Liberia, Ebola and the Episcopal Church

October 16, 2014

By Sandra McPhee, originally published in the St. Matthew's, Evanston newsletter

Many of you know that I have visited Liberia several times in the years since its civil wars ended in 2004.  My most recent trip was in February and March of this year. I saw a country and a people that have made tremendous strides in repairing the damage caused by 20 years of war and criminally corrupt governments. I could cite many examples but here are a few: the drivers of the cars and trucks that took us around the country were not visibly armed, hotel security guards were not armed,  there were far fewer UN security check points on the roads, much of the debris left by the destruction of the wars has been cleaned up, the bullet holes on the façade of the cathedral in Monrovia have been repaired and the parking lot has been paved. Overall, the people look healthier and seemed optimistic about the future of their country.

I travel to Liberia because I serve on the Covenant Committee for the Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Church in Liberia. I am also on the board of a U.S. advisory committee for Cuttington University in Bong County, Liberia, an Episcopal university. Most of us learned somewhere in high school that Liberia was "settled" by free-born blacks and freed slaves from the U.S. The story is very complicated but because of that, the Episcopal Church here and the church in Liberia have a special relationship. In fact, until the mid-1980's, the Diocese of Liberia was a part of the Episcopal Church, just like the Diocese of Chicago. In the mid-80's, the Diocese of Liberia was transferred to the Province of West Africa, where it obviously belongs geographically. In fact, this spring, the Right Reverend Jonathan B.B. Hart, the bishop of the Diocese of Liberia, was elected the primate of the Province of West Africa and was installed as primate over the 4th of July weekend. Because of the outbreak of ebola, no representatives from the Episcopal Church were able to attend his installation.

Which brings me to the point of this article. You have all read the news and seen the reports on television.  The situation in Liberia is beyond desperate. The most recent statistics that I could find state that there is 1 doctor for every 100,000 people in Liberia. By comparison there are 242 doctors for every 100,000 people in the U.S.  That does not account for the medical personnel who have died during this crisis. Cuttington University has the only nursing school in Liberia that grants four year bachelor's degrees in nursing. Many nurses who are Cuttington graduates have died from ebola. Because of ebola, there is absolutely no medical care available in Liberia for the normal everyday things that happen - a broken leg, a heart attack, a difficult child-birth.

All the schools in Liberia are closed. Schools and colleges that rely on tuition payments have not received those payments so they cannot pay their faculties and staffs. Those people do not have money to buy food or pay their bills.

What breaks my heart is the children who have been orphaned because of this disease. Families are refusing to care for children whose parents have died because they fear those children will develop the disease. Parents, whose children are showing symptoms have to decide whether to care for those sick children, putting their own lives and the lives of their other children at risk.

If you want to help, I recommend that you give to Episcopal Relief and Development, episcopalrelief.org.  I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Robert Radtke, the President of ERD.  They have people on the ground in Liberia and are in an excellent position to evaluate needs and put your donation to good use.  As always, I am happy to answer any questions that anyone may have.  Please, pray for Liberia.

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