Is there a religion angle on Time magazine's selection of "The Ebola Fighters" as the 2014 Person of the Year?
In her explanation of the selection, Time Editor Nancy Gibbs notes:
Ask what drove them and some talk about God; some about country; some about the instinct to run into the fire, not away. “If someone from America comes to help my people, and someone from Uganda,” says Iris Martor, a Liberian nurse, “then why can’t I?” Foday Gallah, an ambulance driver who survived infection, calls his immunity a holy gift. “I want to give my blood so a lot of people can be saved,” he says. “I am going to fight Ebola with all of my might.”
MSF nurse’s assistant Salome Karwah stayed at the bedsides of patients, bathing and feeding them, even after losing both her parents—who ran a medical clinic—in a single week and surviving Ebola herself. “It looked like God gave me a second chance to help others,” she says. Tiny children watched their families die, and no one could so much as hug them, because hugs could kill. “You see people facing death without their loved ones, only with people in space suits,” says MSF president Dr. Joanne Liu. “You should not die alone with space-suit men.”
Likewise, Time's in-depth story on "The ones who answered the call" reflects the key role of faith, starting right up top:
On the outskirts of Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, on grassy land among palm trees and tropical hardwoods, stands a cluster of one-story bungalows painted cheerful yellow with blue trim. This is the campus of Eternal Love Winning Africa, a nondenominational Christian mission, comprising a school, a radio station and a hospital. It was here that Dr. Jerry Brown, the hospital’s medical director, first heard in March that the fearsome Ebola virus had gained a toehold in his country. Patients with the rare and deadly disease were turning up at a clinic in Lofa County—part of the West African borderlands where Liberia meets Guinea and Sierra Leone. “It was then that we really started panicking,” says Brown.
Even in ordinary circumstances, the doctor’s workday was a constant buzz of people seeking answers: Can you help with this diagnosis? Would you have a look at this X-ray? What do you make of this rash? Inevitably, Brown would raise his eyebrows and crease his forehead as if surprised that anyone would think he might know the answer. Just as inevitably, he would have one.
Ebola was different. On this subject, Brown had more questions than answers. He knew the virus was contagious and highly lethal—fatal in up to 90% of cases. But why was it in Liberia? Previous Ebola outbreaks had been primarily in remote Central Africa. Could the disease be contained in the rural north? The membrane between countryside and city in Liberia was highly porous; people flowed into Monrovia in pursuit of jobs or trade and flowed back to their villages, families and friends. “Sooner or later,” Brown remembers thinking, “it might reach us.” And what then? A poor nation still shaky after years of civil war, Liberia—population 4 million-plus—had just a handful of ambulances in operation. How could Liberia possibly deal with Ebola?
Keep reading, and various glimpses of faith emerge, including these five:
1. A doctor turns a chapel into an Ebola unit:
“Well, of course, turning the chapel into an Ebola unit was not welcomed by the staff of the institution. The bulk of them said, ‘Why should we turn the house of God into a place where we put people with such a deadly disease?’ And some said, ‘Where will you provide for us to worship in the morning?’” Brown recalls. (His story, like all the accounts quoted here, was shared in an interview with TIME.)
Dr. John Fankhauser, another volunteer, a family physician from Ventura, Calif., had a ready answer to those objections. Jesus himself treated patients in the house of God, Fankhauser noted. Still, the idea remained unpopular, so Brown tried a more personal brand of persuasion. One by one, or in small groups, he asked the upset hospital workers, “What if you get sick with Ebola, or a member of your family? If the ELWA facility is not prepared to treat patients, where will you go?” Eventually, as Brown recalls, “a couple of them saw reason.”
2. Evangelical relief agency Samaritan's Purse provides emergency help:
More beds were needed. Brown decided to convert the brand-new kitchen and laundry building donated by Samaritan’s Purse. An emergency check from the organization, which was founded by the Rev. Franklin Graham—son of the evangelist Billy Graham—provided for building materials and more protective gear. Samaritan’s Purse also sent its director of disaster response, Dr. Lance Plyler, to join the battle. Hastily completed in July, ELWA 2, as the facility became known, had room for an additional 20 beds.
3. Noah builds a contagious diseases unit:
In his white lab coat and eyeglasses, Dr. Bruce Ribner looks nothing like a biblical patriarch, but for many years he felt like Noah building his ark. As medical director of the Serious Communicable Disease Unit at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Ribner began work in 2001 on a meticulously safe and secure facility where patients suffering from lethal contagious diseases—like Ebola—could be treated with minimal risk. At the time, the only remotely comparable unit in the U.S. was a locked room, nicknamed the Slammer, at an Army research lab in Maryland.
4. The Bible comforts a deathly ill Dr. Kent Brantly:
With his temperature high, his heart racing and fluid collecting in his lungs, Brantly lay in his room at the ELWA compound, just “trying to rest and not die” while awaiting transfer to Ribner’s unit in Atlanta. As his laptop played passages of Scripture set to music, words of the Apostle Paul settled on his ears: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God.” He clung to that hope like a lifeline.
5. A nurse cares for orphaned and quarantined children:
Meyler and Martor became Ebola fighters because there was no one else to turn to. Overnight, they converted the school into an ad hoc disaster-response center, holding meetings, organizing food distribution and even setting up an ambulance service for West Point with funds from a wealthy donor. “It’s like, we don’t have an organization if we don’t have students who are alive,” Meyler says. While she established a temporary orphanage and quarantine program for children whose families were in treatment or wiped out, Martor organized a team from the More Than Me school to visit the homes of every student. “Praise be to God,” she recalls, “none of them had gotten sick.”
Is there a religion angle on this story? Of course. Kudos to Time for making that abundantly clear.