By Eron Henry
The Baptist Convention of Sierra Leone has created a Baptist Ebola Task Force “to coordinate the sensitization of Ebola outbreak in its various churches and other public places.”
That’s the latest response by Baptists in West Africa to the health crisis in the region which so far has killed well over 900 people. Nearly all the deaths have been in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, though cases have now appeared in Nigeria.
Samuel Conteh, coordinator of social ministries for the Sierra Leone convention told Baptist World Alliance officials Aug. 6 that “churches are being gradually provided with sanitization plastic buckets with chlorine tablets.”
The education efforts have borne fruit, Conteh said. “The response is good. People have become better enlightened on the basic preventive measures against the disease.”
But he added: “Church attendances are dwindling. Baptist activities are being slowed down, particularly in [the] epicenters. The traditional embracing and handshake among members after church service have disappeared.”
Liberians call for prayer
The Liberia Baptist Missionary and Educational Convention called “on our brothers and sisters with great urgency to pray for West Africa, especially Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.”
“We have encouraged our local Baptist churches, pastors and its leadership around Liberia through a massive electronic text messaging to commit to all the preventive practices that have been advanced by the health experts as well as the Government of Liberia on this deadly disease.”
Liberia President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has ordered all schools to close indefinitely, including Liberia Baptist Theological Seminary and two Baptist-affiliated secondary schools, Ricks Institute and the Lott Carey Mission School.
“We are gravely concerned over the outbreak of this lethal disease and the protection of persons in our West Africa region,” the Liberian convention statement said. They expressed concern that “hospitals and medical clinics around Liberia have been abandoned because of the alarming death of health care providers and the lack of adequate protective gears and hygienic items. The abandonment of hospitals and medical clinics is critical since it is suspected now that many people are dying from other curable illnesses in additional to Ebola causes.”
At least one Liberian Baptist, a nurse, died after she attended to an infected patient who succumbed to the disease.
“We pause to remember the compassionate, committed service of Sister Alice M. Paasewe, who was on active duty as a nurse at the Phebe Referral Hospital, in central Liberia,” said the statement. Paasewe, a Baptist church deacon, died shortly after her diagnosis. “Sister Paasewe was a vibrant member of her church and a strong leader in the Woman’s Missionary Union of our convention.”
Sensitizing churches in Nigeria
Supo Ayokunle, president of the Nigerian Baptist Convention, told the BWA that a delegation of women who were to attend a West African Baptist Women Congress in Togo, which began Aug. 4, cancelled their trip out of an abundance of caution.
The Nigerian convention has taken preventive and other measures in Africa’s most populous country, which has reported four cases and one death, a traveler to the country from Liberia.
“I have declared three days of prayer and fasting to seek God’s face to remove the plague and save all countries under the Ebola siege,” Ayokunle said. “We are also sensitizing people on how to avoid infection.”
The BWA has sent an initial $5,000 to Sierra Leone to assist in a public education campaign about the disease. Donations to the BWA may be made at www.bwanet.org or mailed to Baptist World Aid, c/o Baptist World Alliance, 405 N. Washington St., Falls Church, VA 22046.