Alumni on the front lines of West Africa’s 2014 Ebola crisis
Above: Bev and Kendell Kauffeldt and their sons, Isaac (l) and Felix (r), pose for a somewhat non-traditional family photo at Samaritan’s Purse headquarters in North Carolina.
Written by Wendy Delamont Lees
Published by Trinity Western Magazine on Monday, June 15, 2015
In a crude Ebola Treatment Unit (EBU) in Foya, Liberia, aid workers dressed in yellow and white personal protection equipment move victims’ bodies to the makeshift morgue. Some workers carefully empty buckets of human waste, while others sanitize the temporary hospital rooms to prepare them for the next patient in what seems like a never-ending line.
Outside one of those rooms, TWU alumna Bev Kauffeldt (’93, ’03) prays for those affected by a devastating and lonely disease. “Serving in that environment of death and suffering meant not touching anyone,” remembers Bev, who earned her Ph.D. in Applied Science from Cranfield University in 2012. “You could only give them a cool drink, or tell them to keep fighting” anything to bring them some dignity and company.”
It’s extremely dangerous work: the Ebola virus is highly infectious, and there is no cure for the disease. When the 2014 outbreak of Ebola virus disease (evd) hit West Africa, those on the front lines-like Bev and her husband and fellow alumnus Kendell (’92)-faced what has been by far the worst outbreak since the discovery of the virus in 1976.
Humanitarian organizations from around the world, including Medecins Sans Frontieres (msf, also known as Doctors Without Borders) and Samaritan’s Purse, found themselves facing a crisis that would ultimately affect nearly 25,000 people.
A HURTING PEOPLE
A land of lush rolling plains and tropical rainforests, Liberia is a coastal country bordered by Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Cote D’Ivoire. Two bloody civil wars (from 1989 to 1996 and in 2003) have left some 85 per cent of the people of this once-prosperous nation living below the international poverty line.
In 2005, the Kauffeldts arrived in Monrovia to serve with Samaritan;s Purse to help with water and sanitation, health, child protection, adult literacy, ministry training, agricultural programs, children’s programming, and church and pastoral training. “As Christians we need to be willing to go to places of suffering,” says Bev. “Our hearts need to break with those things that break the heart of God.”
Both former Spartans basketball players, the pair met on the court at TWU, where Kendell-who followed his brother Kirk Kauffeldt (’86) to the Langley campus-also served as a Resident Assistant. Married since 1992, they are the parents of two sons, Isaac and Felix, both aged 12, whom they adopted from Haiti. “God’s timing is perfect,” Bev says. “These two are the perfect boys for us. I always tell them that God knew exactly what each one of us needed-He put us together. I can’t imagine our lives without them.”
Isaac and Felix have had the opportunity to be part of all that their parents are doing in Liberia; they’ve seen the beauty of the countryside, slept in the jungle, and flown on the Samaritan’s Purse chopper and plane. They’ve also watched Bev, Kendell, and their Samaritan’s Purse colleagues model servant leadership.
It’s an example the Kauffeldts themselves followed: Kendell’s parents served for 28 years as missionaries in Zambia, where Kendell was born, and Zimbabwe, where he was raised. In time he realized he, too, was called to serve. “The reasons to stay in Canada were things like comfort and security,” Kendell says, “which aren’t good reasons when God wants to use you.”
Little did he and Bev know at the time what that call, and their willingness to serve, would require.
THROUGH THE SHADOW OF DEATH
In the decade before the crisis, Bev and Kendell built a home and a life for themselves and their boys, while building relationships with a community still reeling from the effects of those brutal civil wars.
When Ebola hit, it brought unparalleled devastation, death, and fear. No one trusted the government. Schools closed, compounding the lack of education in the country. Farmers stopped farming, for fear that the virus would spread. Safe health services were difficult to find, since many health workers had died from either lack of preparation or because they didn’t know a patient they were caring for was infected.
In June, the Samaritan’s Purse team-joined by additional doctors and nurses, and alongside MSF-established a clinical response, creating and staffing ETUs around the country, including one at Samaritan’s Purse’s largest base in Foya, where Bev served with the hygiene team.
“All of us had moments where we thought we had Ebola, and that would send us into a downward spiral of absolute mind-numbing fear.”
The shortage of medical and support staff meant long days for aid workers, who often put in 15-hour days at the height of the crisis. It also left those workers at greater risk.
In July, when two of their Samaritan’s Purse colleagues tested positive for Ebola, Bev and Kendell-along with those colleagues and friends-found themselves at the very crux of their faith. “All of us had moments where we thought we had Ebola,” remembers Bev, “and that would send us into a downward spiral of absolute mind-numbing fear.”
“Everything around us was collapsing. Everything,” she continues. “I had a decision to make at that point: Do I really believe in God? Do I believe that He is faithful and His plan is still the best, even when our world is falling apart around us? Even if I get sick? Even in all this death? I had a decision to believe that God is still God, or that He isn’t and He had left us. He didn’t leave us. I can honestly say that, and I chose to take Him at His powerful Word. But it wasn’t easy when I didn’t know what was going to happen next.”
Due to the increasing infection rate, and to prevent other team members or their families from falling ill, Samaritan’s Purse made the difficult decision to evacuate its expatriate staff and their families-55 people in all. Part of the first group to be evacuated, Bev and the boys didn’t know where they were going to, or when they might see Kendell again. A week later, Kendell and the rest of the team were safely evacuated.
“I asked God many questions, such as Why? and When will it end?” says Kendell. “But by His grace, now I’m asking What does He want me to do in this situation? And who does He want me to help? God will redeem for His glory these days of suffering.”
A GLOBAL ISSUE
Epidemics such as sars in 2004 and h1n1 in 2009, and the spate of measles in North America earlier this year, have demonstrated that many diseases are just a plane ride away. “We can’t put our blinders on any more,” says Associate Professor of Nursing and Director of the Centre of Equity and Global Engagement, Barb Astle, Ph.D.
While the Ebola virus disease threat persists in Central and West Africa in varying degrees, the situation is being closely monitored by the World Health Organization.
“Jesus doesn’t ask us to share the Gospel and make disciples; He commands us to.”
In North America, for example, the risk of evd spreading widely is unlikely if the necessary precautions are followed. “We’ve learned a lot of lessons from past pandemics and epidemics to ensure that we mobilize the appropriate approach,” says Astle, who has taught at TWU since 2011. “Global health is the social responsibility of all, not just a few.”
Believed to have originated in animals, such as fruit bats and primates, the Ebola virus is contracted by contact with infected animals-then spread from human to human through bodily fluids. Symptoms include the sudden onset of fever, weakness, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, vomiting or diarrhea, and impaired kidney or liver function.
At its worst, the virus impairs the body’s ability to coagulate blood, which can lead to hemorrhaging from the eyes or ears, or internally. Those for whom Ebola proves fatal typically die from multi-organ failure and shock.
The former Chair for the Canadian Society for International Health, Astle also teaches current TWU nursing students about Ebola in the guest lectures she gives about global health and global citizenship. Her entire nursing career has focused on the global arena. As a nurse and nurse educator, Astle has served in Saudi Arabia, India, Nigeria, Vietnam, Ghana, and around North America. “Global health really has become a central focus and passion for my nursing career,” she says. “Since Florence Nightingale, we as nurses have been involved in caring for patients worldwide in times of great need.”
But Astle believes there needs to be a shift in how we view global health in this ever-smaller world in which we live. “We all need to mobilize and become informed in the emerging area of global health,” she says, “but exactly how we do this, in our already full curricula, is a challenge across multiple disciplines.”
There is a resurgence in students learning about globalization and global opportunities. “People will say, We want to go and help others,” she says. “I believe we also need to ask, What can we learn from such opportunities? The current thinking is that Global Health encompasses the local, national, and international contexts. Global can be right here, so how do we make the shift in thinking, for our students, that opportunities exist locally too?”
As we look back at one of the largest outbreaks of the Ebola virus disease in the world, Astle says it’s important that we “continue to identify lessons learned and envision how to plan ahead for such situations that may occur in the future.”
Thankfully, several candidate vaccines are in various trial phases, in the hope that a safe, effective vaccine will be available by the end of 2015.
ONE STEP BACK, TWO STEPS FORWARD
Already ravaged by civil war and poverty, Liberians were hardest hit by Ebola. The country suffered the highest infection rate and the highest death toll, with over 40 per cent of the 10,300 Ebola-related deaths occurring there.
By God’s grace, none of Samaritan’s Purse’s 400 staff, whether expats or Liberian nationals, succumbed to the virus-and the two who did contract it survived. “God has been faithful,” Kendell says. “As a result, many of our staff have made commitments to follow Christ through our evd work.”
The Kauffeldts have both returned to Liberia to serve short term-Bev in October 2014 and April 2015, and Kendell in March 2015-while awaiting approval from Samaritan’s Purse to return to their home in Monrovia, hopefully by June 2015.
As of February 2015, there were only four confirmed cases of Ebola in Liberia. “We’re still fighting evd but things are better,” says Kendell. “The case load has decreased, although there are new cases every week. This is when we need to work hard to get to zero.”
In addition to their humanitarian work in Liberia, Samaritan’s Purse has also been involved in several infrastructure projects-such as building a large hospital at the Eternal Love Winning Africa, or elwa, compound (on which construction will begin again soon), and the rehabilitation of three airstrips. Their programming is development-focused, designed to forge long-term relationships with communities and empower the Church to disciple and transform those communities.
With the support of grants from the US and Canadian governments, the focus has shifted from crisis response to public health education-providing protection kits, training for contact tracing, and overseeing a transit centre and community care centres. Through their work, the Samaritan’s Purse team have been able to provide Ebola educational messaging while sharing the love of Christ with over 1.5 million Liberians-about one third of the population.
Despite the daunting challenges ahead, the Kauffeldts look forward to continuing their work.
“Jesus doesn’t ask us to share the Gospel and make disciples; He commands us to,” says Bev. “It’s not an option. We have an amazing opportunity to do that with our international staff, Liberian staff, and the people of Liberia. Through this, all of us have become stronger, even with our scars. We have a resolve to never give up on what God has called us to do “even in the face of death.”
At the height of the crisis, Kendell and Dr. Plyler pray with Liberia’s Vice President.