ELCA Ebola aid

ELCA sends $100,000 to help contain Ebola

In an effort to help contain the Ebola outbreak in Africa, provide food assistance and more, the ELCA committed an initial $100,000 Sept. 25 to support disaster response efforts of partners and Lutheran companion churches there.

The Lutheran Church in Liberia and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sierra Leone, for example, have asked the ELCA for assistance in containing the outbreak, distributing food, shipping personal protective equipment, training health-care workers, offering education about prevention, and completing an isolation unit at Phebe Hospital and School of Nursing in Monrovia, Liberia.

Through Lutheran Disaster Response, the following allocations are underway:

  • $25,000 to the Lutheran Church in Liberia, which is providing food assistance to nearly 1,000 households in six territorial areas. The assistance includes a month’s supply of oil, rice and fish per household.
  • $15,000 to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sierra Leone, which is overseeing the distribution of oil, rice and fish to 3,000 individuals.
  • $50,000 to ACT Alliance (working through Lutheran Development Service in Liberia), which is raising awareness and sharing messages about Ebola symptoms and prevention methods to 4,500 individuals (2,000 males and 2,500 females) in Liberia. Lutheran Development Service hired a contractor to ensure that the isolation center being constructed at Phebe Hospital and School of Nursing meets World Health Organization standards.

This past summer, at the request of the Lutheran Church in Liberia, $10,000 was given to Global Health Ministries to help cover air-freight costs to ship personal protective equipment to Monrovia. Global Health Ministries provides medical supplies and funding for health-care programs in Lutheran churches in 20 countries.

Speaking of the Ebola crisis, ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton remembered: “South African Presiding Bishop N.P. Phaswana once said that ‘if we are all part of the body of Christ and if one part of the body is suffering from HIV and AIDS, then we must say that the body of Christ is HIV positive.’ ”

This observation, Eaton said, "brought home to me the realization that what happens to one part of the church is not something distant or separate from our (ELCA) part of the church. This is true now about the Ebola crisis. St. Paul tells us, ‘If one member suffers, all suffer together with it’ (1 Corinthians 12:26). But we are not without hope. God has given us all that we need to contain and overcome this crisis. It is up to the whole body to respond. The second part of 1 Corinthians 12:26 is ‘… if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.’ ”

Needs go beyond medical care, equipment
“We need food,” said D. Jensen Seyenkulo, bishop of the Lutheran Church in Liberia. “There is a saying [here] now: ‘If we don’t die of Ebola, we will die of starvation.’ ”

Andrea Walker, ELCA area program director for West Africa, said ELCA Global Mission staff have had regular communications with church companions in Liberia and Sierra Leone since the outbreak began early this year.

“We have listened to the stories of loss from Bishop Thomas Barnett of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sierra Leone and Bishop D. Jensen Seyenkulo of the Lutheran Church in Liberia," Walker said. "Throughout these conversations, an ever-present faith in Jesus the Christ has been evident. In this listening, we have heard their needs and endeavored to respond through prayer, shipments of personal protective equipment and grants for food security.

“As church together, we have worked with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sierra Leone and Lutheran Church of Liberia and its companion synods — ELCA Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana Synod and ELCA Upper Susquehanna Synod — to coordinate responses.”

Calling the Ebola outbreak truly unprecedented, Rebecca Duerst, ELCA program director for global health, said, “The outbreak is not only causing an extraordinary number of deaths [from Ebola], but also from other treatable diseases [like] childbirth and starvation.

“We have heard a multitude of reasons [as to] why the virus has spread so rapidly — the slow international response, the already-weak health-care systems whose capacities were quickly overwhelmed, the relatively recent civil conflicts and lingering mistrust of government, the emergence of the disease in a new region and its presence in densely populated urban centers, the lack of a vaccine and cure, an insufficient supply of personal protective equipment and other materials, the absence of health workers due to fear of the virus and more.

“[What is] sometimes left off this list is the desire to show love for friends and families, both in life, as those who have been infected fight the disease, and in death, as families prepare to respectfully say goodbye.”

Complications from the Ebola outbreak have expanded beyond those directly related to the disease.

“There are really two stories here,” said Daniel Rift, director for the ELCA World Hunger and Disaster Appeal. “One is the immediate need and response. But the second is about the long-term commitment and the difference it makes that so many generously support the church’s efforts to address poverty, hunger and health, year in and year out, through the ELCA.

“When a situation like this arises, the importance of the church’s commitment to be present in a community, with ministry of health and hunger, become clear. It is because of this ongoing work that the ELCA is able to confidently encourage support through health centers and programs in Liberia and Sierra Leone. These churches have experience, through good times and difficult days, to provide food and build for sustainability. And it is our privilege to stand with them now as they work in this most difficult situation.”

Rift expressed gratitude for ELCA members who are responding to the Ebola appeal. That appeal is “critical work” that “builds on the capacity that has been founded and can only be sustained by gifts to ELCA World Hunger and through benevolence support of the church,” he said.

In an ELCA video,  Seyenkulo also thanks ELCA members for their contributions and prayers. “We feel the impact you are making just by your prayers,” he said.