Ebola, NEJM, and the Book of Revelation

By: Norman Wetterau, MD - FMHF President

The fourth horseman of the Apocalypse rides in Congo. This is recognized in the New England Journal of Medicine but do our churches know this?

“And there before me was a pale horse. Its rider was named Death…they were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine, and plague”.
- Revelation 6:7-8 

According to the New England Journal of Medicine, August 22, 2018, Ebola or something similar will sweep our globe unless we can improve the medical infrastructure in Central Africa, and specifically in Congo. The civil war in Congo killed by sword and famine and unless we can assist this country medically, plague may sweep the earth.

Is support of our medical missions in Central Africa optional? Currently, our hospitals in Burundi, Rwanda, and Congo are not budget items for Free Methodist Missions but do get support from groups like CAHO. Most churches put support of their own church programs and buildings above medical and development missions. In Congo, we have a 100-bed hospital and 20 clinics, which are the main health care for 200,000 people. The hospital runs on $100,000 USD a year, of which 25% comes from US donations. Health infrastructure and care are poor. There are national doctors and nurses. We have nursing schools in Burundi, Rwanda, and Congo and a medical school in Burundi, but there is often no money to support the trained staff. Many recent graduates of Hope Africa Medical School are unemployed. The medical infrastructure and staffing are not enough for even basic medical care: treatment of malaria, TB, and c-sections, but this is far away and often of little concern. Many churches have never had a medical speaker from Africa or given an offering. This is too far away to be on our radar. There are needs right here. We are concerned about Ebola, but it is in Congo, not here.

Recently there was another outbreak of Ebola in Eastern Congo near some of our churches, but farther north than our hospital. This outbreak has been made worse by the lingering civil war in Congo. Some aid workers were attacked by rebels. The situation could become much worse in the coming months. The August 22 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine had an article that every American needs to read:

“Outbreaks in a Rapidly Changing Central Africa - Lessons from Ebola”
Vincent J. Munster, PH.D. et al.
New England Journal of Medicine. August 22, 2018.

It talked about the current epidemic and the situations that cause such epidemics to arise and spread. Although in the past we have brought these mini-epidemics under control, the article says that the conditions are ripe for the development of new infections and new spread. At some point, it will become uncontrollable, and suddenly reach the populations of Europe and the US, where it will spread death to thousands or hundreds of thousands of people. If we ignore the situation there, we will have to deal with it here. The article had a possible solution, a solution on which we need to get our churches on board:

“In light of the increase in frequency of Ebola outbreaks in DRC and their relatively rapid detection, it seems that it would be well worth the relatively small cost of investing in diagnostic capacity and training to avert the cost of containing any large outbreak. We believe that a similar return on investment could be expected from financial and educational support for improving and expanding the clinical care infrastructure.”

Yes, this is something for WHO and the UN (which some Christians do not support), but also something we can help with. God had given us the opportunity to establish some of the first hospitals, many which still exist and are the mainstays of medical care for large populations. If we continue to just look at our own needs and not that of our neighbors, we may experience what is foretold in the NEJM and also in Revelation 6: death and pestilence.

Update: After writing this article, on November 28 the New England Journal of Medicine published a second article: Ramping Up the Response to Ebola by Jennifer B. Nuzzo PhD, and Thomas V. Inglesby, MD. It is not long and I would encourage you to read it. This article was referenced on the BBC news recently. This is Congo, where our hospitals are and where the Nobel Prize winner is. We have a hospital, over 20 clinics, and over 100,000 members, so we are a major player in that region. Also look up more about Dr. Denis Mukwege. Finally pray for the elections in Congo which will be held Dec 23.

Nundu Deaconess Hospital on the Front Lines Offering Hope

By: Norm Wetterau, MD - FMHF President

Nobel Laureate, Dr. DenisMukwege. Photo: ANP Martijn Beekman.

Nundu Deaconess Hospital has been in a region of civil unrest for more than twenty years. Nundu is located in South Kivu, which is an eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Over 5 million lives have been lost, hospitals and schools have been destroyed, and untold numbers of citizens have been terrorized. Women have been especially vulnerable as they have become victims of rape by gangs of soldiers, resulting in gynecologic injuries and the spread of HIV-AIDS. Our hospital at Nundu has survived by God’s protective hands and the prayers of the Free Methodist Church of the Congo. Thank you for being among those who have prayed for God’s protection and provision.

Yes, God has not been silent in the face of terror. Our hospital in Nundu was ransacked but not destroyed. Many of our outlying clinics continued to function at a basic level. People would carry medicines on their backs up the hills to these clinics. The nursing school at Nundu retreated to a safe place but continued to function.

Dr. Esther Labunga Kenge, the wife of the Free Methodist Bishop of Congo, spent time in South Africa as a refugee during this time of terror and has written and taught about this sexual violence and HIV. She has taught that women who were terrorized and traumatized are not being punished by God and are the special focus of God’s love. She is spreading this word and through International Child Care Ministries is developing projects so that widows and their children can grow food, care for animals, and support themselves. The goal is for the mothers to work, receive love and healing through the church and for their children to attend school. Your support of these programs through ICCM is very much appreciated. Though the situation for many has seemed hopeless, God has not been silent in the face of terror.

During this same period of war, a sister hospital known as the Lemera Swedish Pentecostal Hospital was totally destroyed. Rather than withdraw from the Congo, the Swedish Pentecostal Church established a medical center and medical school in the provincial capital of Bukavu. Dr. Denis Mukwege, a Christian Congolese surgeon and member of the medical school faculty, developed a graduate training program in gynecologic surgery. His special interest has been perfecting surgical procedures to repair the damage resulting from violent rape. He has dedicated his life to offering hope to victims of sexual violence. After his complicated surgeries, women have been able to maintain pregnancies and live a normal life. Their curse was healed by God through Dr. Mukwege.

This year the world became aware of what has happened in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. How did this happen? In 2018, Dr. Mukwege and Nadia Murad, a woman who was enslaved by ISIS and escaped, were chosen to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Nadia did not receive this prize because she was raped nor did Dr. Mukwege receive recognition simply for his surgical skill. They received this honor because they have spoken on behalf of women both in the middle-east and in the Congo who have become the victims of violence. Dr. Mukwege has spoken at the UN even as he has been threatened for making the story of war and terror known throughout the world. It is wonderful for a Christian to receive such a prize. It is not just recognition for him, but for the church and God’s Kingdom.

What about the Free Methodist Church in the US? The Free Methodist Church in the Congo is strong and growing. They evangelize, maintain schools, operate clinics and hospitals, and worship with enthusiasm. Even in the face of civil war, they did not give up. Indeed, in some areas, the church actually grew. How is the North American Free Methodist Church to respond to such overwhelming human tragedy? In our affluence and in our relative domestic stability, poverty and the terror of war make us feel uncomfortable. It is easy to not want to hear. There is too much for us to handle. Frankly, over the years I have offered to speak in churches about this situation and very few want to hear about it. This is a common reaction for people presented with overwhelming hopeless situations. Is it because the realities of war are so far away and seem so hopeless, or is it because we feel that our meager donations cannot do much? Now the world knows about the realities of the Congo through the Nobel Peace Prize offered to Dr. Mukwege.

Nundu Deaconess Hospital is on the front lines of offering hope. Our challenge is to be informed and tell the story of the Church in the Congo. Pray for those who have been the victims of violence. Pray for the North American Church as it faces the realities of a world with overwhelming human need even as it enters into countries which have been closed to the Gospel. Pray that there will be a response with the resources God has blessed us with in addressing the humanitarian needs of the Congo.