By Dr. Jo Anne Lyon
People often think of a trip to the White House as a “photo op” event. My visit to the White House last week was nothing of the sort. In fact there were no photographers or reporters present. This meeting with White House senior staff last week included about 10 faith-based leaders who are working in West Africa on the Ebola crisis.
The senior staff was gathering information from those of us representing efforts on the ground, and we were there to learn about efforts by the U.S. Government to assist in the crisis. There was a sense of desperation in the tone of the meeting. As I sat there my heart broke yet again for tens of thousands of Wesleyans in Sierra Leone and Liberia who are depending on us to intervene.
The morning before the White House meeting I received an email from a Wesleyan leader in Sierra Leone who is on the front line in this crisis. He told me, “Please, Jo Anne, do not let the U.S. put a travel ban on us. We need help here to fight the disease. We need commercial airlines for people and supplies. Plus, our country cannot be shut out economically or we will have many secondary crises from this.” This is important for us to remember—even with our fears, we cannot isolate those we need to serve.
The first person to speak with our group was Ron Klain, deputy assistant to the President and Ebola response coordinator. He has also been referred to as the “Ebola Czar,” although he doesn’t like that informal title (and neither would I). Mr. Klain asked us to speak out against the travel ban and to participate in celebrating the health workers who are going into these places so when they return they are not stigmatized.
His words regarding the travel ban were almost exactly the plea I had heard two hours earlier from our brothers and sisters in Sierra Leone. I was stunned. His second request brought respectful silence to the room. Sitting to my left was Dr. Kent Brantly, physician with Samaritan’s Purse serving in Liberia who this past July was flown to Atlanta having contracted Ebola. In our midst was a hero of the faith but someone who has faced unwarranted criticism and family stigmatization from the public. Immediately my mind went to the words of Jesus . . . “persecuted for righteousness sake.” Dr. Brantly and his family have been very bold in proclaiming their faith as well as simply living it out. In a later conversation with Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse, who was also present, we speculated that these heroes can forge through this criticism because they know that the world cannot understand this level of commitment.
As I listened to the desperate conversations that day my mind reflected on the words in Isaiah 59 which says, “The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice. He saw there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene.”
I am so grateful for Wesleyans that are intervening in these tragic days, and I thank you. This crisis of death will be solved at the source countries. I believe we want God to applaud at our obedience to him and his people rather than to be appalled at our selfishness and isolation. I was very honored and, yes, even proud to let the leaders of our country know what Wesleyans in the U.S. and Canada are doing to alleviate this crisis both physically and spiritually.
Let me also give a final reminder to you that the battle is not over. We still need financial assistance and specialized volunteers. But most of all we need God to break our hearts for this great need. If we will only be compassionate in this crisis we will see God move in wonderful ways. In Matthew 9 Jesus was going about “proclaiming the good news of the kingdom,” but he did more than just preach. He was also “healing every disease and sickness.” He saw people in destitute conditions, and he dealt with every disease he faced. It goes on to say, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” We celebrate those heroes who have already stepped out in courage and have returned from the front lines.
May we all be shepherds that see this great crowd of suffering West Africans with deep compassion, dealing with this disease as Christ would. I believe we can do this, together!