“Doing Good Of Every Possible Sort”
I am responsible for two of the worst songs in history. – Bob Geldof, quoted in Barry Malone, “We got this, Bob Geldof, so back Off”, Aljazeera.com, November 18, 2014
Geldof’s arrogance is simply in a different league. To suggest that he alone was responsible for creating a mass movement on global poverty is a direct insult to the millions of people around the world who have worked steadfastly for debt cancellation, trade justice, women’s rights, workers’ rights and environmental sustainability over decades. – John Hilary, “The Arrogance Of St. Bob”, UK Guardian, April 5, 2010
United Methodists in Liberia, Sierra Leone and other countries organized themselves to respond both as a denomination and as interfaith and community partners.
Various forms of communication – text messages, radio broadcasts, drama and song – have been used to relay facts about Ebola. Church-related health centers and health care workers have worked on the front lines of treatment. Prevention information and sanitizing supplies have been carried to remote villages. Food and supplies have been left at the homes of infected families.
The Rev. Jack Amick, who heads the international disaster response unit of the United Methodist Committee on Relief, characterized the reaction to the Ebola crisis in this way:
“People are looking to humanitarian assistance agencies to put out the fire, when typically what humanitarian assistance agencies do is help people who have been burned by the fire or are running from the fire.” – Linda Bloom, “As A Medical Disaster, Ebola Calls For New Strategies”, United Methodist News Service
With recent news that Bob Geldof was planning a re-recording of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, with the aim of assisting with the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone and Liberia, I got thinking about the recent death of Dr. Martin Salia. As noted on his photo above, he was a surgeon as well as the Administrator of Kissey Hospital in Freetown, Sierra Leone. The hospital is supported in part by the United Methodist Church, through our General Board of Global Ministries. If you clicked the link to Linda Bloom’s piece at the United Methodist News Service, you would discover that for months volunteers and paid aid workers from the United Methodist Church have been at ground zero, trying every way they can, working with local officials, schools, hospitals, and others to get the word out about Ebola-prevention. All sorts of political, social, and cultural barriers exist that prevent that message from spreading as quickly as it could. Not the least of these is a general distrust for official channels of information, due to years of political violence that has discredited these same official channels of information. So, the United Methodist Church is being creative, doing whatever it takes to spread the word so that they can help stop the spread of Ebola.
We aren’t a knighted rock singer. We aren’t from the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We are just a bunch of church folk who think it’s important to end suffering. Sure, there’s probably some of that “white savior complex” going on among many in our churches; after all, what do most Americans know of Sierra Leone or Liberia? All the same, on the ground in these countries where the outbreak continues, even as it slows, folks from the United Methodist Church are trusting locals, people who know how to communicate, how to get the word out, how to work around inefficient bureaucracies, how to circumvent official intransigence and travel bans and other measures that actually make the situation worse.
Lord knows I’ve spent just a bit too much time on what’s wrong with the United Methodist Church. None of this sets that aside. It’s important to remember, however, that even in the midst of our ongoing troubles and arguments, our declining numbers and giving, there are still United Methodists who understand the second General Rule of the United Societies, a summation of which serves as the title of this post. We aren’t trying to make news, or be famous. We’re just trying to do as much good as we can whenever and wherever possible. Even as the celebrities and aid agencies with large marketing budgets get themselves and their projects splashed across the Internet and large media outlets, the people of The United Methodist Church will continue to work in Sierra Leone and Liberia until this outbreak ends. Then, these same folks will stay, working to comfort the mourning, to repair the broken lives and broken systems of communication, to work with local and national officials at developing plans to address future outbreaks more efficiently and effectively, and to create some kind of workable public health infrastructure, one that won’t break under the strain of what is, for all intents and purposes, an extremely easy disease to contain. Long after Bob Geldof shouts at people at news conferences; long after the CDC folk have returned to Atlanta; long after the reporters have gone because there’s no more bad news about “Africa” to report, the United Methodist Church will be there. We will be there because that is who we are called to be, what we are called to do.
If you’re looking for hope in the midst of this story, instead of reading mainstream news outlets, check out the United Methodist News Service, The United Methodist Reporter, United Methodist Insight, or check out the websites for various United Methodist Boards and agencies. We may be fighting amongst ourselves over matters of identity; we may be divided in to all sorts of factions and parties, with all sorts of the usual nastiness of politics; all the same, we, the people called The United Methodist Church have not and will not forget that we have a job to do, a mission to carry out, and we are always trying to learn new and better ways to do that. Not for fame or to see our church’s name in the newspaper. We do it because that’s what we do: We are called to transform the world. Not because we are the world, but because we’re United Methodists.