Liberty News

Ebola outbreak responders host panel and show feature film

September 27, 2017 : By Tobi Walsh Laukaitis/Liberty University News Service

As part of Liberty University’s Global Focus Week, approximately 400 students packed out the auditorium in the Center for Natural Sciences for a special screening of the Samaritan’s Purse film “Facing Darkness” on Tuesday night. The event was sponsored by LU Serve and the North Carolina-based humanitarian organization.

The narrative film describes the harrowing circumstances the organization faced in 2014 after two of its staff members — Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol — contracted the Ebola virus. They were serving the people of Liberia after the surging disease infected more than 28,000 people across West Africa, killing 11,315. It featured interviews with the Liberia team, survivors of Ebola, and the health care professionals and experts who worked around the clock to save lives. This was the first feature-length film produced by Samaritan’s Purse.

Before the film, members of the nonprofit’s executive team sat down for a Q & A panel with LU Serve Director of International Engagement Steven Gillum, discussing how they handled the situation internally and how the Lord was able to work miracles in a seemingly hopeless situation.

The panel included the film’s Executive Producer and Vice President of Broadcast Bill Coger, Vice President of Human Resources Cindy Rutz, Regional Director for Europe and the Middle East Aaron Ashoff, Regional Member Care Manager and Chaplin John Freyler, and Director for World Medical Missions Dr. Lance Plyler. Plyler was one of the 12 Ebola fighters honored by TIME Magazine as Person of the Year.

Coger said after the team came back to the United States, they were provided with a debriefing so they could begin the healing process. It was during this time that staff members heard incredible stories about the darkness they faced.

“We wanted to keep the film real and raw, just as it happened,” Coger said.

During the outbreak, Ashoff was serving as the regional director for West Africa. As the team prepared to respond, he said Samaritan’s Purse had a good understanding of the disease and the precautions they needed to take in order to help stop the spread of Ebola.

“Our team understood Liberians well, and we worked in some pretty remote places where Ebola was catching fire,” Ashoff said. “These were communities that we had worked in for 10 years. These were friends of ours. They were not some abstract person we were helping.”

Plyler, who has previously spoken at Liberty, was one of the doctors in Liberia who helped treat Brantly and Writebol after they fell ill. He said that God first called him into disaster relief medicine after the deadly 2007 earthquake in Haiti, which eventually led to a full-time position with Samaritan’s Purse a year later.

“We sort of pick a pathway, but God defines our steps, and that’s what He did,” Plyler said. “He really prepared all of us for a script that, even with all of our creativity, we could have never written.”

Because of an experiential drug called ZMAPP, Brantly and Writebol were able to fight off the disease and make a full recovery. Plyler said using the drug was a step of faith, due to the fact it had never been tested on humans prior to the Ebola outbreak.

Plyler told the students that God can use them in ways that they cannot even imagine.

“At Samaritan’s Purse, we would have never dreamed in a million years about what was about to unfold (with Ebola),” Plyler said. “We are just average people, but it really is awesome how much it’s shown me about how to have a global perspective for missions. God can use you where you’re at. Be prepared, because our God is a big God.”

A suit used by the doctors during the Ebola outbreak was on display at the screening.

For Liberty junior Julianna Campbell, who is studying biomedical sciences, seeing the movie and hearing from the panel inspired her to follow her own passion.

“There’s so much that I didn’t know about the Ebola outbreak,” she said. “This was a huge opportunity to see how Samaritan’s Purse responded to a crisis, what they learned from it, and (for us) to try to understand how we can prevent this from happening again. I was especially interested because I feel like God is calling me into medical missions.”

Campbell said hearing Plyler talk about the path that God put him on in the medical field resonated with her.

“I have felt like that,” she said. “During my first two years of college, I was trying to figure out if I wanted to be a doctor or physician assistant, but (Plyler) was further along in his career than I am and was still trying to see how God wanted to use him. That was really reassuring.”

Campbell said Global Focus Week is a chance for students to see and hear a perspective that they don’t get on a regular basis.

“It’s easy to have an American perspective,” she said. “But we need to shift that focus and have God’s perspective because He cares for all people, of all nations.”