The Orthodox Mission in the Midst of the Ebola Outbreak


+ Archmandrite Themistocles Adamopoulos
Freetown – 20/8/14

I find myself situated in a quasi – apocalyptic End Time scenario of which I would never have imagined could be possible. I am in the midst of the deadliest outbreak of Ebola so far in human medical history.

Freetown, the bustling capital of Sierra Leone and the location of three of our Mission’s philanthropic, ecclesiastical and educational compounds, is starting to look like a page out of the New Testament’s End Times prophecies:

Freetown, the bustling capital of Sierra Leone and the location of three of our Mission’s philanthropic, ecclesiastical and educational compounds, is starting to look like a page out of the
New Testament’s End Times prophecies:

“..and there shall be pestilences in various places.” ( St. Matthew 24.7).

The impact and fear of Ebola is staring to make Freetown a usually vibrant though poor urban centre – resemble a ghost town – especially at night – with much of it infrastructure and economy in damage control mode.

Many nurses and doctors have unfortunately been killed by the virus. It caught the local medical facilities unprepared for the coming epidemic. Indeed the lack of resources and staff coupled with an already weak medical system means that the system is now truly overwhelmed.

A significant number of hospitals, pharmacies and clinics have shut down and remain empty. A considerable proportion of members of the medical profession are not reporting for duty preferring to stay home out of fear of being contaminated by the virus.

People are afraid to receive medical attention if they have a fever or a sore throat out of an irrational though popular fear that doctors will kill them with a “poisoned big needle.” This is not a time for even a minor symptom of malaria or typhoid – due to an anxiety that their ailment could be misinterpreted as Ebola.

Ebola victims themselves run away from clinics or hospitals when diagnosed with Ebola while some Ebola Centres are attacked by violent crowds who want the Centres removed from their neighbourhood. This happened a few days ago in Monrovia, the capital of our southern neighbour, Liberia.

The official statistics of the rate of infection appears to be far below the actual number. In a real sense this plague is now out of control here and it appears that international assistance and expertise is slow in coming. Indeed the international community seems more interested and obsessed in cancelling all flights to the region and hence isolating us rather than helping us.

Corpses of victims may be burnt, left unburied for a time or buried in designated Ebola burial sites. Public gatherings of people are now forbidden. Cinemas, bars, nightclubs, football venues have all shut down.

Schools, colleges and universities are now on vacation and will most likely remain so until the danger has passed. The only places where people may now gather in large numbers are in churches and mosques.

We are facing international iolation. Most airline flights out of Freetown have been cancelled. The few flights that may still be available are now worth their weight in gold. The U.S. Department of State has posted a travel warning for all U.S. citizens intending to make “non-essential” travel to Sierra Leone and ordered an evacuation of family member of Embassy staff.

The majority of “expats” and international NGO personnel have flown out already. The popular elite resorts which they frequent in Freetown – restaurants, cafes and Lumley Beach are now almost deserted.

Street vendors have to stop selling by 6.00 PM. Banks must close by 1.00 PM. People are advised to stay indoors at night. Motor bikes are not permitted on the streets after 7.00 PM and cars should not be on the road after 10.00 PM. Freetown is becoming like a ghost town, especially after dusk.

The sight of people wearing gloves and the placement of buckets containing chlorinated water outside those shops or venues that are still open is common. And the whiff of chlorine is in the air.

People no longer shake hands or hug for fear of contamination and there is a suspicion about everyone – because the deadly enemy is invisible so anyone you meet or talk – beggar or rich man, street person or professor – could be a carrier.

Entire regional districts of Sierra Leone are now under quarantine with military checkpoints – you cannot go in or out – and there is talk that this type of lockdown will also happen here in Freetown.

This is a nation that has fairly recently emrged from a brutal and catastrophic civil war characterised by the amputation of limbs. So the people are resilient and stoic. However besides the Ebola plague there may be another calamity coming. My concern is that ships may also stop coming to Freetown. In that case we will be almost completely isolated from the ret of the world. Our food supplies will begin to run dry. Rice, the staple food of Sierra Leone is imported. So if the crisis continues and if we become a pariah state, an untouchable region, we may very well face in the future a worst mass killer than Ebola – famine!

“..and there shall be famine and plagues …in various places.” [St. Matthew 24.7]

We in the Orthodox Mission here in Sierra Leone are focusing on helping the vulnerable poor in the present dire situation.

We are providing food, gloves, chlorine buckets, chlorine, face masks, sensitising the poor, the disabled and street beggars to the dangers of this virus as well as holding daily services and supplicating the Lord to protect us.

May our Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on us!