Magazine article The Christian Century

West African Methodists in U.S. Mourn

Magazine article The Christian Century

West African Methodists in U.S. Mourn

Article excerpt

At Spencer Memorial United Methodist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, nearly nine out of ten members are Liberian; another 10 percent are from Sierra Leone. Since the Ebola outbreak began, every Sunday one or more members of the congregation reports the death of another family member in the two West African countries hit hardest by the deadly virus.

"We come in expecting a celebration, a day of worship, but it always turns into a funeral," said Emmanuel Shanka Morris, the pastor, who is Liberian.

The church observed five days of praying and fasting in the month of October. Using 2 Chronicles 7:11-22 and Ezra 8:23 as guiding scriptures, each Wednesday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. people of the congregation interceded for the people of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.

Across the United States, United Methodist churches with Liberians and Sierra Leoneans are telling similar stories of grief and suffering, while trying to rally support for medical relief.

Albert B. Travell, a member of First United Methodist Church in Arlington, Texas, had seven family members die from Ebola in July. His nieces prepared the body of a sister for her funeral, thinking she died from malaria.

"We have a tradition in Liberia when someone passes away, family members stick around so many days before burial and after burial they cook and everyone eats from the same bowl," he said.

His nieces started getting sick and dying one after another. Now the remaining family is having trouble getting food.

"I am trying to send them some money so they can buy food," Travell said. "I am praying by the grace of God, everything will be all right soon."

Many Liberians living in the United States are stepping up contributions to family members and friends because so many people are unable to work and are not getting paid, said Richard L. Stryker, a United Methodist pastor and executive director of ethnic ministries for the North Alabama Conference. He is originally from Liberia.

"My wife has lost an aunt, although not to Ebola," Stryker said. "We wonder what role the strain on the already degraded health system played in her death from sickness."

His wife also lost a high school classmate to Ebola. Four out of eight people in her classmate's family died after waiting days for an ambulance to take them to the hospital.

"Sanitation, communication, [and] lack of facilities remain major problems for the prevention of this disease," he said. …

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