How should followers of Jesus respond to the Ebola crisis?
Are Ann Coulter and Donald Trump right that we should stay at home and leave Africa to its own problems because we have enough of our own right here? Were Kent Brantley and Nancy Whitebol fools to place themselves in harm’s way to serve Ebola patients? Does the fact that they were infected by Ebola themselves, prove they were fools? John Piper penned a serious/humorous poem, Ebola, that addresses this accusation.
Additionally, I call two witnesses to help us answer the charges.
1. The Witness of Church History
The Christian response to devastating plagues is a commonly overlooked historical reality that contributed to the rapid growth of the church in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. Rodney Stark tells the story in Epidemics, Networks, and the Rise of Christianity, well worth your reading.
Stark notes that…
a. Christianity provided better answers and comfort than pagan religion to the hard questions inevitably raised by the devastation of the plague.
b. Christians were willing to risk their lives to care for the sick because they “were certain that this life was but prelude (page 170),
c. Christians responded with heroic self-sacrificing compassion, not running from the plague, but running toward it to give comfort, water and food to the dying; and burying the dead, This was in contrast to non-Christians who abandoned their own who became sick, leaving them on the road to die with no care, lest they be exposed themselves. Those without care had no chance of beating the disease, many dying of starvation and thirst, many of whom could have survived with adequate hydration and nutrition.
d. Noting that medical science of the day had no answers, pagan physicians fled the scene. Untrained Christians, however, made a difference.
“When all normal services break down, quite elementary nursing will greatly reduce mortality. Simple provision of food and water, for instance, will allow persons who are temporarily too weak to cope for themselves to recover instead of perishing miserably,” (page 170, quoting from William H. McNeill’s Plagues and Peoples, 1976)
It was noted than in the case of many plagues, “conscientious nursing without any medications could cut the mortality rate by two-thirds or even more.” page 170, 171)
e. Ironically, Christians did not die in greater numbers by investing themselves in serving the sick but actually survived in much greater numbers. A major reason is that they cared for one another as well as their pagan neighbors.
f. Both the acts of mercy shown by believers and the sense that God was working miracles through them to save the dying, led many pagans to convert to faith in Christ.
This is only a limited summary of Stark’s article. Read it in full to get the greater impact.
2. The Witness of Nancy Whitebol
Was she a fool to serve Ebola patients? I highly commend her interview with the Desiring God staff, Risk is Right, Says Ebola Survivor and Missionary Nancy Whitebol.
Ebola is a serious disease and is rightly being addressed with extreme caution. But the answer is not to run from it, nor criticize those who run toward it; but to give encouragement to those who are willing to risk their lives for the sake of others. This is a major distinction of true Christian faith.
Don’t assume that because someone is returning from Africa, they have been exposed to Ebola. The Ebola Zone is actually a very small part of a very large continent.