I guess I have been following the Ebola outbreak in Liberia closer than most have. I check the news articles to see if I recognize the name of a city I visited and see if it seems to be a problem near Camphor Mission Station where I spent a lot of my trip in February. So far so good.
Fortunately Ebola isn’t all that easy to catch. It’s not sexually-transmitted, necessarily, but it is kind of like AIDS. You can’t catch it through the air like you do the flu. Close contact, such as a too-close cough, touching bodily fluids or contact with the corpse of an Ebola victim are how it is generally spread.
My time in Liberia showed me why this disease is spreading so quickly. I saw mud huts where an entire family might sleep in a room not 50 square feet. The capital city of Monrovia looks a lot like the scene of Slum Dog Millionaire, with squatters huts jammed together where ever a little real estate could be found. And I still have a very strong memory of the crowded streets of the capital, people shoulder to shoulder everywhere I looked and smell of raw sewage running in the gutters.
An article over the weekend talked of villagers’ frustration with government health workers who seem to be slow on the draw picking up the bodies. I read that and wondered if those workers had adequate training and equipment to keep themselves safe doing their work.
But United Methodists are still on the ground there. A number of Volunteer in Mission groups are strategizing how best to respond to this crisis. Hand wringing is easy. Developing a plan that is both effective and safe is far more difficult, but with the expertise of the church both here in the U.S. and in western Africa I am confident we can help.
UMCOR has invested $50,000 in Liberia and $25,000 in Sierra Leone to train and equip workers and to build isolation units for victims. Gbanga Hospital continues to not only treat victims but serve as an information hub. Pastors and Sunday School teachers in UM churches are helping to get this information out as well.
How can you help? I suggest you start on your knees and pray without ceasing. Financial support organizations like UMCOR will help as well. Most goods for sale in Liberia are imported from China, and predicting an increase in demand for cleaning supplies, the price of a bucket, for instance, has increased six-fold in recent weeks. So the need for financial support is greater than originally predicted.
As you pray, give a prayer of thanksgiving as well. I am grateful that the mortality rate from this outbreak is “just” fifty percent, compared to two-thirds in other Ebola cases. I am grateful for the men and women who are caring for those who are sick and I am grateful for the generous folks around the world who make this work possible.
From Biblical leprosy to modern day Ebola, the church has always been an effective catalyst for care and healing. I pray most of all for a church that is committed to caring for those who most need it.