August 11, 2014

Ebola, Zombies, and Medical Missions

by Clint Archer

ebola virus If you haven’t read Al Mohler’s brilliant response to Ann Coulter, you need to. Or, if you prefer a version with zombies in it, read on.

Last week an American doctor, Kent Brantly, and a nurse who contracted the Ebola virus on a medical outreach trip to Africa were flown home to be treated. Ann Coulter, a (loud) mouthpiece for political conservatives opined that the misguided Christian do-gooders ought rather to have stayed Stateside and focused their philanthropy on, say, Hollywood tycoons, so the world could be reached by the inevitable trickle down effect of Christianized American culture.

No, I’m not putting words in the horse’s mouth:

If Dr. Brantly had practiced at Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles and turned one single Hollywood power-broker to Christ, he would have done more good for the entire world than anything he could accomplish in a century spent in Liberia.”

–Ann Coulter.

Ms Coulter went on to describe missionaries as cowards who slink off to Africa rather than boldly evangelising fellow capitalists. Mohler’s reply gave a voice to us Christians who were choking on our Chick-Fil-A in dumbfounded astonishment at her suggestion. He reminded us that Jesus deployed his disciples to go into the nations with the gospel, not just stay put and commandeer the entertainment industry.

That’s why we call them missionaries, and not stationaries.

And then there is the happy side-effect of medical missions: if US doctors don’t stop Ebola in West Africa, the virus could soon be teeming on the doorsteps/doorknobs of Westwood. This observation, posited by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, reminded me of a scene in World War Z.

WWZBrad Pitt’s character expresses surprise that the Israelis were permitting any survivors of the zombie epidemic into the quarantined city of Jerusalem, irrespective of their nationality. The dialogue ended with a wry but astute observation, “Anyone who doesn’t become a zombie is one less zombie we have to fight.”

(Incidentally, I wonder if Dr. Brantly had reached out to Brad Pitt, who also produced the movie, whether the script would have contained a theological metanarrative about the spiritually dead, or something?)

Zombie movies belong to a genre I wish would just die and stay dead, but what I liked about WWZ (besides Pitt’s acting prowess in executing lines about zombies with a straight face) was that it illustrated vividly how rapidly an infectious disease can spread in our global village linked by a web of flight plans.

In fact, the first thing my wife said to me when we heard about the revenant outbreak in West Africa was “Doesn’t Nigeria Air fly into Johannesburg every day?” With a ten-day incubation period, and a virus that can thrive on the surface of a luggage cart’s handle, or elevator button, South Africa is only ten days away from a serious problem.

But as a South African I want to say thank you to Dr. Kent Brantly and every other foreigner who leaves their air-conditioned comfort and Starbucks and expansive cereal aisles and free refills of soda, to come to Africa, despite the Mayo Clinic’s warning, for no good reason other than to share the gospel while helping people who need their help. There is something disarming about a person coming to you from afar with a message that cost them something to deliver it.

Yes, there are studio executives who could use a faithful plastic surgeon to share the gospel with them; but I’m guessing there are enough doctors in California to cover the movie magnates and a spare one or two for Liberia.

I am sickened by some like Donald Trump who expressed their parochial view that people like Dr. Brantly should have been kept out of America for fear of spreading the pathogen. First, don’t you want to be a citizen of a country that let’s you come home to be treated?flight paths global

And second, have you seen how they brought him in? It’s not like Brantly flew coach; he was in a sterile oxygen tent, on a dedicated jet, to be treated in an isolated recovery unit by people clad in in space suits. That’s how you want the virus to travel: carefully. What, a US birth certificate is good enough to make you eligible for the presidency, but not for treatment on home soil?

Brantly recently wrote from his sickbed:

My wife Amber and I, along with our two children, did not move to Liberia for the specific purpose of fighting Ebola. We went to Liberia because we believe God called us to serve Him at ELWA Hospital.  … As you continue to pray for Nancy and me, yes, please pray for our recovery. More importantly, pray that we would be faithful to God’s call on our lives in these new circumstances.”


I for one am thankful for the STM teams who slink off to visit our church in Africa. The gospel is contagious and spreads most effectively when the current host is visibly affected by the gospel.

Medical missionaries are a dying breed. Praise God that they just won’t stay dead.


Clint Archer’s new book Holding the Rope presents a biblical, theological, and practical approach to Short-Term Missions. The book offers advice on everything from why go rather than send money, to how to write a support letter.

Clint Archer

Posts Twitter

Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
  • Amen and thank you for sharing your perspective on the matter. Could you share any recommended reading on medical missionaries? Or any reading offering a biblical philosophy of missions where mercy ministries are combined with church planting in the foreign mission field?

    • Oh this is too easy. How about “Holding the Rope”?
      Seriously though, I couldn’t find anything very helpful on the topic when I was doing research for the book.

      • Well, that shameless plug just paid off LOL…adding it to the queue, brother, thank you!

    • Laura Stewart

      Justin, Here’s a couple suggestions for great books on medical missions-both books that encouraged and impacted me. Clint is right there aren’t a lot of books that dig into the topic of medical missions, but here’s a couple biographies of some solid guys who lived quiet humble lives serving as Drs with a unswerving focus on the gospel: “A Foreign Devil in China” by John Pollock (The story of the lifework of Nelson Bell, Father of Ruth Graham) “Miracle at Tenwek” by Gregg Lewis (The story of Dr. Ernie Steury). A realistic yet challenging look at an example of someone who invested their lives in sharing the gospel and building up the church.

      Clint, thanks for writing this post! I look forward to reading your new book. As a missionary in Uganda, My two gut responses to all the US Media frenzy of recent on Ebola is:
      1. Why in the world did the media not pay attention sooner (why did we start paying attention only after Americans got it?) 2. I was thrilled to hear that the Doctors with Ebola were being flown home, but a few seconds later I literally wept when I thought of all the African people who didn’t have a US Passport and who couldn’t have access to quality medical care. Maybe that’s weird? =) But I think it’s just because once you spend time serving and loving those in “far-off” lands they become family to you… they’re no longer just people in the news but they’re people you love and people who need to hear the hope of the gospel-they just may be open to it because someone had the courage to come to them in their world with all the diseases and hardships because it was a worthwhile trade and a joyful privilege. … (If it takes a short-term trip to make these people real to Americans… then so be it, let them come! And there’s another plug for your book =) As Christians we need to continue praying for the people with Ebola as though we were “in bonds” with them.

      • thanks for your thoughtful response and insight. We are on the same page.

      • Thanks, Laura!

  • This was excellent, thank you. I continue to pray for Dr. Brantly and all of those who work with the Samaritans purse ministry.

  • Doc B (J B Boren)

    Only one minor picking point: Dr. Brantley actually HAS a US birth certificate.

    Other than that: flawless, with good points to boot.

    • You’re not related to Trump are you?

  • 4Commencefiring4

    I saw Ann’s column and had two reactions: 1) She’s got a point; and 2) the lost aren’t just limited to America, Ann.

    But it reminded me of a wonderful and sincere couple I’ve known for many years who decided God was calling them to reach the lost among the Vietnamese, Thai, and Cambodian people. So they joined a missions organization, raised support, and headed for Southeast Asia, excited to see how the Lord was going to work through them to establish churches and lead whole communities of new believers in these areas where the Gospel seemed all but unknown. I don’t think either of them had ever been outside the U.S. in their lives.

    Fast forward a few years. Nothing–and I mean NOTHING–is getting going. No responses, no interest among the people, no evidence that they were having an impact at all. The support was dwindling, the work unrewarding, the whole vision seemed to be dying. Had they completely gotten their signals crossed and gone off half cocked? They had prayed, others had prayed…but it was one big zero.

    So, discouraged and confused, they came home from the field and instead of getting secular jobs, decided to see what they could do here at home among the ever-increasing populations of “boat people” from these same nations who had fled those places after the Vietnam War and had made a new life in the west.

    Well, you can finish the story yourself: the ministry took off, and they’ve never looked back. They’ve ministered to hundreds or thousands of Asian people right here in America, people who were right under their noses all the time.

    Sometimes the grass is greener here. Not always, but…

    • Totally. Everyone’s calling and gifting is different. That’s what make a Body. If we were all an eye, we’d really gross.

  • tovlogos

    “I for one am thankful for the STM teams who slink off to visit our church in Africa. The gospel is contagious and spreads most effectively when the current host is visibly affected by the gospel.” Amen, Clint.

    The great commission is always the bottom line. Mohler was understandably upset at the grievous rubbish Ann displayed. However, spiritual maturity prevents this sort of vulgarity from getting into our heads — most of the time. Miss Coulter got the response she wanted. No problem. Blessings brother.


  • Samuel H Kennedy

    well stated Ps Clint. Thank You.

    • my pleasure, Samuel.

  • Pingback: Links I like()

  • Dave Marks

    Thought you might find our article of interest:

    • Ok, that is the most intriguingly disturbing website I’ve visited in a while.

  • vinas46

    Excellent post Clint and thanks. I am from India. How come gospel could have spread in India if missionaries from the west have not come here? It took the sacrifice of many missionaries for the gospel to be spread in South Asia. It still takes.