Prayers in Liberia: One strange note in riveting WPost trip inside Ebola zone

I have said this many times, but I have nothing but admiration for the reporters who work in war zones and in lands ravaged by disasters of all kinds.

It's hard enough for reporters, when covering complex issues, to do adequate background research and keep their facts straight -- even under the best of circumstances. My church-state issue file folder (yes, materials on dead tree pulp) is almost 40 years old. I have hundreds of similar files and I need them.

So imagine that you are in Liberia and trying to cover the Ebola outbreak, with all of its scientific, political, medical, ethical and legal implications. Yes, and issues of racial equality and economic justice. Yes, and there are religion ghosts, as well. Oh, and let's not forget the risk of face-to-face reporting at scenes in the heart of the crisis?

Thus, the first thing I want to say about a recent Washington Post report (headline: "Liberia already had only a few dozen of its own doctors. Then came Ebola") is that it is stunning and a must-read look at the lives of those with the courage to walk the halls of hospitals and treat the sick and dying in Monrovia, Liberia. How, exactly, does one take careful interview notes when wearing a full-protection hazmat suit?

Read it all. And make sure you remember the names mentioned at the very beginning:

MONROVIA, Liberia -- They were among the only Liberians who could treat Ebola, and in a single morning, it felt as if they were being picked off one by one.

First, before dawn on Thursday, Ebola killed Dr. John Tata. Then, hours later, Dr. Thomas Scotland tested positive for the virus.

With only a few dozen Liberian physicians in a country facing the biggest Ebola outbreak in history, it was a crippling blow. One Ebola treatment center closed its doors. Several of its hygienists and clinicians quit. Others left their shifts early to weep quietly outside.

At the center of the story is Dr. J. Soka Moses and his team. As the Post report notes, Tata was his professor in medical school and Scotland was the main colleague helping fight the rising tide of death in JFK Hospital's improvised Ebola ward.

So the names start connecting very quickly. A hospital is crippled when there are no doctors and nurses willing or able to work there. Here is one long, but unforgettable, scene:

Moses hoped Friday would be better. He prepared to see the 21 Ebola victims who remained at JFK. The clinic had closed its doors to new patients, but he decided he would continue to care for the ones already admitted, until they recovered or died.
But as he began putting on his protective gear, five hygienists, in charge of disinfecting the ward and its doctors, stormed out of the building.
“We are risking our lives, and we’re getting paid nothing!” Grace Twaeh screamed as she stalked down the dirt road connecting the hospital to downtown Monrovia. “Everyone is getting infected here. People are dying, dying, dying.”
One of Moses’s assistants chased after her.
“Please, I beg of you, come back!” he shouted.
Twaeh and the other hygienists kept walking.
Moses was near his desk in the storage room. Earlier in the morning, he had spoken with Scotland over the phone. He had told his friend that he would continue treating the patients. But as the hygienists left, he wondered whether that was possible.
“How can I do my job without them?” he asked.
Moses decided to try. He and 11 other JFK employees finished putting on their protective gear. It is a process that requires extraordinary attention to detail, to make sure not only that no skin is exposed but that there are enough layers of protection to survive a charge from a disoriented patient. That happened at JFK last month. The nurse who was attacked contracted the disease and died.

This is the point, near the end of the story, when there is a religious reference that has caused some discussion online (and in emails to GetReligion). Here it is:

When their gear was on, the men and women gathered in a circle and held hands. A physician’s assistant, Lawrence Kollie, led them in prayer.
“Lord, we are before your tomb of grace,” he began.
When they went into the ward, they saw a familiar scene. The healthier patients sat in the hospital’s fenced-in back yard, next to the massive pile of trash and excrement. Inside, the sickest patients writhed on mattresses or lay unmoving next to pools of vomit. A nurse cradled an infected child whose parents had died.

What is the question?

If you run Google search for "throne of grace" you get all kinds of references, since this is very common language today -- especially among evangelical and Pentecostal Christians. A similar search for "tomb of grace" draws nothing that would shed light on this scene.

At the very least, a "throne of grace" reference raises questions about the role of faith in the work of these doctors and nurses. Why has the courage to stand? Faith may be a factor. Also, frankly, it is stunning to hear people under these circumstances having the spiritual strength to talk about the power and Grace of God.

Yes, don't click "comment" just yet. I know that this is, theologically speaking, precisely what Christians through the ages would pray. I know my early-church history (and so does my King's College colleague Eric Metaxas). I am simple saying that this is still a shocking thing to hear people say, under those circumstances.

The Ebola ward is a "throne" of grace?

I have no trouble understanding why a reporter standing there would hear the word "tomb" instead of "throne," if that is what happened. So here is my question: Does the Post need to run a correction for this very understandable error?

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