By Jeff Brumley
The calls to action and prayer seem to be spreading as fast as the Ebola virus currently ravaging parts of Africa — with Baptists and other Christians squarely in the sights of the terrifying disease and the effort to defeat it.
The medical and spiritual campaign being waged against the deadly epidemic is stretching around the globe, including places like Georgia and Alabama where those with West Africa connections are busy praying and raising funds to help victims.
Liberia Baptist Theological Seminary issued a call for prayer and action after the nation ordered the closure of all schools as a way to slow or stop the spread of the disease, seminary President Richard Wilson said in an email to ABPnews/Herald.
“In the face of the present crisis, we delight in the passion of our staff, students, and alumni who are committed to representing the gospel in the context of unspeakable suffering, including physical, psychological, and spiritual, that Liberians and their global friends are experiencing,” said Wilson, a Mercer University theology professor on loan to the Baptist seminary located in Paynesville, Liberia.
He said that suffering occurs “each time they hear a new report of the ravages of Ebola in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Nigeria.”
The occasions for sorrow are growing. According to the World Health Organization, 729 people have died in the current outbreak across the four nations mentioned in Wilson’s email. That figure includes 156 fatalities in Liberia.
“Ebola virus disease … is a severe, often fatal illness, with a case fatality rate of up to 90 percent,” the WHO website says. “During an outbreak, those at higher risk of infection are health workers, family members and others in close contact with sick people and deceased patients.”
While some reports suggest the current outbreak is slowing, others fear it could spread to other African nations and even around the world through international travel.
Driving those fears are not only how contagious the disease is and its mortality rate, but its horrific symptoms.
According to the WHO, early stages of symptoms include headache, fever, fatigue, muscle pain and sore throat. Advance stages include skin rashes, internal and external bleeding, vomiting, diarrhea and impaired liver and kidney functions.
While many are evacuating the region and governments are imposing strict quarantines, secular and faith-based non-governmental organizations are heading into the danger to provide medical and other services to those afflicted with Ebola.
And some of them are suffering, and a few cases even dying, as a result.
Christian News Service reported Wednesday that two Americans — missionary Nancy Writebol and physician Kent Brantly — have contracted the virus and are undergoing treatment in Monrovia, Liberia.
Brantley is with Samaritan’s Purse and Writebol represents the Charlotte, N.C.-based mission organization called SIM. On Thursday, SIM reported that Writebol’s condition has worsened.
The disease killed Sierra Leone’s top physician, Britain’s The Independent reported.
Those living and working in Africa seem to be just as eager to receive spiritual support as they are medical aid.
“Today I received a call to prayer from Dr. Olu Menjay, the president of the Liberia Baptist Missionary & Educational Convention, Inc., asking us to cover Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone in prayer during this time of medical crisis related to the Ebola outbreak in these three West African countries,” Passport, Inc. founder and President David Burroughs blogged on Wednesday.
Burroughs wrote that he first met Menjay during the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s 2006 General Assembly. Passport has visited Menjay’s Ricks Institute, a Christian boarding school just outside Monrovia, where the Birmingham, Ala.-based organization built an Initiative Course and Passport campers raised $64,000 to install solar panels at the school.
“I believe in the power of prayer,” Burroughs wrote. “And for me, a call to prayer can also include a call to action, so that even as we pray for peace or healing, we are actively helping that prayer become a reality through our support and action.”
Writing from Liberia, Wilson said the virus has spread in some cases as family and friends of those inflicted gathered for communal observances around the sick. He said he’s praying Liberians will find safer ways to care for and honor their loved ones.
Wilson added that some spiritual leaders have even preyed on the sick and their families.
“We condemn those who offer to pray for the sick and dying for a price,” Wilson wrote.
“We condemn those who confuse prayer and magic and offer only words,” he added. “We condemn those who offer false hopes and refuse to become engaged in meaningful action out of motives of self-preservation.”
Meanwhile, Baptists in the U.S. who coordinate mission trips to West Africa are monitoring the situation. The Virginia Baptist Mission Board has four teams scheduled to work in Ghana in October, November, December and January.
“Our contact in Ghana is very aware of the situation and monitoring it daily,” said Dean Miller, team leader of the Mission Board’s glocal missions team. “And, because of the nature of the More Than Nets [anti-malaria] project we have a good relationship with all of the clinics in the region where we are working. So we have many eyes on the ground to help keep us informed. Should the virus spread into Ghana we will take the necessary precautions for each team.”