UPDATE: (November 23, 2015) Since this story was published, health officials have reported three new cases of the Ebola virus in Liberia. The Church is monitoring the situation very closely. Missionaries have been moved from the area of the reported cases. Both members and missionaries are taking precautions to limit any exposure to the virus.
Missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are returning to Liberia after no reported new cases of Ebola in that country since June. Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Susan, recently traveled to the West African nation to show the country is safe for missionaries.
“The World Health Organization declared Liberia Ebola free,” explained Elder Bednar. “We want people to know that we're here. … We would not be calling young men and young women to serve in Liberia if there was great danger or concern.”
Mormon missionaries serving in Liberia and Sierra Leone were transferred out of those countries and reassigned to other missions by the Church as a precaution in August 2014 following an outbreak of the Ebola virus. The first cases were reported in Liberia in March 2014. The World Health Organization declared Liberia free of Ebola virus transmission September 3. Young full-time missionaries began returning in early September.
There are currently 53 young Mormon missionaries and four seniors serving in Liberia. About half of those missionaries are from Africa, and the other half are from outside the continent. The Church Missionary Department hopes up to 100 young missionaries will be serving in Liberia once the buildup is complete, in addition to 12 senior missionaries. Prior to the Ebola outbreak, there were 80 young missionaries serving in that country, along with six seniors.
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“The role of an apostle is to travel the earth bearing testimony of Jesus Christ,” said Elder Bednar. “And so as a representative of the Lord, we're delighted to be here to bear that witness and express our love to and our admiration for the people in Liberia.”
He added, “The missionaries here are anxiously engaged. This is an exciting time as the work is reinitiated in proclaiming the gospel among the people of Liberia, … and there’s much work to do.”
“I think naturally, mothers have concerns when their sons serve missions and their daughters, wherever they go in the world,” said Sister Bednar. “So for us to be here is an important statement to let people know that this is a great place, that there's wonderful work to be done here, and that a missionary can be happy and healthy and successful here.”
The Bednars expressed confidence in the Church’s mission leaders in Liberia. They know what it’s like to have children on missions around the world, with sons who served.
“If one of our three sons were called to Liberia, there is no one I'd rather have be the mission president than President and Sister Carlson,” expressed Elder Bednar. Sister Bednar continued, “They are extraordinary. They are wonderful. And they will keep these missionaries safe.”
“The resources of the Church, and especially the operation of the mission, bless all of the members,” he said. “So the missionaries returning, the increase, and the number of missionaries, the strength that they bring to the members who are here is an indication that we are fellow citizens in the household of God. That's a blessing to all of the Latter-day Saints in Liberia.”
Elder and Sister Bednar enjoyed meeting the people in Liberia, who they call modern-day pioneers. “The first thing I've noticed is the happiness of the children,” shared Elder Bednar. “Everywhere we drive, there are children running, laughing, playing. This is a place where there's great challenge, but I love to see the happiness in the faces of the children.”
“It was wonderful to see all the families,” reflected Sister Bednar. “They seemed connected, and there are communities that seem to take care of each other.”
Throughout the Ebola crisis, local Church leaders in Liberia teamed with international organizations to provide medical care. The Church continues to work through recognized relief organizations and on-the-ground partners to help communities in need. Many members have also volunteered their own time to help spread awareness of proper sanitation practices.
The Church provided short-term emergency resources purchased locally such as rice and oil for food and bleach and containers for cleaning. Members in Ghana had a special fast and donated money to help those in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Latter-day Saints in the region also continued missionary work in the absence of full-time missionaries.
“The faith of these people strengthens my faith,” said Elder Bednar. “And the devotion of these Liberian Saints makes me want to be more devoted.”
“To see their resiliency and their hope and their faith in God and in the Savior,” said Sister Bednar. “What a wonderful time for us to be here.”