The Ebola outbreak that has killed many in Africa presents a dilemma for those who would minister to others in foreign lands.
Kent Brantly, an American doctor and missionary, was discharged from Atlanta's Emory University Hospital Aug. 21. Another American aid worker, Nancy Writebol, was discharged from the same hospital Aug. 19.
When discharged, he said that God saved his life and that people should continue to pray for those suffering in West Africa.
Now, the question becomes: "How does one answer the call to give aid while making sure they're not endangering themselves needlessly?"
This week's clergy discuss missionary work and missionaries.
The Rev. Larry D. Jennings Sr., Bethel AME Church, Huntington:
We currently have missionaries in the areas hardest hit by Ebola. And, we have a bishop whose jurisdiction the area is under. So, yes, these are things the church has to deal with. In addition to having churches in the area, we also are building schools and more churches in places with limited resources and access.
None of what is happening there should limit our missionary work. This is the time to do more, not less. If there are cures or other medication that will ease suffering, we should be advocates for getting those medicines to the people who need them. This is a time when we show those in need they have not been forgotten.
Father Felix Davordzi, visiting priest from Ghana, St. Thomas the Apostle Church, West Hempstead:
Of course, missionaries have to be protected, but this is the time they are needed to spread the good word of the Gospel. It is vital that they go in and help and comfort those who are suffering. Governments are doing the best they can, but there is so much more to be done in the face of Ebola.
Right now, the government in Ghana is screening people entering the country. I was screened before I traveled here to the United States. In Ghana, I am assigned to a church. Our bishop has issued a directive that we refrain from giving peace -- which involves saying "peace be with you" and shaking the other person's hand -- until after the threat from Ebola subsides. Those are precautions we have taken. There are other precautions that can be taken, depending on how near you are to the outbreak. If you have to wear special clothing, then wear special clothing. But, we are called to minister to the sick. So we cannot turn our backs on those who need us.
Pastor Charles "Pastor Chuck" Ferrara, Bellmore United Methodist Church:
I think missionary work must continue, but with an emphasis on caution. Ever since the first disciples, mission work has been a priority for Christians. It was a mandate from Jesus.
Both medical professionals afflicted with Ebola were Christian missionaries.
To be a missionary is a calling, which is why I don't think missionary work will end or be suspended in the area affected. People should always wear the appropriate protective gear and take any suggested precautions. But, like anyone would have a
passion for something they love, mission work is a passion, a calling that is bigger than a mere job. From a Christian standpoint, it is a God-ordained calling.
I think of the lepers in the time of Jesus Christ. Not only did everyone run from them, lepers had to call out when they walked down the street so others could avoid even seeing them. They were a marginalized, hidden community. It was a terrible life. But Jesus had no qualms about approaching them, touching them, ministering to them. He is our ideal for missionary work. I am sure that we will continue to send missionaries where they are needed, regardless of the risk. Ebola victims are the modern-day lepers. If the missionaries don't go, who will go?