“The Lord’s compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness” Lamentations 3:22-23.

LowellGessThe 2014-2016 worlds’ worst epidemic of Ebola is raging throughout Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia in West Africa. In January, February, and part of March, 2015 I am present at the Kissy UMC Hospital as an ophthalmologist to help regular eye patients, as well as, those with complications from Ebola. It is a lonely life. I live in isolation. I can touch no one for fear of the spread of the disease by contact.

Gatherings are prohibited throughout the country except for church and mosque services. I join the stream of people entering the Brown Memorial United Methodist Church. Strict precautions and guidelines include disinfectant hand washing and temperature checks with infrared no-touch sensors. The ushers are friendly but firm. There is no touching of another worshipper. Parishioners are dressed in their finest apparel. In spite of the tropical heat, most men are wearing full suits with white shirts and ties. The mature women are wearing hats. Young people are in their best. While jeans appear everywhere on the streets, not a single pair is present in the congregation.

At precisely 9:30 a.m. (seemingly everyone has a cell phone with the correct time) the choir marches in with the pastors, all in step, singing lustily with bass voices predominant. One can only imagine being in heaven.

A salutation is offered: “Grace be to you, and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” (I Corinthians 1:3) this is followed by the general confession:

Most holy and merciful Father, we acknowledge and confess in thy
presence, our sinful natures, prone to evil and slothful in good, and all our
short comings and offences against thy holy law. All our sins are known unto
Thee, in wandering from thy ways, in wasting thy gifts, in forgetting thy love,
but thou, O Lord, have pity upon us who are penitent before thee. Teach us
to hate our errors, cleanse us from our secret faults, and forgive us our sins
for the sake of thy dear Son our Savior. And O most loving Father, send thy
purifying grace into our hearts we beseech thee, that we may henceforth live
in thy light, and walk in thy ways according to the commandments of Christ
Jesus our Lord. Amen.

The assurance of pardon is John 3:16
The “Te Deum Laudamus” is sung.
The Apostles’ Creed is repeated.

Suddenly, the organ and keyboard burst forth accompanied by earsplitting drums. The congregation sings and sways with feet moving and hands clapping. I stand and join in the fifteen minute song fest. Ethnic choruses are sung ending with “Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling” and “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior.”

Reports and announcements are made including the number of new cases of Ebola in each country district.  When the decreased numbers are read for Freetown, there are cheers.

Bands of marriage are announced. Church activities are emphasized. A special need for a member of the congregation is explained. The congregation responds by coming forward to deposit Leone notes in a large basket. Other baskets are used for the general offering, building fund, and Ebola expenses.

Two and a half hours pass. The pastor presenting the message is introduced. He approaches the pulpit and says, “God is good.” The people respond heartily, “All the time.” He then says, “All the time,” and the congregation echoes, “God is good.”

He gives a powerful sermon on Job, “Why do good men suffer?” He likens the present Ebola sufferings to those of Job’s. Job lost all, but finally was restored and blessed. Sierra Leone is living in the midst of an Ebola epidemic with death lurking around every corner. However, God is mighty and loving. “God is good, all the time.” Ebola deaths will cease. Sierra Leone will emerge from this valley of death. God will bring us through with new blessings.

The congregation applauds.

An attractive young lady takes the microphone and responds to the message with her testimony. She challenges the congregation to accept and follow Jesus Christ.

It is electric.

I am asked to send forth the people with the benediction. It is with effort that I control my emotions.

The choir marches out. They sing,“ Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory “and pass me with knowing smiles, for they are referring to the title of my book about Africa entitled Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory.

The worship service is over. Parting smiles and greetings are extended with the occasional bow with hand over heart.

This is a United Methodist worship service in Africa. Outside, in the real world, people are dying. Reaching up to heaven, worshippers become somber again after a buoyant time of worship. Incredulously, in this vast congregation of 500 people, during the three hours of exuberant prayer and praise, I am not touched by a fellow worshipper, not even once. Each of us, however, is touched by the Spirit of God. We are worshipping in the midst of Ebola.

“God is good all the time. All the time God is good.”

Prayer: Merciful and gracious God, we praise and honor you for your steadfast love. In your goodness and faithfulness, shelter us under your wings. We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord. Amen

-- Dr. Lowell Gess, 97 year old retired missionary to Sierra Leone


Written by Dr. Lowell Gess

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