Global,  Stories

Fighting Fiercely: A Response to the Ebola Crisis

Written by Alissa Sandoval

I returned to my desk unable to focus. My mind was still lingering in the chaos that I had just left. Busy yourself, my head said. So I tried.

There was physical straining on my heart – it was distracting. Everyone speaking to me sounded distant even though they were only sitting two or three feet away from me. The exhaustion from unfulfilling sleep all caught up with me at once. Push it down, my mind ordered. You’re at work; you need to pull yourself together.

There was an inner battle of heart vs. head ensuing – my heart was winning. My heart was breaking and it was breaking for people I had never met in a country that I had never been to. With tears filling my eyes, I glanced up. “I think I need to go for a walk,” I blurted out. The second I stepped out of the office and the door shut behind me, the sobs began.

From June 2 – August 1 of this summer, I had the immense blessing and opportunity to serve as an intern at Samaritan’s Purse, a world-renowned international relief organization, with their headquarters located in the mountains of Boone, North Carolina. Many people know them for their shoebox ministry known as Operation Christmas Child. This past summer, they served on the frontline of the Ebola outbreak that is spiraling out of control in Liberia and has now spread into other countries in Africa. Though I was hired to create visually appealing training materials, my last week in Boone quickly shifted because of the emotional blow that was placed in front of our organization.

The Friday before the interns’ final week, it had been confirmed that one of the Samaritan’s Purse doctors, Dr. Kent Brantly, had contracted the deadly Ebola virus. When hearing about stories of disaster and fatal viruses, there is this invisible wall that is placed between you and the disaster. Though the virus had been spreading like wildfire since the middle of June, the reality of the devastation of this Ebola outbreak became evidently more palpable. Now an American doctor in Liberia had contracted the disease, making the severity of the situation a reality to many.

Famous news stations now occupied a section of the Samaritan’s Purse parking lot. By the time I got to my desk that Monday, our department was alive with the voices of many people. Where the orderly daily update calls between Boone and Liberia were held all summer, The EMT, Emergency Medical Team, had been permanently moved to that room and were typing feverously. With several Samaritan’s Purse workers still serving in Liberia, the necessity to evacuate their family members became a priority. That’s where my role came into play.

The Assistant to the Vice President, Laurie Watson, asked me to assist with some administrative work in the room where the EMT team was working. I quickly became aware of the fact that my final week at Samaritan’s Purse would be far more difficult than the rest of the summer had been. While I sat in that room, listening to the death toll updates and the various needs of our team in Liberia, weightiness filled my heart. Thinking about other things seemed trivial and distractions were impossible to find. The days were fast-paced and heartbreaking.

The reality of hundreds suffering in Liberia saddened me, and the more evident reality of me not being able to solve the issue frustrated me to the core. I felt listless and distracted the entire week and found it exceedingly difficult to be mentally present after work when all of the interns would get together.

However, on the most chaotic day, the Lord revealed his love. In the middle of the daily bridge call, a devastating problem emerged. Over half of the family members scheduled to evacuate Liberia that day were to land in Kenya. However, global media coverage of the epidemic spawned fear and triggered knee-jerk reactions. Countries were shutting down airspace and denying entry to people traveling through countries known to have Ebola outbreaks. With husbands, wives, and children heading toward the airport in Liberia, the time frame for a backup plan was quickly diminishing. A variety of opinions and plans began to swirl about the room.

As I sat there watching, I felt completely useless. Eventually, the chaos heightened to a point that called for non-essential workers—myself and the rest of the volunteers—to leave the room so decisions could be made and action could be taken. As I watched vice president of projects Ken Isaacs and the rest of the senior vice presidents all speak at once, The Lord revealed a beautiful truth. The chaos that was ensuing wasn’t a clash of egos all trying to get their opinions out, it was a group of people fiercely fighting for the protection of these people because they loved them. Those left in the EMT room were fighting for these family members and Samaritan’s Purse Team members because they loved them, and were able to because The Lord first loved us.

The reality of there being a God who fiercely fights for His people rang true in my mind. Even though I returned to my desk, our Father in Heaven was fighting for those on the way to the airport and comforting those who lay on a hospital floor in Liberia.

This new perspective has drastically changed the way I approach my life. I am able to confidently approach each day with the knowledge that I am being fought for and loved more deeply than I could ever imagine. This love is something that can never be shaken or replaced. I believe The Lord wanted to reveal this aspect of His character to me. Every situation we find ourselves in happens for a reason, and we will be taught something because of what we experience.

Since my time in Boone, Dr. Brantly has been healed along with another volunteer doctor, Nancy Writebol. In reality, hundreds are still suffering and dying from this disease, and it is my prayer that the world would not turn a blind eye to a heart-breaking problem still seeping through several countries’ borders. A third doctor has been diagnosed with Ebola in Monrovia and has been taken to Nebraska for treatment. President Obama has also decided to increase American involvement by deploying 3,000 troops into Liberia to help fight this worsening crisis. Samaritan’s Purse recently launched new efforts to stop the Ebola virus. At the end of September and early October, they recruited 200 staff members to focus on a community-level care initiative in Liberia to prevent the disease from spreading any further.

Though the Ebola virus is continuing to rage in Liberia and has now been discovered as far as the Democratic Republic of Congo, I can rest confidently in the fact that I serve a God who is in control.

All photos belong to Samaritan’s Purse.

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