TWU alumni on the front lines in Ebola crisis

They are five small letters: E-b-o-l-a.

But the devastation this deadly virus has wreaked in West Africa has reached crisis proportions—and has set off worldwide fear that the virus could spread far beyond the borders of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, where the current outbreak is thought to have originated.

According to the Center for Disease Control, since March over 15,000 people have been affected, with over a third of those dying from the disease for which there is no cure. And the crisis is far from over. Health care services in these areas have been doubly hit: many health care workers have died either as first-responders who weren’t prepared for Ebola, or who had no idea that a patient they were caring for was infected.

In Liberia, Trinity Western University alumna Bev Kauffeldt, Ph.D., (’93, ’03) has been serving on the front lines with non-profit humanitarian organization Samaritan’s Purse (SP). When the crisis first hit, Bev oversaw the Ebola treatment unit in the northern city of Foya. Her responsibilities included emptying waste buckets, cleaning rooms after patients had died to prepare them for the next patient, and removing bodies to the morgue. “Serving in that environment of death and suffering meant not touching anyone,” said Bev. “It meant standing in the hallways of the unit and praying for those lying in the beds, trying to bring them some dignity and hope in a terribly lonely disease.”

For the past 10 years, Bev and her husband, fellow alumnus Kendell (‘92), have served in the country, ravaged by civil war and poverty—and now, Ebola. “It’s been hard to see those we’ve worked with suffer another blow,” she said. “Farmers aren’t farming due to fear of an Ebola, which means the harvest will be poor and will result in an instability in food security. Everything there has been touched by Ebola. It’s devastating.”

A rare and deadly disease, Ebola is caused by infection with a virus of the family Filoviridae. Of the five identified strains, four are known to cause disease in humans. Since the virus was first discovered in 1976, outbreaks have appeared sporadically in Africa. The 2014 outbreak is the largest in history.

In late July, due to increasing risk—and the infection of two staff members—Samaritan’s Purse evacuated 20 staff members and their families, including Bev and sons Isaac and Felix, who were adopted from Haiti. Kendell, along with the Regional Director and a handful of medical staff, were evacuated a week later. “It was very difficult to say goodbye to our home,” Bev said. “To not be able to hug or touch anyone, not even each other, was so hard. The boys couldn't hug Kendell goodbye, and when we left we had no idea how the rest of the team were getting out.”

In late August, the Liberia team convened at the Samaritan’s Purse International headquarters in North Carolina for a debrief and a time of healing—and to develop a strategy to re-engage with Liberia to fight Ebola. “God wants us to serve in the midst of suffering,” said Bev. “He wants us to go where others won’t go, so that we can share the hope of His amazing love and redeeming grace. As Christians, we need to be willing to go to places of suffering. Our hearts need to break with those things that break the heart of God.”

In October, Bev and a SP team returned to Liberia for six weeks, this time focused on providing public health support—raising Ebola awareness, providing protective kits, and establishing small community care centres with staff to help train the Liberian health care workers. “We want to serve Liberians and train them to care for their loved ones while also safely protecting themselves,” said Bev. “We want to show that we’re not giving up—we’ll serve and show the love of Christ no matter what project or response we are part of.”

Although Bev and Kendell are now back in the United States for a time, Kendell plans to return to Liberia in March 2015.

Despite the threat the crisis continues to pose, the Kauffeldts remains hopeful. “In our programming, we always want to give the message of the great hope we have in Christ,” Bev said. “My hope is that, through this crisis, every Liberian will have the opportunity to hear the gospel. At Samaritan’s Purse, it’s our privilege to present and proclaim Christ’s truth.”

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