The new school year 2020-2021 did not start in pomp and color at the Ebeye SDA School in the Marshall Islands. Before, and even during summer, we had envisioned an inevitable closure of the school with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. During the last quarter of 2019-2020, some of our teachers from the United States of America decided to go back home and thus we completed the last quarter with a leaner staff. More teachers left during summer and it was thought that should COVID-19 hit the Marshall Islands, it could spread very fast and put the missionaries here at great risk. We prayed, listened to advice from Guam-Micronesia Mission headquarters and the General Conference, prayed again, and finally decided to reopen the school as the remaining teachers (six in number) couldn’t go back home owing to closed borders and risk of contracting COVID-19 on transit.
This year has been the most challenging as there are no student missionaries traveling from any part of the world to the Marshall Islands. Since we reopened, we have run the school in two shifts – Elementary (excluding Preschool) with Middle School in the morning, and High School with Preschool in the afternoon. We really have long tiresome days starting at 7:30am and ending at 5:00pm.
The Marshall Islands was among the first countries to close its borders when COVID-19 was just within the borders of China. The National Disaster Management put up some restrictions on social gatherings as they did community sensitization in an effort to educate the masses on COVID-19 and give them a feel of how it would be should COVID-19 erupt within our borders. The social gathering restrictions were eventually lifted. The national government received donor funds for preparedness response, and they have set up isolation facilities on the islands of Majuro and Ebeye. We do not have many restrictions per se on Ebeye nor generally throughout the country, as we have been COVID-free since the start of the pandemic.
When we reopened school this year, other schools did not. This increased our enrollment as new students joined Ebeye SDA School. We thank the parents for their unwavering support since the beginning of the school year, as they show faith in us as we run the school in shifts, translating to half school days for their children. Some have even dedicated their time to volunteering at the school, in a commitment to the year's success.
A few weeks ago, the Marshall Islands confirmed their first two cases of COVID-19 on Kwajalein Island, which is just a few minutes from Ebeye by ferry. These positives are what were described as closed-border cases from the US through the Kwajalein US Army workers and Marshallese citizen repatriation. The two cases recovered fully, and we were again COVID-free. Yesterday, we received some sad news that three more of the repatriated citizens, who were negative and asymptomatic in Hawaii, have now tested positive. We wait to see what the situation will be like now that the COVID-19 cases are rising.
This is a very challenging year as the teachers have been stretched beyond their limit to meet the needs of the mission here. We are truly persevering and depending on God every single day, realizing that we cannot carry through without His divine grace.
We thank God for impressing our Adventist Volunteer Office leaders at the Guam-Micronesia Mission and the North American Division for seeking ways in which to help lighten the burden here. With the financial assistance from Hope for Humanity, we hope to lay the groundwork (internet connectivity, computers, and other facilities) for online support so that the mission can provide the necessary teachers from Guam to teach through video conferencing.
We thank God for this new experience in Ebeye and trust in Him to sail through till the end. We know that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble,” (Psalm 46:1, KJV) and “The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge” (Psalm 46:7, KJV).