By Adriane Heins and Paula Schlueter Ross
LCMS Disaster Response is providing three new grants totaling $51,175 to help people in West Africa fight the Ebola virus.
The grants are in addition to two previous Ebola grants totaling $16,554 that were distributed to the Synod’s African partners earlier this year.
All of the LCMS funds will be used to help prevent new cases of the often-fatal virus, which has taken the lives of at least 1,000 people this year — more than half of the 1,848 people infected in four West African countries, according to the World Health Organization.
The new LCMS grants are $25,000 to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Liberia; $20,000 to Baltimore-based Lutheran World Relief (for work in Liberia); and $6,175 to the Eglise Evangelique Lutherienne en Guinee-Conakry (Evangelical Lutheran Church of Guinea).
Previous Ebola-related grants of $6,554 and $10,000 were sent to the Guinea church body and to Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church — Sierra Leone, respectively, to fight the spread of Ebola.
Ebola cases so far have been documented in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
Liberia’s Bolay gives update
The effects of the deadly Ebola virus are “being suffered and felt in many ways” — including the deaths of two Lutherans who are suspected of having the disease — according to the Rev. Amos Bolay, president and bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Liberia (ELCL).
The country is currently under a 90-day state of emergency that began Aug. 6, which has suspended certain rights and privileges noted in Liberia’s constitution with the hope that heightened measures will stop — or at least slow — the virus from spreading.
“Elder Joseph L. Yasseh, former president of the [Lutheran] Church of Guinea, who was now residing in Liberia and serving as a senior elder of Christ Lutheran, an ELCL congregation, died in the provincial district of Foya, Lofa County, Liberia,” Bolay said. “Elder Yasseh became ill, and for fear of Ebola was rejected by health centers in the area and had to die an untimely death. This was the very first death of a Lutheran member.”
Bolay said the death of Alice Solo, a respected member of the Liberian church, also is believed to be the result of Ebola, though it has not been confirmed.
While Bolay remains concerned for the ELCL and its members, he maintains: “Word and sacraments being the very heart of our belief, we cannot stop but [we] continue administering the same to our people.”
However, he urges precautions now as well. When the Lord’s Supper is given, pastors do so “with a consciousness of the prevailing health rules of the country,” he says.
“Hand-washing is being recommended as a major prevention to Ebola. Our congregations have requested the washing of hands with chlorine before administering the sacraments, especially the Lord’s Supper, with the use of individual cups,” Bolay explains. “We have also asked our clergy and congregants to avoid handshakes during worship services.”
Trusting in Jesus Christ, the Great Physician of both body and soul, Bolay urges prayers on behalf of the ELCL and all of the people in the region affected by Ebola.
“We have been comforted by the love and concern shown to us by members and leaders of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod,” he said. “Please continue to keep us in your prayers.”
Lutheran World Relief (LWR) is working with IMA World Health to support the Christian Health Association of Liberia (CHAL) — an organization of 45 churches, faith-based schools and health facilities. In fact, a CHAL member hospital was the first hospital in Liberia to see an Ebola patient.
LWR and IMA are funding a CHAL project that provides preventive training for health workers as well as religious and community leaders. LWR spokesman Tim McCully said, “With additional funding, CHAL is looking at ways to expand their work and we will be in close contact with them as these additional funds from the LCMS are applied.”
Guinea was first
In Guinea, where the Ebola outbreak was first detected earlier this year, the French-speaking Evangelical Lutheran Church of Guinea is packaging its message of awareness and encouragement for preventing the disease with chlorine, soap and the Word of God.
“The short term [purpose] is to decrease the rate of infection [from] the Ebola virus [among] populations,” note church leaders on the LCMS grant application, and the “long term [purpose] is to allow recipients to feel [the comfort of Christ] and believe in Him for their eternal salvation.”
Combining physical aid with spiritual care is an important part of the Synod’s response to every disaster, notes the Rev. John Fale, associate executive director of LCMS Mercy Operations. And, like those in Guinea, Lutheran church leaders in Liberia and Sierra Leone also are taking that to heart, Fale said.
“That’s a model for why we work with our international partner churches — because they deliver, at the same time, tangible expressions of mercy and relief in the midst of suffering, and words of eternal comfort and care as they proclaim Christ and the forgiveness of sins,” Fale told Reporter.
Workshops in Sierra Leone
Lutherans in Sierra Leone say they hope to reach some 5,000 people in six districts — conducting workshops on how to prevent Ebola, including the distribution of “print materials with simple drawings that will explain about the Ebola disease and give preventive demonstrations.”
Grant monies also will be used to purchase and distribute rice and oil to those living in affected areas.
Lutheran Bible Translators (LBT), based in Aurora, Ill., evacuated two missionary families from Sierra Leone in late July and early August, noting that the “continuing spread of the Ebola virus throughout the region prompted the decision to temporarily withdraw” the families.
“We have been monitoring the situation since the outbreak began in Guinea earlier this year,” said David Snyder, LBT’s director of program ministries. “We closely assessed the progress of the disease and its proximity to our missionaries as it took hold in Sierra Leone. Recent indicators suggested that there was unacceptable risk to our missionary families.”
The LCMS has one missionary to Nigeria, who is making support visits in the United States, and none stationed in any of the other three countries reporting Ebola cases. But in Ghana — also in West Africa and home to six Synod missionaries — the Rev. David Erber, area director of West and Central Africa for the LCMS Office of International Mission, is watching the situation carefully.
“I have asked our missionaries to avoid travel away from their stations and maintain a high sense of awareness of the Ebola situation,” Erber said. “If Ebola is introduced into Ghana, it will be difficult to anticipate how the country might respond.”
“We will not,” he stressed, “want our missionaries in undue dangerous situations.”
How to help
Echoing Bolay, Fale asked U.S. Lutherans to “continue to pray for our Lord’s mercy through this critical time in Africa,” and he shared a portion of the “Prayer for the Afflicted and Those Who Are Suffering” from Johann Gerhard’s Meditations on Divine Mercy:
“On behalf of all who are suffering under affliction and hardship, I beg You to uphold them with the consolation of Your grace and to support them with the help of Your might. Clothe with heavenly power and strength those who sweat in the most grievous agony of satanic temptation. Make them partakers of Your victory, O Christ, powerful victor over the devil. May the refreshment of Your heavenly grace encourage those whose bones are dried up by the fire of sorrow. … Be gracious in allowing illness so physical sickness may be a spiritual medicine. … Have mercy on all, You who are the Creator of all. Have mercy on all, You who are the Redeemer of all. To You be praise and glory for all eternity. Amen.”
Added Fale: “May God bless medical professionals and servants of the church who bring words of hope in Christ with their merciful service.”
To contribute online to an LCMS fund for fighting Ebola, click here.
Adriane Heins is executive editor of The Lutheran Witness.
Posted Aug. 12, 2014 / Updated Aug. 21, 2014