The church and the Ebola war

Ebola-15-1-15.-pixIt is the belief of the Catholic Church that everything that concerns the people concerns the church”. So said the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace at the Vatican, Cardinal Peter Appiah-Turkson of Ghana as he presented 3 million Euros on behalf of the Catholic Pontiff, Pope Francis to the National Catholic Church’s Ebola Response Team in Liberia on Friday December 2014 as the Church’s contribution to the battle against the Ebola disease.

Cardinal Appiah-Turkson who is based in the Vatican, Rome, had gone all the way to Liberia to make the donation which he described as “just a token from the church”.

The Catholic Church could not have done differently on the eve of Christmas than this lofty act of empathy shown to the devastated people of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone on humanitarian grounds.

This is what makes the Catholic Church not only distinct, different and sincerely people- oriented but also tick. This is what makes the Catholic Church stand out of the crowd.

The commonest thing to see during a visit to any village, town or city in Ghana and in several other countries today is an array of Christian churches, some with embarrassing signboards and names that are more or less an affront to Christianity itself, scattered all over the place with diverse and often contradictory beliefs, all claiming to have derived from the same source-the Bible.

Painfully, the situation in the Christian terrain is one of confusion as several of the churches appear to have deviated from the underlying principle of Christianity which emphatically enjoins us to show love to our neighbours and be our brothers keeper by offering humanitarian service in need. Sadly this underlying principle of Christianity which serves as the basic law of Christendom seems to be virtually absent from the church nowadays.

The argument of some high ranking leaders of the Gospel, Spiritual and Pentecostal churches or what has come to be termed second generation churches is that the primary responsibility of the church is purely to offer spiritual guidance and leadership to their flock. For this reason the church should not be inundated with appeals for donations, contributions for humanitarian purposes, let alone establish school or health facilities for the people in the communities where they operate. They hide under this argument to rake in their millions of Ghana Cedis, or Dollars collected as proceeds from the sale of olive oil, holy water, offering, tithes, first fruit, second fruit, special offering, some of which is allegedly used.

In the same way, they hide under this argument to acquire fleets of cars like 4×4 Jeeps, jet planes, lands, build structures, supposedly for their churches which are, in fact, built around them and their families, while the members of the church walop in abject poverty, squalor, avarice, disease and hunger.

There are also so-called Christian religious groups who would make the world believe that they exist for and are praying for Ghana to be a better place to live in. And the government would dole out huge sums of money and make available logistics for prayer meetings, where they command familiar and unfamiliar spirits to die by fire, even though we are yet to see how many of those spints have died so far. I use these words literally and metaphorically.

What constitutes Christianity is living a life that is compatible with the word of God which affects everything we do.

Christianity is a way of life which involves participation and practice.

In the book of James 1:22 and James 2:14-19, the great Apostle stresses the need for us to act on the word of God by being doers of the word of God and not hearers alone.

James also stresses that belief that the word of God alone is not sufficient for salvation; it has to be translated into actions, deeds by looking after orphans, the needy, the widows, the poor, the sick, the homeless, the aged; by giving help to people in pain, desperation or in a state of hopelessness like our dear African brothers and sisters in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia- the three countries that have been gravely devastated by the rampaging Ebola virus, which has claimed well over 8,500 deaths and some 20 thousand suspected cases of the Ebola infection.

Certainly, this is a situation that warrants an upsurge in support from the Church for whom the affected form a huge percentage of their congregations.

Because of the graveness of the Ebola scourge, the Government of Sierra Leone advisedly, ordered a lock down in parts of the country during the Yuletide as part of efforts to check the spread of the incurable disease.

Incredibly, a section of leaders of the church in Sierra Leone saw things differently. There was a massive outrage from them. They complained that their rights to freedom of worship had been curtailed as they and their followers could not gain access to their worship places to conduct business as usual, because of the lockdown.

Apparently blinded by their earnest desire for offerings, tithes special thanksgiving taking they failed to see the wisdom in the government decision, namely to avoid bodily contact and preserve human life.

What God is looking for is the transformation of our hearts towards giving thought to and offering humanitarian service not mere acts of worship and ritual observances that last us whole nights, shouting ourselves hoarse and commanding familiar and unfamiliar spirits to die or asking witches and wizards to catch fire.

The church and Christians the world over should be reminded to pay greater attention to the humanitarian needs of orphans, widows, the poor, the abandoned, the sick and the diseased without being prompted. Not too long ago and in the heat of the outbreak of the Ebola virus, Prophet T.B. Joshua, the head of the Church of all Nations popularly called Synagogue was widely reported to have claimed that he had discovered a cure for the disease in the form of special holy water.

The expectation of the general public was that, as a real Man of God he would arrange to get the healing water to Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, purely on humanitarian grounds, to help reduce the number of deaths from the Ebola virus which was put at hundreds per day at that time.

Up till now nothing has been heard of the claim Offering humanitarian service is a Christian commitment which goes to the heart of right religious practice as contained in James 1:27: “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit the orphans and widows in their trouble and to keep oneself unspotted from the world”. Practicalisation of Christianity as opposed to commercialisation of Christianity should be the norm.

The World Health Organization WHO has said the figures of 8,500 people having died of Ebola and 20,000 infected so far are grossly underestimated; that what obtains of humanitarian aid is just a fraction of what is required.

The Church should follow the teachings of Christ and use wealth for the glory of the church.

The Pope has set the pace with a whopping 3 million Euros. The second generation churches in Ghana namely the Pentecostal, the Gospel and the Spiritual Churches coming under umbrella bodies like the Christian Council of Ghana will do well to follow suit, not by seizing the opportunity of the Ebola outbreak to squeeze every pesewa out of their congregation, but by mopping up money already starched in their coffers and make a handsome contribution to the UN Ebola Centre in Monrovia etc.

That singular act will not only push back but also clear up decades of misconception, mistrust and suspicion in the minds of the general public about the operations of the second generation churches.

By James Dadzie

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