Ebola crisis leads to starvation; Texas Baptists send 570,000 meals in response


SPRINGFIELD, Missouri - Though media is flooded with news of the Ebola crisis, a calamity nearly as fatal—starvation—has risen in West African countries due to the virus. In response to this dire need, Dallas-based Texas Baptists Disaster Recovery (TBDR), in partnership with Convoy of Hope in Springfield, Missouri, shipped 250,000 meals to Monrovia, Liberia on Thursday, Oct. 9, to help bring relief to the crisis.

When the container of food, holding 44,000 pounds of prepackaged meals, arrives to Monrovia in four to six weeks, Liberian Baptist churches will distribute the supplies to rural communities and to hospitals. An additional container of the same size will be shipped within the next two weeks from Missouri to Liberia, providing a total of 570,000 meals to those in need.

Attending the shipment at Convoy of Hope headquarters on Thursday was Olu Menjay, president of the Liberia Baptist Convention, which networks with 300 Liberian Baptist churches.

Menjay pointed out the need for food is nearly as great as the need for medical attention, but that message is being overlooked. Farmers have been put out of work or passed away from Ebola. Institutions and organizations have been shut down. While unemployment is rising, food prices are escalating. While Ebola cases first surfaced in Liberia in late February, the impact nearly eight months later is debilitating to the developing country.

"I think this initiative (of TBDR sending food) is an excellent initiative that is scratching where people are itching," Menjay said.

Even the Liberian hospitals are being affected by the starvation crisis, lacking much food supply. Menjay described the hospitals as "death traps" and "makeshift," nothing like American facilities. Patients sometimes leave or avoid going to the hospital at all even when they know they could potentially carry Ebola.

In addition, patients are dying of curable diseases that have similar symptoms as the Ebola virus like malaria and diarrhea because "hospitals are rejecting folks because they might have Ebola," Menjay explained. "It takes a while to go through the test…so people end up dying even though they have a curable disease."

TBDR Director Chris Liebrum began conversing with Menjay several weeks ago about ways to help the struggling nation. He discovered the large need for food, specifically beans and rice, potentially becoming more important than the need for medical care.

"It became clear that what we can do is help the secondary crisis, by providing food, which is becoming the primary crisis for many in the area," Liebrum said. "Texas Baptists are humbled to provide aid to those in great need."

Liebrum and TBDR networked through National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (National VOAD) and soon received word that Convoy of Hope had food packets available if money could be appropriated for shipment. Funds were soon secured and food was shipped on Thursday.

Though Menjay has been in the United States for several months, he remains in close contact with friends, relatives and pastors in the Liberian convention. In talks with them, he senses fear about the crisis, but he also notices great appreciation.

He said, "People are very afraid, but the level of gratitude is very high I will say. They say, 'Thank you for what we continue to receive from where you are.'"

For initiatives like the partnerships of TBDR and the Liberian Baptist Convention, Menjay said it is a great way for the country to meet both physical and spiritual needs.

"The crisis is huge, and the needs are huge," he explained. "I think this initiative is helping us reaching the grass root people in a real way because we're using our churches. This partnership is putting hands and feet to what God has called us to. Texas Baptists is stepping to the level to provide a greater witness for Jesus Christ there in Liberia in partnership with our convention. I think that's important."

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