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Help Ebola victims, Baptist pastor urges

HERNDON, Va. (BP) — Southern Baptists should respond to the Ebola crisis in West Africa with the same urgency expended during natural disasters at home and abroad, James Graham, pastor of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Herndon, Va., told Baptist Press.

Southern Baptists have been known for years for our “ability to respond to disasters, whether it’s a hurricane disaster, tornadoes in Alabama, or those other things that have taken place across this country,” Graham said. “So now is a good time for Southern Baptists to also be responsive to this crisis.”

The Ebola crisis “is real,” he said. “It should be treated in its own uniqueness, but with as much urgency as Southern Baptists would treat it if it was a crisis right here in the United States.”

Sunday, Oct. 12, the first case of Ebola contracted in the U.S. was confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A Dallas nurse identified as Nina Pham contracted Ebola while caring for Thomas Eric Duncan, who caught the virus in Liberia but was diagnosed and treated in the U.S. Duncan died Oct. 8 at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital.

More cases are likely in the U.S., the CDC said, because a breach in safety measures evidently occurred at the hospital during Duncan’s treatment, and Pham may have exposed a close friend, as well as a dog. The CDC is investigating how the virus spreads among animals.

“Unfortunately, it is possible that during the coming days we will see additional cases of Ebola,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said at a press conference. Those who came in contact with Duncan before he was hospitalized, 48 people, are still being monitored or kept in isolation.

Meanwhile Mount Pleasant, a multi-ethnic 2,800-member Southern Baptist congregation with immigrants from about 25 countries, has been responding to the crisis through long-standing ministry partners and the Virginia congregation’s church plants in Sierra Leone and Liberia. The church maintains active partnerships in several other African countries and has worked closely with the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board on numerous projects.

“We started helping [ministry partners] as soon as we were notified of the crisis,” Graham said. Working with pastors in Sierra Leone and Liberia, Mount Pleasant has sent money to purchase and distribute disinfectant kits there, and to disseminate information on avoiding and responding to the virus. Mount Pleasant is collecting nonperishable items to send to the countries in November.

“Those are the two places we’ve been focusing on and distributing primarily disinfectant kits, that is essentially Clorox, buckets and rubber gloves,” he said, “and then doing information sessions with the people there in churches concerning the necessity of exercising good hygienic practices — washing their hands, [and] sterilizing and cleaning their floors, eating utensils and that type of stuff.”

The church has a long-standing ministry to install water wells in developing countries, and will continue those efforts in the communities of Bo and Lungi, Sierra Leone.

“To get them the disinfectant kits and they don’t have the water to use with them doesn’t do a lot of good,” he said. “So, we’re going to continue to push in that direction.”

At least one of Mount Pleasant’s ministry partners has died from Ebola. Napoleon Bathbaite, pastor of Peaceful Baptist Church, which Mount Pleasant planted in Liberia, died from the virus. He had worked in a medical clinic where Ebola patients were being treated.

While Mount Pleasant’s own membership includes first-, second- and third-generation immigrants from Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria, no blood relatives of Mount Pleasant’s members have reportedly died from the virus, Graham said. Yet, certain cultures in Africa hold village members as dear as they would direct kin.

“It’s that culture, where village people become associated with each other and they actually believe they’re related, even though they might not be blood related,” he said. “We have not gotten any notification of immediate or blood family members of any of our congregants being infected by it so far.”

Mount Pleasant has ministered to its own congregants during the crisis, educating them about the virus and providing hope and encouragement.

“There are so many Liberians that are a part of our congregation that we have had people that have returned from Liberia subsequent to the outbreak and folks that have gone and returned,” Graham said. “And so we want to make sure that our people know [there’s] no need to be alarmed. And then we try to share with them what we’re doing, as far as our strategy, for providing emergency disaster relief to the people that are in need there in West Africa.”

The church’s association, NorthStar Church Network, will host at its Oct. 18 meeting a webcam address by Mount Pleasant Liberian ministry partner Lincoln Brownell, who will provide an update on the Ebola crisis and ministry outreach in the affected areas. Brownell is former president of Liberia Baptist Theological Seminary and current leader of Go Ye Ministries in Liberia.

“Out of that experience we’re hoping that our association will rally towards trying to do something to try to get things done. There are other churches in our association that have begun to send resources over there as well.”

Already, Baptists in Texas are preparing to send food and medical supplies to Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Mount Pleasant’s members remain hopeful, Graham said.

“It’s all sorts of emotions there. But for the most part [they’re] prayerful and hopeful,” Graham said. “We are people of faith. That’s what we believe and they of course want to do everything they can to try to be as helpful as we can and to ensure that the help gets to the people that need it.”

The current viral epidemic has killed more than 4,000 in three African nations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and if unabated, could infect up to 1.4 million people by January, 2015.