Come, Let Me Die with You (2)

Photo by Michael G. Seamans  Sierra Leone military personnel and government healthcare workers begin a sweep in the village of Ndogboie in the Nimiyama Chiefdom in eastern Kono District on Sunday, Dec. 14, 2014.

Photo by Michael G. Seamans
Sierra Leone military personnel and government healthcare workers begin a sweep in the village of Ndogboie in the Nimiyama Chiefdom in eastern Kono District on Sunday, Dec. 14, 2014.

Ebola came to Sierra Leone over the Guinea border after someone contracted it, likely from eating an infected bat, in December 2013.  By early June 2014, the government had declared a state of emergency and restricted travel.  In July there were 300 cases confirmed and 99 deaths from ebola.  By early September that number had risen to 1100 cases confirmed.  Some estimated that if the outbreak wasn’t contained, up to 5 million people in Sierra Leone (population 6+ million) and Liberia (population 4+ million) might die.  

When I visited Kono District in April, my student Tamba told me that there was so much fear during this time that people abandoned their homes and headed into the bush to hide out.  My Krio teacher was here during that time and told me that in Freetown they had a citywide curfew of 6 pm to try to contain it.  Another pastor told me that he once visited the home next-door to where someone had died of Ebola while he was planting a church.  He told the story in a hushed tone as though reliving the fear of it still moved him.  Ebola effected everybody.

***************

So fast-forward four years to my classroom in Freetown talking about Christian Perfection.  I had just written down the list of words to describe perfect love for my students to see.  And I was asking for examples of people they knew who exhibited perfect love.  The students began to study that list as we were processing the teaching.  And Tamba raised his hand.  He said, “That word, risk-taking, that makes me think of a nurse I knew in my home town in Kono.”  

It was during the ebola outbreak.  The fear in the air was palpable.  Everybody avoided one another as much as possible for fear of contracting the disease.  

There was a woman in Tamba’s village who was pregnant with triplets.  Three babies.  Out in Kono, medical facilities are few and far between.  I’ve learned recently that there isn’t any designated pediatric care in the whole district.  

The time was coming for her to deliver.  But ebola spreads through bodily fluids.  The birth of three babies was sure to be bloody and messy.  And who was to know if she was infected in the early stages of Ebola?  There was no telling.  

So as the time came, there was no medical person willing to help her deliver.  No doctor.  No nurse.  No midwife. They were all too afraid.  They all knew they would be risking everything to help deliver those babies.  Better to let the mother risk it than put yourself in harm’s way.  What good would it be if you perished with a woman and children who were going to die anyway?  Especially when medical professionals are scarce just when they are needed the most.

Giving birth is already a very risky endeavor here.  Mother and child die for what would be routine complications at home in the US.  To give birth to three children with no assistance of any kind was pretty much a death sentence to all four of them.  Things were pretty desperate.

As time drew nearer to delivery and there was still nobody to help, one woman, a nurse, stepped forward.  She decided that the human need, the dignity of this woman and her babies was greater than the consequences.

She said, “Come, let me die with you.”

And this was her expectation.  That by stepping forward she, and maybe the mother and all three babies would die.  But still she stepped forward.

This.  This is perfect love.  To give your life because you can’t stand the idea of an abandoned woman delivering alone.  Even if those babies die.  Even if the mother dies.  Even if the nurse dies. She showed up to walk her through this the most holy and human of endeavors.  It wasn’t about the outcome.  It was about the act of being there to hold her and guide her and love her.  That was more important.

What kind of integrity must this take?  What kind of courage?  What kind of love?  There is only one kind this great.  It is perfect love, given by the strength and grace of a God who is the author of love itself.

I heard this story, and I needed to know her name.  I needed to know the name of the woman who loved so perfectly.  

Finda Gbembo.  

A saint among us.  

Today, Finda lives.  She survived the delivery.  The mother of those three babies?  She lives to.  And every single baby survived.  No hospital.  No emergency contingency.  No sterile, clean bed.  In the middle of an ebola epidemic.  Miracle on top of miracle.  

Life is worth the living.  Life is worth dying for.  This is perfect love.

Katie Meek