Watching the news this week I was struck by a story that deeply challenged me, and encouraged me. There’s so much horrific stuff going on but amidst the cess-pit of humanity’s behaviour, this is a reminder that there is goodness in the world. It also teaches a deep spiritual lesson.
I’m talking about William Pooley. He sounds like a great missionary from the 1800s doesn’t he? Actually he’s a 29 year old nurse from Eyke in Suffolk. His story? The first Briton to contract the deadly Ebola Virus in West Africa, and has survived.
Pooley volunteered to fly out and help with the emergency response in Sierra Leone, helping local medics try to treat and contain the virus. The airborne virus is killing about 55% of victims, who die a horrible painful and violent death, bleeding internally. Yet Pooley happily volunteered for this, saying it felt quite natural. In caring for those with the virus, in challenging conditions (lets call them dreadful), he contracted the virus too. He said he wondered if he would die and thought of his family. Eventually he was flown back to London and treated in a specialist isolation unit at the Royal Free Hospital. He has now been discharged, free of the disease. Wow! What a guy.
I don’t think he’s a Christian but what a picture of Christ-like behaviour? Absolutely incredible. Brave, courageous, determined, vulnerable. But even more than that he captures a very important principle for Christians and its called ‘incarnation‘. It means to take on flesh. Jesus did it obviously when he was born and we celebrate it at Christmas; how he left heaven’s glory and took on flesh in a dirty, sinful, mortal world.
He entered our world, leaving his own behind, and in so doing, entered into a whole raft of potential dangers. Those dangers did not deter him from doing what he had to do: rescue humanity from its sins. Pooley left his native country and went into the middle of a highly contagious viral outbreak that could kill him because he wasn’t going to miss what he could do: save people from a disease using his nursing skills. Pooley’s actions were incarnational. He was love in action, not just sending love from a far, from a safe distance, but love ‘with skin on’ as my old pastor Jim Wilson would say. Of course it’s hard being incarnational. It’s costly – they killed Jesus in the end (although that was his reason for coming!), and Pooley actually got the disease. What a guy – well done Mr. Pooley.
So how can we do the same? The principle can be applied to anything. Quite simply it means being the first to build the bridge to someone else, and can be crossing the road to visit someone or say hi, to crossing the globe and living in a new community. See how you can live this out, or look for other examples of this and leave a comment.
The final thing to comment on is of course, Pooley’s own point, when he praises the local medical workers who are working day in day out without the medical back up or facilities Pooley had, and risking their life to even greater extents for their own people. These too are heroes and any society is lucky to have them.
Maybe next week I’ll try and blog about something other than viruses! Wait and see …