COVID-19: Facing our fresh start

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..there is still a lot of light at the end of the tunnel. We just have to find a way to get to it. — Tyrone Willingham


We, as a nation, must be grateful to almighty God that, as challenging, difficult, and painful the COVID-19 experience has been, it could have been much worse, compared to what is continuing in nations like the US, Italy and Iran. Let us then be thankful! For in the words of that Psalm writer of long ago: “If it had not been for the Lord on our side… where would we be.”

It is important that we give full credit to our new-era Prime Minister Andrew Holness, the Minister of Health and Wellness Christopher Tufton, and their Government, along with the medical professionals, for their good management of the pandemic so far.

Congratulations are also due to the Leader of the Opposition Peter Phillips and his shadow Cabinet for supporting the process with minimal antagonism. Their handling shows that we are maturing as a nation.

I would not want it to be lost on us, the role, place, and power of prayer in minimising the effects. I know that there are spiritually ignorant sceptics who scoff at this idea. Scoffing, however, does not change the reality that God is and He does answer prayer. There is a preponderance of evidence to substantiate that reality.

There is a biblical account recorded in the Old Testament of King Asa and his people praying and receiving divine help in a battle that was seemingly impossible to win. His army was outnumbered two to one yet he won the battle. The king later became ill with a deadly disease. The scripture was careful to point out that King Asa did not seek the help of the Lord for his sickness, he only looked to his physicians. As a result, he died of the disease. (II Chronicles 16: 12 – 13)

The church prayed specifically to deal with the spiritual reality to support the practical steps taken by the Government to deal with the physical reality. We believe we would have been “further down the road” if both Government and Church, physically and spiritually, had not blundered in leaving a gap by inadequately covering the call centres. But spiritually we are confident that the venom of COVID-19 is removed so it will now quickly dissipate.

I firmly believe we are seeing the tail end of this virus and we must all now be focusing our minds and energy on rearranging our priorities and preparing to engage what is necessary now and for the post-COVID-19 era. In many ways it is like we have been given a new beginning. As at the beginning of the pandemic, the fear of it is still playing a major role in how it is being handled. Very often the fear drives our decision-making more than the virus itself. But we must get past our fears and carefully think through processes; not just following what others in the international community are doing or instructing as some of it is not in our best interest.

As we must act responsibly to ensure we practise safe living we must also engage faith living. For faith will overturn fear every time. The level of what is needed for our economic recovery and to deal with the great social perplexing issue will require divine help and favour. A great king of Israel who faced tremendous odds and came out on top declared, “Unless the Lord builds the house they labour in vain that build it, unless the Lord watches over the city the watchman watches in vain.” The Government should be humble enough, wise enough, and bold enough to ask the nation, led by the Church to pray for new opportunities, fresh innovative ideas from our people, and discoveries that can grow the economy fast.


A fresh start

COVID-19 is an opportunity for the nation to check and rearrange our priorities. I deeply wish our nation could find what it takes to seize the moment and give the nation a fresh start. I have often spoken of the need for a fresh start approach to almost every area of national life to shake free of the negative trappings that has dogged us the last 40 years approximately.

We have been bogged down by corruption, injustice, inequality, disorder, crime, a mindset of incivility, belligerence, and inhospitableness; hence, the cry for the building of a new Jamaica.

Remember a fresh start is not necessarily a new place to be, but a new mindset toward where you are and where you need to be.

I said in an earlier article, titled ‘COVID-19 Impact and Lessons’, that the pandemic is shouting in our ears the need in looking ahead to give primary attention to food security, manufacturing, and what we have (niche market resources). Agriculture and small farmers development must take centre stage. New technologies must be brought into the picture so that hotels can depend on local agriculture instead of imports. Manufacturing and production in niche market areas based on our natural resources must become a central focus of this new-era Government and any other that may lead us.

The nation cannot continue to depend primarily on tourism. Our new-era prime minister, I am sure, with his planners, will speedily lead us to restore and explore the other sectors and areas to stimulate sustainable development. As I posited before, tourism must be only “brawta in wi economy”. Like any good Jamaican, I love our nice hotels with their fine service and fine food, but let me shout it again: Tourism cannot be our lifeblood.


Facing our reality

In addition to deliberately starting to plan in those areas mentioned, an immediate reality that has to be looked at objectively is the state of the poorest in both urban and rural communities. They are the ones most affected by the fallout of COVID-19 on society. Most do not have jobs or any consistent form of income, no funds in banks to tide them over for a few months. They hustle for survival and to find the next meal on a daily basis. The lockdown, though necessary, has had devastating effects on their lives. The fear, the hunger, the hopelessness, the pain of uncertainty, and the consciousness of lack without any sign of change for the future leaves a darkness over the soul that tends to produce evil and selfish intent.

This is not a matter that we can afford, as a nation, to shrug aside or bury our heads in the sand as if it does not exist. It is a reality for which urgent solutions must be found. We cannot leave it to its natural end.

Some may say that we don’t have the resources to deal with this problem, especially after our recent COVID-19 Allocations of Resources for Employees (CARE) Programme, but let’s not say we cannot afford to deal with it. On the contrary, we cannot afford not to.

Some glimmers of light need to be shone in the immediate future to inject a little hope. When a man is hungry he searches for food like a merciless beast. Too many of our already hot-blooded young men across our nation are hungry.

Conscious of the efforts made by the Government to find the funds for the unplanned pandemic fight, and to fund their CARE distribution, they are to be applauded. But they will have to dig deeper, and think creatively and innovatively, in order to defuse this imminent sociocultural crisis. The urgency of human need, the peace of society, and the foundation of a secured future for all, is at stake and must take priority.

Therefore, I suggest for consideration by Government and for a conversation to ensue among the people that gainful and purposeful work be found and given to this most vulnerable group of citizens. The tool box could include paid participants in projects such as:

• a clean-up and beautification programme in inner city and rural communities;

• a repainting of the awful and decrepit high-rise buildings in the inner cities as the psychological lift to the human spirit and sense of worth would be tremendous;

• a repainting and sanitisation of schools for the start of the school year;

• a removal of some zinc fences and replace with a material better for the psyche of the people and to aid better policing;

• an upgrading of playing fields and play areas for children across the country and repairing of community centres.

There are many more similar ideas that come to mind as you read, I am sure. List them if you wish and send an e-mail to the address below. Let’s ensure that the work is given directly to the people of the communities being refreshed and renewed. The Church could help identify and manage this process to ensure the people are the real beneficiaries in an orderly manner.

The economy has to be rebuilt quickly to regain lost ground and so the private sector may need to consider, directly or indirectly, how it can assist to boost the economy amidst its own challenges. Could there be more like Gordon “Butch” Stewart, who helped to stabilise the sliding dollar? Could the foreign-owned banks and hoteliers join in by choosing not to repatriate funds, but to rather allow profits to boost the local economy for the next 12 to 18 months. What say you?

We cannot just talk about reopening the economy, we must also be looking at the reordering of the economy. An economy that is built from the bottom up; one that includes and enables all to participate, grow, and develop, must be the aim.

We have morphed into a model that swallows up the base, devours what’s around it, and encourages fights for the survival of the fittest at the top. Reordering the economy calls for a different mindset and approach. Often those steeped in the existing mindset cannot, by themselves, be expected or left to create the new. Our new-era prime minister must engage some additional minds with fresh ideas and who understand the complexity of economic landscape.

Copyright © 2020 by Rev Dr. Al Miller.

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