Managing fear in the midst of Corona: Lessons learned from the frontline of Ebola

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By Katurah York Cooper, 14th Episcopal District

About six years ago, I found myself immersed in the Ebola Epidemic that claimed nearly 4000 Liberian lives. In late July 2014, I traveled to Charleston, South Carolina to participate in the Quadrennial Conference of the Women in Ministry, leaving behind the stark reality that Ebola was gradually gaining momentum in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia.& On August 16, I returned to Monrovia amid the concerns of many who questioned my wisdom in returning. By that time, the world had begun to learn of the devastation that Ebola was wreaking in West Africa.

& During the crisis, I would sign into Facebook and become inundated with an avalanche of pictures of the diseased and the spewing out of negative, angry commentaries. Liberians were sliding down the treacherous slope of defeat and hopelessness. Fear was in ample supply. The confusion was everywhere. Entire families came down infected. Children became orphans; Businesses laid off workers; Not a single child/adult was sitting in a classroom, and the country was in a State of Emergency.

It is 2020 and the Coronavirus (COVID-19) is spreading rapidly globally. Dr. Miriam Burnett through the AME Health Commission has provided excellent information for all of us.

My focus is on the escalating level of fear, confusion, helplessness, and panic among millions, especially in the United States of America. I experienced this and I saw my congregation go through this. I also know that it is vital that we stop the panic! I was on the frontline of the fight against Ebola and saw the number of infections spiral upward due to fear and then begin to decrease when we replaced fear with focused positive action. We strived to maintain a positive attitude even in the face of proof that conditions were worsening.

As a pastor, let me share how I led my congregation and community in maintaining a positive, calm and result-oriented attitude during the Ebola crisis in Liberia.

  1. I posted positive messages on social media of Ebola survivors. I looked for news that would stimulate hope and restoration. I asked my congregation to avoid overdosing on negative news and rumors.
  2. Every Sunday, our team of health professionals brought updates and encouraged members to continue the best precautionary measures.
  3. I preached what I call “Crisis Sermons”. Pastors don’t be afraid to mention scriptures on plagues and national disasters. You have to deal with this. Trust the Holy Spirit to give you messages of hope.
  4. Pastors, stay informed. Expect calls for emotional support from members. This will be draining so practice self-care with spiritual and recreational time for yourself. You will probably be spending more time at home anyway.
  5. Encourage your congregation to maintain as normal a life as possible. There are safe activities not involving huge crowds of people.
  6. Check on the most vulnerable. In Liberia, it was poor families and quarantined families. In America, it may be the elderly and poor.
  7. We developed positive slogans like “Kick Ebola Out” and “No New Cases” to keep us energized and engaged in the process.
  8. Organize prayer teams or some kind of ongoing prayer initiative by phone.

In Liberia, community involvement was crucial to achieving “No New Cases”. Our church’s not-for-profit, H.O.P.E. Inc, began a community-based initiative. The 14th Episcopal District, with approval from Bishop Clement W. Fugh, launched a Crisis Relief Center. H.O.P.E. Inc. supervised a team that assembled and distributed over 700 sanitation kits and food items and provided training to over 250 community workers on proper preventative measures against Ebola.

Our connectional family in America can benefit from our experience. Presently, there is no coronavirus case in Liberia; but we have our chlorinated handwashing buckets at all entrances to public buildings including churches. Our airport began screening a month ago. We are not waiting until the first case hits Liberia. We are not feeding our fear rather we are talking to each other about following the protocols.*

I encourage my sisters and brothers in America and across the globe: Exchange Fear for Prayer. Read Psalm 91! The Ebola epidemic ended in Liberia because the virus could not survive in an environment of faith, hope, facts, healthy interventions, and community care. Stay Positive!

Check out these links:

https://time.com/5794329/africa-ebola-epidemic-coronavirus-liberia-covid-19/

https://www.liberianobserver.com/news/dr-fallah-highlights-new-measures-against-potential-coronavirus-outbreak-in-liberia/

Dr. Katurah York Cooper is the Pastor of The Empowerment Temple AME Church, Central Liberia Annual Conference – 14th Episcopal District.& She is also the founder of H.O.P.E. Inc. Her email is katu.cooper2012@gmail.com.

*At the time of submission, there were no cases. At the time of publication, there are now 3 confirmed cases in Liberia.

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