Dealing With COVID in a Tourist Economy (Saipan)

By Mat and Justin

COVID-19, you hear so many quotes. On the island of Saipan, the one we hear the most: “Well, if you’re going to be stuck anywhere, being stuck on a tropical island isn’t so bad.”

If you are going to be stuck, but…

However, here are some numbers: within the first month of this global pandemic, our island lost 50+million dollars in tourism. Our hotels were over 80% vacant. Our island of 50,000 residents could handle less than 10 severe cases at one time.
With zero cases up until the end of March, biologically, our island was the safest place on the planet. Emotionally, we were seemingly in danger. The island is funded by tourism, so financially, there was a mountain to climb. There is something I forgot: this island is an island of champions. Our tourism industry fell on its face, leaving thousands un/underemployed, but this island recently went through two super typhoons in less than five years, one of which being the second strongest typhoon to hit U.S. soil in history. This island and the people on it are resilient.
Here are brief updates about how Saipan Community Church (SCC) and School (SCS) have handled this biological and emotional pandemic (for more information, follow them on Facebook at SCC and SCS):
SCC: Pastor Glenn Jenkins (interim Sr. Pastor) suggested recording devotionals throughout the week and a Sunday morning message. This initial idea changed into daily devotionals being streamed via Facebook Live and the Sunday service being as “normal” as possible also through Facebook Live. The Sunday morning segment has been run with a full band and speaker every Sunday and feels like a service. The overall response has been astounding with several thousand people reached through devotionals and the main service (on and off island). 
The congregation at SCC is very active outside of morning worship, particularly in the avenue of small group meetings. At least a dozen different groups were meeting together weekly. The current outbreak situation forced the small group leaders to seek other ways of fellowship. All the groups are checking in through Facebook Messenger. Some groups are meeting via Zoom or Google Meets. One group recently met through Messenger and had a social distancing communion for Easter. 
Mat and Justin teach at SCS

SCC realizes there will be challenges that come against the church from time to time and that this recent virus outbreak is another challenge (though with different elements than others) that must be met head on for the sake of continued evangelism in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. 
SCS: Our students and families at Saipan Community School are no different than the general populace. We sent students home on Friday March 13, not knowing how much would change over the weekend. We went from meeting in homerooms in the morning to meeting in the “war room”: teachers and staff met together to pray, brainstorm, and gain emotional support. We went from meeting in houses (our homerooms) on Friday afternoons, to meeting in houses (our homes) on Friday afternoons.
Life has changed

The lives of our students and their families have changed drastically in the recent weeks and months. However, our family at SCS is strong. Teachers, staff, and parents are working together to provide technology and curriculum to stay connected. 
Along with being creative in art and helping their teammates (families) for P.E. class, our students remain connected in creative daily challenges via e-mail and group video chats. Our students are reading physical and electronic books at their level in their environments.
This virus tries to lock us away, keeping us on an island, but our congregants and students know all about living beyond their island. Our bodies may be quarantined, but thanks to excellent teamwork and excellent leadership, congregants and students of Saipan Community Church and School are showing their minds, hearts, and voices are not quarantined. We aren’t stuck: we are all over the world and growing.
You can help Saipan by using this form.  Create account. Select International Missions then type Saipan COVID Relief or other designation of your choice in the notes box that will appear.  Thank you and God bless.