People often say that, maybe besides someone who samples restaurant food for a living, I have the best job on the planet. When analyzing my position here in Plugged In, these folks are convinced all I do is watch movies and get paid for it. Then when they learn that I, on occasion, get invitations to tour movie sets (e.g., Hawaii for Soul Surfer) or filming locales (e.g., India for Not Today), they begin to drool even more. And while my job isn’t as cool as you might think (for me, I don’t get to watch movies as much as I have to watch them), it’d be misleading if I didn’t admit that it has its perks.
But sometimes, these “perks” can take me way outside my comfort zone.
A month ago, I received another unusual invite—asking me if I’d like to get a yellow fever vaccination and join a group of other journalists traveling to Liberia in Africa.
Now, I have a bucket list of places I’d like to visit someday before pushing up daisies, but, honestly, Liberia wasn’t on it. The country, and the surrounding region, is probably best known in the United States these days for being one of the countries ravaged by Ebola in 2014—a terrible epidemic that took the lives of more than 11,000 people.
Turns out, the trip—which I took at the end of August—was one of the most impactful ones I’ve ever taken. And here’s why:
The Samaritan’s Purse organization (which is involved in numerous fantastic endeavors around the globe) had just wrapped up a rough cut of a documentary set to release most likely in March 2017. The film deals with the 2014 Ebola crisis and highlights a number of Samaritan’s Purse employees and volunteers who bravely stepped up to minister to those who came down with this dreaded disease. About a dozen of us “press” screened that film in the United States before hopping aboard Samaritan’s Purse’s DC-8 (pictured above, and a story in itself) to head across the pond. What followed was two intense days of interviews, visiting various sites (including a new hospital that Samaritan’s Purse is building in the capital of Monrovia) and a quick trip to Ebola’s ground zero (or near it) in Foya, 275 miles north of Monrovia.
A few nights ago, I watched a news story about a man who pulled a driver out of a burning car. I asked myself if I’d be willing to put myself in harm’s way. I had similar thoughts in Liberia. It would take such courage to tend and care for people afflicted with such a frightening, deadly disease. While Ebola can’t be caught through the air like a cold, I learned that it could be contracted even through touching the perspiration of an infected person’s arm or face. And since the Liberians have a custom of holding, hugging and washing their dead, cases of Ebola increased exponentially.
Workers from Samaritan’s Purse (and other organizations) faced the difficult task of getting people to change those deeply imbedded cultural practices. Liberia’s Samaritan’s Purse director and wife (Kendall and Bev Kauffeldt) remarked that Liberia’s two recent civil wars were actually easier to navigate than Ebola. With war, the bad guys carried guns and shot real bullets. But in the Ebola crisis, your “enemy” could easily be your mother, grandfather or neighbor across the street who simply wanted a hug or a handshake.
This work didn’t come without risk … or cost. Jesus once taught that “Greater love has no one than this, than he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13 NIV). Repeatedly I talked with or heard about Samaritan’s Purse staffers who, like the car-fire rescuer, were willing to lay down their lives for those who contracted the deadly Ebola virus. Most of these seriously ill individuals were not “friends,” but complete strangers. What’s more, several of these valiant servants contracted the disease by doing so. Unfortunately, I was unable to meet with Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Whitebol who were both back in the States. These two, as you might remember, were the first two Ebola patients to be treated in the U.S. Neither are sure how they contracted the disease as both were careful users of biohazard suits.
But I did have a chance to hear from 15 Ebola widows, half of which are Ebola survivors as well. Samaritan’s Purse has these ladies enrolled in something they call the Ruth Project, which teaches them basic life skills and gives them each a small grant to start a business. I met with Joseph Gbembo (pictured below), who lost 17 family members and took in 16 orphaned children from members of his family who passed away. I still am in awe over his sacrifice.
I could go on and on about the trip, but it’s time to bring this blog to a close. And I do so with a few takeaways:
Samaritan’s Purse is a wonderful organization, and if you’re looking for a group to help support (in addition to our fabulous Focus on the Family work), they’re at the top or near the top of that list.
Second, be in prayer for the film release. People often are transformed by the media they watch and this one could bring about a number of positive changes.
And finally, consider your own calling in life. Is the Lord knocking on your heart to minister to others as these in Liberia are doing? Perhaps, long term? Short term? It doesn’t necessarily require a big commitment in time or money. After all, we all can pack Operation Christmas Child boxes during the holidays, and what Samaritan’s Purse does with these collections of goodies is nothing short of amazing. But it’s possible that God might be calling you to do something more. I would think that someone reading this today might be feeling a tug right now, and it may involve serving others in a country far, far away … or across the street. And if so, your job will be the one worth drooling over!