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Ebola Fighters as Person of the Year a Courageous & Worthy Choice

  • Dave Burchett Author
  • Updated Dec 11, 2014
Ebola Fighters as Person of the Year a Courageous & Worthy Choice

I tend to be a bit blasé about TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year announcement. I understand that the selection is not necessarily a feel good award. TIME’s editorial board chooses a person, group, idea or object that has done the most to influence the events of the year for better or worse. Sometimes that means bad people get the nod. This year I believe TIME made a courageous and worthy choice. Here is part of their release:

"For tireless acts of courage and mercy, for buying the world time to boost its defenses, for risking, for persisting, for sacrificing and saving, the Ebola fighters are TIME’s 2014 Person of the Year."

Designating all of the fighters in the Ebola war is fitting. Every selfless volunteer deserves our honor. For people of faith this is encouraging recognition of the power of the Gospel message and Christian service. The number of Christians and Christian organizations on the front line of this battle has been well chronicled. Samaritan’s Purse, SIM, and Medicus Christi are just a few of the faith based groups serving Ebola victims.

Science writer Brian Palmer from Slate wondered if we should worry that so many of the doctors treating Ebola are missionaries. He writes that "it's great that these people are doing God's work, but do they have to talk about Him so much?"

Actually, they do if they are to remain true to their calling. Palmer continues with his concern about proselytizing:

"Samuel Loewenberg (in a Lancet article) quotes a missionary who insists he does not proselytize, even though he tells his patients, 'I'm treating you because of what God has given me and his love for me.' That statement—which strikes me as obvious proselytizing—suggests that some missionaries are incapable of separating their religious work from their medical work."

I would suggest that the missionaries are simply giving context for their sacrifice and risk. For Christians the sacred nature of serving others was declared by Jesus with this stunning counter-cultural view of human value:

For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

Then these righteous ones will reply, "Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?"

And the King will say, "I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!" (Matthew 25:35-40, NLT)

That is the heart of so many men and women of faith who risk their lives fighting Ebola. They do it for the least of these in the belief that this is their Gospel calling.

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat responded to the Slate article:

"Palmer seems less hostile to Christian missionaries and their work than he is confused by what they're doing: He clearly has a set of ideological frames through which he sees the world, a set of assumptions (the separation of medicine and religion should be absolute, proselytization is wicked/backward/ignorant, helping people is what governments and secular groups are supposed to do) that simply don't fit with what's happening on the ground in Africa and who's actually there, which in turns leaves him both unsettled and subtly resentful at all these Christian missionary doctors for unsettling him."

That is precisely what followers of Jesus are supposed to be if we live out of grace: unsettling. Not argumentative. Not judgmental. But unsettling in the sense that our serving and selfless actions don't make sense from a logical and secular point of view. That is one significant way a ragamuffin group of early Christians changed the world.

Bishop Dionysius of Alexandria wrote how Christians responded to a devastating plague in AD 260:

"Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending their every need and ministering to them in Christ—and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains... Death in this form, the result of great piety and strong faith, seems in every way the equal of martyrdom."

Debbie Eisenhut is a surgeon/physician working for SIM (Serving in Mission) on the frontlines of the Ebola war. In an interview for the Salem Statesman-Journal she said, "I just want people to know that God has not forgotten Liberia. He loves Liberians, just like everyone else. We can't abandon them."

That is the heart of one Ebola fighter. That reflects the hearts of so many. And that is why the designation from TIME Magazine is so richly deserved.

Publication date: December 11, 2014