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Ebola Lessons for COVID 19

Ebola Lessons for COVID-19

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Melissa N. Annan came to Philadelphia in July 2014 for a monthlong visit. Six years later, she is still in the City of Brotherly Love. She never used her return ticket to Liberia because of the Ebola crisis that erupted in the African nation six years ago.

A journalist who wrote for a leading daily newspaper in her homeland, Annan suddenly found herself without a job, food, or a home. As a member of an Assemblies of God congregation in Liberia, she had searched for a sister church and became acquainted with the people at Overbrook Assembly of God.

Pastor Kwaku Owusu-Boachie made sure the congregation rallied around the stranded visitor.

“The church helped me,” says Annan. “I got to where I am because of what they did for me.”

In addition to food, a vehicle, and other assistance, the church paid her fee to enroll in a certified nursing assistant’s course. Today, Annan is a staff member at a nursing home, where she ministers to elderly residents’ needs, be that feeding, bathing, or exercising them, or simply offering a smiling face.

Also the choir director at Overbrook, Annan, 50, is only one of numerous people the congregation helped during the 2014-15 crisis. With 70 percent of the parishioners hailing from Liberia, almost every family had a relative affected by the crisis. One lost four family members; others had relatives whose houses were demolished to contain the spread. Ebola is characterized by such ailments as severe fever, inflammation, and tissue damage.

Some attending Overbrook back then came to the U.S. to take educational courses and others to visit relatives and friends, according to Owusu-Boachie, a native of Ghana who moved to Philadelphia in 2000 to study for a master’s degree.

“This category of visitors could not go back to Liberia,” says Owusu-Boachie, who became pastor in 2004 after obtaining his ministerial credentials through Global University. “These temporary members of our church had to be supported.”

In addition to prayer, Overbrook offered food, assistance paying bills, transportation, and educational tuition. Because of the great needs, the congregation established a temporary Dorcas Fund to dispense emergency assistance immediately before replenishing the fund with donations.

“We believe in practicing what we preach,” says Owusu-Boachie, who has two degrees in economics and a master’s degree in finance. “You can’t say, ‘God bless you’ and the person is still in need. Members are committed to the church today because they know the church is going to be there when they have a need.”

With lessons learned five years ago, the church has been on the front lines of this year’s novel coronavirus pandemic. Because 60 percent of attendees work in health care, many have pitched in to clean the premises and hand out masks and hand sanitizer. One recently contributed thermometers used to check temperatures as members slowly start to meet again for such events as prayer meetings.

During recent months, eight members came down with COVID-19, although all have since been healed. The pastor called sufferers three times a day to compensate for the lack of personal contact while the church couldn’t gather in person.

“I prayed with them, shared the Word with them, and encouraged them until they tested negative,” says Owusu-Boachie, 59.

Because most congregants are employed or are living with relatives, Overbrook hasn’t dispensed much financial aid this year, although the board recently agreed to make a one-time donation to another AG church in the area.

Despite the financial strains that have affected numerous churches in 2020, since January Overbrook AG has completed a renovations and beautification of the church building, originally constructed by Italian immigrants more than 50 years ago. Among the improvements are a new balcony, carpeting, pulpit, and sound system.

Annan thinks there is a reason for such generosity and support that adherents provide to the church: people who receive help are willing to give when they see a need.

“The pastor taught me to fish instead of giving me fish every time,” says Annan, who has seen the choir nearly double in size since she became director in 2016. “That stays with you for the rest of your life.”

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