I had no idea when I saw this picture for the first time what it would mean to me later. This picture was taken on my last trip to Sierra Leone Africa. October 2013. A village outreach, full of the joy! Oh how I wish I could relive that moment. At the time I had no idea what was coming, none of us did.
I have always felt very safe in Bo, Sierra Leone Africa. One of the poorest countries in the world. A place where 1 in 23 women will die during childbirth. A place where 1 in 5 children will die before their 5th birthday. A place where 1 in 5 neonates will die due to complications during pregnancy. There is malaria, yellow fever, and many other tropical diseases that can prove deadly.
My only concern that I crossed my mind when I went to a village outreach was…what if I have to go to the bathroom? What then? Seems so silly now.
Something has happened…something that we never believed could happen in Sierra Leone, Africa. A word that I have become so familiar with. A word that I wish never existed. A word that is as offensive as a curse word when I hear hurtful, ignorant statements from those I love the most. A word that can make me well up and burst right into tears if I really let my heart go there. That word? Anyone who knows me has already guessed…EBOLA.
I believed that God was protecting Sierra Leone Africa as one by one each bordering country became infected with the deadly disease. Then it happened…it crossed into Sierra Leone. You know how major events happen in your life and you will never forget where you were when you heard the news? When I heard the news that Ebola was in Sierra Leone I was in New York City, having a wonderful time. The news was frightening as this was a Friday, our May team of missionaries was not due to leave Bo, Sierra Leone until Sunday. We believed that the team would be safe and that Ebola would remain in the jungle and never make it to BO. Praise God that our team made it home safely. However, we could not have been more wrong about Ebola not making it to Bo.
Before the October 2013 team left we prayed over Mercy Hospital. That is where I do most of my work in Bo. We laid hands on the building. The current chairwoman was on the October trip and her term was going to be over that December. I would be taking on that position in January 2014. We prayed over Mercy’s future and for protection over the staff. We prayed for guidance as to our part in Mercy’s future.
As Ebola spread through Sierra Leone Africa like wildfire it was as if Mercy Hospital was being protected. I would go to bed at night and imagine a light around Mercy Hospital. A light of protection…God’s light. I must also mention the Child Rescue Center. The Child Rescue Center is an orphanage that was started after a ten year civil war that devastated the country. Now the orphanage is a place where children who are victims of child trafficking are rescued. Those children know how to worship. I would imagine a light so bright from the child rescue center that it oozed out of the guarded gates.As anyone who has social media or watches the news you know that Ebola did not stay in the jungle. It moved. It moved, it moved, it moved. I can not tell you the cries that my heart let out. As if my prayers were responsible as to if Ebola made it to Mercy Hospital. I believed my prayers were keeping Ebola away. Until they didn’t.
If I am going to tell the entire story I must mention my friend Jen. Jen was a missionary on the October 2013 team. I received a text sometime this summer stating that Jen needed prayers. She had hip surgery and something went wrong. Jen had developed a blood clot and was in ICU. As I prayed for Jen I knew she would be okay. She was strong, I knew she was going to beat this and come through with that beautiful smile that lights up an entire room. Jen didn’t come through…she lost the battle. Where are you God?
Myself and others who knew and loved Jen were sure she was going to take care of this Ebola thing. She was going to get to heaven with her clip board and get this mess under control. It didn’t happen…where are you God?
Not long after Jen passed, it happened again. One of the staff members at Mercy became infected with Ebola. Ben, our community outreach coordinator. I thought for sure he would survive. Ben was strong and healthy, he did every thing right. Reported exposure and received treatment. He did not cross the thresh hold of Mercy being extra careful not to risk infecting anyone else. Ben died three days after I received word that he tested positive for Ebola. Where are you God?
Then it happened yet again, Mercy was infected with Ebola. A post-op patient from a different hospital presented himself to Mercy Hospital in Bo with post op complications. A few days later he was showing signs Ebola. Before the results of his test were back the patient was dead. Sure enough his test proved that he was indeed infected with Ebola. Mercy hospital was closed for 21 days. The hospital that serves a community regardless of their ability to pay. The hospital that has a nutrition program and a prenatal program. The hospital that saves lives. The hospital that I believed with my whole heart was being protected. The hospital that changed my life. God where are you?
Three of our staff members were infected. Two of the nurses recovered, which was a miracle. One of those nurses had a nursing infant who was never infected…another miracle. Then there was one of the cleaners, Mr. Stevens. He did not make it. It was heartbreaking as I spoke to another missioner about Mr. Stevens. She knew and loved him. We spoke about how it can be lonely as Ebola unfolds all the way across the ocean. We are walking around with heavy hearts in the midst of all of America’s “blessings”. It seems we are always talking about Africa. We walk around knowing our friends are in danger, not knowing. It can be a very lonely place.
By now my prayer life had started to take a different form. I was praying every which way that I could. On my knees, prostrate position, declaring, asking, begging. My husband came down one morning as I was in deep worship in my pink polka dotted bathrobe, hair sticking up, hands in the air. God was drawing me in. Into a deeper relationship I had not known before. Drawing me into his words. As my heart was breaking, He was wrapping me up in His arms. God began answering prayers that I had long since forgot about. He was showing himself to me in the midst of something that I had no control of. None of us did.
When I went to bed at night, God would remind me of my previous trip to Bo. The trip where the first two deliveries were still births. The third delivery happened seconds after the second still birth. By this time, it was three in the morning. I was worn out. When I say worn out, I mean like ready to come home. It was only our first 24 hours. By now, a thunderstorm was in full force. If you have ever been in Africa during one of those storms you know how the thunder will wake you out of a deep sleep, sounding like bombs are going off. The third mother was as exhausted as the American doctor on the team and myself. She was pushing, crying for Jesus with every push. She was holding onto my hip squeezing as tight as she could. I was feeling defeated, exhausted, done. With each squeeze of my hip I began to cry out to Jesus with every push right along with her. The doctor and other nurse joined in. The three of us: JESUS!, JESUS!, JESUS! Right in the middle of the storm, JESUS! Soon we had a healthy baby. There he was, at 3 o’clock in the morning. The Holy Spirit hovered in that room, there was no mistake where God was. I am reminded of that moment many times when I am seeking. Right in the midst of being defeated, He is with us.
There was the day that the tears stopped. The day that my husband came upstairs as I was getting ready for company and he told me “Right now Ebola is worse in Sierra Leone then anywhere else”. I sat on the edge of the bed and sobbed for about 10 minutes. I didn’t ask God why or to fix it. I just sobbed. Got myself together and had not cried about it since until a prayer gathering at our church. Only this time the tears were different.
Our church leaders were invited to a prayer meeting. We were asked to go into different areas of the church and pray over different things. Each other, our building, the future of the church. I went into one of the rooms where we prayed for our missions. There were pictures on each table of the many missions our church participates in. I saw the pictures from the children at the Child Rescue Center, pictures from outreaches at Mercy, pictures of the women and children of Bo. The tears came as I prayed. As I prayed I was reminded of this journey, that I am not alone. That HIS ways are not my ways. That ALL things work together for those who love God. There were tears of relief knowing that I am not in charge, that God loves me and I am worth it. That it was finished when my Savior died on the cross.