Via Richard Preston‘s fantastic and alarming New Yorker article on the genesis and spread of Ebola, we learn that a major early vector of the current epidemic was an unidentified faith-healing fraudster. Preston tells of a Sierra Leone woman who
… had been at the funeral of a faith healer who had recently been to Guinea and had died after attempting to heal a number of people sick with Ebola. … Teams of epidemiologists and health workers spread out from Kenema and identified twelve more women who were sick with Ebola. All of them had been at the funeral of the faith healer.
From there, the disease spread and claimed thousands more lives, including that of Humarr Khan, an amazing doctor who was Sierra Leone’s foremost expert in filoviruses like Lassa and Ebola, and the country’s best hope for combatting the disease.
Notwithstanding the fact that the first documented Ebola outbreak, in 1976, was due in large part to nuns at a Catholic hospital giving pregnant women vitamin injections with dirty, unsterilized needles, Preston’s story reminds us that there’s a lot of good medical work being done by Christians in the affected areas. Samaritan’s Purse, an organization that has a hospital near Monrovia, Liberia, is singled out for (ha!) praise — and so is the secular-minded Doctors Without Borders treatment center at Kailahun, in eastern Sierra Leone.
For some reason, neither of those places employ faith healers.
P.S.: Still the local faith-healing lunacy continues. The Los Angeles Times has a portrait of Liberian faith healer Dorothy Sawer. Sawer is sure Ebola is a spiritual disease, she says, not merely a physical sickness. Despite her most powerful prayers, her own pastor died of Ebola, along with most other people upon whom she beseeched God’s intervention.
“I believe maybe it’s God’s will,” says Sawer, puzzling over why so many died and wondering why all that healing prayer didn’t save a good man like Pastor Garpou. “Maybe some people never had the faith that they could make it and some people lose hope.”
Then she fell ill herself. She tells this story:
The first thing she asked for at the treatment center wasn’t water or medicine. She wanted a Bible.
At the treatment center. When it came to her own life, she apparently elected to get expert medical help pronto, instead of relying strictly on the Lord’s awesome powers to make her well.
Then, she recalls,
“One night I felt a hand patting me on my shoulder.” A nurse checking she was still alive? “I don’t know who touched me. I think it was the spirit of God.” The next morning, she left her bed. She recovered, as swiftly as she had gotten ill.
The roll of the dice or the medical treatment she received had nothing to do with that. It was God, wouldn’t you know it, and Sawer believes it despite the miserable, painful Ebola deaths of other hard-praying Christians all around her. And so:
She began religious devotion sessions, morning and night, with prayer and songs. Even the nurses, clad head to toe in protective suits, sometimes joined in, clapping and singing.
As you do, of course, when you’re a medical professional.
(Image via Wikipedia)