By Bob Allen
Whatever the public thinks about the West African man who brought Ebola to the United States, a Baptist pastor who has been ministering to his family says people should remember that he caught the disease that killed him by helping a teenage girl who collapsed in front of him in the village where he was staying.
Five days after Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan died in a Dallas hospital, Wilshire Baptist Church Pastor George Mason reminded CNN’s Anderson Cooper Oct. 13 that amid speculation about why Duncan left Liberia that his loved ones are grieving, and he died because he helped someone else.
“Isn’t that what we want everyone to do?” Mason said in a live interview in Dallas. “At the end of the day, when people are sick and hurting, we want them to be there.”
“I think it should bear remembering that she was a pregnant young woman, and there’s no sense that automatically because she’s sick she must have Ebola,” he said.
Duncan’s fiancée, Louise Troh, visited Mason’s church for a while and was baptized as a member over the summer. She belongs to a Sunday school class and has brought family members to church, but not since Duncan arrived from Liberia and started showing symptoms while staying at her apartment.
Mason said finger-pointing at Duncan as the carrier who brought Ebola to the U.S. has continuing implications for Troh and her family.
“There’s going to be a time here, Lord willing, when they are not symptomatic and they are out of quarantine,” he said. “Then the question is how will we tell their stories when they re-enter the community? Will people welcome them and celebrate that they’re able to enter back into our lives?”
After being thrust overnight from anonymity to infamy, Mason said Troh is “reasonably concerned” about her family’s image.
“Obviously, you can’t control other people’s reactions to you, but really she would like people to know that they love the community they live in and the people that are in that area,” Mason said.
“She’s an American citizen,” Mason said. “She’s been living here many years. She reared a child here, and she has other children and nieces and nephews and family around, and she would just like to re-enter the community and just be an American and a hard-working person.”
Mason said the Wilshire congregation is trying to help Troh make that transition, comparing her situation to a family trying to start over after losing everything in a fire.
“You have to add to it that someone died in that fire, too,” he added. “There’s a certain human grief that’s going on where she’s mourning the loss of this person, on the one hand, that she didn’t get to say goodbye to.”
“She didn’t get to go to the hospital,” he said. “She didn’t get to have the kind of rites of intimacy and love that would come with that relationship, and so now she’s grieving.”
All the while without a hug: “She can’t even touch anybody,” Mason said. She and other family members in quarantine are in a house together all day long and cannot touch each other. Mason does not contact them physically when he visits but mimics an embrace by pulling his arms to his chest.
Mason said none of the family members has any symptoms, and they are a week away from getting a clean bill of health. They take their own temperature three times a day, while the others stand by for encouragement.
“They don’t really live day to day,” Mason said. “They live from temperature-taking to temperature-taking.”
“They’re trying to find God in the midst of this tension between grief and the future that they hope to have when they get out, to think about that.”