557) Running Toward the Plague

 

Another Ebola Death in Liberia

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Christians and Ebola, by Eric Metaxas, October 15, 2014 blog at:  

http://www.breakpoint.org

     Between 250 and 270 A.D. a terrible plague, believed to be measles or smallpox, devastated the Roman Empire.  At the height of what came to be known as the Plague of Cyprian, after the bishop St. Cyprian who chronicled what was happening, 5,000 people died every day in Rome alone.

     The plague coincided with the first empire-wide persecution of Christians under the emperor Decius.  Not surprisingly, Decius and other enemies of the Church blamed Christians for the plague.  That claim was, however, undermined by two inconvenient facts:  Christians died from the plague like everybody else and, unlike everybody else, they cared for the victims of the plague, including their pagan neighbors.

     This wasn’t new.  Christians had done the same thing during the Antonine Plague a century earlier.  As Rodney Stark wrote in The Rise of Christianity, Christians stayed in the afflicted cities when pagan leaders, including physicians, fled.

     Candida Moss, a professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Notre Dame, notes that an “epidemic that seemed like the end of the world actually promoted the spread of Christianity.”  By their actions in the face of possible death, Christians showed their neighbors that “Christianity is worth dying for.”

     This witness came to mind after listening to a recent story on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered.  Host Robert Siegel interviewed Stephen Rowden, who volunteered for Doctors Without Borders in Monrovia, Liberia.

     Rowden’s grim task was to manage the teams that collected the bodies of Ebola victims.  Rowden and his team retrieved 10-to-25 bodies a day.  Since close contact with the victims is the chief means by which the usually-deadly virus is spread, Rowden and his team members lived with the risk of becoming victims themselves.

     What’s more, living in the midst of this death and suffering took its toll.  Rowden recalled entering a house and finding the body of a four-year-old victim who had been abandoned by her family.  With the typical English understatement, he told Siegel,  “I found that a very sad case.”

     Rowden’s experience prompted Siegel to ask him if he was a religious man, to which Rowden replied, “I am.   I’m a practicing Christian.”  When Siegel then asked whether what he saw tested his faith, Rowden said that “No, I got great strength from my faith and the support of my family.”

     Nearly eighteen centuries after the Plague of Cyprian, Christianity still prompts people to run towards the plague when virtually everyone else is running away.

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Matthew 25:34-36  —  (Jesus said), “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’”

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Lord, we entrust to you the people affected by Ebola– the families, communities, cities, and villages.

We pray especially for the health care workers, that you guide and protect them.

We pray that your Spirit inspire those researching and seeking for the drugs, medicines, and healthcare systems that respond to the suffering of the people. 

And in the midst of this, keep us strong in faith, hope, and love.   Amen.   –Charitas organization