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Outreach defuses Ebola fear in Uganda

FORT PORTAL, Uganda (BP)–When the deadly Ebola virus began spreading in western Uganda, Southern Baptist missionaries and Baptist Global Response moved to respond.

Thirty-five people have died since a new strain of the virus was documented by the Ugandan Health Ministry. Although now apparently declining, the deadly hemorrhagic fever broke out in Uganda’s Bundibugyo district in August, killing a number of people before tests confirmed it was Ebola on Nov. 29.

As word about the deaths spread throughout the district, panic set in. Most people remembered the last Ebola outbreak in Uganda. In 2000, 425 people caught it, and more than half died.

Missionaries Lew and Brandi Johnson partnered with Baptist Global Response in educating their neighbors about the deadly fever. Flyers explaining how Ebola is spread were handed out in the local language of Rutooro, as well as in English.

The virus is thought to be transmitted by consuming infected bush meat and also can be spread by contact with the blood secretions of infected people.

“In the beginning, the people did not understand how Ebola was transmitted. The people have heard lots of rumors but not many facts,” Johnson said. “Anyone who gets sick is suspected of having Ebola. It was rumored that different tribes were the cause. It is also thought to be a curse from God.”

Around 7,000 flyers have been circulated through businesses, churches and individuals. As Ugandans in this district learn about Ebola, they also learn about the Gospel story, which is printed on the reverse side. The educational flyer is turning up in villages all over the region. One Muslim man asked for a Bible because he was scared of Ebola and thought he might find answers in Scripture.

“Just as Ebola is affecting us all, the people are having hope and truth put in their hands and can share it with others,” Johnson said. “The Batooro are getting the story -– creation to resurrection -– in their language. This is turning into a mass seed-sowing distribution.”

Mark Hatfield, Baptist Global Response area director for sub-Saharan Africa, said this distribution found a niche response ministry to Ebola that is appropriate for BGR and the International Mission Board.

“We are not equipped to provide primary care to people suffering from Ebola, but we were able to assist in controlling the fear that was running rampant in the districts surrounding the outbreak,” Hatfield said. “It has taken courage on the part of Lew and Brandi to keep living close to the outbreak with their new baby. They demonstrated by their actions that when we have knowledge about the disease and confidence in our Lord, we provide assistance to others -– people who care responding to people in need.”

The Johnsons plan to follow up the flyer distribution with hygiene classes in areas ripe for new church plants. They ask Southern Baptists and other Christians to pray that people in the region will be open to the Gospel. Also, pray for the safety and wisdom of the Johnsons who live in the outbreak area as well as for local health care workers.
For other ways to pray for Southern Baptist ministries overseas, visit gobgr.org.