Signs of Hope, Faith and Courage in the Midst of Ebola
By Mary Randall Zigbuo
Mary Randall Zigbuo, a United Methodist missionary with Global Ministries, is assisting the United Methodist response to the Ebola crisis in Liberia. She shares about her experience since her arrival there last month. What follows is an edited excerpt of her December missionary newsletter.
Warm greetings from Liberia, I arrived here on November 7.
I am humbled to be your missionary assigned to Liberia serving in a special six-month role to assist the United Methodist Church (UMC) Liberia Ebola response effort.
Ebola messaging and heightened awareness is everywhere! Upon arrival at the airport, we sanitized our hands with a Clorox solution. Next, our temperatures were taken as we entered the arrival area. Billboards, posters, leaflets, pamphlets, car stickers, and other visual and written Ebola messaging are seen throughout Monrovia and other large cities and towns. Many people, including myself, carry a small container of chlorine-based, hand-sanitizing solution. Entrance to public offices, organizations and businesses (banks, stores, government offices, churches, etc.) requires one to follow hand sanitation and temperature-taking protocols prior to entering.
Photo: Mary Randall Zigbuo
Though diagnoses of Ebola continue on a daily basis, the national health authorities currently notes a substantial decrease in its spread and prevalence. A constant state of fear and despair is gradually being replaced by a state of hope and expectancy. Ongoing awareness and sensitization encourages the general public to continuously maintain preventive measures and not become careless in view of the reduced prevalence. The resilient strength and courage of the Liberian people is a constant source of encouragement for me! Liberian health care workers, strengthened by the international humanitarian response, work tirelessly and courageously to care for those affected by Ebola.
Ebola has invaded the normal spirit of community!
Cultural practices of touch, sharing a meal, burial preparations and ceremonies are laid aside. The traditional, heart-warming Liberian greeting of a handshake and a hug is no longer the norm. We now employ “spiritual hugs” which transcends touch; hugs that evoke hope, laughter and smiles as we meet, greet and proclaim thanks to God for yet another day. Tears of loss, rejection, fear and despair are slowly being replaced by tears of gratitude, joy, and hope!
The ripple effects of Ebola are ever present. More than seventy percent of the population is dependent upon subsistence farming activities. Restricted movement within the country has compromised subsistence farmers’ ability to plant their farms. Restricted movement throughout the country caused the closure of schools, offices, and businesses. People aren’t receiving salaries. School age children aren’t in school. Health care centers are strained in their attempts to provide general medical services to an economically challenged public. President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf reports economic growth projections have been cut in half, mining activities have been halted, and cross-border trade has been closed. Construction on roads, power systems, and health care facilities has slowed. Reintegration of survivors and their family members back to their communities is improving, but still remains a challenge. Orphaned children are difficult to reintegrate among extended families due to economic challenges and stigma. Communities that routinely provide food and shelter for abandoned, elderly neighbors are strained to continue their practices of service.
There are indeed many challenges balanced by opportunities to stand alongside our Liberian sisters and brothers in their response to the Ebola crisis.
Supported by local health structures and community organizations, including the UMC and other churches, UMC conferences, central conferences, Global Ministries and other agencies, the Liberian church is responding to the crisis through organizing awareness/sensitization programs and activities. They are donating sanitation hand washing buckets and chlorine solution to individuals and communities; distributing food to vulnerable individuals and families; utilizing the UMC radio station and Communications department for awareness messaging, integrating Ebola messaging during worship services, and more.
Photo: Mary Randall Zigbuo
Our partnership efforts strengthen the church’s capacity to be first responders in communities hard-hit by Ebola.
A recent United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) disaster response grant will provide food assistance for the economically challenged Topoe Village community in Monrovia. Another UMCOR grant will respond to food scarcity, Ebola education and sensitization needs of three communities in southeastern Liberia. The southeast region has historical access challenges due to very poor and/or non-existent road infrastructure. The region experiences the highest poverty rate, lowest populace access to health facilities, lowest access to employment opportunities, education and commerce. Though the region escaped pervasive Ebola spread, its vulnerability lies in the potential for contamination and spread. Global Health support strengthens UMC health facilities to remain open and stocked with supplies to provide general medical needs during the crisis.
Our Gompa District leadership in northeastern Liberia reached out to survivors with food and prayers during a time when the contraction and death rate placed the entire town in fear and panic. Taking precautionary protective measures, and emboldened by Christ’s Holy Spirit, church members visited the homes of the survivors, providing food, water and sanitation supplies and openly praying with the survivors and their families. This helped foster hope and courage among the survivors as well as encouraged acceptance among the communities.
I am humbled and thankful for this opportunity to be your hands and feet in Liberia and to experience your spiritual, material and financial support which gives me courage and strength.