as a family, it has taken the lives of others. It has left such a wave of hunger and desperation and hopelessness. It’s bought a huge amount of fear into the community. There have also been earthquakes, typhoons and fires in the community since quarantine started, adding to the knocks beating people down.
I could write so many stories of the heartache of life here. I have never known the reality more that poverty equals pain. I know money doesn’t buy happiness, but it sure can help ease discomfort.
Many people think that Filipinos are always cheerful, despite the bad. I’m discovering this isn’t true. It’s just cultural to smile instead of cry. The pain is still there. Yes they are resilient. But that doesn’t mean their hearts are not breaking. It’s just all hidden a whole lot deeper.
How is it at all fair that I get to live in a huge house, with cupboards full of all kinds of food, while 100m away people wonder where to get their next meal from? How can one be born into wealth while another is born into poverty? How is there such little chance of ‘success’? How does the cycle of poverty get broken? Where is Jesus?
So many questions can take over. And I don’t know all the answers. I’m learning to accept that it’s simply not fair. That life truly is hard. That breaking the cycle has no easy quick answer.
But one thing I do know. Jesus is right there. He’s holding out His arms of compassion and weeping with those who weep. He comes right alongside those who are suffering and shares that suffering with them. His compassion will never be not enough. It will never run out. He is faithful through all the challenges. But we have to seek Him to find Him. And sometimes the best way to find Him is to be His hands and feet.
So while we can give food and support to those around us struggling, the very best thing we can give is Jesus. And thus this time of lockdown has sent us back to the very basics of why we do what we do. Clinic days now start with team prayer, because we recognise that we can’t handle these burdens alone. The devotion at clinic is aimed at the hearts of the mothers to draw them to Jesus. We pray more. We cry more.
One of the verses we shared with the mothers recently was Hebrews 4:15-16.
How beautiful it has been to reflect on Jesus knowing every trial and temptation that I face. That He’s been in this situation and knows the storm it produces of emotions. And not just what I am facing, but what all of those around me face too. He knows the loneliness of isolation, the reality of deadly sickness and the fear it can bring, of having no home and no food, of being attacked on every side and broken and bruised and abandoned.
He knows. And He cares. So I’m pressing into Him. Going to His throne of Grace. Again and again and again.
And I hope to encourage others to do the same.