On March 30, moviegoers across the country will encounter Facing Darkness, a documentary chronicling the emotional life-and-death struggle of Samaritan’s Purse relief workers stationed in Liberia who encountered and contracted the deadly Ebola virus. When the workers were diagnosed and quarantined in 2014, the nation’s attention followed the digression and surprising recovery of Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol.
In one moment, referenced by the film’s title, Dr. Brantley had only hours to live, as the disease had completely ravaged his body. As the organization and the nation prayed, Franklin Graham, founder and CEO of Samaritan’s Purse, saw what he said was spiritual darkness taking over. In this exclusive interview, Graham talks about the documentary and the powerful story behind it as well as a personal update on his father, Billy.
The documentary is so emotional. I’m not even a part of it so I can’t imagine how it is for those who were involved in it. At what point did you all start thinking that this is how you want to tell this story?
We certainly weren’t thinking about it during this crisis. It was months later after. When you get through something like this, at some point, you begin to reflect and look back over your shoulder and realize and see what God has done. We just saw that God has worked an incredible miracle here and He has saved the lives of Dr. Brantley and Nancy Riebold and we want to tell the story that it wasn’t just them, it was the team on the ground in Liberia. It was the team on the ground here in North Carolina. When Dr. Brantley became sick all of a sudden, the world was not listening to Ebola. This wasn’t really a news story until he got sick. Then, all of a sudden, the news media began to wake up, the president, the Congress, everybody began to listen. Dr. Brantley, it’s an incredible story of how God saved his life and how God got him back to the United States and we just wanted to tell it. The movie’s called Facing Darkness. It’s going to be out this March 30 for one night. I hope God will use this film to raise up another generation of missionaries. I remember when Nate Saint was killed down by the Auca Indians down in Ecuador and the book that was written about that, Through the Gates of Splendor. God used that book to touch the lives of hundreds to go to the mission field and I’m hoping that maybe Facing Darkness will be similar, that God will use this to motivate men and women to say, ‘Lord, here I am. Take my life. Use it. Spend it. I want my life to count for something.’ That’s what I’m hoping, that God will use this to speak to another generation.
The movie really highlights the bravery of your workers. As president of Samaritan’s Purse, how does that make you feel? It has to be so impactful that these are the kind of people you have on your team.
You know, an organization is only as good as the people who work in it. Samaritan’s Purse has an incredible team of people who are focused and professional but at the same time are committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Wherever we go in the world, we want to take the gospel. We want men and women to know that Jesus Christ took our sins. He died on a cross for our sins and God raised Him to life and that He came to come anybody that’s willing to invite Him. We want the world to know that. I’m just so proud of the doctors and nurses that we have working around the world. We now have a trauma hospital in Northern Iraq right outside of Mosul. This trauma hospital is where people are being shot and they come by ambulance and we’re the only hospital there. It’s an incredible team of young doctors and nurses. We got 80 of them over there and we work 24/7. The fighting goes on 24/7. We get ambulances in the middle of the night, early in the morning, all day long. We have to have a team of people right there to bind up their wounds, to dig the bullets out of them, suture them back up and get them on their way. It’s an incredible team of people, I’m so proud of them. And Facing Darkness, it highlights these incredible people. And we want to put a spotlight on them because we want the world to see what God can do through any life that says yes to Jesus.
That night, late in the afternoon, it was four o’clock in the afternoon, it was eight o’clock in Liberia, Dr. Brantley started to die. And he told the doctors and the nurses there, ‘I’m not going to make it through the night. I have no more reserve. I have no more strength. I can’t do this any longer.’ Our team here notified me, ‘Dr. Brantley won’t make it through the night.’ And I remember sitting in my office. I have kind of a vaulted ceiling, and I noticed a darkness in the room. That darkness slowly began to creep down the wall. I wasn’t afraid, but I knew that something was going on that was bigger than me. I just got on the floor and prayed, ‘Lord, this isn’t too hard for you to do. If you want to save Dr. Brantley’s life or take him home. But Father, if you save Dr. Brantley’s life, I pray that he’ll be a testimony and that You’ll use his life to speak to the hearts and lives of many people around the world.’ And it wasn’t just my prayer, but people were praying in our office in small groups, people were praying in Liberia, people were praying in Texas, around the world, people were praying for Dr. Brantley. At four o’clock that afternoon, he started to die and I saw this shadow. I thought to myself, ‘This fog, I wonder if this is what David spoke about in the 23rd Psalm, ‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…’ He didn’t say I walked through death. It’s the shadow. And I thought to myself, ‘I wonder if I’m seeing the shadow of death coming.’ It was dark that day, dark in Boone (North Carolina), they said it was dark in Liberia. People commented that there was a darkness that people felt. The ocean was black that day, dark that day. I just believe there was a spiritual element at work. I believe God was coming to save Dr. Brantley from death and He did. That evening, they gave him a bag of an experimental serum. It had never been used on a human being. We were told by the NIH, the National Institute of Health, that it might help. It had shown some promise in primates but it had never been used in a human being. We put that bag in and as soon as he put that bag in his arm, he went into convulsions. They just kept monitoring him and after about 30 minutes, those convulsions subsided. He got up out of bed and he went to the bathroom. He hadn’t been out of bed in three days. It was like God showed up. We’ve got some incredible video, some incredible footage that was taken during this time. We want people to see what God can do. We were facing darkness. It wasn’t just dark at night but it was a spiritual darkness that was taking place. It was a battle for the life of Dr. Brantley and God saved his life.
Every once in a while, we’ll get reports about your father, Billy, how he’s doing, so I thought I might ask you how he’s doing now.
Well, I try to go see him every Sunday. He’s doing okay. He’s 98. He really can’t see anymore. Can’t hear very well. He doesn’t speak much anymore. He’s gotten very quiet. Every now and then, we’ll get a little bit out of him. But his mind is still good. He just doesn’t have..you know, he’s 98 and he’s actually in his 99th year or so. He’s just running out of energy.
For more on the film and to buy tickets, visit the movie website.