Ebola. It seems as though the whole world is infected – and for those who live in West Africa, that isn’t far from the truth. Eventually, this wildfire will be extinguished, but not before whole countries experience agony and anxiety like we have never faced. The effects of this slow-rolling crisis will linger long beyond our news cycles or historical memory.

But as in all such moments of grave danger, we see another storyline emerge: first responders with unimaginable bravery and self-sacrifice, from both the countries where Ebola is ravaging its host, and from around the world.

NPR’s Morning Edition has been running a short series on those who throw themselves into harm’s way. Yesterday’s segment was set in an Alabama training facility for those who will soon find themselves on the front lines of this outbreak. Over and over again, they practice putting their protective gear on so that not a single pixel of their outer self is exposed. But they do it in an air-conditioned building with a floor and lights, and with a patient instructor and helpful colleagues. A western doctor experienced in the front line reality in Africa describes what they will soon all face… Three times a day, she shares, you stand in the mud and heat and try to stuff yourself into or pull yourself safely out of the suit. Three times a day, you alternate beyond fear and relief. Fear and relief. Fear and relief. Day after day after day.

One of the young nurses preparing to ship out to Liberia notes simply that she has been trained all her working life to serve those in need. That instinct can be found in so much of humanity – not just those directly motivated by faith to serve. Religion and philosophy can argue about where that instinct comes from – I prefer to simply see it for what it is.


These infectious responders – from all walks of life – can, if we let them, provide us with hope that God’s goodness still flows, that there are still traces of heaven in our blood, even as these brave souls head out to do battle with blood that can kill them, and those they love.

The firefighters of New York who rushed up the Twin Towers in 2001. The young men who rushed to recruiting stations after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The nurse who throws herself into the fray in West Africa. Or our very own Jonathan Titus-Williams and his wife, Marian, who had been on an extended work and family trip in the U.S. when Ebola began its rampage, and who fought through cancelled flights and closed borders to get back home so they, too, could serve their people.

Infectious responders – may their dedication to “the other” cause us to lean in, not turn away, from whatever “other” is in our midst. 

Photo by Michael Duff/AP