Ebola survivor Nancy Writebol will be back in Liberia tomorrow (June 16), ready to start work again at the very hospital where she contracted the disease.
Nancy and her husband David, who is starting a five-year term as Serving In Mission’s Liberia director, will walk through the door of the home she left on a stretcher in July, 2014.
The memories of her battle against the disease, fought both in Liberia and America, are still vivid but the couple have no doubt that going back is the right thing to do. Indeed, in answering God’s call, it is the only thing to do.
Nancy, who is Serving In Mission’s personnel co-ordinator in Liberia, will play a key role in developing a new ministry helping the victims of trauma, as well as continuing her work with serving the missionaries in SIM’s care.
She said: “Serving In Mission’s Dr John Fankhauser has already started an Ebola survivors’ clinic, which works with both the victims of the disease and their wider families.
“But there are many other victims of trauma in Liberia – there was a civil war which lasted for 14 or 15 years, followed by 10 years of re-building and then Ebola.
“There are a lot of issues to deal with; people who have been victims of atrocities, women who have been raped, people who have been abused in many ways.
“The people need healing in many ways – mental healing, emotional healing but, most important of all, spiritual healing. We know Jesus Christ can heal.”
It is typical of Nancy’s firm faith and humility that she sees it as entirely natural to want to go back to Liberia and help. She and David have no doubt of God’s calling.
She said: “I clearly remember a day when Dave and I were looking at the Bible together and we were reading about Joshua and Caleb, who were sent by Moses to spy out the promised land.
“That passage talks about how God promises to be with them in that work. As Dave and I talked and prayed about this, it was obvious that that God was making us that same promise.
“We are going back because we live for Christ and because of what he did for us at Calvary.
“We were having dinner with friends the other day and one of them said: ‘I serve at his pleasure’ and that is exactly how I feel. I serve at his pleasure and it is a privilege to be used by him in that service.”
David is just as convinced that their calling lies in Liberia. He will take charge of all SIM ministries in Liberia, which cover everything from running the hospital where Nancy worked to organising Bible training for pastors to work in rural communities.
He said: “We know there will be significant challenges for our ministry but we are reassured by what happened to Joshua.
“When he finally assumes Moses’ place and heads across the Jordan river, God tells him to take courage, saying: ‘I will be with you.’ We want to be courageous too and we know that God will be with us.”
Nancy certainly showed the courage that comes from God’s strength during the dark days of her battle with Ebola.
She said: “When I was being evacuated from Liberia, carried up the aircraft baggage ramp on a stretcher and surrounded by people in decontamination suits, I heard the Lord asking me: ‘Am I enough?’
“I didn’t know if I would see David again, or see any of my family again but the Lord kept saying to me: ‘Am I enough?’
“I was clinging to him, saying: ‘Lord, you are enough.’ Jesus is always more than enough to take us by the hand and see us through any trial, even a life-threatening trial. He is sufficient for our every need.”
Nancy has recovered well from the ravages of Ebola, having been treated with the experimental drug ZMapp both in Liberia and at the Emory Hospital in Atlanta.
Since her release from hospital, she has spent time recuperating with friends and family and the only remaining after-effects are a little lingering fatigue and some soreness in her knees.
Of course, the hardest part of leaving home for what could be a five-year stint in Liberia is saying goodbye to her two married sons and six beloved grandchildren.
The last of those grandchildren, Abel, was born shortly after Nancy recovered from Ebola. Throughout her illness, she did not know if she would live to see him.
She said: “I told the Lord I was fine with coming home and being with him for eternity but I would love to hold Abel in my arms first. I am so thankful to God that he allowed that to happen.”
It was Nancy’s and fellow SIM missionary Dr Kent Brantly’s illness and their dramatic evacuation to America which first alerted the world to the scale of the Ebola outbreak in Liberia and helped mobilise a global response.
But Nancy and David are convinced her illness is part of God’s greater plan.
David said: “We have a unique opportunity to do God’s work in Liberia. We can identify first-hand with the suffering of the people after the Ebola crisis.
“We now have an opportunity to share the love of God both with the Liberians and with the ex-patriate doctors and nurses we encounter.”
There is no doubt this inspirational couple will do that and much, much more in the years ahead.
- That David and Nancy would keep the main thing the main thing – that they would seek God’s wisdom to keep the gospel at the centre of all they do in Liberia
- That more people would respond to the call of mission and come forward to serve the Lord in Liberia
- That God would raise up doctors and physicians to work in Liberia, especially those who can help in obstetrics and family medicine.
- That the people of Liberia would hear the gospel and respond with open hearts so that the word of God penetrates more deeply and wins more for Christ