In my book I conclude that the author of the book of Revelation created fantastical metaphors from recent catastrophes, particularly the destruction of the temple thirty years previous by Roman armies, to urge Christians to persevere in their missions of love and justice despite the oppression they currently endured.
One memorable metaphor is the “four horsemen of the apocalypse,” as they are popularly known, who bring empire, war, economic ruin, and disease to a burning earth. The fourth horseman currently visits the west African nation of Sierra Leone, a place I lived almost fifty years ago as a college student shortly after people that country first achieved independence from Great Britain’s empire.
This morning’s New York Times brings a story about the head nurse in the modest hospital at Kenema, which is ground zero for the Ebola outbreak there. I’ve been to Kenema; it was and still is a center for diamond-mining and hence attracted several other horsemen during the evil wars started by Charles Taylor, dictator of neighboring country Liberia who is now rightfully on trial at The Hague for war crimes. (The 2006 movie, “Blood Diamond,” starring Leonardo DeCaprio is set there. More in my era, so is the James Bond movie, “Diamonds are Forever.”)
The people of Kenema were hospitable to this young American in 1967; the people of west Africa are unfailingly kind, although like everywhere the unschooled, weak, and desperate among them are susceptible to the manipulations of evil men.
Josephine Finda Sella, the nurse matron at Kenema hospital, soldiers on despite the loss of dozens of her nurses and, catastrophically, the respected head doctor to the disease when they mistook symptoms of the sick for Lassa fever, which is dangerous but less infectious. Ebola is especially dangerous to people who encounter a victim’s body; one of the “burial boys,” Kandeh Kamara from nearby Kailahun, volunteers to visit villages in the area and bury them using protective techniques he learned from Doctors Without Borders.
Both nurse matron Sella and burial man Kamara say they have been spurned by relatives and shunned by neighbors because they willingly expose themselves to the disease. The seal that looses the four horsemen having been broken in Sierra Leone, is our Lord’s kingdom revealed by the catastrophic plague, or by the perseverance of those who provide intimate care in its terrifying midst?