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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Showing posts with label missionaries. Show all posts
Showing posts with label missionaries. Show all posts

Friday, October 24, 2014

God Outwits Ann Coulter on Ebola

At the beginning of August, the news of American missionary doctor Kent Brantly's contraction of Ebola made the headlines across the country. Some people who were incredulous that a healthy American doctor would risk his life to serve others in a foreign country. Others, like commentator Ann Coulter seemed indignant. Coulter opened her August 6 column with the following:
I wonder how the Ebola doctor feels now that his humanitarian trip has cost a Christian charity much more than any services he rendered.

What was the point?

Whatever good Dr. Kent Brantly did in Liberia has now been overwhelmed by the more than $2 million already paid by the Christian charities Samaritan's Purse and SIM USA just to fly him and his nurse home in separate Gulfstream jets, specially equipped with medical tents, and to care for them at one of America's premier hospitals.1

As I had previously responded, Coulter's article devalued human life by weighing the price tag of Brantly's treatment against the human suffering he was alleviating treating Liberians with the disease.2 I had noted that putting oneself at risk for the sake of others has always been a part of the Christian tradition.

I also wrote that Coulter also errs by taking a utilitarian approach to Christian missionary efforts. I wrote, "If God is in control, then we have faith that He may work it out for His good." Little did I realize how quickly this would be proven, for just today CNN reported that Nina Pham, the Dallas nurse who contracted Ebola while treating Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola in the United States was free of the disease. CNN reported that Pham "thanked Dr. Kent Brantly, the American physician who also survived Ebola, for donating his plasma to her while she was sick."3 As ABC News notes, "Antibodies in the blood of a survivor may help a patient fight off the germ."4

Interestingly, Brantly himself received plasma from one of the very patients he was treating in Liberia. A 14-year-old boy under Brantly's care had recovered from the disease and donated plasma to Brantly.5

However, that wasn't the only treatment Brantly received. He was also given an experimental drug named Zmapp, which also contains Ebola antibodies. However, that wasn't an option for Pham, as “Its maker says supplies are now exhausted,” according to the ABC report.6

So, just before a Liberian traveler to the US contracted Ebola and spread it to Pham in this country, a US doctor who treated and helped a young boy recover from Ebola contracted the disease himself, was given an experimental drug rich in antibodies before supplies ran out, was flown back to the very same state at considerable expense, and ultimately overcame the disease. He was then able to donate his plasma to those like Pham who contracted the disease through a completely different contact point. And because his recovery was such a short time ago, Brantly's plasma was still rich with the antibodies that could help fight the virus.

My answer to those like Coulter who asked "What was the point?" would be "Perhaps God had a bit more knowledge and foresight in this whole situation." Brantly's plasma has helped save American lives. And that only happened because Brantly was faithful to his calling to serve the suffering people of Liberia. I had written before that "for Christians, pragmatism is not the primary model for action: obedience is. It is not to us to merely count the number of people we may touch, but to trust God and follow His will for our lives."7 God's ways are indeed higher than our own, but it sure is cool seeing how He works it all out to His glory.


1. Coulter, Ann. "Ebola Doc's Condition Downgraded to 'Idiotic'." AnnCoulter.Com. 6 August, 2014. Online.
2. Esposito, Lenny. " Ann Coulter is Wrong-People are More than Numbers." Come Reason's Apologetics Notes. Come Reason Ministries, 11 Aug. 2014. Web. 24 Oct. 2014.
3. Martinez, Michael, Michael Martinez, and Jason Hanna. "What Will Nurse Do after Beating Ebola? Hug Her Dog, of Course." CNN. Cable News Network, 24 Oct. 2014. Web. 24 Oct. 2014.
4. Marilynn Marchione Ap Chief Medical Writer. "How Plasma Transfusions, Antibodies Fight Ebola." ABC News. ABC News Network, 14 Oct. 2014. Web. 24 Oct. 2014.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid.
7. Esposito, Ibid.
Image courtesy Samaritan's Purse.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Ann Coulter is Wrong-People are More than Numbers

I finally had the chance to read the column Ann Coulter wrote about Kent Brantly, the African Missionary doctor who contracted the deadly Ebola virus while treating others in Liberia. Entitled "Ebola Doc's Condition Downgraded to 'Idiotic'," Coulter's piece is not only confused, but also mean-spirited. However, I want to use Coulter's disparagement of Christian missionary efforts as an opportunity for Christians to learn something: how judging Christian efforts by worldly standards is mistaken. Coulter thinks her reprimand is clever, but she fails to recognize the value of human life and discounts the power of God.

Devaluing Human Life

Coulter's article, aside from the emotionally poisonous words, tries to make the argument that Christian missions should be approached from a utilitarian perspective. She complains about how the cost of treating the now infected doctor and his nurse "has cost a Christian charity much more than any services he rendered" and then asks "why do we have to deal with this at all?"1 The answer is simple and something that is largely forgotten in this day and age: Christianity values human dignity. Because humans are made in the image of God, Christianity has always taught that alleviating suffering at cost to oneself is a noble and worthwhile pursuit in and of itself. In Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan, it is an enemy of Israel that provides comfort and healing to the victim on the street. The Samaritan even pays the poor man's caretaker's bill and tells the innkeeper "whatever more you spend, I will repay you."2

Throughout the history of Christianity, Christians have sought to model their Master's words. The Romans thought Christians were crazy for picking up indigent children who had been abandoned on the Tiber. In an agrarian society, a healthy child is an asset, another hand to help work the farm. An indigent child is a liability. It means another mouth to feed and more overall suffering in times of drought or famine, not to mention the additional work. However, Christians recognized the image of God that was reflected in each life and could not do otherwise than serve them.3 As I've previously written, missionaries such as Father Damien purposely risked themselves to serve in a leper colony, with death as a result.

Coulter has seemingly bought into the concept that human suffering can be somehow quantified into dollars and cents. By advancing such an idea, Coulter herself demonstrates how cheaply our society's view on human life really is. While her facts are a confused (when Brantly went to Liberia, it was not yet a country infected; It was only after he was stationed there that the outbreak began and he chose to stay and treat the victims), she still wants to measure the alleviation of human suffering by cost. That cannot be done. Christian missionaries demonstrate how invaluable human life is in such selfless acts. If suffering becomes only a bottom-line game, then we've lost our humanity altogether.

Underestimating the Power of God

The other major error Coulter makes in taking a utilitarian approach to missionary efforts is she simply doesn't understand how God works. In her article, she accuses missionaries of being "tired of fighting the culture war in the U.S... So they slink off to Third World countries, away from American culture to do good works, forgetting that the first rule of life on a riverbank is that any good that one attempts downstream is quickly overtaken by what happens upstream. "I don't know how Coulter can read the minds of so many Christian missionaries to ascribe such motives, but she feels that it is more prudent to be missionaries here in America. She writes:
If Dr. Brantly had practiced at Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles and turned one single Hollywood power-broker to Christ, he would have done more good for the entire world than anything he could accomplish in a century spent in Liberia. Ebola kills only the body; the virus of spiritual bankruptcy and moral decadence spread by so many Hollywood movies infects the world.

If he had provided health care for the uninsured editors, writers, videographers and pundits in Gotham and managed to open one set of eyes, he would have done more good than marinating himself in medieval diseases of the Third World. 
Here, Coulter completely ignores 1 Corinthians 12:14 that the body of Christ has many members and each is called to a different role. Paul instructs the church "The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you,' nor again the head to the feet, 'I have no need of you.' On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable."4

My calling is apologetics. It involves interacting with people, discussing ideas, and possibly changing minds, which Coulter sees as essential. But that doesn't mean all should be so called. Brantly had always felt the call to Africa, even as a kid according to his mother.5 He did the thing that God had laid up on his heart, and that is the more important thing. Mother Theresa did likewise.

If God is in control, then we have faith that He may work it out for His good. And, while it may be that Brantly could make a movie mogul like Christians a bit more by providing him with medical services in New York, it is also possible that by contracting Ebola movie studios would be interested in making a movie of Brantly's life and heroism. It may even be possible that such a move would have a greater effect on the population of the country than Coulter assumes her path would take. It isn't like Chariots of Fire, Lilies of the Field, and even Molokai don't show such a result.

For Christians, pragmatism is not the primary model for action: obedience is. It is not to us to merely count the number of people we may touch, but to trust God and follow His will for our lives. That doesn't mean we don't take any kind of results into account, but it does mean that ministry efforts cannot be reduced to numbers.

I know Coulter is politically and not spiritually motivated. But even in this area, it has been proven that Christian missionaries are THE factor responsible for stable democracies forming across the African nation. Perhaps Coulter should look at the history of Christian missionary efforts a bit more carefully before she lambasts it so. People are not numbers; by her criticism, Coulter is in danger of becoming the very thing she says she stands against.


1. Coulter, Ann. "Ebola Doc's Condition Downgraded to 'Idiotic'." AnnCoulter.Com. 6 August, 2014. Online. "
2. Luke 10:25-37. English Standard Version. Crossway. Accessed online.
3. See my article "How will children be valued if Christianity is lost?" for several supporting cases.
4. 1 Corinthians 12:21-23. English Standard Version. Crossway. Accessed online.
5. Associated Press. "Mother: Doctor with Ebola sought to be missionary." LIN Television Corporation. 28 July, 2014. Online.
Photo courtesy Kyle Cassidy and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

What Christianity Has Always Done

Why would a 33 year old man travel thousands of miles from his home to an isolated country, just so he could provide relief and medical care for those with an incurable disease? Why would this man risk such close proximity to those that basically carry a death sentence? How does he feel when he discovers he is infected with it himself? The man has told us. He said, "I am very satisfied and very happy."

Currently, the world is closely watching reports on Dr. Kent Brantly who, after studying for years in college, medical school and four years of residency, took a position with the Christian missionary organization Samaritan's Purse to provide medical services for the poor people of the African nation of Liberia. Brantly began is missionary efforts last year and when the deadly Ebola outbreak occurred there he chose to stay and provide treatment and comfort to those in need. Last week it was reported that the doctor had contracted the disease, which has no known cure and proves a 90% fatality rate.1

But Brantly isn't the man I'm speaking of.  I want to tell you the story of Joseph De Veuster, better known as Father Damien. Like Brantly, Father Damien left his comfortable home at the age of 33. Instead of Africa, he was sent to the Hawaiian Island of Molokai, where a quarantined camp for lepers (now defined as Hansen's disease) was located. Because of its isolation, victims of the disease where simply shipped there to die.  According to one web site, "The area was void of all amenities. No buildings, shelters nor potable water were available. The first arrivals dwelled in rock enclosures, caves, and in the most rudimentary shacks, built of sticks and dried leaves."2

Father Damien changed that. He felt called to share the saving message of Jesus Christ with the lepers, but he also put his faith into practice. An 1889 New York Times article states that Father Damien had "always expected that he should sooner or later become a leper… it was not likely that he would escape, as he was constantly living in a polluted atmosphere, dressing the sufferers' sores, washing their bodies, visiting their deathbeds, and even digging their graves."3

Father Damien even had the opportunity to leave the island, when his superiors wrote that he may leave "as your devotion dictates." It is said that when Damien received the letter "he was overjoyed; he had permission to stay where he was and where he longed with all his heart to be with the people he loved."4

Even though Father Damien died in 1889, people like Kent Brantly continue in the same spirit and with the same motivation. Brantly is following in a long line of individuals who've put others above self in order to obey the command of Jesus. This is what Christianity has always done. Sometimes, it means risking one's health to serve others. Sometimes it means taking an unpopular stand. But recognizing that all people are made in the image of God and therefore have dignity and worth, and should be treated that way, is fundamental to the Christian faith.

Books that disparage religion such as "God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything" don't talk about the Father Damiens or the Kent Brantlys of the world.  But the evangelization efforts of Christianity cannot be separated from its efforts to alleviate suffering; both are simply people taking the commands of their Lord seriously. I don't believe that religion poisoned those banished to Molokai, nor did it increase the suffering of those Ebola patients. In fact, it proved to do just the opposite.


1 The Associated Press. "American doctor in Africa tests positive for Ebola." Fort Worth Star-Telegram. 27 July 2014. Web.
2. "The Lepers of Molokai." The New York Times. 26 May 1889. Accessed online.
3. "Brief Biography of St. Damien of Molokai." St. Damien Catholic Church. 21 Dec 2011. Web.
4. Ibid.
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