Ebola is real. It kills with little warning. Please adhere to health messages to safeguard your family. Let us be in prayer. God is with us. – Bishop John Innis
This first text message coming from Bishop John Innis to people in Liberia was not only history-making, but more importantly, it addressed a popular rumor that Ebola is not real but a ploy constructed by the government to get money into the country.
Ludicrous as this sounds, it was used as the pretext for gunmen to force patients from an Ebola isolation unit in a Monrovia suburb a few days ago.
The bishop’s message encourages people to follow the officially recommended precautions. It calls people to use their spiritual resources, and it says God is with us — that Ebola is not a punishment inflicted upon us by God.
Trusted voices must be raised to encourage people to take the threat of contagion seriously and seek medical attention when symptoms appear. And religious leaders can affirm our spiritual resources, as Bishop Innis has done.
When trusted leaders address rumors and misinformation, it’s more likely the rumors can be deflated. Texting is not the only way to do this, but it’s important in this crisis in particular. Mobile messages can reach a significant segment of the population. Sixty-nine percent of Liberians have a mobile phone, and texts can be received by conventional mobile phones, not just smartphones.
In addition, mobile messages can span broad distances. This is especially important. Text messages can reach people in affected areas that have been cordoned off by the military. They can remind people they are not forgotten.
Recognizing this, United Methodist Communications has been laying groundwork for the distribution of messages through mobile technology in areas where the need is great.
Now, for the historical part of this post. Because the communicator in Liberia was experiencing difficulty preparing and sending texts from the conference office, he requested United Methodist Communications’ assistance. A list of names provided by the conference was uploaded to a cloud-based database, UMCom staff got the message from Bishop Innis, and the text was sent on his behalf from Nashville to people in Liberia. The software used is open source and cost-free.
It was a first for us, and perhaps a first for a faith-based organization. It reveals how the world has shrunk, how information and communication technology contribute to our well-being and how valuable the connection of The United Methodist Church is as a strategic asset, especially in circumstances such as this.
The Foundation for United Methodist Communications has established an emergency communications fund. With your help, we can provide communications support in the event of a crisis or disaster. Donate here.