Five years ago this month, medical missionary Dr. Kent Brantly was fighting for his life. Now the famed “Ebola fighter” is returning to Africa with his family to pursue a calling he says is from God. “We’ve spent time praying and fasting and talking,” he says, “and God has really opened the doors every step of the way.”
Brantly, 38, was serving in Liberia with Samaritan’s Purse in 2014 when he became the first American to contract the Ebola virus. A week after becoming sick, he was flown to Atlanta for treatment that couldn’t have been done in Africa. After receiving an experimental drug that hadn’t yet been used on humans—and spending almost a month in isolation—Brantly experienced a recovery he labeled as miraculous.
Brantly thanked God and the “thousands and thousands” of people who’d prayed for him, saying he received “a direct answer” to all those prayers. He used his time in the spotlight to publicize the Ebola epidemic, which killed more than 11,000 West Africans from 2014 to 2016. Brantly and his wife were invited to the White House, and Time magazine named Brantly and his fellow Ebola fighters its 2014 People of the Year. The Brantlys told their story in the book Called for Life, and the documentary Facing Darkness also detailed their ordeal.
Now, as Ebola outbreaks spread in Africa again, Brantly says he’s ready to get back in the trenches as a medical missionary. The destination this time is Zambia, where he has committed to serve at least two years. Joining him will be his wife, Amber (a registered nurse who’s worked with World Relief); their two children (ages 8 and 10); his cousin, Dr. Stephen Snell; and Snell’s wife and two children. A woman who attends the same church as the Brantlys—Southside Church of Christ in Fort Worth, Texas—will accompany the families to teach their children.
For Kent Brantly, Physical Healing Was Just the Start
Brantly, who received a Bible degree from Abilene Christian University before attending medical school, regained his strength within a few months of his alarming diagnosis. But the “emotional healing and spiritual healing and growth” was a five-year process, he says.
Part of Brantly’s recovery involved coping with the fact that he lived while many other Ebola patients did not. “To suggest that there was something about me that made God choose to save my life while he allowed 11,300 other people to die, I’m not really okay with that,” he tells The Christian Chronicle. “Do I believe that God saved my life? Yes. Do I think that God saved my life for a predetermined purpose because there was something he wanted me to do, like move to Zambia? I’m not sure I understand the work of God in the world that way.”
Brantly says he’s motivated by gratitude to live faithfully. “Right now, I think that means moving my family to Zambia to serve at a Christian mission hospital,” he says. “To serve the poor and have compassion for the people in need and to participate in God’s work of making all things new and fixing the broken things in this world.”
Steve Cloer, pastor of Southside, has seen the Brantlys preparing for more fieldwork and says, “It’s exciting to see that dream coming back around.” Cloer told his congregation, “The last time we sent Kent and Amber out, God did amazing things, and I have no doubt that he will do so again this time.”
Ebola Is an Ongoing Concern in Africa
While in Zambia, Drs. Brantly and Snell will partner with Christian Health Service Corps and work at Mukinge Mission Hospital. The 200-bed facility is located 100 miles from the nearest grocery store and three hours from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which has been dealing with a widespread Ebola outbreak for almost a year.
This week, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Congo outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern,” its highest warning. That declaration, which the WHO has made only four previous times, is “an opportunity to ensure the international community does not turn its gaze but rallies to support [the Congo] and Africa in the fight to end the Ebola outbreak,” according to a WHO official.
This latest outbreak has been especially difficult to contain, experts say, because cases are occurring near active war zones filled with many refugees. Displaced people tend to be distrustful of health workers, some of whom have been attacked and even killed.
God Will “pave the way,” Says Kent Brantly
Dr. Lance Plyler, director of World Medical Mission (the medical arm of Samaritan’s Purse), broke the news to Brantly in 2014 that he’d tested positive for Ebola. Five years later, Plyler contacted Brantly again, this time to see if he was interested in the Zambia placement. Brantly says he’s especially looking forward to working with his cousin, who served at Mukinge from 2013 to 2015.