Ebola and ISIS have been making scary headlines for months now, but in the last couple of days, they have made a particular impact on The United Methodist Church. News came yesterday that Dr. Martin Salia, the chief medical officer and only surgeon at Kissy United Methodist Hospital in Freetown, Liberia, had died while being treated at Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. Dr. Salia is not the only person associated with the UMC to die of the disease, but his selfless role as a leader and servant in the fight against the disease made his death particularly hard for many in the UMC. At the same time, on Sunday, the White House confirmed the killing of Abdul-Rahman Peter Kassig, an American medical aid worker, by ISIS in Syria. Yesterday, UM News Service reported about Kassig’s United Methodist parents in Indianapolis, IN. Kassig had converted to Islam during his captivity over the last year. Kassig is also not the first to die at the hands of ISIS, but perhaps the first with connections to the UMC.
Thus, the UMC is mourning this loss of two brave servants who sought to help others even in the face of danger and possible death. Both men were seeking to preserve the lives of others through medical care, but both lost their own lives. Their stories are both inspiring and tragic. They also raise larger questions of how we as individuals and as a church respond when faced with important but dangerous humanitarian situations: Do we engage, or do we protect ourselves?
Both Dr. Salia and Mr. Kassig chose to engage, and I hope others in the UMC will follow them. Our faith encourages us to serve others, even at the risk of our own lives. As Mark 8:35 says, “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, and whoever loses their lives for me and for the gospel will save it.” Though safety and security are good goals, we must be careful lest they become temptations that would keep us from doing what God calls us to. Dr. Salia was clear that his work was a calling from God. He told UM Communications, “I see it as God’s own desired framework for me. I took this job not because I want to, but I firmly believe that it was a calling and that God wanted me to.” Calling may sometimes be a calling to self-sacrifice, as in the case of Salia and Kassig. But while the world may fear death, we as Christians are not called to fear or deny or avoid death. We are called to overcome death through the resurrection made possible by Jesus’ own death and resurrection.
Dr. Salia and Mr. Kassig deserve our prayers and gratitude, and their families also deserve our prayers and support. I hope the lesson we take from their lives is that service is worth it, even when it comes at the ultimate cost.