Faith leaders are vital to respond effectively to the crises in West African nations resulting from the Ebola virus.
Three nations – Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia – were at the center of the epidemic, which originated in a rural village in Guinea in late December 2013 but was not identified as Ebola until March 2014.
Two years later, the Centers for Disease Control, reports more than 28,000 suspected, probable and confirmed cases of Ebola and more than 15,000 lab-confirmed cases, resulting in more than 11,000 deaths: 4,809 in Liberia, 3,956 in Sierra Leone and 2,540 in Guinea.
ChristianAid, a United Kingdom-based charity, released a short film highlighting the role of Sierra Leone faith leaders in responding to “the largest ever Ebola epidemic” in history.
Christiana Sutton Koroma, an ordained evangelical pastor, asserted, “You cannot succeed in any activity with regards to development … without engaging the religious leaders.”
“They are in the communities, they know their communities, they know their people. … They are trusted voices,” she added. “And when the people listen to them, they will actually adhere to the preventative measures.”
A Sufi Muslim Sheikh described how Ebola survivors are often ostracized and shunned by their community, a fear-based reaction that is minimized when faith leaders speak out against the practice.
Peter Contah, director of Caritas Freetown, shared how congregations continue to address the ongoing impact of the virus by caring for orphaned children and seeking to find them families with whom they can live.
“Post-Ebola strategies need a lot of support,” he said. “Unfortunately, the way our world works, when you are off the camera you are forgotten, you are lost. But this is the time that we need support most.”
U.S. Baptists played a vital role in addressing the Ebola outbreak in Liberia.
Texas Baptists Disaster Recovery sent 250,000 meals in October 2014 that were distributed by the Liberia Baptist Missionary and Educational Convention led by Olu Menjay.
Baylor Scott and White Health’s Faith in Action Initiatives, led by Baptist Don Sewell, shipped medical supplies to aid the Liberian Ministry of Health.
Lamberth Memorial Baptist Church in Roxboro, North Carolina, worked with Richard Wilson, a religion professor at Mercer University and the president of the Liberia Baptist Theological Seminary (LBTS), to provide food to Liberians during the crisis.
Faliku Dukuly, a graduate of the Baptist-affiliated Ricks Institute in Monrovia, Liberia, documented the crises caused by the epidemic through video footage and interviews, as well as pictures, which can be viewed here.