This post is by Jonathan Storment. You can follow him @Stormented.
“I’m sorry I’ve got to take this call, it’s Kent Brantly.”
This is what my friend Randy Harris said, right before excusing himself from our living room, to step outside, leaving my wife and me stunned that the person that everyone in the world was trying to get a hold of was calling my friend from his Ebola quarantined room in Emory Hospital.
If you’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks, you might not know that Dr. Brantly is a doctor whose family partnered with Samaritan’s Purse as a family doctor in Liberia, a doctor whose service you probably would have never heard about if he hadn’t made world news by contracting the dreaded Ebola virus and then by being the first person with the disease to be on U.S. soil.
Maybe for you this news has been scary, and I certainly understand that, but for me it has done nothing but make my heart swell with the best kind of pride. Because, though I don’t know Kent, I know a lot of his family, and we’re from the same small tribe of Christianity. In fact, Kent and I both graduated from Abilene Christian University, and throughout college, Kent attended the church where I currently serve.
One of my best friends, and spiritual director, is a guy named Randy Harris (he’s the friend Kent called last week). Randy recently told me about preaching at the church in Fort Worth that Kent and his family attended before leaving for Liberia. Randy had been scheduled to preach there for months, but on that Sunday the news had just broken that an American doctor had contracted Ebola. Randy didn’t have any idea how to preach to a church who had just learned this devastating news.
Since Randy had known Kent for years, he called him on that Sunday morning to ask him if there is something he’d like to share with the church family that he’d been a part of for the past few years.
Without missing a beat, Dr. Brantly told Randy to ask his home church to “pray for Nancy” (another American doctor volunteering with his Ebola unit).
At this point, Randy wasn’t going to preach the travelling sermon that he’d brought with him, so he asked Kent if there a word that he had for his church family that morning. What Kent then said, I’ll never forget.
He told Randy that since he’d learned about having this deadly disease he’d been thinking a lot about the three Hebrew boys standing before the king of Babylon and his demands to worship idols or face the fiery furnace. He’d been thinking about how they had actually had an option to opt for safety and security and instead of taking it they told the King “We know our God is able to save us from this fiery furnace…. But even if He does not…”
Who says that kind of thing in that moment?
I get upset when I travel to other countries that don’t have good air conditioning in my hotel room, but when I heard that story I was deeply moved. Because I knew that the world had stumbled onto what Church has called for two thousand years “a disciple.”
Preachers have often reminded us that the Gospel literally means “good news” but for the first time in a while that was more than just a translation. In a world that sorely needed a breath, a glimpse of hope, we finally got some good news.
In a time when war is breaking out everywhere, when racism and privilege is tearing our culture apart, and everyone seems to be fighting for their own corner of the universe, Kent Brantly didn’t.
Since this story broke, we’ve had news reporters from the DFW area drive to our church building to ask us to talk, the family has had news vans parked outside their home, and quiet little Abilene has tried to protect this family and their whereabouts as much as possible.
Over the past few weeks, every time reporters have asked me about Kent, I’ve repeatedly told them “that’s not my story to tell” because I’m not interested in telling the world just how much I hated what Anne Coulter said. But the reason I want to talk about it here, is because I think this is a good word for pastors, and a good way to re-look at our churches and why we do what we do.
When Kent went to Highland (the church I serve) he was a part of something called the neighborhood walkers, a ministry where college students walked around the neighborhoods that surround our building. Each week they simply asked the people who lived in the neighborhood if and how they could pray for them. Since our church is situated in a lower socio-economic area of town, it was a ministry that helped a lot of students become aware of their own privilege and helped to foster relationships with people they probably wouldn’t have come into contact with on their own in their private liberal arts college experience.
Kent sat under the preaching of Mike Cope, one of the best preachers I know, who talks more than any preacher I know about the call of God to bear in the suffering of the world. Kent went to classes taught by biology and chemistry professors who were also under the assumption that their jobs were ministry as well.
That was all before Ebola.
And now when things looked the worst for Kent Brantly, the world looked on the most. And as he was facing his own mortality, this husband and father of two, found out that there was an experimental serum that was being flown in to treat him and Nancy. But, as if it were a plot twist in a movie, once the medicine got there, they discovered that there was only enough for one person.
And Kent offered it to Nancy.
I don’t know what that piece of the story did to you, but I can tell you when I heard that, it made my heart both break and swell at the same time. In a world where everyone is fighting to get theirs, here’s a guy who wasn’t, and everyone in the world was paying attention.
As soon as I heard the story of that decision, I had an immediate thought. I know that was a hard decision to make, to not take the medicine so that someone else could have it, but I’m pretty sure I knew how long it took him to make it.
You don’t make that kind of decision without years and years of practice, without years of watching the brothers and sisters around you make sacrifices, and without having the story of Jesus capture your imagination.
That’s why I believe so much in the local church, because every now and then a disciple breaks out, and a disciple still can capture the world’s imagination.
God can use our ministry to help the world get a glimpse into the heart of Jesus. He can use our ministry to help heal a hurting world.
But even if He does not…