Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma called for a three-day lockdown in the country as an effort to curb the spread of the Ebola virus. Citizens have been told to stay inside March 27 to 29 and from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on the following three Saturdays: April 4, 11, and 18.
Vidal Cole, the Nazarene district superintendent in Sierra Leone, requested prayer.
"Please keep us in your prayers," he wrote. "The entire country will go through lockdown for the next three days, beginning tomorrow. No one is permitted to go out at all except health workers."
Sierra Leone has more than 11,750 confirmed cases of Ebola, the largest number of cases in West Africa, according to the World Health Organization. The virus has killed almost 3,700 people in Sierra Leone since May 2014.
The Church of the Nazarene in Sierra Leone and neighboring Liberia, which has also been seriously affected by the Ebola crisis, hasresponded to the crisis through prevention campaigns, hygiene education, and the distribution of tap buckets and chlorine to prevent the spread of the virus.
Recently, local churches in Sierra Leone and Liberia have also taken steps to fight the stigma connected with Ebola.
Anyone who has been potentially exposed to the virus is placed in quarantine for 21 days to eliminate risk of exposing others to the disease. A person is declared Ebola-free if no symptoms present themselves within the 21 days, yet even those who have been declared healthy still face the stigma associated with Ebola.
"People do not want to relate or interact with people who have come from quarantine," Cole said. "The victims feel rejected, they feel alone."
Thousands of children have been orphaned by the disease in both Sierra Leone and Liberia, and many of them have been left to fend for themselves.
In response, churches have launched a campaign called 21 and Free to educate their communities, pray for those affected by quarantine, and communicate their love and acceptance for individuals and families affected by the stigma.
Nazarene Youth International leaders in Sierra Leone organized youth from local churches in a community-wide educational campaign connected with 21 and Free.
"In preparation for the implementation, the youths observed three days of prayer and fasting for God to grace them as they embark on the task ahead," Cole said.
The youth visited homes of quarantined families, shared educational material in markets and other public venues, and even stopped to share the anti-stigma message with police officers.
One of the NYI leaders reported, "People appreciated us so much. Mr. John, a man in one of the quarantined homes said the message and prayers we shared with them was a revival of new hope in them and that hope will take them through the 21 days of quarantine."
Isata, a local businesswomen in the market, also appreciated the group's efforts.
"This is a church with a difference, a sanctuary of hope," she said.
How to help
Nazarene Compassionate Ministries is calling on church members around the world to join the campaign's efforts and stand in solidarity with West Africa. NCM suggests these four ways to get involved:
PRAY. Quarantine lasts 21 days. Pray for those affected for 21 days. Click here for a prayer guide.
GIVE. Use your resources to support the church's efforts to respond to Ebola. Funds given to the Ebola Response Fund will go toward education programs prevention and hygiene supplies, and food and vitamins for people in affected communities.
WEAR. Make and wear a bracelet with 21 beads as a reminder to pray and as a conversation starter.
SHARE. Use your voice to fight the fear and stigma. Mobilize your church, youth group, or small group in making bracelets and praying together.
--Nazarene Compassionate Ministries