Global Ministries

The United Methodist Church

Connecting the Church in Mission

Yambasu: ‘Cloud of Witnesses’ Confronts Ebola

By Linda Unger*

October 8, 2014—United Methodist Bishop John K. Yambasu of Sierra Leone thanked United Methodists for the support he said he has received from the global church as his conference continues to confront the Ebola epidemic.

Bishop John K. Yambasu addresses the directors of the General Board of Global Ministries at their semiannual meeting in New York City.
Bishop John K. Yambasu addresses the directors of the General Board of Global Ministries at their semiannual meeting in New York City. Photo: Cassandra Zampini

During the semiannual meeting of the board of directors of the General Board of Global Ministries, Yambasu was offered the floor. “I am here to say thank you so much,” he said. “I thank God we have a connectional church.” No one person is ever sick, he added, but the entire church shares her pain.

As of September 28, Ebola had afflicted 7,178 people in five countries, with 3,338 deaths. Sierra Leone has registered 2,304 of the cases, and 622 people there have succumbed to the disease.

Thanks to donations from United Methodists and other people of goodwill, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), in consultation with Global Health, has granted nearly $400,000 to United Methodist health boards and other partners in Sierra Leone and Liberia.

The funds have supported community education about Ebola, psychosocial counseling for affected people and their families, and health worker protection, including personal protective equipment, or PPEs.

“As far as the PPEs are concerned, if they are the only way to safeguard life, then our health workers are the safest; our United Methodist health centers are the best equipped,” Bishop Yambasu said.

Cultural chain reaction

Ebola has shuttered schools and brought with it a whole cultural chain reaction, the bishop indicated. 

“Once you test positive for Ebola, your family and neighbors may never look at you again,” he said. “Sierra Leone is a religious nation. When people get sick, they want their imams and pastors to pray with them. But with Ebola, nobody even wants to look at you.”

The disease has impacted the way the faithful share the peace during Sunday services—a respectful bow with the right hand placed on the heart rather than the customary handshake—and the way they bury and think about their deceased loved ones—many have been buried in mass graves, forcing a spiritual disconnect, the bishop said.

Yambasu confirmed what international institutions such as the World Bank have observed, that Ebola is impacting the economies of the most-affected countries with higher prices, lower incomes and  increased poverty overall. “A $25 bag of rice now costs $35,” the bishop said.

The struggle against Ebola—and other life-depriving illnesses—is already complicated in Sierra Leone by poor health infrastructure, low literacy (about 41 percent) and widespread poverty, Yambasu said.


Bishop Yambasu expressed his gratitude for the “overwhelming financial and material support not just from UMCOR and Global Ministries but from people all over the United States,” he said.

“The Bible talks about a ‘cloud of witnesses,’ but I have never had a sense of it like I do now, from all the people who are praying for us, communicating with us and working with us. It has kept the Ebola team going, I am thankful to God we belong to a connectional church,” he added later in a meeting with Global Ministries program officers.

And, he cautioned, “There is still a huge amount of work to be done.”

Your gift to UMCOR International Disaster Response, Advance #982450, will help stem the crisis of Ebola in West Africa.

*Linda Unger is senior writer for the General Board of Global Ministries.