On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
Each time I see an ambulance going down the road with a police escort, the driver dressed in face mask and all the protective kit, I take a deep breath and wait for it to pass by. It scares me. And today we learned that the eighth Sierra Leonean doctor has died from Ebola, and that the infection is spreading fastest here in Freetown – literally just outside my door.
This news really gives me the chills. We thought we were doing well: treatment centres being built, medical teams arriving, and people getting the ‘ABC’ message – avoid bodily contact. My bit of the jigsaw is to deploy and manage United Nations Coordination Teams across the country; to solve problems and help link all the activities together. I am doing this mostly from a desk and phone in the National Ebola Centre, so it is a low risk job, but I do also get outside the compound’s guarded walls to visit the field teams. But now with this news I am thinking again about the risks of being here: Might I get it? Am I always taking all the right precautions? What’s the family thinking back home?
And that’s where the Three Kings come in: like the shepherds, they came and brought to Jesus the very best they could offer. Gold, frankincense and myrrh – rich, costly, and precious symbols of the hope that Jesus brings. I think that the people who are bringing genuinely sacrificial offerings here in Sierra Leone are the thousands of brave people putting their lives at risk working on the front line. Yes, there are some doctors and nurses from abroad, but there are many, many ordinary local people taking part to give their country and people a hope of defeating this horrible disease – the chlorine sprayers, the motorbike riders who carry blood samples for testing, the grave diggers, the people tracing all the infection contacts. They do this at tremendous risk to themselves, since over a hundred health workers have died so far, and with minimal reward.
I meet many people who bring other sources of hope too – there is a woman pastor who turns up at my office every morning at 8 0’clock with her Bible to pray for those of us involved in the work. Others are looking after the children of Ebola victims – it’s often a double tragedy, losing their parents and being shunned by your community because of the stigma of the disease.
I came to Freetown because I wanted to help in the crisis and had the skills and opportunity to do so. Local people volunteer because they want to give hope to their people and to their country. They are the people bringing the really costly gifts at Christmas time.
Martin is an aid worker with the Department for International Development, and has been based in Freetown, Sierra Leone, helping with the fight against Ebola. This piece was written at the beginning of December 2014.
We aren’t all called to go abroad, or into such challenging situations as Martin, but it is good to remember that we can always do something to help those around us. Martin mentions the locals in areas of Sierra Leone, who have been volunteering to help in their own communities, so today we want to challenge you to think about whether you could spare a few hours to volunteer somewhere? Is there a local school, organisation or charity that needs help? If you can’t help regularly perhaps you could do something as one off?
What can you do to give hope to people in your community?