International Ministries

Visiting a Nazi Concentration Camp and Thinking of Ebola: The Christian’s Role

October 29, 2014 Journal
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     During our recent break at French language school, we visited Dachau, Germany, the first concentration camp the Nazis erected in March, 1933 immediately after Hitler became Chancellor. Since I (Tim) visited this example of human suffering and evil, I have been thinking of another example of evil and suffering.  

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     Ebola virus is having a deadly impact on West Africa and spreading fear and hysteria in the USA and the world.  WHO case counts of Ebola from 10/27/2014 report 13,703 cases and 4,920 deaths, and predictions by some are that it will be up to 2-3 times worse in the next 1-2 months.  Although Ebola was not caused by man, its impact is made much worse by the neglect, oppression and poverty that exists in Africa.

     In addition to directly killing people, Ebola has negative impact on the health care system and a country’s economy.  The number of deaths directly from Ebola pales in comparison to the number of people that will be dying from the disruption of the health system and the economy in Africa.

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    The first impact on the health system is that Ebola has killed many health professionals.  Health care workers easily contracted this virus because every day they serve the sick and suffering with limited protective equipment and waste disposal.    On the other hand, diarrhea, pneumonia and malaria kill many more people in Africa then Ebola.  If someone is sick and the local clinic nurse is dead from Ebola, or people refuse to go to see the nurse out of fear of getting Ebola, they are more likely to die from these more treatable diseases.  

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     This disruption of the health care system is also impacting vaccination rates in West Africa.  Measles, polio, diphtheria and pertussis are vaccine-preventable diseases that still kill many in Africa.  The deadly rumor that vaccines against these other disease can cause Ebola is destroying the miraculous advances and protection these vaccines have had in the past 60 years, since the development of the first polio vaccine.  Once these diseases begin to again spread wildly in Africa, the impact will be felt in Europe and America among those families that refuse to get their children properly vaccinated against these diseases that used to be rare in America. 

     Another negative impact this Ebola outbreak is having is on the economy.  Sick people cannot work.  Many in Africa make just enough money to buy today's food for the family.  If they are sick, immediately the whole family suffers because no one has money to buy today’s food. If the sick person was the person that was to transport the food from where it was produced to where people can buy the food, then the food chain gets disrupted and the food that is available becomes more expensive.  Malnutrition makes the young and weaker members of the family more prone to die from any other illness they contract, widening the negative impact of Ebola. 

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    When faced with evil, it is easy to want to close my eyes to the problem.  During the time of Hitler, there were many Christians that worked to rescue Jews and opposed the Nazis.  For example, Corrie ten Boom and her family became very active in the Dutch underground network hiding refugees, and most of her family died in the concentration camps because of their stand against the suffering and evil brought about by the Nazis.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor and theologian, was eventually killed for his anti-Nazi stance.  

     Today we have heard about the work of medical missionaries, relief workers and nurses who have been infected in their courageous care of Ebola patients.  Although there is no Ebola in the Vanga Evangelical hospital region at this time, this hospital where we will serving has been improving their processes to combat and protect from Ebola, using donated funds to obtain some of the additional supplies.  In a country where many people live on less than a dollar a day, everything is reused.  Institutions caring for poor patients lack the luxury of disposing of protective gear after every exam. In the past, gloves have been washed and reused until they are completely worn out.  Donated funds are now being used to purchase more gloves as well as additional protective equipment.  Funds are also being used to provide the detailed training needed so that every member of the hospital staff, including the doctors, nurses, security personnel and cleaning staff, understand and follow proper procedures.

     How should we respond when we feel that evil has the upper hand--whether it is Nazi oppression, poverty or Ebola?  Apathy, hopelessness, fear, self-protection, suspicion and hatred... it's these walls that kept people in a concentration camp like the one at Dachau or keep people in the paralyzing grip of poverty.  And the same factors of apathy, hopelessness, fear, and self-protection keep people from stepping into the suffering around us to be God's hands and feet of love.  When it looks like evil has the upper hand, God needs to open our eyes to the truth of His point of view.  Jesus came and announced the coming of the full expression of the Kingdom.  As He announced the Kingdom’s coming, He described it in view of the broken and oppressed.  Luke 4:18-19 NIV “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

     God’s favor is present here and now.  As we, through faith, trust in God’s favor the chains of our hopelessness, fatalism and self-protection are broken.  Our faith and God’s favor gets clearly demonstrated as we, with God’s strength, walk away from self-protection to show God’s love in practical deeds of kindness.  These practical deeds of love are the tools God uses to free those held prisoner to the oppression of poverty and disease by the chains of hopelessness. At the Vanga Evangelical Hospital, the faithful nurses and doctors continue to daily show God’s love to the sick in the region.  We thank the generous donors that are supporting us as we learn French so we can communicate with the team in Vanga.  The funds donated to buy medical supplies, protective equipment and training are also an encouraging expression of God’s favor.  Each of us can pray, “God use me today, the day of the Lord’s favor, to proclaim the good news in practical ways.”

Tim