Every day, despite border closings, Rev. Christopher Marshall receives a message from The Upper Room on his cell phone.
“The text messages bring comfort and remind me that I need to trust God in all situations,” says Marshall a United Methodist pastor serving in Liberia, the country hardest hit by Ebola in 2014.*
While reports from doctors and survivors give hope that physical recovery is possible, West African pastors are responding to deep spiritual wounds from the deadly virus. Persons are grieving and exhausted from caregiving. Others have been stigmatized, rejected, and intentionally displaced.
As World Health Organization workers with sterile jumpsuits and face shields focus on containing the virus, The Upper Room is partnering with United Methodist Communications (UMCom) to “focus on the spiritual care of people,” says Sarah Wilke, Publisher of The Upper Room. “We assure our sisters and brothers in crisis that God is near, and we are surrounding them in prayer.”
When concerns over Ebola began to rise, Upper Room International Ministries Director Dale Rust Waymack and publishing partners in Africa discussed ways to share traditional resources from The Upper Room, but print and freight expenses were exorbitant. In addition to prohibitive costs, the CDC warned against nonessential travel to and from Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia. In recent months, many companies have closed their doors to keep employees and the general public out of routines that might risk exposure.
In 2006, as a response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa, The Upper Room published Prayers for Encouragement, a booklet like the daily devotional guide, but designed especially for people living with serious illnesses. Since then, the small book has been distributed in 19 languages worldwide and has become a cherished resource for caregivers and those living with disease.
“In response to the Ebola outbreak, we had to find non-print options,” explains Waymack. Delivering anything—even hope—to West Africa during this crisis has required creative problem solving.
With guidance from UMCom, Prayers for Encouragement has been uploaded in English, French, and Portuguese to the biNu digital platform and Frontline SMS, technology commonly used on “feature phones” throughout Africa for communication and as a source of news and updates.
Portions are extracted from Prayers for Encouragement to fit a 160-character limit and sent to anyone requesting the digital messages
that give reassurance of God’s grace and presence.
Since joining these efforts, The Upper Room has received notes of gratitude from persons in Sierra Leone, Liberia, DR Congo, and Zimbabwe.
Providing daily spiritual encouragement and prayer support is The Upper Room’s primary ministry. We are grateful for partners in ministry, new ways of using technology, and donors like you who help us minister and serve in the midst of the crisis. Thank you.
If you would like to give your support to The Upper Room, visit www.upperoom.org/gift
This article was originally published in The Upper Room Fellowship Circle (Dec. 2014 issue), a newsletter for Friends of The Upper RoomTo download a pdf of the entire Dec. 2014 Fellowship Circle of The Upper Room newsletter, click here.