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Facing Darkness Sheds Light among Death's Shadows

<i>Facing Darkness</i> Sheds Light among Death's Shadows

Last night I saw Facing Darkness, a Samaritan’s Purse film telling the true story of their medical team in Ebola-ridden Liberia, directed by Arthur Rasco. It released in theaters for one night through Fathom Events, but due to overwhelming success there will be an encore showing on Monday April 10. If a theater near you offers Fathom Events, I encourage you to see the film. However, due to the graphic nature of certain scenes (brief war violence, extremely ill people, and body bags) I would discourage taking children under 13.

Facing Darkness is a powerful documentary. At the time, in 2014, the only other medical organization aiding the Ebola crisis in the African countries of Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia was Doctors Without Borders. Doctors without Borders asked Samaritan's Purse to be the main provider of clinical care for Ebola patients in Liberia.

Samaritan's Purse prayerfully took on the role; as they state in the film, how could they not go—how could they not help those in need when God provided an opportunity and an open door? Of course, treating Ebola patients, which was often like hospice care, and educating the Liberian population about health risks and the dangers of spreading Ebola was not without its challenges. The medical team was in a state of constant stress for much of the duration of their time at ELWA hospital.

As the CDC explains in the film, this Ebola outbreak was completely different from Ebola outbreaks in the past as this was an urban outbreak. This outbreak spread more quickly and in larger numbers than ever recorded. Liberians live in close proximity to one another, in a culture that uses physical touch to communicate (long hand shakes, hugs, etc.).

People did not respond well at first, when they were told to stop all physical contact with friends, family, and neighbors. Some even accused the doctors of spreading Ebola, and therefore, there was a certain amount of distrust among the Liberian people in cooperation with medical staff. Burial is important to families in Liberia, and a process is carried out where the dead bodies are washed with water and children are held. You can imagine how this burial process would not bode well for families burying those who died from Ebola.

Ebola Virus Disease, or Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever, is a highly contagious virus usually spread by physical contact or contact with bodily fluids of those infected. Since many Ebola patients will hemorrhage blood the likelihood of coming into contact with the virus-infused blood is high, especially when handling the deceased because at that point the virus is highly concentrated in the fluids.

The film focuses on the efforts of Samaritan’s Purse to treat Liberians with Ebola, education in the community about how to stop the spread of the disease, as well as following the story of two medical team members who contracted the virus themselves and survived. Dr. Kent Brantly was part of the medical missionary group treating patients at ELWA Hospital; they still do not know exactly how he contracted the disease since the doctors were meticulously taped into their medical suits. But he and another volunteer, Mrs. Nancy Writebol, contracted the virus and were some of the first humans to try the experimental drug ZMapp before being flown back to the US for further treatment at Emory University.

In the film, Dr. Brantly discusses the role of faith in his choice to serve God in this way, in this place, among these people. He points out that faith does not make us safe. Some have asked him if his faith is what healed him, but he sees his faith as what brought him to serve Christ in the midst of an Ebola outbreak. There was no guarantee of safety, no guarantee that each volunteer and medical team member would not contract the virus themselves. Franklin Graham put it like this: as Christians we shouldn’t run from the fire or crisis, we should run to it.

You can purchase tickets for April 10 showing of Facing Darkness here.

*All proceeds received by Samaritan's Purse from FACING DARKNESS will be used for medical missions.

Publication date: March 31, 2017