NEW YORK (Christian Examiner) – The horror that is Ebola isn't going away any time soon, and Time magazine yesterday honored the commitment of those who stay and fight, and those who go and fight, by naming Ebola Fighters as its Person of the Year.
A gripping 10-minute video on time.com gives clarity to the story of an impoverished people dealing with the "ghost" of Ebola lurking unseen to ravage families and communities. Stats released earlier this week by the World Health Organization say about 18,000 people have been infected, mostly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, and at least 7,000 have died since last December, though it wasn't identified as Ebola until March.
A Time editor's explanation of the reason Ebola Fighters were chosen is equally compelling. "Ask what drove them [Ebola Fighters] and some talk about God ...," Nancy Gibbs wrote, including Samaritan's Purse as one of the "fighters."
Samaritan's Purse is a Christian relief agency based in Boone, N.C., best-known for Operation Christmas Child, which partners with churches across the nation to provide a shoebox filled with "goodies" to show God's love to children who might never before have had anything new. The entity also does disaster relief and a variety of other needs-based ministries.
It was the Samaritan's Purse physician Richard Brantley's infection and return to America along Aug. 2 and the Aug. 5 return of Nancy Whitebol R.N. of the SIM Christian relief agency, that largley alerted people in America of the crisis. Two days later, Aug. 7, WHO declared the crisis in West Africa an "international health emergency that requires a coordinated global approach."
"We are grateful to Time magazine for recognizing the army of men and women who have been fighting Ebola, risking their lives to save others," said Franklin Graham in a message to the Christian Examiner. Graham is president and CEO of Samaritan's Purse.
"This battle for life is far from over, and Samaritan's Purse will continue our work in this huge effort," Graham continued. "We pray for each one of these heroes on the frontline and those suffering from Ebola. May God bring healing and comfort to them all."
When Kent Brantly was in high school, he started going on international mission trips, knowing it was his life calling to be a medical missionary. He was still in the final year of his residency training when he was hired by Samaritan's Purse as its first medical director, and went to Liberia in 2013.
"Thank you, Time magazine, for not only looking back on the toll this outbreak has already taken on the world, but for keeping in the headlines and looking forward to the future as the battle rages on," Brantly told the Examiner in an email. "It is an honor to be considered a part of that group, but it is important to acknowledge that most Ebola Fights, and certainly those who have paid the highest price for their service, are West Africans.
"The world must not forget about the crisis that continues in West Africa," Brantly added. "This is not a local problem in one small region of the world. It is a threat to global public health, and we must stay focused on the task at hand.
"Please, continue to pray for the people of West Africa, and for God to bring an end to the unprecedented outbreak. Those who are able and willing should volunteer to go and join the fight. ... The public should applaud these Ebola Fighters with gratitude and respect for the sacrifices they make on behalf of their neighbors. We must press on to extinguish this fire."
Samaritan's Purse has been working in Liberia since 2003, partnering with local churches and missions to meet the medical, food, water and education needs of people across that nation.
In specific assistance to the Ebola crisis, the organization recently airlifted 200 tons of supplies to Liberia, including protective suits, rubber gloves and boots, disinfectant and masks. Currently they're constructing community care centers in remote areas of that nation, and training Liberians to work as safely as possible.
In addition, Samaritan's Purse is expanding its community-based care program, which provides supplies and equips people to care for their loved ones at home, while protecting themselves against the disease.
According to a Dec. 9 article in the British tabloid The Guardian, Sierra Leone is falling behind in efforts to remove and bury the dead, with some workers dumping bodies in the streets to protest not being paid. Bodies are buried without being tested, and less than one in five dead may end up being reported to the WHO as an Ebola casualty.
Liberia and Guinea are doing better, but the disease is far from contained, WHO officials say.