Our President, Kim Kargbo, is arriving back in the United States this week after delivering relief supplies and training community leaders to fight the Ebola virus. She offers a unique and intense perspective into Sierra Leone’s true problems- problems far greater than Ebola.
Never has it been more evident that in the past week, that details matter. And truth matters. On the heels of Ebola, another disease has swept the country of Sierra Leone and the region. It is the disease of fear. In a crisis, especially a crisis with an invisible enemy, fear paralyzes, and paralysis kills. On the other hand, knowledge – truth – frees and empowers.
As Ebola began to spread across the country, “health” messages began to spread as well. But the messages were driven by the fear of the crisis and became extremes. “Ebola can be found in sweat.” This is Africa. It’s hot. People sweat. New health message – “Don’t touch anyone. Ever.” “Chlorine kills Ebola.” New message – “Use chlorine. On EVERYTHING.”
Let’s play these out. I’m not making this up. This is really what’s happening.
“Don’t touch each other.” Or, as it is being called, “The ABC Rule – Avoid Body Contact.” People meet each other on the street, or even good friends in their own homes – and instead of the usual handshake or hug, they stand and stare at each other awkwardly. OK, well that’s weird and somewhat annoying, but take it to the next level. The latest law which was passed in Freetown is that taxis may only carry 2 passengers in the back seat so that they don’t touch. Well, that’s certainly more comfortable for the passengers, but think of the loss of income for the cab drivers. Furthermore, front seat passengers are NOT ALLOWED to wear a seat belt. Why? Because the seat belt touched someone before it touched you. Sounds reasonable, right? People are sweaty, maybe the sweat is on the belt. But then, what about the seat that you are sitting in? Or the door handle you grabbed to get in the car? That doesn’t count? People are even being told to stop selling or doing business. How are they supposed to live, in a hand-to-mouth economy without doing their business?
“Chlorine kills Ebola.” As I exited the plane from Europe, a plane that wasn’t allowed to stop anywhere else, I had to douse my hands with chlorine before I entered the terminal. (But I’m the safe one here… and nothing I touch with my now wet hands has been cleaned in months.) After I get my luggage and am ready to travel 3 hours by road with no facilities, I go use the bathroom. Not a stitch of soap anywhere! I hear about people soaking all their clothes in chlorine, washing with chlorine, even drinking chlorine (yes, some have even died from this). Soap and water for washing hands is not available, but the ubiquitous chlorine buckets are everywhere!
The fear is palpable. Everywhere you go, people are talking about Ebola. Every song on the radio is about Ebola. All the posters – everywhere – are about Ebola. When someone starts to feel a little “off” – even if it’s an ordinary cold – the fear level rises and they either hide or run. If it turns out to really be Ebola, the hiding endangers their family, the running endangers a new community – or country. I have had conversations with intelligent, educated, reasonable people who are buying into the lies and changing all of their behaviors to match.
Why? Because in all of these things, there is an element of truth. If you do touch a person who has Ebola, and get their sweat or other body fluids on your hand, and then without thinking rub your eye, or pick your teeth – then yes, you may very well get Ebola. And yes, chlorine is said to kill the virus, if it is sitting on the surface of something. But there is no need to go around dousing healthy people with chlorine when what they touch after they rinse their hands is covered with germs anyway, and they haven’t come in contact with Ebola. And this is just what Satan does in his plots to steal, kill and destroy. He takes a tiny piece of truth, and twists it to confuse and deceive. Because true deception is really only possible if there is a little bit of sense in the message.
So, not only is the right message important when we educate, inform or disciple people, but a COMPLETE message is essential as well. We cannot just tell people WHAT (to do, to believe, to say). We must also make sure they understand both WHY and HOW. Because if we know WHY something should be done, we can extrapolate the truth of the WHAT and apply it by principle in any situation. And we will recognize when it is being misapplied. And if we know HOW the application of that truth works, we can figure out if it can truly be done. Isn’t that what Satan did with Adam and Eve? “If you eat of the fruit you shall not surely die!” And as they bit into the fruit, their thoughts probably went something like this – “God really did lie to us – look, we are not dead!” Until the next day as they stood among thistles and thorns, looking back over their shoulders at the angel with the flaming sword, not-yet-fully-cured animal skins hanging heavily on their bodies – then they realized, “Oh, we really are dead…”
To be honest, the Ebola situation feels overwhelmingly hopeless. The lies and misinformation is so pervasive. The behaviors and actions being implemented just make one scratch their heads in disbelief. But God…
What is needed in the Ebola crisis is not more aid money. The governments of these countries have received enough to rebuild entire countries from the ground up. WHO has mapped out a plan to the tune of $600 million. But without people hearing, understanding, and walking in Truth, there is truly no end in sight. All the ambulances, PPEs, and IVs in the world will not stop an enemy that is being aided by lies and fear. That is why the workshops and trainings that I have participated in over the past week have been so encouraging. As people have grasped truth, you can literally watch the relief and hope flood into their souls. Armed with truthful messages and a reasonable action plan, their paradigm shifts and hope returns.
Pray for truth to prevail in the midst of this dark situation.
Pray that the church will rise up as a beacon of truth and hope to the nation.
Pray that Satan’s plot for deception and death will be overcome by an army of Truth-bearers.