The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s (ELCA) Northern Texas – Northern Louisiana Synod has raised more than $85,000 in response to the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone. The funds have provided humanitarian assistance for the synod’s companion church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sierra Leone.
“Our hearts have broken as we have heard stories of the spread of the disease,” said the Rev. Kevin S. Kanouse, bishop of the synod. “We are hearing stories of people dying of treatable diseases, who will not go to the clinics to get medicine because they are afraid they will get Ebola there.”
“While none of our pastors or individuals in our churches have died from the disease, everyone knows someone who has, and it continues to spread and move closer. Many of our churches are in quarantined villages and they cannot go out to get food, nor can people, without personal protective equipment, come into the villages. The movement of food is very difficult. Costs of food have at least tripled during this time. We know these pastors and members and are personally touched by their crisis.”
The synod funds have provided for three containers of supplies, which include personal protective equipment and steramine, a high-intensity cleansing agent. The funds have also gone toward food distribution programs to help those who are in treatment centers and for individuals who are under quarantine.
The Rev. Thomas H. Barnett, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sierra Leone, said the church in Sierra Leone and the ELCA Northern Texas – Northern Louisiana Synod have “nurtured a participatory partnership in mission” since 1988, when the ELCA was formed and The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sierra Leone was founded.
“For me and my brothers and sisters in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sierra Leone, our relationship has been based on the acceptance of each other in love and mutual respect, and the commitment to our fundamental understanding of the church as a community of faith called to live out that faith in service to others,” said Barnett.
“The current support for the Ebola crisis is merely in line with our shared core values and our sense of mission. The congregations and all the affected in the communities are thankful and proud of the friendship,” he said.
Members of Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in Amarillo, Texas, have raised more than $2,000 to help their companions in Sierra Leone.
“It is a gift for us to be partners with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sierra Leone,” said the Rev. Stephen D. Friedrich, pastor of Beautiful Savior. “We are still living into what it means to be connected, what it can look like and how that can happen from the other side of the world. This is a congregation that rallies when someone is in need, so in the midst of this Ebola crisis our congregation found a natural way to rally in a small way to the need of one of our own,” he said.
Friedrich said his congregation has been connected with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sierra Leone over the years through communications from ELCA missionaries and also through opportunities to meet Bishop Barnett during mission (or synod) assemblies. ELCA missionaries who were serving in Liberia and Sierra Leone are currently in the United States, waiting until the situation improves before they travel to the area.
“I think the connection we share in Christ will go much deeper than money and following from a distance,” said Friedrich. “I hope that as we connect with our new ELCA missionary in Sierra Leone, that we will begin to share more stories and deepen our relationships. I look forward to God using the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sierra Leone to help us to grow in faith.”
“In many and diverse ways, this is what the ELCA Northern Texas –Northern Louisiana Synod has been and continues to be to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sierra Leone,” said Barnett. The companion synod relationship has often empowered and emboldened us to be the serving church in our society.”
“We cannot just turn inward and take care of ourselves, because when one member of the body of Christ suffers, we all suffer. This makes us church for the sake of the world,” said Kanouse. “Many wish that we would just ‘take care of ourselves.’ These are brothers and sisters who are family to us.”
In addition to the funds from the ELCA Northern Texas – Northern Louisiana Synod, Lutheran Disaster Response has provided $125,000 in humanitarian assistance in response to the Ebola outbreak. The funds have been used to purchase and ship personal protective equipment, medical supplies and food. The funds have also been used to help raise awareness of the symptoms and prevention of Ebola and to help with the construction of an isolation unit at Phebe Hospital and School of Nursing. Phebe Hospital, a Lutheran hospital, is the largest public health institution in Liberia.
“The ELCA has been working with the Lutheran churches in Liberia and Sierra Leone directly and through (appeals from) Action by Churches Together,” said Vitaly Vorona, ELCA program director for Lutheran Disaster Response International. “The Ebola crisis classifies as a complex and very sensitive emergency. The community awareness, resilience and mobilization are a major focus in the response of our companion churches and partners in Liberia and Sierra Leone.”