Saturday, July 11, 2015

Christianity Shines in Dark Places

One year ago, we were receiving daily reports of the devastating effects of the Ebola virus on the people of Liberia and surrounding nations.  Now that the worst is over, experts are raising concerns about the quality of the local and global response to this crisis.  Consider an excerpt from the not-to-flattering “Report of the Ebola Interim Assessment Panel” of the World Health Organization (WHO):

Poor communication and messaging were a big hindrance.
WHO failed in establishing itself as the authoritative body on communicating about the Ebola crisis.  Although an emergency media team was put in place to manage WHO’s messaging and content, the communication strategy was not able to counteract the very critical reporting on the work of the Organization.  …The Panel is clear that WHO failed to engage proactively with high-level media and was unable to gain command over the narrative of the outbreak.

As suggested by the Panel, ineffectiveness of WHO in facilitating accurate messaging among government and nongovernmental organizations and media outlets resulted in disorganization, false narratives, uninformed local communities, widespread fear, and distrust.  The Panel’s report summarizes some of the consequences of the ineffectiveness of WHO (emphasis mine):

Owing to a lack of involvement on the part of the broader humanitarian systems, many of the resources of nongovernmental organizations from the countries and communities themselves were not mobilized in the early stages.  Had other partners been involved, it would have enabled community engagement because nongovernmental organizations with considerable experience in communities, including in health campaigns would have been brought in.

Included with its critical evaluation of how the WHO functioned in the 2014 Ebola crisis, are recommendations by the Panel to address the causes.  One key recommendation was as follows (emphasis mine):

WHO should establish the WHO Centre for Emergency Preparedness and Response, which will be based on the currently separate outbreak control and humanitarian areas of work.  This WHO Centre will need to develop new organizational structures and procedures to achieve full preparedness and response capacity.

Forgive my pessimism, but when I read about the inept performance by yet another in a long list of large bureaucratic organizations (Think Veterans Administration, Medicaid, and Internal Revenue Service to name a few.), I am not too optimistic when I read a recommendation to fund yet another layer of bureaucracy; especially one charged with making the existing bureaucracy do what it was already charged to do.  Although nongovernmental organizations (NGO’s) are not immune from such ineptness, many NGO’s deliver excellent outcomes with much more efficient use of funds.

One NGO among several that were responsible for combating the Ebola outbreak is Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian organization that has been ministering in Liberia since 2004.  Samaritan’s Purse’s online report entitled “Recovering from the Ebola Crisis in West Africa” includes the following encouraging claims:

In May 2015, more than a year since the deadly virus first surfaced in Liberia, the country was declared Ebola-free. The unprecedented outbreak claimed thousands of lives across West Africa.  Samaritan’s Purse responded aggressively in Liberia, where we have had a country office for more than a decade, through our Ebola Community Protection Program. Now that the virus has been contained, our office is starting programming to help the country recover.

Samaritan’s Purse has demonstrated competence in the face of the Ebola crisis based on its decade-long, trusted relationships and networking in local communities.   Consequently, this NGO, led by Franklin Graham, provides comprehensive help while using donor funds very efficiently.  For example, their Christian faith-based approach has enabled Samaritan’s Purse to provide community health education integrated with a message of hope to dispel centuries-old superstitions and false religious beliefs.  The Telegraph (London, July 30, 2014) commented on the way in which the grip of false beliefs hindered efforts to contain the Ebola virus:

There is a section of population here who simply don’t believe Ebola is real, they think it is witchcraft and so they don’t come to the treatment centres.

The Daily Kos, a liberal blog, reported as politely as possible (July 30, 2014):

Many rural western Africans have no formal schooling at all, and are accustomed to using village "witch doctors.”  I apologize if this seems rude, I am not trying to be insensitive to traditions, but one such doctor seems responsible for infecting nearly everyone in a village after suggesting Ebola was spread by snakes, and conducted a ritual involving group touching.  [Note: A Daily Kos reader suggested the use of “traditional healers” instead of “witch doctors”].

Samaritan's Purse provided health care, education, and hope.
Overcoming the deadly threat of Ebola requires a coordinated and decisive effort to combat ignorance, superstition, demonic influence, and fear.   Organizations like Samaritan’s Purse assist whole communities by offering education in community health and hygiene, and provide medical care.  But Christian faith-based organizations have an even greater advantage over secular and governmental organizations.  They rely on the power of God’s Word and His Spirit to pierce the spiritual darkness that prevents many Africans from knowing how to achieve and maintain their physical health and spiritual life in Christ.  

In order to foster Christian growth and maturity, Samaritan’s Purse emphasizes the importance of believers, both new and old, being regularly involved in a local church.  Their website states:

Through a massive public education campaign, which included thousands of church leaders, we provided potentially life-saving information to more than 1 million people, directly or indirectly, through a variety of events and media.

Dr. Kent Brantly of Samaritan's Purse contracted Ebola
and drew worldwide respect for faith-based efforts.
In our last Oikonomia article, “Censoring Vocabulary, But Not Virtue,” we emphasized that even where Christians are increasingly forbidden to speak words of truth to convey God’s good news it is still possible to convey the biblical message through a Christ-like testimony of love and forgiveness.  Those who ridicule and reject Christianity are often overwhelmed by the dedication of servants of God who have given their lives for the sake of Christ’s love to serve in “hard places.”  A visit to the website of Samaritan’s Purse, or better, a short-term ministry with Samaritan’s Purse to witness one of their field projects will reveal God’s love and its transformational power at work where words alone are often not possible.

Christian organizations like Samaritans’ Purse that serve in hard places must be encouraged as they follow the teaching of the  Apostle Peter’s letter to Christians living in hard places in the first century AD.  May Peter’s words encourage you also as you face challenges to your faith in a world that rejects much of what they see of Christianity:

Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good?
But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness,
you are blessed.
but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts,
always being ready to make a defense to everyone
who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you,
yet with gentleness and reverence;
and keep a good conscience
so that in the thing in which you are slandered,
those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.
For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer
for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.
   – 1 Peter 3: 13-17

No comments: