Amid Ebola outbreak in Congo, Brantly returning to Africa with ‘compassion despite fear’

The Christian Chronicle

By: Bobby Ross Jr. Editor-in-Chief

Christians are called to 'extreme love and not to self-preservation,' Brantly tells The Christian Chronicle.

FORT WORTH, Texas — In a Christian Chronicle story this week, Dr. Kent Brantly discussed his decision to return to Africa — specifically, Zambia — as a medical missionary five years after he contracted the Ebola virus in Liberia and nearly died.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization announced — as reported by The Associated Press — that the deadly Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo is now an international health emergency. That news came after a case was confirmed in a city of 2 million people.

The rural Mukinge Mission Hospital, where Brantly will serve, is about three hours from Zambia’s border with Congo.

In my interview with Brantly, I asked him about the outbreak in Congo. Our conversation came before this week’s latest developments.

Dr. Kent Brantly: There’s no Ebola in Zambia right now. There is the second-worst outbreak in history, ongoing, in the northeastern part of Congo that was first identified last August. It’s been going on for 10 months. There have been over 1,500 deaths and over 2000 cases, and it’s spread across the border into Uganda, and there were some cases in Uganda.

And it’s really terrible. And it’s happening in a conflict zone where there are multiple rebel groups that fight against the government and against each other. And it’s an unstable place where there is great distrust of government, of authority, and where it’s not safe. It’s a dangerous place.

And that is a tragedy that most of us on this side of the world have maybe never heard a headline about it, but we’re not paying attention enough. The World Health Organization is saying it may be two more years before this thing is brought under control.

I’m hoping that won’t come to Zambia. It’s a pretty far distance from northeastern Congo to the border that we’re closest to, but it’s also really far from there to here (Texas), and we live in a small world. People are mobile and travel, and we’re all connected. And so, just like somebody could hop on a plane and fly to Dallas-Fort Worth from Congo, somebody could hop on a bus and drive across the border to Zambia.

Bobby Ross Jr.: You don’t worry? You have compassion, not fear?

Dr. Kent Brantly: It’s not a matter of not fearing. It’s a matter of choosing to have compassion despite fear.

I heard an interview on the radio with a guy who was a former Marine, who served several tours of duty in Iraq, had been in the battle of Fallujah, and he’d written a book, and they were interviewing him.

He said something about courage: “I have no idea what it feels like to feel courageous. Courage is not a thing. You feel terrified, and you do the right thing anyway. Courage is not a feeling. I can tell you what it feels like to be terrified. I’ve spent a lot of time feeling afraid and being terrified.”

But he even went as far as to say that he has never seen more acts of love than on the streets of Fallujah, because it was love that drove those Marines to run to their buddy who had been shot, knowing that machine gun fire was still aimed there, and to risk their own lives to go after that guy who had been injured.

He said, “That’s not courage. It’s love.” And that’s a Marine talking. I don’t know if he’s a follower of Jesus or not. It sounds like he might be. But that’s what we as followers of Jesus are called to — to that kind of extreme love and not to self-preservation.

So am I afraid of Ebola? No, I don’t think there’s really a pragmatic reason to be afraid that Ebola is going to spread to Mukinge Hospital. Is it possible? Sure. Is it likely? No.

And so it’s not a fear in the front of my mind as we head to Zambia. But would I have fear if I found myself in the midst of another Ebola outbreak? You betcha. Yeah. Yeah, I would.

Would I choose to stay and help and take care of patients again? I hope so. Would I try to be wise about how my family navigates that situation and prevent my wife and children from unnecessary risks? Yeah, I hope so.

Jennifer Dyer