Frontline Stories

Where helplessness strikes, spread hope

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Life is difficult enough in an already poor community. But when it is further attacked by Ebola and filled with despair, how can churches respond? What message they have for the believers and the community?

There are plenty of needs in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in Africa. Despite being rich in natural resources, the people there stay poor. Also, parts of the country and some neighbouring countries are experiencing instability, while Ebola is widespread in the region. Facing all kinds of difficulties, churches and pastors not only have to perform their role as spiritual guides, but also take part in community affairs and bring about practical change by putting their influence to good use.

In Hong Kong, radios may have minimal influence on us, but in the DRC, it is still a major source of information for the public. World Vision, in collaboration with World Health Organisation, offers training for local pastors and clergymen to help them understand Ebola, and in turn they explain to their listeners how to prevent and respond to the epidemic. One of those trained is Father Innocent, who has started sharing health-related knowledge on the radio in Goma since last year.

“As priests, we have daily opportunities to share messages about Ebola – during daily Masses, prayer meetings, and meetings with different community members. I also try to reach more people by sharing my message every Tuesday on a radio show,” says Father Innocent.

Father Innocent also conducts community meetings in a church in Goma. In the first meeting, over 1,000 people heard his detailed message about Ebola’s dangers, signs, and prevention. To protect everyone from contracting the disease, he recommends not to shake hands or embrace, but use verbal greetings only. When participants enter and leave the church, they are required to use sanitising lotion to disinfect and wash their hands at the hand-washing stations at the gates to prevent the exchange of germs. During funerals for people who have died of Ebola, family members may pray for their loved ones, but are advised not to approach the body of the deceased. Instead, only trained personnel in protective gear should be in charge of the burial.

Another priest who works with World Vision is 33-year-old Father Claude. Every week, he appears on a radio show supported by World Vision to answer questions from the listeners alongside a Muslim leader.

Father Claude says, “We have a radio show twice a week. We use Scripture as a starting point of what we will be taking about. We choose a passage that might apply to what we want to say about Ebola and then discuss it. We also have support from health professionals who will answer the more technical questions, while we deal with the faith-related questions.”

Responses have been very positive, even though the weekly programme only lasts for an hour. The content is obviously beneficial for the listeners, but what Father Claude cares about more, is how it brings hope to the audience. “We want to show people that, despite the illness, God is here. There is hope. The atmosphere Ebola has created can make people feel down and hopeless, and may even lead to violence. But we are to tell the people that there is always hope,” he says.

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