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Ebola sorrow, prayer voiced in Dallas

DALLAS (BP) — A prayer vigil for the family of Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person to die of Ebola in the U.S., was held Wednesday (Oct. 8) at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, where Duncan’s fiancé is a member.

Joining host pastor George Mason were about 200 people, including representatives of the 10,000 Liberian nationals who live in Dallas; Olu Menjay, president of the Liberian Baptist Missionary and Education Convention; and pastors, chaplains, health care professionals and political leaders.

“Over the past week we have heard people over and over again who are worried,” Mason told mourners. “They are worried about this virus coming to our country, coming into our life. This is an unwelcome guest, let us be honest. No one wants this virus in our community, in our city or in our world.

“But when something is here, we embrace it not because it is good — it is bad — but we seek to find what God might do that is good in us and through us because of it.”

Louise Troh, Duncan’s fiancé and mother of his adult son, was unable to attend, quarantined at home with her three younger sons, all of whom were exposed to Ebola through Duncan before his Sept. 28 diagnosis and isolation at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. He died there Wednesday morning.

“Our love for Louise has made this suffering come to us,” said Mason, Troh’s pastor. “We regret the reason. We do not regret the suffering, because when you love someone, you are vulnerable to suffering, and you are open to joy. Love is the deepest reality of life, and so you feel it all.”

The service was livestreamed with hopes that Troh might be able to view it. Duncan had come to the U.S. at Troh’s invitation, Mason said, and the two had hopes of reuniting as a family. Troh described Duncan as a Christian who was quiet, generous and respectful of his parents, said Mason, who has counseled Troh in phone conversations during the crisis.

“This service is intended to draw people together, to call one another to God who is judge of the living and the dead, and to lay each of our lives before the mercy of God,” Mason said during the service at Wilshire, which is affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas. “The world likes to divide people up in all sorts of ways. And it likes to say that differences mean otherness.

“We Christians have a different attitude about that. We look at ‘difference’ differently. We think of the oneness of our humanity as children of God, because God has made us all the same underneath, has loved us and died for us in Christ, and so our differences can be embraced, not run from.”

Menjay, who has been visiting the U.S., not having been exposed to the virus, said Duncan’s death puts a worldwide face on Ebola, known to kill most of those it infects.

“My sisters and my brothers, I strongly believe that the death of Bro. Eric Duncan has put a real face to the lethal Ebola outbreak in our country,” Menjay said. “We pray to God for God’s comfort for the family of the bereaved. May we continue to seek God’s face, as there are so many people right now who are dying. May we be reminded to be our brother’s keeper and our sister’s keeper as well.”

Bishop Nathan S. Kortu, a spiritual leader in the Dallas-area Liberian community as pastor of New Life Fellowship Church (Apostolic) in Euless, Texas, offered one of several prayers from the pulpit.

“I pray for a remedy for this dreaded disease. Let it come to an end, Father God, we are tired as a nation,” Kortu prayed. “We are tired as a region of Africa. Father God, we come to tell You we can’t take it no more. We call upon Your name, Your faithful name, Mighty Jesus, [that] Your Spirit of comfort will rest upon these children.”

Mason encouraged attendees at the prayer vigil to operate out of love, instead of fear.

“Every day we have a choice to make about how we will live. Are we going to move away from people, out of fear?” Mason asked. “Are we going to protect ourselves and live for ourselves, or are we going to move toward one another out of love, because we know that the end of the story is already promised? It ends well. So we can have courage, we can live with faith. This is what it means to say that at the heart of all things is love.”

Duncan contracted the virus in Monrovia, Liberia, where he lived, days before flying to Dallas and developing signs of the disease. According to news reports, Troh is among about 50 people under quarantine or close monitoring who were likely exposed to the disease.

Five Americans diagnosed with Ebola in Africa have received treatment in the U.S. Among them are journalist Ashoka Mukpo who has been receiving treatment since Oct. 6 at Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.

Baptists in the U.S. and West Africa have launched initiatives to help deter the spread of the virus and minister to those in need, including food donations and educational campaigns.

The virus has killed more than 3,400 in West Africa, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and, if unabated, could infect up to 1.4 million people by January 2015. Medical professionals describe the disease as not airborne. Symptoms include fever, intense pain, vomiting, bloody diarrhea, mental disorientation and bleeding from the eyes and ears.