The most severe outbreak of Ebola virus disease (EVD) since its discovery in 1976 continues to impact West Africa with the number of cases from the current outbreak outnumbering the combined cases from all known previous outbreaks. Beginning in Guinea in December 2013, the Ebola virus has spread to Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Senegal. Missionaries from the South Florida area with projects in Liberia and Nigeria are responding with caution and prayer.
Calvary Chapel in Liberia
Chet Lowe, a Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale outreach pastor and former missionary to Liberia, said the people he knows who are ministering in the area “have been through a lot, yet their spirits are high. Having gone through war and so many other difficult situations, they do not look at this disease the way we do but simply as something else they need to get through. Having lived in the country, I know that the people are very resilient and very strong and that they will greatly cherish all of our prayers. The churches we have planted are strong and are ministering to the people.”
However he said, “The people are not touching, shaking hands or hugging since the Ebola virus is transmitted by sweat.”
One of the Calvary Chapel missionaries who just returned to Fort Lauderdale, Mark Kischner noted that the Ebola outbreak has affected their work. He stated that basically all missionaries have left to date, but while they were there during the crises, ministry had become limited. It is hard to travel outside surrounding communities to do ministry. Liberians are more skeptical of anything that is outside the normal, especially outsiders who enter into different communities and villages. Any ministry done in the communities has to be done cautiously. People must have a way to identify who you are. Also, there are no opportunities for public gatherings and for outreaches.
World Health Reports
As of mid-September, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported a total of 4,846 suspected cases and 2,375 deaths (2,898 cases and 1,386 deaths being laboratory confirmed). Many experts believe that the official numbers substantially understate the size of the outbreak because of families’ widespread reluctance to report cases.
Recently the president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, pleaded with President Obama for help in managing her country’s rapidly expanding Ebola crisis and has warned that without American assistance the disease could send Liberia into the civil chaos that previously enveloped the country for two decades.
In a letter to Mr. Obama, Ms. Johnson Sirleaf wrote, “I am being honest with you when I say that at this rate, we will never break the transmission chain and the virus will overwhelm us.” She urgently requested 1,500 additional beds in new hospitals across the country and urged that the United States military set up and run a 100-bed Ebola hospital in the besieged capital, Monrovia. So far more than 1,000 people have died of the virus in Liberia. That is greater than a 50% mortality rate but less than the 77% reported in Sierra Leone. Since that time the US has sent military troops to Africa in response.
Nigerian Mission Hospital
The Ebola outbreak is also a concern to Don Campion, president of Banyan Air in Fort Lauderdale and project leader of a revitalization project at a mission hospital in rural Egbe, Nigeria. His sister Betsie Campion Smith, the project coordinator, reported, “We praise God that we have not had any confirmed cases at Egbe Hospital. Nigerian Ministry of Health figures provided recently indicate ‘there is now a cumulative total of 19 cases of Ebola in Nigeria, 15 in Lagos and 4 in Port Harcourt.’ The disease appears to be contained for now. However there are still concerns.”
The Egbe Hospital is a SIM project, partnering with the local church organization ECWA (Every Church Winning All) and Samaritan’s Purse/World Medical Mission. SIM has been actively involved with Samaritan’s Purse in responding to the Ebola crisis in Liberia.
According to Smith, “The hospital is implementing risk management protocols in consultation with the Samaritan’s Purse Special Epidemiologist Unit and Nigerian government health officials as a precautionary measure to protect our missionary team, hospital staff and the community. These protocols include monitored access to the hospital compound, restriction of non-medical personnel, temperature taking of all patients, visitors and staff, and scaled back services limited to emergencies and non-elective procedures. Staff are receiving extra care on handling patients, and an isolation unit is being set up.”
Are there misconceptions?
Kischner offered the following clarification: “People think that Ebola is everywhere. Ebola is limited to particular regions. The government has quarantined entire counties and communities where Ebola has severely affected the people. Most Ebola cases are spreading rapidly inside these quarantined areas and have not entered new areas.
“From experience, the news media’s coverage of Ebola strikes fear in a lot of people in America. People constantly ask, ‘What if?’ Ebola is present, real and deadly; but fear will cripple people, even Christians, from showing the compassion that Christ has called us to. Christians should respond in prayer and sacrificial giving,” said Kischner.
“There are many people in rural Liberia and West Africa who are still not very educated about Ebola. The urban areas are well informed and have seen the devastation of Ebola, but much of the rural areas lack simple forms of communication like TV’s, cell phones and radios. These people do not take Ebola prevention seriously because they have barely heard of it or cannot afford to protect themselves.
“With restrictions limiting movement of people, especially at night, criminals and thieves are using it as an opportunity to steal and to commit acts of indecency. There is a battle against Ebola, but now many people are fighting against crime that is even being committed by those who are supposed to protect the people.”
How can you help?
When asked what others can do to help, Smith said, “Pray. Provide financial donations, or volunteer through organized government health agencies being established to assist with creating treatment centers throughout West Africa. There is no question that this is a deadly disease.”
Kischner agreed. Either donate money or send the following supplies to aid people in Liberia: buckets with chlorine, hand sanitizer, or rice as food supplies are dwindling and prices increasing.
Write to the churches to encourage the people that they are not going through this alone.
Pray with them, not just for them. Be empathetic and not just sympathetic. Pray that they would have hope. The country has been devastated by several years of brutal warfare and people sometimes lose hope.
Learn more about missionaries supported by Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale at calvaryftl.org/missions. Letters of encouragement can also be sent to [email protected].
For more information, visit: www.egbehospital.org or www.simusa.org/ebolacrisis.
Bob Woods is a senior project manager at AECOM Technical Services, as well as a published Christian author. He can be reached at [email protected].