Friday, October 31, 2014

When Ebola Strikes The Community: 15 Funerals A Day

Three orphans from a Sierra Leone family, led by a boy who is 17.

I confess, it was a hard day for me. It's one of those days I've been through before with Julie. A trip to the hospital for a surgical procedure after a tiny beating heart inside her was silenced for reasons that remain a mystery. Just two weeks ago that tiny heart beat strong. Then some bleeding, a trip to the doctor and a weaker beating heart. Then later, more bleeding and a devastating silence. We've been blessed abundantly, 14 times to be exact. We've held and caressed all the tiny little babies, each time with inexpressible joy. I've gazed mostly through tear-stained eyes at the new little miracle in my hands, always thankful for this perfect life I'm holding and equally relieved that Julie's ordeal has passed. I wonder as I hold the infant about the new life that's being forged ahead of us, how it's a birth of new dreams and hopes and above all else, love. A deep, abiding love.

Julie and I have been through mornings like this one five times. Each different, some much more difficult than others. None of them easy. I guess I endure a silent mourning, some sort of brave face. Things get bottled up inside and I imagine it's not healthy. I don't know. It's a flawed coping method, I recognize that. Anyway, I walked around the hospital grounds in Williamsburg this morning while Julie was in surgery and I found this fiery red maple leaf on the ground. It was strikingly beautiful and the thought crossed my mind that its beauty was perfected in its death. A thousand leaves had tumbled to the ground around it yet that one stunning leaf nestled among the mulch caught my eye. I snapped a photo and I would imagine it's burnished into my memory forever. I don't pretend to understand the hows and whys of mornings like this one, except that I know that it is God's will for us. That's where I rest and that's where I find peace.

And then amidst my personal struggles I get emails like these. From a man I've never met in person -- we connected from thousands of miles away through my missions work -- whose faith is tested every minute, every second. Rev. Samuel Kargbo is awash in a sea of death in Sierra Leone, a thousand lives around him at the mercy of a vicious disease. Ebola has cut a harvest of death through his neighborhood, his city, his country. "We see the number of deaths increasing by the day and fear is generated in us, except that we have the inner man to strengthen us," Kargbo writes.

The fear is so palpable that people are afraid to go to the hospital when they are sickened, for fear that they will be diagnosed with Ebola, he writes. "This tells you the other reason for the death of many people during this period. That is part of our responsibility to educate and sensitize people to go to the hospital."

If you look closely at the photo at the top of this post, behind the three orphans who sought food to carry them through the day, you will see a lady on the ground behind them. She has lost 13 members of her family. "It is only three of them that are surviving," Kargbo writes. "The lady lying down has not escaped the danger."

For Kargbo, death surrounds him. The nearest cemetery to his community is burying 15 people a day. "We do feel the terror of death hovering, but we are covered by the wings of our Lord," Kargbo writes. "Despite the numerous deaths, we are presently engaged in reaching out with love to the community, especially addressing the needs of the orphans."

A grandchild of his has a cough and running nose. His youngest daughter complains of general body pains and his family is taking precautions to not touch her. "With the first aid treatment, if she does not show improvement after three days, we will be left with no option but to get her to report to the hospital," Kargbo writes.

His emails are a window into a suffering I'm not familiar with and Lord willing never will be. I don't say that his words give me perspective on any grief I may be experiencing because what he has to say doesn't necessarily diminish what pain I feel. What I do know is that I have an overwhelming sense of empathy for Rev. Samuel Kargbo, his family and the people of Sierra Leone and surrounding countries. I can't fathom the fear, helplessness, weariness and host of other emotions he must experience every moment. Yet it's abundantly clear that this man has a deep, abiding faith in God that's unshakable. The fires of Ebola have forged an immovable faith. I am awestruck by it. I pray that God moves to contain this disease. I ask you to pray as well. So often as the world implodes around us, that's all we can do. 

"Once more," Kargbo writes, "I say many thanks for your prayers. We surely need those prayers."

"Once more," Kargbo writes, "I say many thanks for your prayers. We surely need those prayers."

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