What do you do when faced with a crisis the world has never seen before? What do you do when your only heroes on the frontline have started to fall? What do you do when the darkness creeps in, fear overwhelms and your faith is pressed from all directions? These were questions that Samaritan’s Purse was faced with during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
In theaters for a one-night special event on March 30, the new documentary “Facing Darkness” will wrestle with those questions, searching for answers, and in the midst, tell a story of faith and hope against overwhelming odds.
A timeline to death
The first 49 cases of Ebola were reported on March 23, 2014. By June 10, within just a couple weeks, the virus had spread into the biggest Ebola outbreak in history with as many cases in a week as had ever been seen before. Ebola had become a full-blown epidemic, and yet, most of the world was either unaware or apathetic to the rapidly developing crisis. By the end of the viral onslaught, with a nearly 90 percent fatal rate and no known cure at the time, more than 28,000 people in the West African countries of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone would be infected, claiming more than 11,000 lives.
Liberian Joseph Gbembo lost most of his family to the tragic virus: 17 members in all. Now he takes care of 16 orphans that lost their parents during the outbreak. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly how something of this magnitude can happen. Several ingredients mixed together to culminate in the epidemic. For one, the country of Liberia was still reeling and recovering from a recent civil war that had devastated the nation and left the people untrusting of the government and foreigners. Add to that the fact that the disease was centered in congested urban areas that made transfer of the contagion easier. Throw in a regrettable delayed international response and a dash of lacking infrastructure, and you have a recipe for catastrophe.
Initially, Doctors Without Borders was the only relief organization at ground zero of the epidemic, and they were quickly inundated by the emerging disaster. But only two courageous groups would answer the cries for help: Samaritan’s Purse and Sudan Interior Mission (SIM).
Franklin Graham, president & CEO of Samaritan’s Purse, had this say about choosing to respond to the Ebola crisis: “I think when there’s a crisis, God wants us to be there. He doesn’t want us to run away. Samaritan’s Purse looks for ways to get in the middle of it. Wherever we go in life, when we see people that are in need, God has put us there for a reason, and he expects us to do something about it.”
The relief aid workers had counted the cost and considered it worthy. They would soon be confronted with paying the ultimate price.
A faith that heals
Dr. Kent Brantly, post resident for Samaritan’s Purse, went into medicine as a way to love others as Jesus loves. Brantly is confident that helping the people of West Africa with his family was God’s purpose. But facing an unseen, unknown enemy like Ebola is no easy feat. “When we put a face on an issue, we have to choose whether we’re going to have compassion or react in fear or pretend to be ignorant,” states Brantly. “It required a totally different kind of courage to face death in the eye and decide, ‘Who am I going to be today…’ Faith is not something that makes you safe.”
In fact, Brantly’s faith got him deathly sick when the American doctor contracted the Ebola virus. Soon after, Nancy Writebol, a hygienist for SIM, would also catch the deadly disease. In July 2014, the two American missionaries working at the ELWA (Eternal Love Winning Africa) Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia, were facing the darkness of death — a shadow encroaching like a heavy, dark cloud blocking out all sunlight.
Now Samaritan’s Purse and other agencies were racing against the clock to try and do something logistically, legally and medically that had never been done before: evacuate infected Ebola patients back to America for proper treatment and hopefully a cure. The account that follows is a remarkable testament to the power of faith, hope, and love. Yes, it was faith that put Brantly and Writebol in the line of fire to contract the disease. But it was also faith that helped them survive. And it was faith that allowed Dr. Brantly to become the international face and spokesperson for what was happening back in West Africa. Now, finally, the world would have to respond. Governments could no longer ignore an adversary banging on their front door.
“Facing Darkness” is an absolutely gripping and miraculous story of faith conquering fear. It is very well done and plays out worthy of a feature-length film. Plus, the editing is phenomenal — some of the better editing I’ve seen in a documentary in quite some time now. Whether you’re interested in learning more about the 2014 Ebola outbreak or you just like documentaries, “Facing Darkness” is definitely a film to witness.
Liberia was declared free of the Ebola epidemic status on May 9, 2015. This was due in large part to the Samaritan’s Purse public education efforts that rose awareness and reached over 1.5 million people through a health education program to help stem the spread of disease.
For more information about the 2014 Ebola Epidemic, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at: cdc.gov.
Samaritan’s Purse is a humanitarian aid organization working in more than 100 countries to provide aid to victims of war, disease, disaster, poverty, famine and persecution. For more information visit: samaritanspurse.org.
For more information about the upcoming documentary, visit: facingdarknessmovie.com.
Finley is a doctoral student researching Organizational Leadership. He can be reached at: [email protected]