A little analysis from our favorite media giant with the Big Religious Blind Spot, The New York Times, from an article on October 10:
“The first to respond to the Ebola crisis in West Africa, Doctors Without Borders remains the primary international medical aid group battling the disease there. As local health systems have all but collapsed and most outside institutions, including the United States military, have yet to fulfill all their pledges of help, the charity has erected six treatment centers in West Africa, with plans for more.”
So, Doctors Without Borders was the first organization to respond the Ebola crisis.
Uh, not quite. When Doctors Without Borders arrived in Liberia to battle Ebola they collaborated with Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical missionary agency. Samaritan’s Purse has had medical care in Liberia since 2010, so they were right there when Ebola first broke out. They were, in fact, trying to alert the world to the Ebola problem before it became a big news item in the West. In July, an official of Samaritan’s Purse declared:
“We need them all to help us in the fight against this dreadful disease…I call on the international community and the donor governments of the world, particularly in Europe and the United States, to step in and recognize the very limited capacities of the ministries of health in West Africa and to help them contain this disease.”
And where does one find this declaration from Samaritan’s Purse, an organization fighting Ebola in Liberia along with Doctor’s Without Borders?
A New York Times blog.
Don’t these reporters read their own paper?
That article even carried a picture of Kent Brantly working on Ebola patients. Brantly, as you may know, is the doctor from Samaritan’s Purse who later made international news as the first American to contract Ebola.
So why does The New York Times say that Doctors Without Borders (which is an excellent organization, by the way) was pretty much the only organization in West Africa working on this? Why do they fail to mention the work of an organization like Samaritan’s Purse?
Another blind spot. And it is a blind spot connected to the reality that missionary organizations make some secular people uncomfortable.
You don’t have to take my word for it. Slate writer, Brian Palmer, who declares himself to be an atheist, makes the very point that missionaries are overlooked in the whole Ebola crisis. Palmer explains how he was recently at an international conference discussing Ebola and the control of infectious diseases and somebody made the point that Doctors Without Borders were the “only group on the ground” dealing with this problem.
Palmer, however, wrote in the Slate article (he doesn’t mention whether he said anything at the conference) that missionaries have long been on the ground dealing with these issues. He also indicated that missionary doctors and nurses actually have long-term commitments, don’t just parachute in during a crisis, and do not profit economically from their work.
Of course, this is not news to any of us who are familiar with missionaries.
But it is news – uncomfortable news – for certain kinds of secular Americans. Palmer gives reasons why secular people are uncomfortable with missionaries — and why he himself, in fact, is uncomfortable with them. (The subtitle of his article is “Should we worry that so many of the doctors treating Ebola in Africa are missionaries?”) There’s nothing new there — those arguments he gives have been around for more than a century, as Palmer points out himself.
I give Palmer a great deal of credit, however, for bringing to light the good work done by a group with which he has serious disagreements. That is a difficult step to take. It is so difficult that The New York Times can’t seem to pull it off.
Now before I end up out of line in my snarky comments about the Times, (I might already have crossed that line, actually) I better point out that I am often not able to pull that off, either. We Christians, who ought to know something about humility, respect, and loving those with whom we disagree, ought to be able to regularly point out good work done by people with whom we have serious disagreements.
(My thanks to my friend and colleague, Scott Waalkes, who brought the Slate article to my attention and understands evangelicals and missionaries, even though he grew up amidst Calvinists in Grand Rapids.)