God, Ebola and the Church

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Reading Dr. Sue’s article on Ebola, my thoughts easily led on to a spiritual consideration of this modern-day plague which is devastating West Africa, especially Sierra Leone and Liberia….. I wondered about the large Christian congregations in these parts of the world and how they were responding to the challenge? Had they shut up shop for fear of spreading contamination? Were they saying that the disease was the ‘work of Satan’ or ‘God’s judgement on sin?’ Were Christians falling victim to the scourge just as much as anyone else or were they claiming ‘Divine protection’? Most of all I was curious to see if my heart might be encouraged by any amazing testimonies of healing.

 
So I’ve been doing some net-surfing and here are a couple of testimonies I have found.

 
The first, you may have heard of as it concerns a United States Aid worker, Dr. Kent Brantly, who took ill after treating Ebola victims in Liberia. Here is his testimony on the day he was released from hospital in Atlanta.

 
“Today is a miraculous day. I am thrilled to be alive, to be well, and to be reunited with my family. As a medical missionary, I never imagined myself in this position. When my family and I moved to Liberia two years ago, Ebola was not on the radar. We moved to Liberia because God called us to service in Liberia .As the Ebola outbreak tore through West Africa, my wife and family returned to the US but I stayed back and continued to treat Ebola patients. I woke up on July 23, 2014 feeling “under the weather”.

 
I lay in bed for nine days, getting progressively sicker and weaker. Then, on August 1, I was flown to Atlanta for treatment at Emory.
I cannot thank you enough for your prayers and your support, but what I can tell you is that I serve a God who answers prayers. God saved my life, a direct answer to thousands and thousands of prayers…Thank you to the Liberia community, Emory hospital and so many of you, my family, friends and church family.

 
Above all, I am forever grateful to God for sparing my life and I’m glad for any attention my sickness has attracted to the plight of West Africa in the midst of this epidemic. Please continue to pray for Liberia and the people of West Africa and encourage physicians of leadership and influence to do everything possible to bring this Ebola outbreak to an end.”

 
The second testimony is that of a woman of faith who lives in a one-room tin house with holes in the walls in a crowded section of the capital of Liberia. Her most-prized possession is a well-worn Bible, a sword she wields – along with fervent prayer – as Ebola ravages her church and her neighbourhood. Her name is Dorothy Sawer. Here is her testimony as reported by The New York Times
Dorothy’s faith – in the midst of the devastating epidemic – is often ridiculed by her neighbours. “Sometimes I pray loud; sometimes I pray louder,” she told The Times. “My neighbours get vexed. They get angry. People laugh at me and mock me. They say, ‘Every day, It’s God, God, God business.’ These neighbours say that’s all they hear.”

 
“Be careful with this Ebola thing. Be careful,” Pastor Garpou told Sawer. Some churchgoers at Conqueror’s Tabernacle say Ebola is a sign of the Last Days. Some say it’s a punishment, or something Satan brought.” Sawer is certain it is a spiritual disease, not just a physical sickness, she told The Times. Although she heard the government warnings not to touch people with Ebola, she says she “wasn’t afraid because I believed God was with me.”

 
But Pastor Garpou was deeply troubled about Ebola and told his wife, Willet, a nurse, to pull back from her treatment of their neighbours. In August, people were knocking on the pastor’s door several times a day looking for medicine.

 

That month, the virus hit the ramshackle house next to the pastor and his wife. A mother of three was the first to succumb; she died in a wheelbarrow on the way to a clinic. Four people in the house died, including a tailor and his child. The tailor’s wife was the next one in the house to develop symptoms of Ebola.

 
Willet Garpou couldn’t stand by and let the woman die, so she treated her with injections for a week. Two weeks later, Willet herself developed symptoms of Ebola. Sawer prayed with Willet morning and night. She helped her dress, and even touched her feet. But Willet died at home, and within days, Sawer was called again, this time to pray for Pastor Garpou’s healing. Despite her prayers, he too passed to his reward.

 

“I believe maybe it’s God’s will,” Sawer told The Times. Still, she wondered why God didn’t heal a man like her pastor.
Soon, Sawer herself felt unusual symptoms that began with intense burning in her stomach. She fasted and prayed for three days, but the symptoms kept getting worse. She decided to have her oldest son Tim, 25, care for the rest of her children and she went to an Ebola treatment unit.

 
Even when they confirmed she had Ebola, she says she felt no fear or doubt. She was convinced that if she bathed her situation in prayer and dwelt in the presence of the Lord, she would survive. The first thing she requested at the treatment centre was her Bible. The worst-case scenario she faced would be heaven, rejoicing in the Lord’s presence for eternity.

 

As she lay in bed, with her temperature soaring, her body sweating and shaking, she felt like her torso was on fire. “It was the worst sickness I ever had,” she told The Times.  Then something remarkable happened. She had a personal encounter with God as she hovered between life and death.

 

“One night I felt a hand patting me on my shoulder,” she recounts.  “I don’t know who touched me. I think it was the Spirit of God.” The next morning, she was healed!

 

Exulting in God’s goodness and healing mercies, she jumped out of bed that morning and marched around the clinic, urging the other Ebola patients to have faith in God.  She began to hold devotional meetings at the clinic twice a day, with bold prayers for healing, along with hymns. Even the nurses in their protective suits joined in, clapping and singing. Sawer also helped to feed and care for children whose parents or siblings were sick with Ebola.

 

A few days later, she discovered her oldest son, Tim, had contracted Ebola. He went for treatment, and for weeks, she heard nothing, She prayed fervently for her son’s survival. By God’s grace and mercy, her prayers were answered and her son returned home – completely healed.

 
We, here in the UK, are thankfully still very far removed from any immediate threat of Ebola, but these two testimonies serve not only to encourage our faith and thankfulness to God, but also give us pointers for prayer……
1. For all those who, whether Christians or not, are selflessly working under very difficult conditions and under enormous risk, to help alleviate the suffering of victims, their families and the wider community – that they will be continually strengthened to do their work and (whilst taking all precautions) be divinely protected from contracting the disease.
2. For those believers, like Dorothy Sawer, who – in spite of personal suffering – have remained strong in faith and are encouraging others to trust in God.
3. For pastors in West Africa who have the difficult job of supporting other believers and trying to give answers to some very difficult questions about ‘why?’ – that they will have the grace to truly pastor their sheep, speaking with wisdom, honesty and compassion and avoiding trite uninformed phrases which would promote fear, confusion and condemnation.
The Scriptures on Infectious Diseases
The Israelites had a remarkable testimony of good health in their 40 years journey across the desert to the promised-land. Their “raiment waxed not old upon [them], neither did [their] foot swell, [those] forty years”. This feat was a combination of unprecedented health laws as well as divine health provisions.

 
As long they were obedient, God had promised, “I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the LORD that healeth thee.” However, in spite of this Divine provision, God instituted the principles of medical quarantine which the Israelites scrupulously observed during the exodus. As succinctly put by bibleevidences.com while discussing the scriptural provisions in Leviticus 13, 14, 22, and Numbers 19:20:

 
“The instructions regarding quarantine to prevent the spread of leprosy and other infectious diseases are nothing short of remarkable, considering that this life-saving practice was several thousand years ahead of its time. Infected persons were instructed to isolate themselves outside the camp until healed, and were to shave and wash thoroughly. The priests that administered care were instructed to change their clothes and wash thoroughly after inspecting a plague victim. It should be re-emphasized that the Israelites were the only culture to practice quarantine until the last century, when medical advances finally demonstrated the importance of sanitation and isolation during plagues. So to request individuals infected with contagious disease to be quarantined is the responsible and scriptural thing to do.”

 
Comment:

That God is a healing God and that He still heals today is an assertion which few Christians today would question; indeed many of us have personal testimonies of having received healing from His hand. Having said this, I have to confess that I have recently succumbed to a particularly nasty seasonal cold – a long way from Ebola, thank goodness, but an infection nevertheless. Over our many years in Christian ministry I have been provileged to witness many amazing healings, yet healing is a mystery, and there remain many questions, especially this: Why do some receive healing whilst others, with equal or stronger faith, do not? I make no attempt to answer this, asserting only that God is sovereign and that one day faith will become sight and I will know even as also I am known.
I believe that God is glorified through miraculous healings and that we should pray and believe to that end. However, we must not step over the line from faith to presumption, foolishly testing God through our failure to take reasonable precautions. If we are walking in the light which we have and if we have done everything we can to maintain a healthy lifestyle then we have grounds of confidence in committing our lives fully into God’s hands. Whether our healing comes through the medical profession or by His direct intervention – the glory belongs solely and totally to Him.

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