Ebola: a small word with massive consequences. More than a year after emerging in West Africa, Ebola continues to be a human tragedy.
Authorities and organisations were complacent, underestimating the outbreak initially, resulting in Ebola spreading “out of control.” Sierra Leone has the most cases.
International and government efforts to turn the tide against the epidemic are bearing some fruit. Most people are cautiously optimistic that the growth in the epidemic can be slowed, and that eventually the goal of zero cases will be achieved in 2015. Preventative measures include no handshakes, hugs, or body contact of any kind, all so contrary to the Sierra Leonean culture of friendly touch. Avoiding touch goes against human nature when someone you love is sick. Imagine being unable to wipe your child’s feverish brow, clean away vomit, wipe a tear, or change a dirty nappy.
Christ was willing to come into our disease-infected sinful world, and rescue us. Christ’s love within us, and our deep gratitude to him compel us to act.
Numbers dying from the secondary health and humanitarian crisis will likely eclipse the Ebola death toll. Many treatable diseases go untreated, and often, pregnant women are unable to access health care. Schools and all academic institutions have been closed. Food prices are up 25%, and thousands of people require food aid. Sierra Leone was always a difficult place to be a child. Almost 1 in 5 children die before the age of five. 9 out of 10 girls undergo female genital mutilation. Children are involved in hard labour. There has been a very high rate of rape and sexual abuse.
With schools shut there are more teenagers on the streets, and an increase in adolescent pregnancies. Across West Africa, there may be as many as 10,000 Ebola orphans. Ebola survivors, health workers, and orphans are stigmatised, and often shunned by their communities. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine a time when Ebola will be over, or what the aftermath will look like, yet we know that God is in control.
We have found that courage and caution go hand-in-hand. Yes, we are at war against Ebola, but the real war in Sierra Leone, the one God has called us to fight in, is the ongoing battle against darkness – Satan, sin and spiritual death. Jesus is right here in the midst of this battlefield against Ebola and against the devil. Jesus commands us to make disciples by reaching people who don’t yet have a relationship with God. We are to be his witnesses in this country. People are dying every day; most Ebola victims have gone into a Christ-less eternity, and yet there are so few labourers for the harvest.
Through God’s saving grace and mercy, we, who were destined for eternal damnation, have become his children. Christ was willing to come into our disease-infected sinful world, and rescue us. Christ’s love within us, and our deep gratitude to him compel us to act. Spiritually and physically, many people are in desperate need, providing us with opportunities to express Christ’s love through serving and caring for others. We can’t frantically try to help everyone in need, but we can start where we are, making ourselves available to the suffering people that God has placed in our lives.
As a church, and as Christ’s followers here, we wrestle through hard questions like, “How long O Lord?” or, “Why Sierra Leone, when the people have already suffered so much?” We wrestle with sorrow, injustice, and emotionally draining days. We pray together, study God’s Word together, and encourage each other to get out there and share with others who have never heard of the love of Christ, through our words and through our actions.
UFM supporters are helping by interceding in prayer for the people of West Africa. There have also been practical ways of helping with the health and humanitarian crisis. We’re working mainly in Freetown, but we have been able to visit up-country districts. Through people’s generosity, families in quarantine have been provided with food, coal, hygiene and medical supplies, and children’s activities. Pastors and students have been provided with extra funds to cope with rising food prices.
Children are more likely to break the Ebola rules: they are not used to washing their hands often, and they constantly want to touch people. So we’ve made it a priority to provide children with Ebola education resources, disinfectant soap, and water buckets. Ebola prevention resources and essential food supplies have been provided to other needy families and churches. “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10). God made us and placed us here for a reason. The Spirit of God empowers us. Sierra Leone has been ravaged by war, poverty, corruption and disease, but hardships sometimes serve to advance the Gospel. Thank you for being part of what God is doing here in the midst of this crisis.
To be here at this time, and join people in their pain and distress, shows people how much we care, but more importantly, how much God loves them and desires them to know, love and obey him. Is the risk of being in Sierra Leone worth it? Definitely! We have the message of hope, of healing, saving, restoring grace to share.