Magazine article The Christian Century

United Methodists Grapple with Ebola Epidemic in Sierra Leone

Magazine article The Christian Century

United Methodists Grapple with Ebola Epidemic in Sierra Leone

Article excerpt

A United Methodist pastor was forced to leave a new mission area in Sierra Leone because of the Ebola epidemic that has caused hundreds of deaths in West Africa.

Judith Banya is now in Bo, south of the Kailahun District, due to the increasing number of deaths in the area.

"The presence of a pastor, especially for a new church, is crucial," Banya said. "My absence kind of dampens the enthusiasm of my congregation, and that saddens me. Some people don't go to church when I am not there."

Despite her relocation, she worked to educate those who previously believed the disease did not exist.

"I used an advantage--our people respect their pastors, their religious leaders, and chiefs," she said. "So I went to the clinic and taught the people."

Before then, she said, people in the Baiwala community where she works ran to the suburbs and asked to be treated by traditional herbalists or other untrained healers. They feared that if they came to the health facility, they would be told they had Ebola.

The epidemic, which started about five months ago in neighboring Guinea, crept into eastern Sierra Leone through Kailahun in early May. The United Methodist Church has launched an Ebola Emergency Response Plan focused on treatment, prevention, and public education-including by means of printed fliers, banners, radio, and text messages. The effort is concentrated in the Kailahun District but extends beyond it.

Sierra Leone bishop John K. Yambasu confirmed the closing of the UMC mission and Banya's transfer and described the Ebola epidemic as "nearing disaster," particularly in the Kailahun District.

"The sad thing is that the government is both ill-equipped and lacks the political will to respond to the situation with the seriousness and passion it deserves," he wrote in an e-mail to the United Methodist Council of Bishops.

Yambasu also chairs a Christian-Muslim alliance, the Religious Leaders Task Force on Ebola, which is training religious leaders and health workers. Pastors and imams are expected to take their knowledge back to their respective congregations and preach about Ebola during every prayer session.

Religious leaders played a significant role in bringing the country's civil strife to an end and also were pivotal in the reconciliation process, Yambasu said, and he believes they can do more now in the face of a common enemy called Ebola. …

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