As Americans give thanks with feasts this week, in Liberia the Ebola virus that has devastated so many lives has also created more hunger. A ministry in the West African country is battling Ebola-related restrictions in movement and resources to satisfy hunger – both physical and spiritual.
Based in the country hardest-hit by Ebola, James Cuffee, head of Christ Evangelical Fellowship Ministries, has been feeding people’s spiritual hunger with the message of Christ’s saving sacrifice for 28 years. As the number of deaths from the Ebola virus in Liberia approaches 3,000, Cuffee said the message is all the more crucial, as many are dying without knowing Christ, and bereaved survivors increasingly look to him and his workers for comfort.
“I’ve had the opportunity to encourage the villagers, giving them hope that Jesus is in control of the situation and that there was no need to lose hope,” Cuffee said.
In spite of limited resources and occasional logistical paralysis, as a result of quarantines and closed traffic routes, CEFM also strives to meet the growing physical hunger. Many merchants fear that if they do business they could contract Ebola from customers, and they are simply refusing to sell anything. The resulting food shortages have hit an already hungry country hard.
“Recently I saw five to 10 bodies lying in the streets,” Cuffee said. “We couldn’t find any food to buy at the time.”
Since the outbreak of the disease in March, many people have been coming to his ministry on a daily basis seeking food, medicine and financial support to try to meet their daily needs. CEFM provides food and medicines from its limited supply. Workers must also wait for opportunities to provide aid when movements are restricted. Striving to contain the spread of the virus, which begins with flu-like symptoms and ends with hemorrhage due to disintegrating capillaries, local officials have often prohibited traffic to their hamlets.
“At certain points the movement of our people was restricted in that many village chiefs would not allow people to enter,” Cuffee said. “But through the grace of God, the doors were open to us sometimes.”
Spread of the Ebola virus has slowed in Liberia in recent weeks, but it still has the highest incidence with 7,069 cases and 2,964 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. WHO notes that the totals could be three times that amount due to under-reporting. In neighboring Sierra Leone, the virus has picked up momentum – 6,073 cases and 1,571 deaths officially recorded.
“Though the situation is slowing down [in Liberia], there are more vulnerable women and children that need urgent assistance. There are no jobs and no money to start a small business to sustain themselves and their children, especially those single mothers.”
The employment rate in Liberia has dropped from 40 percent to 25 percent – that’s employment, not unemployment – and three-quarters of the population are depending on the grace of God for their survival. CEFM has long cared for orphans and abandoned children, along with victims of Liberia’s two civil wars (1989 to 1996 and 1999-2003), and Ebola has multiplied the number of children in need of care – an estimated 26,000 in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
“The children whose parents died by Ebola, their family members are even afraid to take them in,” Cuffee said. Meanwhile, those who were quarantined for 21 days before being discharged have been rejected by their various communities in the fear that if they associate with them they could catch the virus. There’s a lot to be done.
CEFM workers have been going from house–to–house in various villages, encouraging neighbors to take in the shunned, abandoned or orphaned children with Jesus’s command, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Besides orphans, children whose parents have been quarantined often lack relatives to care for them, and CEFM has provided food for them when possible.
“Our ministry has been involved in helping them, despite the little resources we have, feeding the needy children on a daily basis,” Cuffee said. “Please pray for the Lord to provide the needed funding for our ministry in order to reach out to the suffering villagers who are dying daily without knowing Christ. Pray for the many kids whose parents have died from Ebola virus to survive, for the Lord to guard and protect them, as well as providing their daily needs.”
To help indigenous missionaries to meet needs, you may contribute at Christian Aid, or call 434-977-5650. If you prefer to mail your gift, please mail to Christian Aid Mission, P.O. Box 9037, Charlottesville, VA 22906. Please use Gift Code: 532CEFM. Thank you!