Archive for August, 2014

Ebola victim has Texas connection

The two Americans infected with the Ebola virus in Liberia, Africa, have made national news in the last week. One, Dr. Kent Brantly, completed his undergraduate studies at Abilene Christian University (ACU) and his residency training in Fort Worth.

Though I have never met Dr. Brantly, I imagine him much like his older brother, Chad, whom I knew at ACU. Chad was the gentlest, funniest, teddy-bear-est of a man you’ll ever meet. He’s now a dentist in San Angelo.

Even without the alma mater connection, Dr. Brantly’s story would have captured me. The Indiana native was overseeing the Samaritan’s Purse Ebola care center in Monrovia, Liberia, when he was diagnosed with the disease. Samaritan’s Purse is the mission organization of Franklin Graham, son of legendary evangelist Billy Graham.

The recent Ebola outbreak in southwestern Africa has infected roughly 1,300 people and killed more than 700. The symptoms of the disease, which is transferred only through bodily fluids, start like malaria’s: fever, nausea, stomach pain. Eventually, uncontrollable bleeding from body openings can take the lives of victims.

Now why would a bright, young physician leave the prosperity and esteem of American medicine to go to an unknown land to care for victims of a disease with an unknown cure?

I’ll let him answer that. This from a message he gave to his childhood church before leaving for Liberia:

“God has a call on my life. I never heard the voice of God say, ‘Kent, you need to become a doctor and go to Liberia to be a missionary.’ But what I heard were the encouraging words and actions of my friends and family. When you connect the dots, you see a grand picture that God has used to draw my life in a certain direction.”

After seeing images of Dr. Brantly in a haz-mat suit caring for Ebola patients, I remembered another medical missionary.

Father Damien was a Catholic priest who travelled to the then Kingdom of Hawaii in the 1870s. One of the kingdom’s islands, Molokai, had been quarantined as a leper’s colony.

In 1873, Damien volunteered to go to Molokai to care for the lepers even though leprosy was thought to be highly contagious. There, Damien dressed ulcers and gave comfort while building reservoirs, homes and churches. He also made coffins and dug graves.

For sixteen years, Damien struggled alongside the lepers before finally succumbing to the disease himself. “I make myself a leper with the lepers to gain all to Jesus Christ,” he told his brother.

I have no doubt that Dr. Brantly meticulously attempted to avoid contracting Ebola. The haz-mat suits were not worn for comfort. I also have no doubt that he knew there was a chance he might still become infected.

But when you are in pursuit of a purpose far above earthly health or worldly wealth, one’s view of risk changes. The thought of not answering a spiritual call seems more risky than the prospect of physical death. “To live is Christ, to die is gain” is how one missionary once put it.

As of press time, Dr. Brantly’s recovery prospects appeared good as warriors continued to pray. His televised ambling from ambulance to Atlanta-area hospital resembled Neil Armstrong’s “one giant leap for mankind” moonwalk.

Indeed, Dr. Brantly is empowered by something out of this world.


Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at


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