Ebola In Church: A Reverend's Quarantine Spreads The Word : Goats and Soda There's one place in Monrovia where people continue to gather together despite the threat of Ebola: Sunday church service. One reverend knows firsthand how the smallest mistake can be deadly.
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Ebola In Church: A Reverend's Quarantine Spreads The Word

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Ebola In Church: A Reverend's Quarantine Spreads The Word

Ebola In Church: A Reverend's Quarantine Spreads The Word

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now, we just heard about the politics of Ebola. Let's talk about a few facts. Relatively positive news out of Dallas - more than 40 people have been deemed free of the disease. These are people who were in contact with Thomas Eric Duncan, the patient who died from Ebola last month. Now they're considered in the clear, and they've been taken off a 21-day quarantine list. More people are expected to be cleared today. In Duncan's home country, Liberia, the struggle to stop the outbreak continues. And one effort is being led by churches. NPR's Jon Hamilton reports from Monrovia on a pastor who's using personal experience.

JON HAMILTON, BYLINE: For the past three Sundays, the Reverend Dr. Herman Browne has been away from the pulpit at Trinity Cathedral. Now he's back and ready to give his testimony about what happened. He says it began when his wife, Trokon, went to see a close friend.

(SOUNDBITE OF SERMON)

REVEREND HERMAN BROWNE: The friend that she went to visit broke down, fell on the floor and started to cry. Some illness had returned to her, and she was explaining it to Trokon.

HAMILTON: Trokon knew these were warning signs, but she fed the woman and embraced her anyway.

H. BROWNE: I just said that was a crazy thing to do because the lady was vomiting and had diarrhea.

HAMILTON: Two days later, the Brownes learned that the friend had Ebola. One reason Ebola continues to spread in Liberia is that people who know they've been exposed often keep it a secret until they are desperately ill and highly contagious. They fear the embarrassment, the stigma and the prospect of losing their income. But the Brownes went public.

H. BROWNE: I left work immediately, wrapped up everything, called the treasurer (unintelligible). I called the bishop. I called my colleagues.

HAMILTON: At this point, Browne is well into the second hour of a service held in stifling heat. In the pews, people are fanning themselves with church programs. But they are hanging on every word as the reverend describes what his family did next.

H. BROWNE: Well, we ourselves, in the house, were quarantining ourselves for three weeks.

HAMILTON: Even their children were not allowed to come upstairs until the couple knew they did not have Ebola.

H. BROWNE: Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

HAMILTON: When the service is over, Browne and his wife talk with us in his office. He says he told his story hoping that his congregation would learn a powerful lesson.

H. BROWNE: Once you slip mentally, in terms of being aware and cautious, the smallest slip could cause you grave, you know, harm.

HAMILTON: That's a message Liberians have heard repeatedly from the government. But many people here say they don't trust a government they consider corrupt. So messages may have more of an impact when they come from a spiritual leader. Trokon Browne says her husband began telling his congregation about Ebola long before it affected him directly. And she says it's clear they are proud of her family's decision to go public.

TROKON BROWNE: They are proud to see us taking a step, a bold step, yeah, and not to live in denial.

HAMILTON: In this church, the word about Ebola has been received. People sanitize their hands before entering the cathedral. A priest delivers communion wafers with tweezers. Today's program tells the congregation do not hide sick persons. But Trokon Browne says those are easy steps. What's harder, she says, is to keep a safe distance when a friend or family member is sick.

T. BROWNE: You give them all your attention. We feed you. We clothe you. I cannot see my husband. I don't touch him. Or I cannot see my child sick. Ebola may as well kill us. So it's still very hard. Trust me, it's still very hard.

HAMILTON: Reverend Browne says it's also hard to accept the way Ebola appears to punish those who are trying to follow Christian teachings. He says some in his congregation consider the disease demonic.

H. BROWNE: Those who don't care and those who don't want to give their care or express their care to people are those who survive. Those who actually care are those who die. At the heart of it, for some of us with religious eyes, at the heart of it is anti-care, anti-love message. And that can be very draining, I think.

HAMILTON: This time, the message is less harsh. Browne's wife wasn't infected, and her sick friend was one of the lucky ones who survived the Ebola. Jon Hamilton, NPR News, Monrovia, Liberia.

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