Young Life Leader Quarantined with Ebola
Three days ago I received a call from James Davis, our Young Life Regional Director in Liberia: “She’s free! She’s free! She’s been released!” His voice trembled as I imagined tears rolling down his face. You see “she” is twenty-two year old Decontee Davis. Decontee is one of the best young women volunteer leaders in Young Life Liberia. Decontee is one of our Developing Global Leaders. Decontee was a teen mom and a mother of a five year old boy. Decontee is James’s niece. Decontee was infected with Ebola and spent over 3 weeks in a detention center. And now, Decontee is free. Free from Ebola. Free from the detention center.
Twelve other Ebola survivors emerged from the makeshift detention hospital surrounded by corrugated tin and armed guards. As I watched them on a video they squinted their eyes (“I had not seen the sun like that for a while,” she explained) and they wore matching white t-shirts (“They covered the vomit on our clothes that we had not changed once since we arrived in the center.”)
And they all thanked God.
And the hero Dr. Brown (who runs the center and goes there everyday at great risk, for little if any pay–some health workers had not been paid in weeks) also thanked God. As he said, “It is only by God that these people stand here alive today–no medicine we have can do this.”
And they all sang, “When I think of the goodness of Jesus, and all He has done for me; My very soul shouts out Hallelujah; Praise God for saving me.”
And Decontee proclaimed, “Psalm 118: 17-18: I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done. The Lord has chastened me severely but he has not given me over to death.”
And Decontee prayed for them.
And they held up the certificates they received stating that they are free, Ebola free. “Carry that with you as proof wherever you go if any one doubts,” they were told.
Only a small crowd greeted them as even family members and friends are afraid to have contact with “survivors” as some test results have been faulty. James Davis and the Area Director from Mount Barclay–Decontee’s area–and an uncle were there to greet her. But Decontee’s fiancé Paul was not here to greet her. Paul was a theology student in Ghana and wanted to be a pastor. He had recently returned from Ghana to arrange his engagement to Decontee and they had planned their wedding. But then his aunt got very sick–and he helped to care for her and she died. Then Paul and Decontee got sick. Decontee called him from the center and told him he needed to come to the center. “But then I went unconscious for at least five days,” she recalls, “I was helpless. I was dead. Occasionally I could hear something. One day I heard Paul’s voice crying in pain.” Paul had come to the center, but before Decontee recovered he had died. No mourning. No funeral. Ebola bodies are taken to a village Marshall Town outside of the capital in Monrovia and burned in a mass grave.
A fellow survivor, nine-year old girl Kima, had no family to greet her on her release. Her father and sister had gone into the center with her and had both died as she looked on. One of the survivors stated, “We have been through hell and are now free.”
The detention centers have no air conditioning, many are tents or have tin walls and roofs. A coastal city, Monrovia is hot and humid–and the nurses and doctors wear the PPE’s (Personal Protection Equipment) like space suits. In the suits temperatures can be over 110 degrees so the few health care workers are there no more than an hour at a time in the hospital. “We would go for hours with no one to care for us. No water. No food. No one to help you go to the bathroom,” Decontee explains. Their toilet is a bucket by their bed, “It would not be changed for days.”
“We could touch no one. We could not leave our bed. No one would touch us. But the doctors and nurses did their best,” she continued. One full night and day Decontee slept in a corridor with a dead body at her head and a dead body at her feet. “We saw people suffer and die every day. Over 230 died while we were there.”
But they could pray and sing. When she first arrived and was in-and-out of consciousness (“I am certain at one point I died.”) she would do a morning and evening devotion reciting Psalm 3 in the morning and Psalm 4 in the evening from memory. “I didn’t have a bible and couldn’t read it anyways.” She also recited from memory Psalm 91 (what a great testimony to the power of scripture memory). “This is all I could do – to cry out to God.” As she recovered a bible was brought to her and she would lead devotions with those around her every morning and night. “Many people came to know Jesus and trust Him–because where we were there was no argument that Jesus was our only hope.”
When Decontee arrived at her home after being released, her campaigner kid Baby Gboh was at her home waiting. Baby had spent the day and all her money making a big dinner, “She killed and cooked a fresh chicken. And it was a big one. “That was the best meal I ever had” Decontee gleamed.
Baby Gboh was her friend and campaigner kid–although they are barely a year apart. Baby had been in Decontee’s cabin at camp and rededicated her life to Christ. “And she has been by my side ever since.”
Baby was also by Decontee’s side when she was sick. “She cleaned my vomit and cared for me…and then she and Small James (another campaigner kid) carried me to the center.” Remember: Ebola is passed on by contact and everyone is told not to touch anyone (no handshaking or hugs) and to stay away from anyone who is sick. Baby Gboh and Small James knew all that. Also, no one rides public transportation any more–and no taxi driver or bus driver would take a sick person. So when Decontee says they carried her, I think they literally carried her….probably miles…to the center.
Wouldn’t you want to be in that campaigner group? Wouldn’t you want a band of brothers and sisters like Baby Gboh and Small James? And can you imagine being led by Decontee now as she talks about prayer? or trusting Jesus? or memorizing scripture? or hope? or resurrection? or fellowship? or heroic faith? What a group of little heroes….no, BIG heroes….BIG BIG heroes in young bodies.
We have many BIG heroes quietly and heroically reaching kids in Liberia and Sierra Leone during this dark time. But they’ve been through hell before–all of them have lived through a terrible 14-year civil war where they saw and experienced unmentionable horror, had no water or power for over 12 years and where over 10% of the population was killed.
“But this is worse than the war,” James explained, “In the war you knew where the enemy was and you could see them–and you could find a safe place to hide. But Ebola is an invisible enemy. We don’t know who has it or where it will strike. There’s nowhere to hide. In the war if you got shot or hurt, people could care for you and help you. In the time of Ebola–nobody will touch you. Nobody will comfort you. In fact, if you are sick they will run away. The climate of fear hangs heavy every day. It is hard to find hope.” Schools are closed. Public transportation is crippled. Local markets are empty. Nobody wants to exchange money or goods with unknown people. No hand shakes. No pats on the back.
Victor King told me, “Bodies lie on the street side and in front of houses waiting days for the government to pick them up. If someone in your family dies, you leave them where they fall dead and then they call the government and wait. If someone is gets a fever their families are told to flee the house and leave them alone. Call the health workers to come. And the health workers might not come for 3 or 4 days–so the sick people are alone without anyone to care for them, to get them water or food or to take them to the toilet.”
It seems it would be impossible to do Young Life in this crisis. No schools are open. No large public gatherings are allowed–so no clubs or camps or campaigners.
“But we have to give them hope. We have to keep going to them,” explains Zinnah Yallah. “So we go.” In the midst of the crisis, when everyone else is hiding, the Young Life leaders are meeting together, praying for kids, telling stories and encouraging them.”
“We decided as a team that we would not stop going to kids. No matter what the risk. No matter what others say, we decided we need to give kids the hope of Jesus now more than ever. So we have all committed to call and text our kids every day and give encouragement and words of love. We have all committed to keep doing contact work–going where kids are. And we are having small campiagners–pods of 3 or 4 kids. Kids are hungry for this, ” explained DGL student Ethel Dixon. As I talked with her I found out that her oldest sister–a mother of three–had just died that morning of an overdose of typhoid medicine. You see because hospitals are over filled with Ebola cases and healthcare workers are dying, people with other illnesses have nowhere to go to be treated. And people are afraid to tell people they’re sick or that their loved ones are sick because they don’t want them put in the detention centers if they only have malaria or typhoid or the flu. And some are afraid to go to a clinic because they fear they will become infected. So Ethel’s sister died medicating herself. She was heartbroken but as she hung up she told me she was going to meet with two campaigner girls–“They need to have life, there is so much death.”
Many staff and volunteers have lost family members. As I wrote this I got a call that Victor King’s mother had died of some heart ailment because she could not get treated. Another Area Director, Rancy Barsaye, lost a sister. DGL Roland Harris lost a cousin. And new DGL student Morris lost his father–a doctor who refused to close his clinic in a hard hit neighborhood. He died a week ago of Ebola and we just found out his step-mother has died as well. So he is parentless and is afraid because he has possibly been exposed.
I asked how Young Life leaders can give kids hope. “Laughter,” replied Ethel, “laughter brings hope. It lifts the heaviness. As I am going to meet kids I am thinking how I can make them laugh.”
“Because we can’t hug them I try to make my smile a hug,” explains Baccus Roberts, “I think about how they can feel hugged by my smile and my presence.”
When asked how to do contact work without contact, Zinnah Yallah says,” You know, I just love these kids. And when a kid comes up to me with their arms open–I hug them. I pray to God to protect me. But I just have to hug them. I have to let them know they are loved.”
“The kids are amazed when we show up. They can’t believe it,” explained Victor.
“Everyone else is running away from me and you keep chasing me down,” a kid said to Victor, “it make me feel like I am not alone.”
Young Life leaders have distributed food and water, sanitation supplies, and medicine to kids and leaders and their families. The deliveries themselves are a risk as they have to potentially expose themselves. “We bring food and water to homes where we know sick kids have been left alone. We will put medicine and instructions into plastic bags and push them through windows–anything to help.” They also educate kids and their families as to how to avoid the disease.
SO the Young Life leaders continue to love and to live in the midst of this nightmare. How?
They don’t stop meeting together.
They laugh and make kids laugh.
AND they GO. They never stop going.
And they show them Jesus and tell them about Him.
Please please do not stop praying for these heroes in our family. They need us. They need to know we are with them.
“We want to thank all of you for the food and water and medicine you helped us with” says James. “Most of all, we thank you for your prayers. It gives us courage. It gives us strength. It reminds us that we are not alone. Thank you.”
Here is Decontee singing praise the day she was released from the center. Click on to this. You might want to sit down,
Blessings and Freedom,