Like many in the Church of the Brethren, I was pulling for the kidnapped Nigerian girls to be named Time’s Person of the Year. If you don’t know, many of those girls are members of the EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria. The EYN has been particularly devastated by the terrorist organization Boko Haram, which operates in Northern Nigeria. To learn more about what Dunker Punks are doing for those girls and the EYN, and how you can get involved, you can click here. Even though they didn’t win, just the fact that they were in the running means people are still hearing about them and learning about what’s going on in Nigeria, so I’m thankful that they were at least considered.
However, one of my next top choices was the Ebola Fighters, and I am beyond thrilled that they were named Time’s 2014 Person of the Year. My reason is simple: I think there are few people who are more heroic than the Ebola Fighters. My other top choice, by the way, was Malala Yousafzai, another example of true heroism.
Christians in the United States live in fear. We’re afraid of a lot things. We’re afraid of terrorism. We’re afraid of people who don’t look like us, speak like us, or practice the same religion as us. We’re afraid of the boogey man. We’re afraid of our shadow. We’re afraid of being struck by lightening, while being attacked by a clown, who is riding a great white shark, who is wishing us “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” We’re a timid bunch.
But more than anything, in 2014 we were afraid of Ebola. Ebola was everywhere. In our streets, in our schools, in our water, in our churches, in our homes. Hide your kids, hide your wives, hide your husbands, because everybody was getting Ebola in 2014.
If you can’t tell, I’m being sarcastic. To be clear, I am glad that we took the threat of Ebola seriously in the United States. The worst thing that we could have done would have been to not take proper precautions against the spread of Ebola. And even though we only had four cases of Ebola in the United States and one death, even one death is a tragedy and should be viewed as such. However, there is a huge difference between taking something seriously and being absolutely terrified of something. To the point that living in fear takes Ebola less seriously than dealing with it calmly and courageously.
The problem with living in fear of Ebola in the United States is that Ebola is a gravely serious and deeply tragic issue in other parts of the world. It is a genuine threat, not a manicured threat like it was here. There are countries in Africa that have been crippled by Ebola, and continue to face grave projections for the coming months. These countries do not have the resources, technology, personnel, or medical infrastructure needed to effectively deal with Ebola like the United States did. In the three most affected countries, there have been nearly 12,000 deaths and over 18,000 cases of Ebola, and some projections have indicated that hundreds of thousands or even millions may eventually be affected.
Living in fear of Ebola in the United States draws crucial attention away from countries like Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea that badly need the help of the international community, especially the United States. If we choose to worry irrationally, unnecessarily, and excessively about our own safety, we will be less willing to do what it takes to provide for their safety.
How do I know? Because a legitimately considered response to Ebola, supported by many influential people in the United States, was to restrict all travel between the affected countries and the United States. Many people who feared Ebola thought the proper response was to shut out those who so badly needed our help. Additionally, now that Ebola is no longer a threat to the United States, we hear less and less about it each day, though it continues to ravage parts of Africa.
When we make things about ourselves, people suffer. When we live in fear, we turn a blind eye to those who are in great need. And Christians in the United States are at least as guilty of this as the rest of the country, thought I suspect we are far more guilty.
That’s why the Ebola Fighters are heroes. They saw a terrible disease, and instead of fearing it, they chose to do something about it. Instead of making it about themselves, they made it about the people who actually needed help. They left their homes, families, and livelihoods to do what was right. They risked their lives to heal people. And I shouldn’t put this in the past tense. They continue to do these things.
Not all of the Ebola Fighters are Christians, I’m sure. But they all model Christ better than we Christians in the United States do. Jesus showed us how we are to lead. He was unafraid yet gentle. He didn’t compromise his values, yet he treated others with love, dignity, and respect. He didn’t consider his safety or social conventions when he brought others healing. He didn’t give people what they deserved, but what they needed. He had the courage to speak out against power and speak up for the powerless. He brought a message of hope, not fear. He was willing to die to bring life to everyone, but he was not willing to kill anyone.
Christians need to observe a new definition of heroism modeled after Christ, not empire. If it is “heroic” to pick up a gun and risk your life to fight for your country, how much more heroic is it to put down that gun and risk your life to heal others? If it is “courageous” to stand your ground as a police officer against an unarmed black teenager, how much more courageous is it to stand your ground as a young Pakistani girl against the Taliban for your right to an education? If it takes “leadership” to make the tough decision to use torture, how much more leadership does it take to make the right decision not to use torture?
Paul wrote to Timothy, “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” In Christ, we have tremendous power. It is the power to heal, not to kill. It is the power to create, not to destroy. It is the power to love, not to hate. It is the power to build God’s kingdom, not Earth’s empires.
The Ebola Fighters fill me with tremendous hope for the world. It is the same hope found in Christ. When I see headlines that read “Ebola in America” I see a society that has lost the imagination it takes to live outside of fear. But when I see a group of doctors willing to risk everything to save the lives of people they’ve never met in a country they never thought they’d visit, I catch a glimpse of the Kingdom.
Everyday, as I learn more about the EYN and their tremendous courage and leadership in Nigeria, I have an example of who I must strive to be as a Christian. Sadly, Christians in the United States have lost sight of what the word Christian means. We worship a version of Jesus who would be unrecognizable to the twelve disciples.
I hope we take a lesson from the Ebola Fighters. I hope we stop living in fear. I hope we stop succumbing to fear by choosing hatred and violence, but choose instead to overcome fear with hope and compassion.
Dunker Punks, let’s be leaders. Let’s be courageous. Let’s fight diseases, and poverty, and hunger, and racism, not wars. Let’s learn from the Ebola Fighters. Let’s show the world what Jesus really looks like.
Emmett Eldred is a sophomore Creative Writing; Professional Writing; and Ethics, History, and Public Policy Major at Carnegie Mellon University. His passions include reading about, writing about, and snuggling with pugs. Emmett is the founder of DunkerPunks.com, and he wants lots more people to contribute! Fill out a Dunker Punks profile, and join the conversation! Follow Emmett on twitter @emmetteldred and follow Dunker Punks on Twitter @DunkerPunks and on Facebook. Want to contribute? Fill out a Dunker Punks profile, and/or email email@example.com.