Bringing hope through text messaging
A mother’s heart was breaking. Her son had just died and she wasn’t even allowed to bury him properly. The Ebola crisis in West Africa made it necessary for government burial teams to perform the sacred task of laying a body to rest, even if the virus did not cause the death.
But in the midst of Rev. Elizabeth Kamara’s grief, the cell phone chimed and she received a message, “All is not lost, God is with you, be strong and courageous.”
When she read the message from Sierra Leon Bishop John Yambasu, it was just the comfort she needed. “She came here and told me, ‘Bishop thank you so much. When I got that text message it so much enlightened me. It brought hope to me,’” recalls Yambasu.
Since August 2014, daily text messages have been sent to nearly 700 United Methodist pastors and lay leaders in the Ebola affected countries of Sierra Leone and Liberia. Originating from Nashville, Tennessee, the missives are a collaboration between Yambasu and Bishop John Innis and United Methodist Communications. Through the agency’s Information and Communications Technology for Development ministry (ICT4D), messages give encouragement and practical advice for combatting the Ebola epidemic.
Messages like, “Ebola is real. It kills with little warning. Please adhere to health messages to safeguard your family. Let us be in prayer. God is with us. – Bishop John Innis.”
The Rev. Sylvester Holima was in the thick of the Ebola crisis when he received his first message from from Yambasu, “I was so happy I called my wife and said ‘This is what the bishop has just sent for us!”
Early in the program, Christian organization World Vision also asked that their West African pastors be included in the program. In the midst of overwhelming circumstances, some of the messages were passed to the organization’s Safe and Dignified Burial Teams which are tasked with helping the government in laying bodies to rest.
In addition to the texts, United Methodist Communications provided pastors with solar powered radios that also served as cell phone chargers, thus ensuring that message delivery was uninterrupted. Holima says the texts have been especially encouraging to his colleagues in rural areas, “It comforts them, try to show that somebody cares for you. So, anytime you receive it, it makes you feel good and kind of gives you more strength; that you should keep on going.”
In February, the Sierra Leone Annual Conference received training and equipment to continue the program. Today, the conference composes and sends all the messages on behalf of Yambasu. The Liberian Annual Conference hopes to do the same later this year. United Methodist Communications’ ICT4D Director, The Rev. Neelley Hicks says, “This is such a simple gesture that I hope will continue well beyond the Ebola crisis. Our pastors, especially, need continued encouragement as the church moves toward recovery and healing after such a devastating public health emergency.”