August 5, 2014—As the Ebola virus spreads in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, The United Methodist Church continues to be present and respond through West African United Methodist church leaders and regional health boards, denominational health facilities, missionaries, and the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), the church’s humanitarian aid and health unit. UMCOR is part of the church’s mission agency, the General Board of Global Ministries. The church has three hospitals and five clinics in Sierra Leone and one hospital and three clinics in Liberia.
An outbreak, which began in Guinea in February, has spread to Sierra Leone and Liberia, infecting more than 1,600 people and killing at least 887. This infectious disease causes hemorrhagic fevers, with a mortality rate between 50 and 90 percent. It has no known cure.
Global Ministries has been in contact with all United Methodist missionaries who serve in Liberia and Sierra Leone. According to Judy Chung, the executive who leads missionary services, many of the missionaries were already in the United States visiting churches or conducting other work-related travel. She said those who are already in the U.S. will remain there until further notice. “We are asking those who stay in Liberia and Sierra Leone to have a plan in place should the situation deteriorate,” she added. Recognizing the role that missionaries serve, she continued, “Please keep them in prayer as they respond to the crisis through their ministries.”
UMCOR has invited proposals from the United Methodist Liberia Annual Conference and the Sierra Leone Annual Conference health boards to respond in cooperation with the ministries of health in those countries. “We are confident the United Methodist health boards that were established by UMCOR are well equipped to share information about how the virus is transmitted, how people can protect themselves, and what precautions they should take,” said the head of UMCOR, Denise Honeycutt. “We are in prayer with our brothers and sisters and stand ready to respond as needed.”
An initial $25,000 grant from UMCOR to the Sierra Leone Annual Conference provided United Methodist health centers with material to protect health workers and prevent contagion and to construct an isolation unit at Mercy Hospital. A $50,000 UMCOR grant to the ACT Alliance was used to help build isolation centers, conduct workshops and educate communities about the virus, and to raise awareness about prevention. This week, UMCOR is partnering with Medical Assistance Programs (MAP) to send urgently needed supplies and personal protective equipment to Sierra Leone and Liberia. The kits include gloves, aprons, masks, goggles, rubber boots, and plastic sheets.
Updates about the United Methodist response will be included in the UMCOR Hotline, published weekly on Wednesdays. Other sources of information about the Ebola crisis are International SOS and The World Health Organization.
The Religious Leaders Task Force on Ebola in Sierra Leone, chaired by United Methodist Bishop John K. Yambasu, and the Liberian Council of Churches and other ecumenical bodies in Liberia have called for three days of fasting and prayer this coming Wednesday, Thursday and Friday (August 6-8). Churches are asked to pray for all who are affected by this crisis, including healthcare workers. Gifts to UMCOR International Disaster Response, Advance #982450, will enable UMCOR’s response to this and other emergencies.
Media contact: Melissa Hinnen, Director of Content and Public Information
Program contact: Rev. Jack Amick, Associate General Secretary, International Disaster Response