The plight of a 33-year-old mother was shared on the television news subsequent to the COVID-19 pandemic reaching the shores of Jamaica. She was laid off from her job as a domestic helper as the pandemic took its toll. Consequently, she was unable to provide for her eight children as a single mother. The deplorable and unsafe condition in which they lived was not left unnoticed, and many later witnessed the outpouring of compassion and love in response to her situation. She received more than she bargained for in gifts and goodies from kindhearted people at home and abroad. Most importantly, she is the beneficiary of much-improved living accommodation for herself and her children. What was most admirable in the news story about this mother is the quality of home schooling she offered her children who are performing ahead of their peers.
This happens to be one of several ways people have been cared for in the midst of the economic challenges and anxieties caused by COVID-19. Many organizations gave support through care initiatives during the early stages, allowing people to better handle the sudden impact and the uncertainties ahead. These acts of compassion and care were as follows:
- The Private Sector Organization (PSOJ) contributed $150 million toward the purchase of ventilators. Ventilators are critical to pneumonia patients, which aid in restoring their oxygen levels, thus preventing them from dying.
- The Montego Bay-based Carlisle Inn owned by the Sandals Group was offered as accommodation for patients recovering from COVID-19.
- Sandals Resorts had also decided against laying off its permanent workers, opting to pay 40 percent of their basic salary fortnightly and retain benefits such as health insurance and paid vacation leave despite the temporary closure of all its resorts in the Caribbean.
- The National Water Commission offered a $500 million debt write-off for customers struggling to pay their bills.
- Scotiabank and JN Bank suspended repossession and resale assets for customers falling in arrears.
- The Student Loans Bureau waived application and processing fees.
- JPS Foundation donated COVID-19 test kits in addition to offering support to the elderly and disabled persons.
- The government provided compassionate grants and care packages for the needy, and street people were provided with two meals daily.
The pandemic presented an opportunity for being there for each other, bearing one another’s burden, and being our brother’s keeper (Galatians 6:2).
Given the attending challenges of COVID-19, it presents a stark reminder of our vulnerability when it comes to diseases, demonstrating that while things such as wealth and education may make us seem better than others, this pandemic has taught us otherwise. The coronavirus has extinguished any classism and division within our society, transcending all class, race, and stages in life, barring none for its purpose. Moving on, this reflection will help us to understand how the demonstration of compassion and justice in our society is significant to our survival and wellbeing in various aspects of our lives.
Compassion is defined as “a feeling of distress and pity for the suffering or misfortune of another, often including the desire to alleviate it,” according to the Collins English Dictionary.It is derived from the ecclesiastical Latin word “compati,” which means to “suffer with.” Scripture teaches how God demonstrates compassion through mercy, love, and forgiveness. This is made evident in various ways:
- First, compassion is forgiveness that offers tolerance and understanding for our mistakes to free us from the guilt of poor decisions and wasting of resources that would be available to us in times of crisis. As the pandemic hit, some persons, such as our popular entertainers whom would have seen the good times prior, felt the economic brunt. Many in the society blamed them for being ill-prepared, citing that they should not benefit from the government’s care programmes. However, as a society with shortcomings and vulnerabilities, we are called to show mercy and love as the story of the Prodigal Son reminds us (Luke 15:11-32).
- Second, compassion is intervening in the human condition of hunger and lack of the basic needs for survival. Radio Jamaica’s Hotline host, Emily Shields, initiated the Hotline for the Elderly Programme from which many have benefitted through care packages and assistance with varying social needs. The elderly are one of the most susceptible groups in relation to the coronavirus, so with this in mind, she reached out to this group in a special way. The Word is, “Do this for them, and you do it also for Me.” (Matthew 25:40).
- Third, we need compassion in our distress of physical and emotional pain. There was the case of a “Good Samaritan” highlighted on the television news: a man saw the plight of another man on the roadside within the vicinity of the Kingston Public Hospital. He was obviously outraged and demanded that the hospital provide the attention and care for this ailing man who was subsequently admitted for medical care. We may not be able to eliminate certain pain and affliction, but through words of encouragement, prayer, and seeking professional intervention on behalf of others, this can make a difference. God works through us to be close to the brokenhearted and save the crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).
While showing compassion is good, it does not stop there. There is the need to take it further by advocating on behalf of those who lack the necessary resources and defending the oppressed and victimized. In other words, assist in pursuing justice to end the cycle of dependency and reprisals.
Justice is defined as just behavior or treatment; the quality of being fair and reasonable; and the administration of the law or authority in maintaining this, according to the Oxford Dictionary. Therefore, one will agree that part of justice is showing compassion, such as in social justice, a call for the respect of human basic rights, and showing care and concern for the needs of others who are faced with injustice. Justice may be represented as follows:
- First, in a well-ordered society justice is seen to be done. One will be judged for an offence committed against the law with the relevant penalty applied. The Disaster Risk Management Act exists to contain the spread of the coronavirus. For example, those who hold illegal parties against the COVID-19 guidelines are brought to book. Justice is handed down for the protection of the society and to preserve lives (Isaiah 56:1).
- Second, society must speak out, and not remain silent in cases of injustice, breaches of the law, and mistreatment. In such cases, it is working with the enforcers of the law by reporting the crimes you observe, such as the illegal parties and those endangering the health of others by not wearing a mask. Do your part, preserve the law, do what is right (Psalm 106:3).
- Third, lobby on behalf of the less fortunate to ensure they have the rights and benefit of basic needs, decent accommodation, and a livable wage. It is about advocacy. Given the challenges of the pandemic, there are many people who cannot afford masks and hand sanitizers, let alone to change a mask every day or more frequently as required. Organizations such as the Church advocate within their membership to contribute these items toward care packages as part of their community outreach initiatives. It is speaking up for the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31: 8-9).
 Private sector pledges $150 million to COVID-19 fight, (Jamaica Gleaner, 2020), http://jamaicagleaner.com/article/news/20200322/private-sector-pledges-150-million-covid-19-fight
 HarperCollins Publishers, (Collins, 2021), https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/compassion
 Lexico (powered by Oxford 2021), https://www.lexico.com/definition/justice
Our Father and Protector, you have brought us thus far. We pray for your sustaining grace and strength to carry us through this crisis as we remember those who are affected – whether from contracting the virus, by caring for an infected loved one, or lost a loved one as a result. Lord, let our total trust be in you as we do our part in combating the virus and protecting the most vulnerable among us. In Christ Jesus’s name we pray. Amen.
For Reflection and Discussion:
- What will it take for this momentum of kindness to continue?
- What have you learned from this crisis? How can this guide you to handle future crises?
- Do you think stronger measures are necessary to protect the population in crises of this proportion?