Ebola Doesn’t Stop 93-year-old’s return to Sierra Leone

Ebola Doesn’t Stop 93-year-old’s return to Sierra Leone

In early September, 2014, 93-year-old Dr. Lowell Gess bought a plane ticket to Sierra Leone. The earliest booking he could get was Jan. 3, 2015, but Gess was determined to provide whatever services he could to fight Ebola in a country that had been a second home to him. In a report he wrote after his return in early March, the retired United Methodist missionary did note that at the time he bought the ticket he thought that perhaps three months would give him pause to think about going into the lion’s den. If it did give him pause, it didn’t stop him. “My calling has been in medical missions. I love God and my neighbor. I serve in the name of Jesus Christ who said in Matthew 25:40 ‘Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, you have done it unto Me,’ ” Gess reflected. “The people of West Africa thought they were being abandoned; they were being shunned by the world.  And so I wanted to come and show that I am a part of the fellowship of the church and of Kissy Eye Hospital and by being present I thought it was important to actually be here and be of help,” he said. A 58-year residency Gess loves Sierra Leone where he spent 58 years of his missionary journey. “I had made up my mind in the first week of September. But I couldn’t get here. I didn’t tell anybody that I was coming. Finally, after several weeks, I told my children. Somebody let it out. It spread like wildfire. It even got to the radio and TV. They sent out camera crews and said ‘We understand you are going to Africa where there is Ebola. Why?’ Anyway I explained to them that I felt called to keep on with the work. So it was a Christian testimony. And that went out to all the states in America,” Gess explained. Gess took along with him medicines much needed at the time — drugs worth more than $60,000 —  which he shared among three hospitals, Connaught Hospital in central Freetown, Lunsar Eye Hospital in the north and United Methodist Lowell and Ruth Gess Eye Hospital in Kissy, eastern Freetown, a facility named after Gess and his late wife. Gess fondly calls the facility in eastern Freetown “Kissy Eye.” Gess arrived at a time in January when there was great fear of the Ebola virus but after two weeks when new infection rates started declining, he said he once again began to feel relaxed. That decline ended in February after new cases in Freetown occurred as infected people using canoes moved from the coastal districts into Freetown. With new infection rates rising again, the government re-introduced more restrictions on travel on Feb. 27, including curtailing the hours of work for boats. Before his departure, Gess warned against complacency, which is cited as one of the reasons behind the new infections. He said people should not think Ebola is over “until there is zero in every village. Unless we are careful, it could spring up again.” Gess refuses to take credit for all the relief he took to Sierra Leone, instead attributing it to the people in America who gave generously. “I am just...

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