7 Takeaways from
Last night my wife and I attended a special showing of the
Samaritan’s Purse production “Facing the Darkness.” Going in, we knew
this was the story of Dr. Kent Brantly and aid worker Nancy Writebol,
the first Americans to survive Ebola. I’ve had the privilege of meeting
Kent and his wife, Amber, when they visited Nashville soon after his
recovery. I have a very high regard for them. Kent is the nephew of
co-workers of mine in Nigeria, Bob and Joan Dixon.
I highly recommend the movie. It may take some effort to see it. You
may only have one or two nights to choose from at your local theatre,
and the performances are often sold out. Here are my top seven takeaways
from the movie.
The Samaritan’s Purse and SIM team working in
Liberia were inspirational
U.S. news broadcasts at the time featured the raging epidemic and
later Kent and Nancy for obvious reasons. The movie brings out a much
larger set of players who underwent unbelievably tense situations,
risking their lives. These are people who were in Liberia before the
outbreak and who had to decide whether to stay and possibly be exposed.
They made a pact with one another to stay and care for one another to
the bitter end.
I had not heard that many Liberians turned against the team accusing
them of spreading the disease. It was unsafe for them to travel off
hospital grounds. How many of us would stay when so maligned – with no
help in sight – spending four hours at a time in hot suits that drained
away all energy if worn more than 45 minutes – often working 18-hour
shifts – and when for unknown reasons some of the staff began coming
down with Ebola?
Samaritan’s Purse showed heart-warming support of
“No man left behind” is a phrase popularized by troops on military
missions. It is a concept seldom used when describing humanitarian
workers or people serving in Christian missions. Even though no one uses
the phrase in the movie, the concept is definitely in play. I wonder if
we shouldn’t care as much for people risking their lives to help the
helpless as we do those achieving military objectives.
When Franklin Graham heard his peoples’ lives were in danger, he
prayed and relentlessly sought the aid of various U.S. agencies to bring
them back for the best possible treatment. Because of his persistence,
the highest governmental agencies signed off on a rescue flight because,
as they said, it was the right thing to do.
A vocal few in the U.S. were driven by irrational
From a world health standpoint, everyone would eventually be at risk
if the epidemic was not stopped. Very few professionals would endanger
their lives at the epicenter of the outbreak if those who took such
risks were abandoned. Logic dictated that the disease must be eradicated
before it spread too widely, sooner rather than later. And essential
workers should be supported.
But when a concentrated effort was made to rescue Dr. Brantly, some
involved in the decision received death threats! I think most people saw
things differently. Some of the staff at Emory University Hospital’s
special isolation unit cancelled upcoming vacations saying, “Do you
think we would miss out after training for this thirteen years?!”
Kent Brantly put a face on the tragedy
Even though world news had sounded the alarm of impending doom, no
face had been put on the crisis. It was all about numbers and nameless
bodies being piled up, burned or buried. The people working at treatment
centers knew the names and saw the devastating effects of the deaths on
other family members and on entire communities. Urgent calls for more
help had been going out to no avail. What would cause the world to move
For many in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world, seeing the face of
Dr. Kent Brantly and realizing that people such as he might be losing
the fight, was the moment of awakening. For good reason his face was one
selected to be Time magazine’s 2014 man of the year.
The governments of the world had to be shamed into
The movie makes a point of the fact that two small relief agencies
were essentially trying to hold back the rising tide of Ebola as the
rest of the world looked on. These were Doctors Without Borders (Médecins
Sans Frontiéres or MSF) and Samaritan’s Purse. During the months of June
and July, 2014, to those on the ground, it seemed no one outside the
affected area really cared. No one denied the severity or deadly
potential of the disease, but no large organization or government seemed
ready to commit the necessary resources to end the crisis.
Dr. Brantly contracted Ebola and was flown out of Liberia in late
July. He walked out of Emory University Hospital on August 21. On
September 15, a New York Times article opened, “Under pressure to do
more to confront the Ebola outbreak sweeping across West Africa,
President Obama on Tuesday is to announce an expansion of military and
medical resources to combat the spread of the deadly virus,
administration officials said.” Included in the report was a promise of
17 treatment centers, 1000 beds and as many as 3,000 troops.
The Lord’s hand can be seen in the deliverance of
Kent and others
On the day Dr. Brantly was to fly out of Liberia, a new drug
developed in Sierra Leone by MSF researchers was delivered, but there
was only enough to treat one person. It was a three-dose treatment. They
were warned not to split the doses because it would take all three to be
successful. Dr. Brantly was feeling better than Nancy Writebol, so he
insisted that she be treated.
His specially designed plane developed air pressure problems and had
to return to the U.S. for repairs. Then Brantly took a turn for the
worse, ran a fever of 105 degrees and the staff was convinced he would
soon die. The decision was made to split the doses and hope remaining
doses could be received in the U.S. They gave him the first dose of the
drug and saved the rest to give Nancy while she waited for the plane to
return for her.
The drug (ZMapp) had never been given to a human, and there was no
way to know if it would improve Kent’s condition or make it worse. After
receiving it, he shook with rigors for an hour, to the point it was hard
for him to breathe. Then he began to improve and for the first time in
days was able to walk to the bathroom. The next day when the plane
arrived, he was able to walk on board. If Kent had left on schedule, he
would have been on the plane when he neared death and would not have had
the drug available.
Kent’s answer to “Do you think your faith saved
Kent was asked if he thought his faith saved him. His answer was that
his faith caused him to get Ebola. He doesn’t see faith as something to
protect him but to prompt him to action to help those God calls him to
help. His faith assures him that God is with him regardless of the
situation. Rather than running from a fire, his faith causes him to run
to the fire to rescue those he can.
World Christian Broadcasting’s Paul Ladd has a five-part interview
with Dr. Brantly as well as an interview with the producer/director of
the film “Facing the Darkness,” Arthur Rasco. (You may hear this or have
heard this on the homepage of this website.) Kent Brantly’s story is a
great example of many dedicated medical missionaries who are making a
difference in Africa. May God bless them and help us to encourage all
efforts to bring the love of Christ to the African continent.