If you saw people dying all around you from a plague you didn’t understand and couldn’t control, what would you do?
For Samaritan’s Purse staff members faced with the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in Liberia, this wasn’t a hypothetical question. Their answer, because of God’s love and the courage that love gave them, was to join Christians throughout history who ran toward the plague, not away from it.
But to fully understand the power of that decision, we need to take a step back.
Ebola is a terrifying disease. It causes extreme pain, fever, terrible bouts of diarrhea and vomiting and, until effective treatments were developed, was almost always fatal. And because it’s transferred by body fluids, even wiping the brow or holding the hand of someone infected with Ebola means you’re susceptible to getting it, too.
When this horrifying disease broke out in Liberia in 2014, Samaritan’s Purse and the mission agency SIM stayed to fight it. More than 28,000 people came down with the disease in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. The death toll reached more than 11,000. Cemeteries in Liberia are filled with gravestones of whole families who died within days of each other.
At first, and despite the disease’s near-genocidal wrath, the world largely ignored this killer plague. But then missionaries Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol contracted the disease. It was a terrible blow to the ministry and its work in Liberia, but it also became a turning point in the fight against Ebola.
Now, I’m sad to the world didn’t seem to care until the Americans got sick. But once the world started paying attention, it turned the tide in the fight against Ebola.
Writebol and Brantly, after close brushes with death, responded to an experimental drug that may not have been rushed into use had they not gotten sick as Americans. Money, drugs, and other resources soon poured into West Africa. And just a year later, by late 2015, Liberia was officially declared Ebola free. Donations flooding in to Samaritan’s Purse in response to the group’s work there helped fund a new hospital in Liberia, the most modern one in the country, and research dollars poured into the race for an Ebola vaccine, which progressed to clinical trials last year.
This gripping, tragic, but ultimately redemptive story is coming to a theater near you. “Facing Darkness” is a powerful movie produced by Samaritan’s Purse itself. But don’t think this is a fluffy PR film. It’s not. It’s an emotionally raw, artfully constructed story of life and death that recently won a top prize at the Heartland Film Festival and has received standing ovations at advance screenings, including the recent gathering of the National Religious Broadcasters. For one-night-only, March 30, it will be in more than 900 theaters. That’s this Thursday night.
In Rodney Stark’s ground-breaking work “The Rise of Christianity,” a book we quote often here on BreakPoint, Stark tells the story of the Plague of Cyprian, a 3rd century plague that wiped out whole cities, but one in which Christians ministered sacrificially. In the 3rd century Christians ran TOWARD the plague. The result, which Stark describes in detail, was a witness to the pagan world that contributed to the spectacular growth of the church in the century that followed.
And today, in the 21st century, brave Christians are STILL running TOWARD the plague, not away from it. The witness of amazing servants of Jesus like Dr. Kent Brantly, Nancy Writebol, and their colleagues on the Samaritan’s Purse team in Liberia, is being seen and marveled at all around the world. And ultimately it’s pointing people to Christ.
• Ticket information http://facingdarknessmovie.com
— by John Stonestreet
Stonestreet is the Director of Strategic Partnerships for the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview and is heard on Breakpoint. Copyright© 2017 Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with permission. BreakPoint is a ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries.