Africa - What's Going On?
AFRICA: "What's Going On?" April 2017
Henry Huffard Sr. Producer, Africa

7 Takeaways from “Facing..”

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 its personnel

“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 fear

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 into action?

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 involvement

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 you?”

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.


Andy Baker, Vice President - Development      World Christian Broadcasting
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