White House Discusses Ebola with Faith Groups
By Linda Unger*
President Barack Obama greets faith leaders in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., during an event where delegates of 15 faith-based organizations, including General Secretary Thomas Kemper of Global Ministries, met with senior White House staff to discuss response to the Ebola epidemic. Photo: Thomas Kemper
October 30, 2014—United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries head, Thomas Kemper, attended an intimate meeting of representatives of faith-based organizations with senior White House staff in Washington yesterday to discuss response to the Ebola epidemic that is pounding West Africa.
Kemper and delegates of 15 faith-based organizations that are working with local networks to confront the disease—including the Salvation Army, Islamic Relief and World Vision—met in the Roosevelt Room with President Barack Obama’s Ebola-response coordinator, Ron Klain, and other senior officials.
The president afterward greeted the faith leaders in an event in the East Room in which he presented and praised U.S. medical workers and others who recently served or soon will serve with local health workers and authorities in West Africa to bring the Ebola epidemic under control and end its spread.
Halt Outbreak at Its Source
The current outbreak has produced 13,703 cases and 4,922 deaths, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Most heavily impacted are Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea; Nigeria and Senegal successfully isolated and defeated the disease and recently were declared “Ebola-free.”
In his remarks to the health professionals and faith leaders, President Obama stressed that the threat of Ebola cannot be erased “until we stop the outbreak at its source.”
In the meeting with Klain, Kemper offered the United Methodist experience in West Africa, where Global Ministries, through its United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and Global Health units, is working closely with United Methodist annual conference health boards and hospitals.
“We need to link efforts to fight Ebola with efforts to strengthen local health systems,” he said. “We can only fight Ebola and support local efforts to protect all aspects of people’s health if we work together to strengthen the existing health systems.”
Kemper also underscored the contribution of Christian and Muslim leaders in Sierra Leone to containing the disease. Led by United Methodist Bishop John K. Yambasu, they have agreed to dedicate at least 15 minutes of their Friday and Sunday sermons to raising awareness among their congregants about Ebola.
“Religious leaders in West Africa are trusted in their communities and their words have weight,” he told the gathering. “They are a crucial resource for Ebola education and can be enlisted to help fight the stigma often associated with both Ebola patients and the health workers who tend to them.”
When Ebola cases were identified in the United States, stigma and fear soon followed. Kemper, in remarks after the meeting, called on United Methodists to extend hospitality to those who accompany the sick, including itinerating missionaries who serve in West Africa.
“We United Methodists are all about ‘open hearts, open minds and open doors, ’ including—especially—at such a time as this,” he said, “when we are called to offer compassion to our sisters and brothers who are suffering, and support to those who walk with them.”
At the White House meeting, President Obama was adamant that stigma and fear have no place when health workers and others are putting their lives on the line to serve the afflicted and ensure the safety of all by seeking to contain the spread of disease.
“America has never been defined by fear,” he said. “We are defined by courage and passion and hope and selflessness and sacrifice…, and ordinary Americans who risk their own safety to help those in need… all in the constant pursuit of building a better world....”
Read more about how Global Ministries, through UMCOR and Global Health, is supporting local efforts to contain Ebola and how you can help.
*Linda Unger is senior writer for the General Board of Global Ministries.