By Kathy L. Gilbert | United Methodist News Service
One Sunday morning, a young man called the local radio station in Ganta, Liberia, and threatened to take his Ebola-infected family into the streets because no one would help them.
Ten members of his family had already died and their bodies were still in the home. The rest of the family was under quarantine. Some family members were sick. They had no food or medication.
[quote_box_right]FOUNDED BY MISSIONARIES
Miller McAllister is at the Ganta United Methodist Mission Station. In addition to the church, the station is home to the United Methodist Hospital, schools, the Mission Station Maintenance Ministry, the College of Health Sciences of the United Methodist University in Liberia, housing facilities, as well as the Gompa District Office.
Labala is a graduate of Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, with a master’s degree in church ministries. She also graduated with a doctorate of ministry from Wesley Theological Seminary, in Washington, D.C. She is married to the Rev. James Z. Labala, district superintendent of the Gompa District who is also senior pastor of Miller McAllister. The Rev. Roger S. W. Y. Domah is also an associate pastor.[/quote_box_right]
The people of Miller McAllister United Methodist Church, started by U.S. missionaries in 1926, answered his plea.
“Their situation was so grave that they needed immediate response. This led us to challenge the church to lift a special offering to respond to the needs of several homes that were victimized by the Ebola virus,” said the Rev. Anna Kaydor Labala, associate pastor at Miller McAllister.
In August, the church started sending out a team of three pastors and two lay members to visit homes of people affected by the deadly virus that has killed nearly 4,500 in West Africa.
“We delivered food and non-food supplies to the affected families, interacted and prayed with them. We trusted God for our safety and we ventured out into areas where nobody wanted to go. It was indeed a risk-taking mission as only health workers were allowed to go that close to Ebola victims,” Labala said.
Labala explained that the team wears long-sleeve shirts with jackets and long trousers. They put the food and supplies on the ground and the people pick them up.
“We do not touch anybody. We stand several feet away from the sick people and their family members. We wash our hands each time we interact with a family,” she said.
“I had some fears, but we all believed that God wanted us to feed the people who were isolated and hungry, and to give them hope by our presence. Our presence with them helped to remove the stigma and they saw a sign of hope.”
Since the first visit, the church has helped 15 families, Labala said.
‘Bishop, we are hungry’
Bishop John G. Innis, episcopal leader of the denomination in Liberia, said the country’s whole economic system has collapsed and he gets hundreds of calls every day asking for help.
“Bishop, we are hungry,” the callers say.
While Innis is grateful that the U.S. is sending soldiers to help build health-care facilities, he worries that there is going to be “another epidemic” if the problem of hunger is not addressed.
“We want to go well-fed to God,” he said.
Ganta hit hard by Ebola
Ganta has the second largest population in Liberia and was hit hard by the Ebola viral disease in July. In the months of July and August, more than 100 people died of the virus, Labala said.
Other United Methodist groups, including United Methodist Women and Love Beyond Borders, are now distributing food along with Ebola information and prevention tools like soap and buckets.[/quote_box_left]
People panicked when Ebola was first diagnosed because they were told there was no cure. However, as people started going into treatment centers in Monrovia and recovering, hope has returned.
The economy is still suffering, she said. Schools and markets are closed and no one knows when they will reopen.
Most people in the area are business people who depend on the markets. Many of them went to the Republic of Guinea, a neighboring country, to sell their products and bring goods into Liberia. The first case in the recent Ebola outbreak was in Guinea. After the border was closed, many people went out of business, Labala said.
Traveling around the country has been discouraged so that people will not spread the virus. That also has curtailed business opportunities and increased economic hardship in Ganta.
“The church has been working in the community to give hope to the people. The church meets for prayers every evening. Our members who are health workers provide regular education on how people can prevent themselves from contacting Ebola,” Labala said.
Labala remembers on one of their first visits a man told them, “You have brought us food and water and we appreciate it. Please come again. We will drink this water and it will get finished. And we will have no more water. Nobody wants to sell anything to us so please come back.”
His words inspired the church to do weekly outreach.
“During our second outreach, a lady said that she would come to our church if she survived the crisis. I believe that the prayers and love we showed the victims brought them hope and recovery.”
Labala said a pastor from another faith group recently returned to the church to tell his story.
He had been in a treatment center for three weeks and recovered from Ebola. Church members had visited him and prayed with him before he went for treatment.
“On the day he went home he thanked us for being the first church that had reached out to him to pray for him,” she said.
Since then, two more families have come to the church to offer thanks and report some members of their family have survived and are doing well.
“We will continue to go out every week as we are able,” she said.
Gilbert is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.