08/07/14 — Local missionaries put hold on trips to West Africa region

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Local missionaries put hold on trips to West Africa region

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on August 7, 2014 1:46 PM

Wayne County residents who volunteer with local church mission groups could easily find themselves in the midst of the same kind of danger faced by the missionaries in West Africa.

But local groups say there are precautions taken when they send church members overseas.

Volunteers with the United Methodist Church Conference Missions Team are often out in the field overseas. The 3MC warehouse in Goldsboro is part of this group.

Before planning a trip, the organization makes sure there is not a potentially dangerous situation brewing, said Bill Haddock, a member of the Conference Missions Team of the United Methodist Volunteers in Mission group.

But there is a risk that volunteers take when they answer the calling of doing good works and sharing their faith, he added. And all of those who do this kind of work answer that calling gladly.

But for now, West Africa is off limits, Haddock said.

"Local, national and international teams are constantly going out," he said. "We did have a team that went to Liberia a couple of months ago. I was on that team. And another church has a relationship with the hospital in Sierra Leone. But we've been advised not to send teams until the country can get a better handle on the Ebola virus."

Haddock said the Methodist mission teams take any Center for Disease Control travel warnings very seriously.

"It's not just a medical thing," he said. "It can be other things as well. I went to Nigeria a few years ago in the midst of trouble -- hand-to-hand fighting -- between the Christians and Boko Haram, whose name means Western education is a sin. But we had to postpone the trip a couple of months because the day we were going to go, our host over there advised us not to come."

Because of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, Methodist mission teams have been advised by hosts in those countries not to send teams right now.

"But we are still sending supplies and money to help with sanitation and other things like that," Haddock said.

He said the Methodist conference has been working with different foundations with the malaria eradication campaign.

"We are trying to use the good will built up in that to help us make inroads," Haddock said. "But there are still a lot of people in those countries denying that Ebola is a problem and a lot of people are not taking precautions against the virus, and that's one reason it's spreading."

Haddock said living conditions in West African are very different than they are here, and that's helping the virus spread quickly.

"People who go there know the risks and there are ways to take precautions, like inoculations," he said. "They are also told not to drink the water in those environments because of the different diseases that are in the water.

"Sanitation in general in West Africa is very poor. It's just not what we would expect. A lot of people over there use the bathroom outdoors near the rivers and things like that. We are told to be aware of our surroundings and take precautions if we can against airborne viruses and other diseases."

A small local ministry that sends teams overseas is Blessed2BlessU Ministries. Pastor Doug Johnson is in charge of that group.

He said there are currently no teams in West Africa and none from his group have ever been there.

"We feel like the Lord sends some type of sign for a team to go here or go there, then we pray about it and it all comes together," Johnson said.

"Tanzania is our focus right now. When we send a team, we decide a date and that decision is based on our host and what their schedule is. As that date draws near, we look at the state department's website where warnings are posted to see if there are any. If there are any, we would talk to our host and get their advice to see if it's safe in the areas where we will travel. We take it very seriously."

And if they are mid-mission and something goes wrong, the church puts the well-being of its mission team first.

"If a team is in a country, the minute we found out there are problems, we would make the proper arrangements to take care of everybody on that team," Johnson said.