A Plea for God’s Mercy in the Time of Ebola
August 07, 2014
Since the first case of Ebola occurred in March in the West African nation of Guinea, more than 1,700 people have contracted the deadly virus and more than 900 of these have died from it.
The disease quickly spread to the neighboring countries of Sierra Leone and Liberia, some of the poorest countries on earth and the least equipped to handle such an outbreak.
Sierra Leone has declared a state of public emergency. Liberia has closed its schools and quarantined several communities. The government has also ordered that all businesses without hand-washing facilities be shut down, which likely applies to most of them due to the fact that the country has been without water and electricity for the past 20 years.
After three civil wars, Liberia lacks even basic infrastructure, and the majority of the population remains unemployed.
According to James Cuffee, leader of Christian Aid Mission-assisted Christ Evangelical Fellowship Ministries in Liberia, most Liberians have to walk two to three hours to get to the nearest clinic. When a pregnant member of one of the churches he planted went into labor, he and his coworkers had to transport her through the night in a wheelbarrow to the nearest village with a clinic. She gave birth along the way, and when they finally made it to their destination, none of the doctors were willing to get out of bed to attend to her.
This is the type of culture in which the Ebola virus has taken hold. Not only are the clinics in Liberia few and far between, but they lack basic supplies like gloves, masks, and sterile instruments.
On July 27, one of Liberia’s most high-profile doctors died from Ebola. Now fearful of contracting the disease, many hospital workers are refusing to come into work.
“One of my cousins who worked in a local hospital lost his life,” Cuffee wrote to Christian Aid Mission in a recent report. “Families are losing family members. Most people are afraid now.”
For several years Cuffee has been trying to raise enough funds to complete construction on a clinic for poor villagers. It remains unfinished, now, during the worst Ebola outbreak in history.
A Merciless Killer
A painful disease, Ebola progresses rapidly in its victims. People who are infected initially begin having flu-like symptoms like fever, muscle pain, and sore throat. These symptoms quickly escalate to vomiting and diarrhea. At this point, victims usually have only 10 days before capillaries start to disintegrate and extensive internal bleeding, and external bleeding from the mouth and eyes, begins.
Fear has gripped entire communities, as people have watched their friends and family members die in this agonizing way. Villagers are shunning the very people who have come to help them, as rumors have spread that foreign healthcare workers are perpetuating the disease. A community in Guinea threatened to attack a medical team, while police had to break up a riot outside of a hospital in Sierra Leone.
Not understanding that the virus is spread through contact with bodily fluids, like blood and sweat, villagers are taking the sick to local witchdoctors or having their pastors lay hands on them.
Physical contact with the dead bodies of Ebola victims poses an especially high risk of infection, and yet families are continuing to perform traditional Liberian burial rituals, which include washing the bodies before burying them.
To curtail the spread of the disease, Liberia’s president has ordered that the bodies of Ebola victims be cremated. Not being able to honor their deceased family members in the traditional way has only accentuated Liberians’ grief, however, and has proven too difficult for some who have secretly taken the bodies of their loved ones from hospitals where they died.
“The 14 years of civil war in our country took more than 250,000 lives and destroyed millions of dollars of property,” Cuffee wrote. “Now, while we were praising God for the brief moment of peace, here comes this killer disease that’s destroying lives again.”
Where did it come from?
Medical workers in West Africa are ill-equipped to handle the Ebola outbreak
Experts have suggested the Ebola outbreak is linked to the common African practice of eating bushmeat (jungle animals), which includes fruit bats—the virus’ natural hosts.
A fruit bat carrying the virus was likely consumed by the first victim in Guinea. And it likely came from Lofa, a dense jungle overlapping Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, which provides hunters from all three of these countries with an abundant source of monkeys, deer, rodents, fruit bats, and other bushmeat to sell in the marketplaces.
West African governments have banned the sale of bushmeat, but that hasn’t stopped markets from selling it and locals from buying it.
For generations Africans have consumed bushmeat without harm. As a young boy, Cuffee regularly accompanied his father on hunting trips to the jungle, where he developed a taste for monkey brains—the best part of the monkey, he asserts.
These jungle delicacies are a main staple of the African diet, and many aren’t willing to give up their favorite foods because of a risk they view as small to nonexistent. Supply and demand remains strong, as hunters continually enter the dark recesses of Lofa, not only the likely source of the current Ebola outbreak, but also the very place that had a large HIV outbreak in the 1980s.
For nearly 30 years, James Cuffee has shared the gospel with his own people in Liberia. Here he prays with a man who desired to receive Christ as Savior.
More than 70 percent of the epidemic has been occurring at border crossings, which West African governments have now isolated with police and military personnel. Before they did, however, the virus spread to Nigeria when a Liberian man infected with Ebola flew into the country. Before he died in a hospital, he spread the virus to the doctor who treated him.
The leaders of Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Cote d’Ivoire met together with the World Health Organization on August 1 to launch a $100 million response plan, part of which involves keeping the disease from spreading outside of their borders.
Containing the virus is the only option available to these nations at this point, as there is no cure for Ebola currently on the market.
Samaritan’s Purse workers, Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, who contracted the disease while working in Liberia, were given an experimental drug that dramatically improved their conditions. This medication, however, has not yet been approved for human use.
Meanwhile Christians inside the affected countries have joined together to ask for God’s mercy. Cuffee took part in an interdenominational meeting of church leaders in Liberia, who have pledged to fast and pray for their nation August 6 to 8.
“We’ve agreed to stand together,” Cuffee wrote. “We must unite in faith and invoke the Lord’s intervention to heal our land and its people.”
Since 1986, Christ Evangelical Fellowship Ministries, led by James Cuffee, has shared the love and message of Jesus throughout Liberia, planting churches and discipling believers. During this time, when so many are gripped with fear and uncertainty, Cuffee and his missionary coworkers are pointing people to the certainty and hope found only in Christ.