(*Since this post was first written Thomas Duncan, the Liberian national, has died. Two nurses who were caring for him and became infected with Ebola have thankfully recovered. And the debates over quarantines, travel restrictions, and preparedness continue. These recommendations still hold.)

News that a Liberian national visiting relatives in Texas is being treated for Ebola virus disease at a Dallas hospital has brought this crisis much closer to home for many Americans. It’s not just missionaries in some foreign land that are being affected now: it could be a student in your child’s school, the next patient you treat as a nurse or doctor, or someone you pass in the restroom at the airport.

There are a number of places where this current case of Ebola could have been caught earlier. The man himself could have told the truth on his entry questionnaire. Customs and immigration could have done more screening than a simple checklist questionnaire. The emergency room personnel could have communicated better at his first visit to the hospital. Ambulance and other first responding personnel could have been more alert and taken further precautions. Let’s pray that the current contact surveillance by public health personnel keeps this current individual from spreading the disease to others.

If the Dallas experience has shown us anything, it is that even our best-laid plans for protecting ourselves and others from such things as Ebola are not foolproof. And then there’s the issue of Christian love and humanitarian caring. How can we respond to such a crisis? How should we both protect ourselves and do our duty to those in need?

During some of history’s worst epidemics Christians have played an important role. When the Black Death ravaged Europe, killing 30-60% of the population during the 14th century, many times the Christians were the only ones who would care for the sick, putting themselves at significant risk. We must take seriously Christ’s command to love “the least of these,” but we must do so with wisdom.

Here are some things we MUST do now:

  1. Pray. When facing any problem, prayer is always the first and most important response. Pray for God’s protection, for wisdom for ourselves, leaders, and scientists, for those who are ill now, and more.
  2. Stay healthy. Whether it’s Ebola now, or something else next year, a strong immune system is usually your best defense. That means healthy eating, limiting processed food and chemicals in your body, etc. That may seem like a small thing, but do you think Dr Brantly would have survived if he had not been healthy prior to becoming infected with Ebola? If you’re going to be any good to anyone, you need to be strong first.
  3. Speak up. Politics too often dictates decisions that are not in our country’s best interest. Don’t think this won’t affect you: if not Ebola today, then it or something else will tomorrow. Be interested, informed, and vocal.
  4. Support the helpers. Whether it’s giving money to Samaritan’s Purse or Doctors Without Borders, supporting our military going to West Africa to build necessary healthcare facilities, public health officials or healthcare personnel working to keep us safe now, or scientists working to find a treatment or vaccine, do something. Helpers need support!
  5. Be alert. If you are in a position to come in contact with sick people or international travelers you face some extra risks. You must remain vigilant always, but now more than ever. Don’t take unnecessary risks. And with the extent of international travel today, there are few if any places on earth where the risk is zero.
  6. Volunteer – ONLY if you are called. If you are trained in infection control, healthcare for areas with limited resources, logistics, etc. you may have a role to play in helping with this epidemic, or other crises. Training doesn’t guarantee protection, but it does give you a good chance to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. No training? Stay home and support those who do.
  7. No Fear Here! Fear makes us do bad things. It makes your immune system weaker. It causes you to harm innocent people. It drives you to back up from the job God has given you. Fear is always a tool of the enemy. As Christians we must never act out of fear.

I have a significant problem with those who say, “Don’t worry about Ebola. God will protect us.” Dr Brantly attributes his survival to prayer first, and also to the intensive medical care he received. One without the other would not have been enough. We need both.

I believe we need temporary travel restrictions, stronger infection control procedures, and intense scientific and governmental action by the entire world community in this very real crisis.

And we need a lot of prayer.

Yes, the antidote to fear is faith. But it must be faith that acts!

Your Turn: Are you afraid of Ebola virus? What do you see as your role in this crisis? Leave a comment below. 

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