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Ebola Crisis in Liberia is Not Yet History

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The World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed three new cases of Ebola on Nov. 20 in Paynesville City, a suburb of Monrovia, Liberia, where the Liberia Baptist Theological Seminary (LBTS) has been a presence for nearly four decades.

A 15-year-old boy, his brother and father were diagnosed with the life-threatening virus. Four days later, the boy died.

He and his family members were taken to the same clinic where Kent Brantly, the U.S. physician, then working with Samaritan’s Purse, contracted the virus in August 2014.

More than 150 others have come under scrutiny and will be monitored for 21 days, which is the accepted incubation period for Ebola.

Since the outbreak of Ebola in the West African nations of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, which began in December 2013, Liberia has borne the brunt of the horror. Out of more than 11,300 Ebola deaths, more than 4,800 have been Liberians.

The medical crisis of Ebola certainly has been horrific, but it quickly disappeared from the radar screens of the West.

The ensuing humanitarian issues of hunger, deepening economic despair and the failure of a strained medical infrastructure to keep up with non-Ebola demands have been eclipsed by the “crises du jour” that drive Western mass media.

Throughout the deadly Ebola epidemic in Liberia, thousands of families struggled to find food and medical attention. Even when Liberia was declared “Ebola free,” the glimpse of a post-Ebola Liberia was not encouraging.

Hunger and sickness are at the highest levels across Liberia since 2003 when 14 years of civil war finally came to an end.

Sixteen months have passed since Ebola became the “crisis du jour” throughout the world, fueled by journalists and politicians of the West.

The drama and trauma of Ebola soon slipped from international headlines and status of breaking news to brief mentions, followed by absence from the news cycles.

In West Africa, however, Ebola and its ramifications for daily life remain the “crisis du jour.”

Over those 16 months, a small group of Liberian Baptists living on the LBTS compound has provided a snapshot of a characteristic Liberian response to major issues.

Liberians use the phrase “small-small” to describe a firm, if modest, response to big issues.

In the face of a crisis that was attracting global attention, the LBTS administration and staff focused on its small plot of threatened land (a 176-acre compound) with around 100 people living on the campus – an insignificant percentage of Liberia’s 4.4 million people.

LBTS launched Care for One Hundred in hopes of providing security and hunger relief for the near future. Appeals went out, “small-small” to U.S. individuals and churches.

The hope was to provide one meal a day for Liberians in compounds associated with Baptist schools, all of which were closed, leaving staff and faculty cut off from all support and removing the possibility of income.

What happened next is an amazing testimony to what unfolds when the small story of a big crisis reaches a modest audience.

The Lamberth Memorial Baptist Church (LMBC) in Roxboro, North Carolina, agreed to become a partner with LBTS and Care for One Hundred.

That faithful church, with a membership similar to the population of the LBTS compound, became a clearinghouse for small-small donations.

Without LMBC, the story of Ebola would be even grimmer. More than $70,000 has passed through that church on the way to feeding more than 1,000 Liberians mired in a devastating humanitarian crisis.

In August 2014, the LBTS compound welcomed and celebrated the first distribution of rice, beans, oil and bouillon cubes.

As contributions increased over the months, LBTS shared the resources with at least six other compounds with similar needs.

In November 2015, the LBTS compound received a 16th ration, now feeding 126 people, more than half of whom are children younger than 13.

The cumulative numbers are staggering: 714 bags of rice (55 pounds each), 70 cartons of beans, 4,799 gallons of oil and 24,058 seasoning cubes.

When the contributions were especially strong, LBTS also was able to supplement the distributions with sardines; 10,246 tins (4 ounces each) were dispensed.

The Ebola crisis is not, yet, history in Liberia. Sierra Leone and Guinea are paying attention, we are sure. As the lingering crisis continues to unfold, there are stories yet to be told and written.

Richard Wilson is the president of the Liberia Baptist Theological Seminary and the chair of the Roberts Department of Christianity in Mercer University’s College of Liberal Arts. Faliku Stephen Dukuly is a bachelor of arts candidate in public policy at the United Methodist University in Monrovia, Liberia, and the Care for One Hundred Coordinator for the Liberia Baptist Theological Seminary in Paynesville City, Monrovia, Liberia.

Editor’s note: Pictures and videos detailing Ebola’s impact on Liberia are available here.