Darrow Miller and Friends

The Ebola Crisis: A Case Study in Worldviews

Numerous articles have been sparked by Brian Palmer’s piece on the Christian medical “missionaries” and the Ebola crisis. They include the following at MereOrthodoxy, Ethic’s Daily, New York Times!, and BreakPoint.

These have mostly focused on the motivations of Christian healthcare workers and how scary this is for many. I want to write about the worldview aspect of the burgeoning crisis. That is, not the worldview of the westerners but of those who are most affected and suffering, the Africans.

A hint of their worldview comes from a communication I received from an acquaintance intimately connected to the westerners on the frontlines of the Ebola crisis. I was hoping to convince him to write an article for the Christian Journal for Global Health about his firsthand experience, but the situation is changing too rapidly for him to sit down and write.

Nevertheless, what he sent me is a fascinating, though sad, look inside the challenges rooted in worldview in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and so many other African countries.

Here is what was said:


Sorry to be putting you off. One main reason is that the situation is so swiftly changing. The early response from the churches … was as follows:

When we came in, as fellow Christians, and fellow worshipers, our folks would explain all about hand washing, how the virus would be transmitted, etc. After all that, and demonstrations etc. then the pastor would end by sort of opening his hands, and saying something like, “We hear all that but we are just dependent on prayer, and we know that nothing we do can change God’s will for us. We know if we pray God will protect us.”

Ugh, our folks were so frustrated, while, after explaining, and demonstrating they were confronted with incredible fatalism. Now it is very different. There is very little hugging, hand holding, or touching of any kind, but the pastors all say the churches are packed and praying.

There is a much greater understanding of the disease, and, among the churches, a much greater acceptance of the situation as it is. That is, without any real understanding of germ theory, they are willing to accept that what the doctors say is true.

We have formulated a sort of question list for pastors to work with in teaching their congregations.

But, as I say, it is such a moving situation. We were just on the phone this morning with our guys in Liberia. We will speak again to them on Friday. The one thing, when we are on, one on one, with our staff, is the fear they have for the safety of their families. For themselves they know how to behave, but while they are at work, they will call their wives and tell them not to step off the porch, and don’t let the kids out etc. This fear is probably the greatest challenge, as it pervades night and day, and there is no break. When we begin to attempt to apply theology to this, we also need to have some practical actions to give them at the same time. It is one thing to know your theology, but it is another thing to think of putting your foot right on the footprint of an infected person, who will be dead tomorrow. What did they touch? Where have they been? It is very scary for all the people.

You have seen the reactions of some of the non-christians who feel trapped. In Guinea, killing 8 workers. In Sierra Leone the attack on the body disposal crew. This is only the beginning of it. I am thinking a person can begin writing, but it is way to early to say we have any sort of answer yet.

This thing has a long way to go, and will so deeply affect the people that it is difficult to comprehend how it will end up.

This is fatalism at its worst. It reminded me of a promo video I was shown during a recent medical missions summit. In it an African male voice prays fervently that God will, among many things, get rid of the violence, corruption, poverty, etc. in this man’s country. It seemed most in the room were deeply touched by the video while inside I was rather disturbed. This person was essentially praying as if God was going to do all this while the local believers just sit by idly (suffering) and wait for Him to act!

My long time mentor, Dr. Dan Fountain, always taught that if we seek to help people live lives of Shalom (our term for development work) but don’t help them overcome a fatalistic worldview, we will never make progress. This is the job of the Church. Yes, we are to be a praying people, and yes, we are to have faith, faith of a mustard seed. But after we pray and after we acknowledge our faith in Christ we then need to act. The two cannot be separated. If they are, we will see further episodes such as is occurring in Africa right now.

Mike Soderling on the Ebola crisis

– Mike Soderling

Michael Soderling MD, MBA (International Development) serves as Director of the Center for Health in Mission and is the Associate Editor for Health Missions for the Christian Journal for Global Health.

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Michael Soderling MD, MBA (International Development) serves as Director of the Center for Health in Mission and is the Associate Editor for Health Missions for the Christian Journal for Global Health.


  1. Karen Pelt

    October 20, 2014 - 3:52 pm

    Mike, Thank you for this article. How would you suggest we pray and is there anything practical we in the states can do?

    • admin

      October 21, 2014 - 12:42 pm

      Thanks for the questions Karen. My first suggestion is to pray against the lies of Satan which continue to tell many millions, if not billions, that there is nothing they can do to change their own lives for the better. A fatalistic mindset/worldview has been and continues to be used by the author of lies to keep people in bondage to suffering. This attitude even finds a home in our western churches. Second prayer would be that African Christians, and Christians everywhere actually, wake up to the true scope of what Jesus meant when he began His ministry and said in Mark 1:15 “The time is fulfulled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

      Your question about what we can DO requires a much lengthier response which is not possible here. But in essence it would require a radical rethinking AND retooling of how we understand and DO what we call “missions” work in the name of Christ. In announcing the coming of His kingdom Jesus was saying His Fathers wish was for ALL peoples to hear the good news and be offered the chance to live a life of Shalom. Complete peace with the creator of the universe. But churches nowadays are investing heavily in short term “missions” sending people who have minimal if any concept of Shalom and calling it mission work. And for the most part these are churches that are not experiencing Shalom (the closest parallel term in English would be Health and Wholeness) at home, sending people who also have no idea what this is and then expecting transformation in the majority world where their people “serve.” Darrow would say we are sending out workers who have NOT been born again, again. Their worldview is basically that of evangelical gnosticism.

      Mike Soderling

  2. apolos landa

    October 21, 2014 - 9:46 am

    Sadly that is so often and observed reaction where the collective unconscious reflexes, shapped by beliefs and world views, prevent people from taken up better evidence based attitudes and behavior. I do remember working in rural communities in Peru, how frustrating was see the time pass and community health projects for better ways of living not making progress. Discovering a connecting element on their world view or belief and using it unloked the door for changing their attitudes and behavior.
    As most of the villagers were nominal Christians but profoundly influenced by anymism or dualistic spirituality, we challenge them about authority for what should rule their minds and actions and fond that most of them regarded Bible and Christian tradition at the highest rank. So we used it. So instead of merely claiming scientific validity for our interventions we linked those interventions and their scientific evidence with related topics of biblical theology at a popular level. For instance, the relation of “holiness and cleanliness” in Deuteronomy 23:12-14 or the relation of “stewardship of creation –especially that of procreation, and family planning and parental responsibility”. After we run the subject on the community assemblies of the villages, I still vividly remember finding in our next visit that rows of lattrines had been build along side the churches, for men on one side and women on the other. Ways of safe water collection, storage and dispensing starting to get in practice, first by the “believers” and then spreading in the community. Similarly with family planning, though not with all the methods. But still progress. So the principle “change your way of thinking (belief) so that you can chance your way of living” of Romans 12:2,3 still seems to hold being valid.

  3. E. Anthony Allen

    October 21, 2014 - 9:11 pm

    Thanks for the thought provoking piece. The wisdom literature in the Bible is not for nought. Leviticus shows God”s concern for specifics in community health. Joseph was inspired to save Egypt’s economy. The Dietary choices of the young Jews in Babylon is instructive. So was Jethro’s administrative advice to Moses. The compartmentalization of the person and between person, community and nature is an artificial Western Cartesian and materialist construct. This is foreign to the Biblical world view and to that of Africans and several other “Old World” or “South” cultures.

    It may not be that traditional cultural practices that now seem to be problems for Ebola Control are inherently wrong. Could it be that the socially disintegrative effects of poverty and it’s collective historical and contemporary roots have destroyed the Whole Person and Healing Community fabric of which science/nature is a part. Thus what is prayer and spiritual ritual for?
    Repentance, better stewardship of God’s earth?
    Perhaps Ebola is God’s permitted renewed call for a global response of His and all potentially His to preach the Kingdom over viruses and act to heal the Sick in our practical innovations, protocols and care. So that the Glory of God shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.
    Let us pray for those living the death and resurrection of Christ and that where He calls all of us His people from all nations will follow. People of faith have led in breakthroughs in tropical diseases not through coincidence.

    I agree. No room for fatalism. The virus is cunning but God had given us the knowledge to defeat it by behaviour change even more than high technology. We must pray for wisdom, radical obedience and community.

    • admin

      October 22, 2014 - 7:03 am


      Thanks for your thoughtful response to Mike’s piece. Please feel free to pass this on to others who might find it helpful.


  4. Kim Kargbo

    October 23, 2014 - 10:39 am

    Excellent insights, Mike. I work in Sierra Leone and have conducted workshops and seminars for church and ministry leaders specifically regarding the Ebola crisis and the church’s response to it. There is a resource available on our website that was designed specifically for this purpose. It is an interactive lesson on a Biblical Response to the Ebola crisis. Please feel free to read through it, and pass it on to your colleagues in Liberia or other Ebola-affected areas. http://www.WomenofHopeInternational.org/ebola-resources