Before the pandemic, Paradise Church was a gathering place for members of Dubuque’s Marshallese community. Led by Pastor Stan Samson, the church was used multiple days a week for religious services and served as a community center where Marshallese shared meals, meetings, and celebrations. With the onset of the virus, Pastor Stan saw a new way the church could provide support to those in his care. “During the second week of March, we became more familiar with COVID-19, and it was very, very scary to the community,” says Pastor Stan. He started a list of those who would be most susceptible to the virus
because of their underlying health conditions and opened the church as a safe place for them to quarantine.
Throughout April and May, the Marshallese were hit hard by COVID-19. A study of 100 Pacific Islanders in Dubuque conducted by Crescent Community Health Center showed that 79% have diabetes and 93% have hypertension — both conditions that make a person vulnerable to intense COVID-19 symptoms or even death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are an estimated 800-1,000 Marshallese people living in Dubuque. Eight have died from the virus, and many more have been hospitalized. Several generations of a Marshallese family may live together, making quarantining at home nearly impossible. Because of Pastor Stan’s innovative idea, four community members quarantined at Paradise Church for three months. Now, those still quarantining for their own safety are being transitioned into an apartment.
Pastor Stan coordinated with many partners in Dubuque to provide meals, a shower stall, essential prescription medications and other resources to those quarantining at Paradise Church. Unable to hold religious services, donations to the church dipped while expenses rose because of the new role the church was playing. A grant from the Marshallese Health Fund, started by Dr. Mark Janes and held by the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque, helped cover the church’s utility bills. “I care about my community, and the Dubuque community has changed my life,” says Pastor Stan “The Marshallese have been living in the U.S. for three decades and struggling every day with the challenges we face. It can be very hard to complete your day or look to tomorrow. But I know that there are a lot of good, smart people in our community that deserve a better life.”
While Paradise Church worked well as a temporary home for Marshallese people during the pandemic, Pastor Stan looks forward to a time when it can serve the entire community once again. “Our church is home to all of us. It’s where we commune, spend a whole Sunday, eat together, and celebrate. I wish this was all over so we can be more active with our culture and with our families. Gathering at church makes the big world feel smaller — and feel like home.”