Guest Post by Michael Badriaki
I recently visited Nelson Mandela—Madiba’s—prison cell on Robben Island where he was held during apartheid in South Africa. What a place for anyone to learn about human pain and suffering. I am reminded of Bob Schieffer’s recent interview on “Face of the Nation” with former US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright. Albright summed up our current condition by saying “the world is a mess.” Madam Secretary is right. Her interview focused on the conflict between Ukraine and Russia and the Gaza and Israel conflict, but the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) epidemic in West Africa kept coming to my mind.
Ebola hits close to home, since I have personal experience with its harmful threat. In 2001, Ebola was confirmed in Uganda, which is my home country. I remember the grip of fear, uncertainty and embarrassment that surrounded the outbreak. There was talk of wearing gloves as protective gear during handshakes. I wondered what we could do as the church in Uganda. Was silent prayer enough? If not, then what manner of praying could we do? Was it prayer offered in faith, since prayer involves faith? But faith without works is dead.
During the current Ebola crisis, I have wondered why the global church’s voice has been so quiet, even with a death toll of more than 4,200 lives in West Africa. The global Church’s silence pales in comparison to the attention shown during the 9/11 attacks in New York City where over 3,000 people lost their lives. Why such disparities of response? Could it be another delayed response as it was during the wake of the global HIV/AIDS catastrophe?
Ebola is no stranger to students of history in Uganda. In fact, Uganda has been one of the hardest hit countries by more than one strain of Ebola. However, Ugandan’s health community resiliently determined to combat Ebola even with prayer. In fact, Uganda’s ministry of health proved its capacity and preparation to control and contain Ebola in Uganda.
Yet such hopeful news is lacking in the media’s coverage of the Ebola epidemic. Is it because bad news is profitable? Uganda’s fight against Ebola can provide expertise on how to contain the disease in Africa. Uganda is among the “poor” nations of the world, but this nation’s ability to fend off Ebola showcases why the so called “poor” can, and must, always be part of any leadership and improvement initiative on such matters.
The Christian church and its involvement in “missions” in African countries should consider investing in the care and actions demonstrated in Uganda. There is need to respond to disease crises when they happen, and some Christians have done so. But the global church should prayerfully seek to work with a preventative purpose. Church leaders and congregational members can be best served by a question such as: What are the precursory structural and sinful conditions that contribute to preventable pandemics?
Experts reveal that Ebola is caused by a virus and is a deadly illness that can occur in humans. According to World Health Organization (WHO), “Ebola is introduced into the human population through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs, or other bodily fluids of infected animals. Severely ill patients require intensive supportive care. Patients are frequently dehydrated and require oral rehydration with solutions containing electrolytes or intravenous fluids.”
The current Ebola crisis is the “worst Ebola outbreak in history and is expected to continue till the end of the year.” It can be easy to compartmentalize the deadly stories told in the media about the Ebola outbreak or simply leave it to the experts to handle. But chronic infections are shaped by more than mere biology. They are also shaped by social forces well beyond the control of patients and their families.
Human suffering is not the problem of a few; it impacts all. We cannot afford an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. The global church cannot allow such deliberate apathy; otherwise the world-wide church continues to turn its back on patients and their families. And that is the antithesis of Jesus Christ who proclaimed, “… I was sick and you looked after me …” (Matt 25:36). The redeemer of the world desires compassion and action for those who are ill.
Local and global Christians can care for the sick through a prayerful approach to potential and actual epidemics. The global church has an opportunity to serve people who are sick and dying of Ebola. Yet, how does one pray and learn from this crisis?
Many people have heard about the American missionaries who were evacuated because they were infected with Ebola. But what about the people in the African countries who are impacted by Ebola? Has the noise from apathy hampered the attitude of empathy? Does God listen to the prayers of people afflicted by Ebola? What are the conditions of the little children and their families caught up in the storm? When will the epidemic’s storm end?
For the two American missionaries, the Ebola storm was defeated on its arrival into the United States. The fortunate missionaries were cared for at Emory University Hospital and Nebraska Medical Center. Based on the recovery of both American missionaries, people around the world, whether religious or not, now know that it is possible to contain Ebola. We learn that Ebola does not have to go on a bloody, uncontrolled rampage. Amazingly, prior to the recent missionary Ebola patients in America, according to Dr. Bruce Ribner, “… a patient with Ebola virus infection has never been cared for in an institution in the United States.”
Dr. Bruce Ribner, director of infectious diseases at Emory University Hospital says, “… the reason Emory was chosen is because it’s one of the four institutions in the United States capable of handling patients of this nature.” Dr. Ribner also provides non-clinical clues, namely, the presence of institutions that function with strong health systems. Effective leaders build effective institutions. The lack of such institutions and proper health systems in the countries impacted by the Ebola epidemic is part and parcel of the health crisis and structural violence. Other issues are lack of leadership, infrastructure, management, economic factors, conflict, and poor policies.
What part do structural conditions play in this crisis? Emory University Hospital, Nebraska Medical Center, and Uganda’s Ministry of Health provide some answers since these institutions have demonstrated a capacity to stop Ebola more than all the affected Western African countries combined. Structural problems including leadership issues are complex, but these are the places where attention needs to be given.
So what can the global church do? Prayer is a solid place to start, since it is an indispensable practice in the human experience. However, prayer cannot be the “sit down and do nothing” approach. Churches should offer prayers in faith, work to identify and establish mutual collaboration with credible leaders, and invest in viable ventures for medical centers around the world. These are just some of the ways the Church can engage this global crisis.