For some time I have felt uneasy with the general North American response to the Ebola fiasco. For me this aggravation started last spring when the mainstream media finally began covering the Ebola epidemic-months after the outbreak had begun. It didn’t sit well with me because it seemed to me that we ignored the intense suffering until two Americans were infected. Having recently returned to North America from living in a third-world country, I see my native culture in new ways. Anyone who has spent time living in a culture much different than their own will tell you that once you return to your native culture you suddenly see it differently. I would describe it as the view from a huge panoramic photo (rather than the perspective “zoom in lenses” afford.) One gains a new perspective observing patterns, themes, & mindsets. At the very least you gain a renewed appreciation for it and the many blessings we enjoy. (A family member laughed at me after I returned when I asked if I could really drink the water from the tap!) Perhaps its simply because the media coverage began just after I had returned to North America on a break, but it didn’t sit well that we only began coverage of the issue once “we” were impacted-and it wasn’t just “them.” I had seen the twitter feed for weeks of Ken Isaacs and the team at Samaritan’s Purse working on the front lines trying to make people aware of the Ebola outbreak; pleading for the resources needed to effectively serve and love the people at the epicenter of the outbreak… and it seemed to no avail. Until it was no longer “them” but “us.”
A short time later when mainstream media carried the news that the two American’s infected with Ebola were being airlifted back to the US, I rejoiced that they were going to receive the best care in the world. But that joy was quickly mixed with grief as tears welled up in my eyes at the thought of the people left behind. The thousands of others who didn’t have the opportunity to be in a state-of-the-art hospital: moms, sisters, dads, sons, who would suffer and die a horrible death because they lacked appropriate medical care. I’ve had first hand experience in developing hospitals dotted throughout these third-world countries. Some having no access to electricity, others lacking supplies, medicine, or appropriately trained medical personnel. Let alone the reality that even if the hospital nearest them is more developed and equipped, many people don’t even have the financial ability to get transportation to medical centers. That day as I watched the 6 o’clock news I cried, not because I wasn’t overjoyed that the American’s were being airlifted home but because the others from West Africa wouldn’t be… the people who I no longer view as “them” but who have come to have a big place in my heart and life. Some are like my second family. When I think of them very real faces come to mind. I think of the laughter of the children who run around in nothing but rags and who carry water jugs that are twice as heavy as most of the children themselves weigh, the calloused hands of the Momma who spends her day using an African hoe to work the ground and grow food for her family.
People who are already challenged in daily survival let alone battling a disease that makes wealthy, equipped, and cocky Americans quake in their boots.
Then came the response that made me most uneasy & which has dominated the news media and social media… the Fear—“What about us?” Some questioned if we should even allow these two Americans who were sick back into the country… “What if they carry the disease here?” Since that time, and only worsened with the death of Thomas Duncan, fear, self-focus, and “protectionism” has dominated the discussion. These things are all to be expected from unbelievers but why do believers sound much the same in these discussions? Many believers Twitter and Facebook accounts sound the same alarms and voice the same fears-except they might slip in something about “praying for____” rather than just expressing anger at the immigration system that let this into our country.
Ebola is a terrible disease and I don’t seek to belittle or underestimate its impact or the seriousness of the situation. But why is it that so much of our attention is focused on “us” and our situation that is barely comparable and minute and one for which we are much better equipped? One journalist wrote this: “Panic is less a side-effect of Ebola than its own sort of infectious disease, spread by misinformation and fear, a sickness that frays and tears the ways people usually get along. Hysteria shuts down schools and airports, paranoia undermines health workers and law enforcements, and fear encourages some of people’s worst instincts. As of Monday, there’s a lot more panic in the US than Ebola.”
Please understand I am not a medical Doctor and my goal is not to discuss this from a medical perspective but rather a theological. Why is it this situation has brought out some of our worst instincts? How should a Christian think differently about the current Ebola crisis? What can we learn for the future? What does the current situation expose about us and our thinking? How can this situation inform our future thinking and actions-perhaps in responding to other suffering and needs throughout the world? Here are some of my thoughts:
Are we Christians or Practical Atheists? It grieves me that many Christians have sounded much the same as the non-Christian’s in this whole fiasco. True belief is expressed in one’s day-to-day actions. What you really believe will be exposed when it is tested and it comes time to take action. How is it that we as Christians always loose sight of Him? Do we just say that God is all knowing and all-powerful, or do we live it and breathe it?
Did this epidemic surprise God? No. Is He powerless to protect us and our loved ones? No. Is Ebola a disease that is beyond His healing power? No. Is the Ebola epidemic something that God can use to build His kingdom? Yes. That leads me to the next point.
Christians Are Empowered to Be on the Forefront Why is it that we sound fearful and defeated rather than victorious? Why is it that our love quickly fades when it could cost us? Is our love for Christ and our neighbor so shallow that rather than running to them-we run in the complete opposite direction? Yes, the problems of this world (especially in under developed countries or areas in conflict/at war) can seem overwhelming. Most give up before they ever try. But, we are on the winning team. We don’t need to have the most successful organization; we don’t need the trophy of winning that “war” or completing development or solving that problem… God just asks us to obey Him and faithfully be His hands and feet. We may or may not see complete success-our identity is in Jesus Christ. Our finances are not our future security, He is. We can lavishly poor out our energies, love, & resources because He is the never-ending supply.
Yes, these situations may seem overwhelming and I may not be able to solve every problem but I can be the hands and feet of Jesus comforting a child, visiting an elderly man who is sick in his hut with no one to care for him, or assist a mother in getting her child to the clinic. And when I don’t have the resources or ability to solve their problem—I can tell them about The One who is the source of all life, of all resources, of all love, of all peace, of all joy… their Creator, their Redeemer, and the one in whom is all of our hope. When I’m not there, He can be there-Jesus.
It is at Times & Places of Least Hope Where God Loves to Work & Where Hearts Are Most Open: In the beatitudes Jesus said: “blessed are the hungry for they shall be filled”; “blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.” The principles throughout Scripture again and again show us that it is when we are weak that He is strong. Our salvation took place because we confessed our hopelessness and our need for Christ. It is secure because of Him and what He did. One thing I am repeatedly impacted by is how open people are to the gospel in these countries of deep suffering, or at times of great need-and especially once the love of Christ is actively demonstrated to them through Believers. In North America people don’t think they need Jesus—because they are so cushioned and protected by all their possessions and the protection and conveniences of their country. However, in places or at times that people are exposed to death and need—they are very aware of their need for Jesus Christ.
On a fairly regular occurrence I have people who try to convince me just to stay home “we need you here”, “its so dangerous over there”… and most recently they have questioned me returning to Africa in the coming months because “what about Ebola?” Why is it that I am still planning to return? It is because Jesus runs towards the problems and we run behind Him following Him wherever He leads us. If He is leading the way, will He not guide and protect and provide? So often rather than letting the love of Christ transform us and propel us towards people—we run in the other direction and hide.
A Focus on Problems (or Diseases) vs. People We tend to think of the situation in West Africa as a disease-so much of the chatter is about the virus; much less is said about individual people. Jesus looked out on the multitudes and he had compassion on them as people who were in need.
It is easy to look at a problem and negate the fact that there are people behind that problem. But once we remember there are real people involved and we begin to walk alongside them we gain a much clearer perspective. When we attempt to solve problems by simply looking at the problem we often come up with an ineffective solution—or we decide that the problem isn’t worth tackling because it is hopeless. However, a focus on people and on doing what we can do-what God calls and empowers us and makes all the difference. People become no longer simply a statistic-they’re no longer one of “them”, but “us.”
Protectionism & Self-Interest This is the area in the whole situation that has stuck out to me most. I’m not sure if it might be because of my background in government policy and having worked for the federal government before I moved overseas in policy areas related to defence and anti-terrorism. A government is to pursue the best interests of their country. For example, they may abandon “protectionism” in trade—but it is because their self-interest (or the interests of the country) will be best met because open borders equals not only imports, but most importantly exports! They might collaborate with other countries (leaving isolationism), but it is always motivated by national self-interest. A government may only get involved in a foreign country because one of their own national interests is at stake. Frankly, I don’t expect any less. I believe that the government is called to represent and defend their own country and its interests; however, it is not the same for individual believers who are obeying Christ’s call on their lives.
We as Christians are equipped to leave behind selfishness and protectionism because God is looking out for us. We pursue Him and He takes care of us and our needs. It’s in His best interest to keep us safe as we follow and serve Him wherever He leads; He has a future work for us. When the time comes that we are finished what He has for us, we have the final and secure HOPE of heaven with Him!!! What do we have to fear?
The Christian must leave behind a “them” vs. “us” mindset—we are now called to “one another.” For further study look up all the “one another” commands God gives us throughout scripture. (i.e. “Love one another… Serve one another… Defer to one another…”)
Where is Jesus & What Does This Tell us About Where We Need to Be?
Throughout Jesus time on earth He was among the people-whether it was the wealthy, the poor, the sick, the religious people, or the leaders of their day. He left His home in heaven and set side His comfort and came to earth to love us and meet our deepest needs.
We see Jesus healing the lepers (the dreaded disease in Jesus’ day) Jesus went to the “isolation unit” of sorts for Lepers. Their present day doctors had no hope or treatment for these people and they simply sent then away to avoid infecting others, but Jesus sought them out. We see Jesus touching the diseased and healing them—not just physically but spiritually. He’s hanging out with the people who are disadvantaged, the people who can do nothing for Him. He’s ministering and eating with and loving the people who are “dirty” the outcasts of society. But He didn’t do it to join them in their mess but to bring healing and redemption!
I’m not calling for us to be careless or what is referred to as “tempting the Lord” and acting foolishly. I’m not saying we shouldn’t use extreme caution in dealing with the Ebola fiasco. Nor am I advocating that Christian medical professionals shouldn’t use masks and gloves and other protective measures.
For many, our actions will not change and perhaps they don’t need to change—however, it seems many of us believers in North America could use a change of heart and attitude in response to this and other crises throughout the world. And, perhaps that change of heart will lead more to become actively involved in being the hands and feet of Jesus in our global world. Who is better equipped with the financial and scientific resources for involvement than North American Christians?