The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are evidenced in much more than rising case numbers and stringent containment measures. One group that has been affected in unique ways is the special needs community.
"Against this backdrop of heightened uncertainty, up-to-date and reliable care of the special needs community is more important than ever", said Pastor Coniel Morgan, Pastor of the Deaf Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Jamaica, as he outlined the pastoral care being given to his membership during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Deaf Church comprises 79 regular attendees (including those who have not yet been baptised), living in various areas within and outside of the Central Jamaica Conference region.
To connect with his members, Morgan is primarily reliant on WhatsApp.
"The main medium of contact, currently, is through WhatsApp video calls. This is done daily with assistance from Elder Lyneve McCleish. However, sometimes it is a challenge contacting members, as they are without proper, and constant internet supply," he said.
"Poor connection often impacts our communication and makes the task even more difficult. The situation is further compounded by service providers and/or online platforms, which are not user friendly for them - making it harder for them to use these platforms. Also, most of the Deaf can't read; and for those who can, they don't understand English, so we have to communicate with them through phrases," he said.
He also highlighted that their needs are many, and most of them currently are without jobs, which compounds an already dire situation. "They have no funds or food at home, and living conditions are deplorable", said Morgan.
Apart from funding received from the Conference or other generous donations, Pastor Morgan usually resorts to using personal funds to assist those in need. However, the reality that this is not a typical church where the level of assistance needed will vary from member to member, but a membership where every member is in great need. This keeps him committed.
Morgan also stated that before the crisis, most members required monthly assistance, which was provided through a care package. He would either send the funds to the members or take some of them to the supermarkets and pay for their groceries.
Since the COVID crisis, the demands are much more significant, while funds have become more limited, but Morgan says he is now assisting members bi-weekly and in some cases making home visits.
"In those instances, I do not leave the vehicle. I give them their care packages through the passenger side of the vehicle while practising safety precautions, sanitising (before, during and after each visit) and wearing my mask."
According to Pastor Morgan, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is not only a global health crisis, but it is also a global mental health crisis.
"During these challenging times, we reassure them through counselling, constant communication, spiritual motivation, and prayer meetings. We have also partnered with the Jamaica Association for the Deaf (JAD). Through this partnership, we have garnered useful videos that we send to them via WhatsApp to keep impressing upon them the safety measures, as well as providing educational resources and materials to assist them with coping through the crisis".
Morgan believes that the changes we're experiencing can be especially stressful for the special needs members within our Conference. Hence, he is making a special appeal for persons who have family members with disabilities, to check on them, find out how they are doing, and assist where possible.
He also suggests that persons and families who are without disabilities can find the impetus during this crisis to assist financially. With a joint effort from every citizen, we can improve the lives of all members of the special needs community.
"We have been doing our part at the church to help. Some of them have been placed in jobs, while others have been given work experiences. We have also handed out funds, and care packages to alleviate the burden they have at home and offer counselling services to those who are otherwise affected," he said.
"In the special needs world, there is always a need to be met, and the most basic grant to these families will go a far way. As the world works to contain the spread of COVID-19, let us reach out to them in this time of great uncertainty, extending the ministry of care and compassion, giving them certain hope", concluded Morgan.
If you have any questions about the Deaf Church community or would like to know how you might be of assistance, you may contact Pastor Coniel Morgan at (876) 447-8032.
If you would like to make a financial contribution to this cause, please do so via. the Central Jamaica Conference's online giving platform, give.centralja.org
Online platform tutorial: https://youtu.be/Wah6hlSuDYY