More than 500 members of Calvary Church gathered in their sanctuary Wednesday night to pray for one of their own: Charlotte missionary Nancy Writebol, who continues to fight for her life half a world away in Liberia.
Writebol’s husband, David, who is also in the West African country, talked to the congregation via Skype. He began by offering a cautiously optimistic report on his wife, who learned last Friday – a few days after her 59th birthday – that she was infected with the Ebola virus, which kills 60 percent of its victims.
“Nancy is doing pretty well, I think,” he said, his voice carried on loudspeakers as a photo of the couple appeared on two big screens. “She’s still very ill … but she’s sitting up and she’s talking with us and she’s able to move about. And drinking lots of fluid, which is good for her. That’s her main job these days.”
Her husband added that her spirits are good. And though he said he sensed some improvement Wednesday, “she still has a long way to go. She’s still very ill, and the disease is still active and doing its work.”
Senior Pastor John Munro and several members of the evangelical Christian church said prayers about Nancy Writebol’s plight, which has drawn international attention. The Whitebols also relayed some specific prayer requests. Among them: “David asks us to pray that Nancy would not suffer.”
She has been in isolation and getting round-the-clock medical treatment in the couple’s home near the Monrovia hospital where they have worked since last August for SIM (Serving in Mission), a Charlotte-based missionary group with 3,000 staffers in 65 countries.
There is no known cure for Ebola, which is transmitted through bodily fluids and is highly contagious. The virus causes raging fever, vomiting, diarrhea and uncontrolled bleeding. The chance of survival increases if it is caught early.
David Writebol, who has shown no symptoms of the disease, said he is now able to be in the same room as his wife and even touch her – as long as he wears a heavy Hazmat-like suit. “We can see each other face to face,” he said, “and converse and attend to her needs.”
That’s an improvement: Before, he had to talk to her “from the back porch, speaking through the bedroom window,” Calvary Church elder Bill Bailey, a good friend of the couple, told the Observer.
At the Wednesday service, Bailey’s voice cracked as he asked God to heal “our sister.”
Bruce Johnson, president of SIM, told the gathering he had received a text from a Charlotte doctor who is aware of Nancy Writebol’s medical situation in Liberia. “Having a little trouble getting an IV in her,” Johnson said the text read. “Would you pray that a vein will open up?”
Earlier Wednesday, Samaritan’s Purse, a Boone-based Christian charity that has worked with SIM in Liberia, reported that Dr. Kent Brantly had shown “slight improvement in the past 24 hours,” but remained “in serious condition.”
Brantly, a Texas physician who works for Samaritan’s Purse in Liberia, also contracted the virus.
The Writebols have two grown sons. One of them, Jeremiah, who lives in Kansas, acknowledged to NBC’s “Today” show on Wednesday that there’s some concern his father could have been exposed to the virus. “But he’s very healthy right now,” the son said, adding that David Writebol is taking his temperature every six hours.
Also Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C., whose district includes parts of Charlotte, delivered a tribute to the Writebols on the House floor in Washington. “Nancy and David could have chosen the easy route,” Pittenger said. “Instead, they chose a higher calling of sacrificial love and service.”
Samaritan’s Purse explored the possibility of evacuating Brantly and Writebol to a hospital in Europe. But, said spokesperson Melissa Strickland, “we had difficulty finding a carrier with the capacity to safely transport an Ebola patient.”
At the ELWA (Eternal Love Winning Africa) Hospital in Monrovia, which is run by SIM, Nancy Writebol got sick after working as a hygienist, spraying protective suits worn by health care workers treating Ebola patients.
David Writebol is responsible for managing electricity, water and sanitation services for the 130-acre campus.
The couple, who married in 1974 and moved to Charlotte in the 1990s, joined SIM in 2013 after 14 years of service to orphans in Zambia and Ecuador.
During Wednesday’s Skype session, Munro asked David Writebol to respond to the question the media and others have been asking: Why would he and his wife give up the safety of the United States for Liberia, with all its troubles and dangers?
“We’ve been so blessed in what Christ has done for us,” he answered. “What else could we do when our King bidded us to go into this harvest field and when he said there are souls needing to hear about Christ?”
The Writebols “are quiet and unassuming – not people who seek the spotlight,” Munro said in an interview.
“...They don’t look on themselves as heroes,” he added. “We do.”
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