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U.S. Liberian Communities Face A New Set Of Worries


Liberians living in the Dallas area, like many nationwide, have been joining together as their home country struggles with Ebola. NPR's Sam Sanders reports that now, as a Liberian in Dallas becomes the first Ebola case diagnosed in the U.S., this community faces a new set of worries.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) Because he lives, I can face tomorrow.

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: Arlington Christian Bible Fellowships sits maybe halfway between Dallas and Fort Worth. Every Wednesday at 7 p.m., there's a prayer service at the church.

PASTOR THEOPHOLUS BESSMAN: Our Father, we'll pray for the situation in Liberia, in Sierra Leone, in Guinea, in West Africa. We leave that situation up to you, those that are working - doctors and nurses.

SANDERS: That's Pastor Theopholus Bessman. He was born in Liberia, like half of the congregation. Several other African nations are represented at the church as well. For weeks, they've been praying for West Africa as it grapples with Ebola. But this Wednesday, a new prayer was added.

BESSMAN: We pray for our brother that is in the hospital - a Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas - touch his body, his family, his children.

SANDERS: Members of the congregation come to the podium and share scriptures and words of wisdom and personal prayers. Every single one that takes the mic mentions Ebola, like Thomas Woahloe.

THOMAS WOAHLOE: For communities, oh, God, that may be stricken because of - of this disease, we pray, oh, God, that you will replace fear with your love.

SANDERS: In his office, Bessman says these last few weeks have been hard. Many in the congregation have family and friends that have been killed by Ebola in Liberia. But through their grief, the church has been organizing to help those thousands of miles away.

BESSMAN: So we send money for - to buy food, to buy medicine - close to $10,000.

SANDERS: Bessman says Liberia needs the help.

BESSMAN: Liberia as a country has been through a lot.

SANDERS: He points to Liberia's deficient infrastructure, its corruption and its recent civil war, which killed hundreds of thousands in a country of only 4 million. Bessman isn't just praying for recovery from a disease; he's praying for the recovery of a nation. But now Ebola is in his neck of the woods. No one at the church says they know the victim directly. Locals believe he's relatively new to the area, but one woman at the church says she is sure of one thing.

WILHELMINA OKYNE BRIDGES: Yeah, I sure believe there will be other cases.

SANDERS: Wilhelmina Okyne Bridges is originally from Monrovia, Liberia. She's been in the states for almost two decades. Bridges is a nurse, and she says sometimes even health professionals put themselves at risk.

BRIDGES: I'm a nurse. I know sometimes - initially you run in there to help and second thought before you say, OK, where is my protective equipment? We as humans, sometimes, we take chances.

SANDERS: Bridges is actually one of several health professionals at Arlington Christian Bible Fellowship. A handful of women came Wednesday night still wearing scrubs. The pastor's wife is a nurse as well. I asked Bridges if she's changing her behavior now that there's an Ebola case in her city. She said she's just cautious as always - washing hands, avoiding coughs and body fluids. But Bridges did say there's definitely one thing she won't stop doing.

BRIDGES: I still hug people. Something will kill us (laughter), if not Ebola, something will kill us. So, yeah, I still hug people.

SANDERS: Bridges said with all her community is going through right now, sometimes words can't really help, but a hug - a hug can do a lot. Sam Sanders, NPR News, Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sam Sanders
Sam Sanders is a correspondent and host of It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders at NPR. In the show, Sanders engages with journalists, actors, musicians, and listeners to gain the kind of understanding about news and popular culture that can only be reached through conversation. The podcast releases two episodes each week: a "deep dive" interview on Tuesdays, as well as a Friday wrap of the week's news.
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