Bridge of Love offering to aid post-Ebola work in Sierra Leone

April 09, 2015

Story and photos contributed by Les Law
Rocky Mountain Conference Board of Global Ministries

Bridge of Love Offering

Purpose:

Each year, the Rocky Mountain Conference Board of Global Ministries sponsors the Bridge of Love Offering at the annual conference session. This offering is a free-will offering available to all churches in the conference. The offering is used to assist at national and/or global areas in crisis or recovering from a crisis.

This year, the offering will be used to help our suffering sisters and brothers recover from the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone. Specifically we will provide funding to assist in the recovery, re-energizing and expanding of the decimated United Methodist Church health system. An emphasis will be placed on the education and training of both previous and new health workers and a health and hygiene emphasis in UMC secondary schools. Hopefully, the people can return to a “safe and dignified life."

The Sierra Leone UMC Conference has two major hospitals: one in Freetown, the capitol city, and one in the Southern Province, located in Bo, the second largest city. In addition they have 10 local clinics located in smaller villages.


Post-Ebola Recovery Plan:

WHAT WILL SIERRA LEONE DO TO RECOVER FROM THE EBOLA EPIDEMIC?

Here is what they face and must overcome:

  • Fragile health system destroyed and must be rebuilt.
  • Fear of health facilities instilled in people as doctors and nurses die.
  • Many deaths from diseases besides Ebola due to lack of treatment.
  • All schools closed in June 2014 to hopefully reopen sometime in 2015.
  • Educational facilities and staff must be reorganized and recovered.
  • 40 percent of farms not burned, tilled, or planted.
  • Hunger and malnutrition will be a major issue.

Sierra Leone Bishop John K. Yambasu (pictured above) has laid out a three-year "Post-Ebola Recovery Response Strategic Plan" with initiatives focused on: Prevention, Advocacy, Restoration and Care. One of the major aims is on engagement -- either through grassroots efforts in local villages, religious leaders, the school system and other non-government organizations operating in Sierra Leone.

Read the full Post-Ebola Recovery Response Strategic Plan by Bishop Yambasu.


Rocky Mountain area active in Sierra Leone for more than 150 years:

The United Methodist Church, through one of its merger partners, The Evangelical United Brethren Church, has been active in Sierra Leone since the mid-1850s when the first missionaries arrived. In the mid-1870s, six of those missionaries were martyred during a rebellion against Britain. The graves of those missionaries can be visited at the Rotifunk UMC Memorial Church in the Southern Province.

During the gold rush in the Rocky Mountains, Rufus Clark moved to the Denver area -- not to get rich on gold, but to feed the hundreds of miners. His first crop was potatoes and he was so successful he became known as “Potato Clark”. His success led to riches and a significant influence in early Denver history. From his original farm, on what is now Overland Park Golf Course, he expanded his property and formed the city of South Denver. He donated the land on which the University of Denver now resides.

Rufus, and two of his wives, Lucinda and Ella, (it is said by some that he worked his wives to death), and his daughter, Mary Clark Walker, supported the efforts of The United Brethren Church in Sierra Leone. In 1886, Rufus and Ella established the Rufus Clark and Wife Theological and Training School of Shenge, Sierra Leone, a Mission of the United Brethren Church. Upon his death in 1910 Rufus left $500,000 (an estimate) to this school. Rufus, two of his wives, and his daughter, are buried at Riverside Cemetery in Denver. Their common head stone is engraved, “They lived and gave of their substance for the redemption of Sierra Leone, West Africa”.

The mission work in Sierra Leone continued through the merger of The United Brethren Church and The Evangelical Church to form The EUB Church. After the merger of The EUB Church and The Methodist Church the churches in Sierra Leone became their own Conference as part of the Central Jurisdiction. The United Methodist Church, the largest Protestant denomination in Sierra Leone, has always had a great influence in the development of the country.


A quick Q&A on the Bridge of Love Offering:

Q: What is the Bridge of Love Offering?

A: The Conference Board of Global Ministries sponsors a free will offering called The Bridge of Love at each Annual Conference. The purpose of the offering is to assist both national and/or global programs in need. These needs can be support to expand and improve existing programs or to help fund areas in crisis. In 2015 the Bridge of Love Offering will support the “Post Ebola Program” of the Sierra Leone UMC Conference.

Q: How will the funds be sent to Sierra Leone, monitored, and used?

A: The offering will be received during the Annual Conference by members of the Conference Board of Global Ministries. All the funds will be given to the RMC Treasurer who will send them direct to the Sierra Leone Conference. Bishop Yambasu in Sierra Leone has a full staff in the Conference office including a Conference Treasurer. The Bishop fully honors our need for accountability and transparency.

Q: What did Ebola do to Sierra Leone and The United Methodist Church?

A: (Excerpts from the Sierra Leone Conference Post Ebola Program)

  • "The disease has caused such devastating social and economic consequences that today everyone lives in a state of fear and intimidation.”
  • “The educational system has been affected. Since the outbreak of the disease, a nationwide closure of all educational institutions was imposed by government in an effort to contain the spread the disease.”
  • “Ebola made serious negative impacts on religious and social activities.”
  • “But perhaps most scary of it all is the alarming rate of health workers who lost their lives to the disease. As of December 2014, the country has lost eleven medical doctors to Ebola. In a country with less than 150 doctors, this was certainly a huge blow to our health system.”
  • “The Sierra health infrastructure completely collapsed and threw the government into a massive confusion as the country had no idea how to handle the situation.”

Q: What are some highlights of the post-Ebola program in Sierra Leone?

The program is a comprehensive three-year recovery program. The full title is “Post-Ebola Recovery Response Strategic Plan, (PERSP), 2015-2017.”

Excerpts from the plan:

  • "When bodies of Ebola victims were dumped in mass graves, much attention was paid to "Safe and dignified burial". With "safe and dignified burial now behind us, focus should now be placed on "Safe and Dignified life".
  • "The goal is to protect, honour, uphold and restore the dignity and value of every human being affected and unaffected by Ebola."
  • "The key catch word will be ENGAGEMENT" "…our goal is to engage the key stake holders in our primary and secondary education system – heads of schools, teachers, pupils, parents and government to engage in a massive Ebola Prevention Preparedness Education program (EPPE). The goal is to provide teachers and pupils with basic knowledge and skills in Ebola prevention including, but not limited to health education/sanitation, advocacy and the basic principles of prevention."
  • "The Missions and development program and the health program will work together to develop an integrated Community Based program that will ensure water and environmental sanitation, food security, nutrition and continuing Malaria/Ebola prevention, education and treatment."

Q: Is, or was, UMCOR helping in Sierra Leone?

A: Yes, but not with personnel. UMCOR provided funding to the Bishop of Sierra Leone to purchase Ebola related medical equipment and supplies for the UMC health workers. Funds were also provided to assist with food and medicine for Ebola effected families at the Conference hospitals, clinics, and village churches. The Sierra Leone Bishop is requesting assistance from UMCOR for several aspects of the Recovery Program.