Pastor: Ebola Fears Don’t Define Dallas

With the Ebola situation in Dallas having stabilized for now, and lives having returned mostly to normal, we’re left to reflect on what the past two months have taught us.

Rev. Brent A. Barry, lead pastor and head of staff at NorthPark Presbyterian Church, chooses to take an optimistic view of how Dallas handled itself during such fearful times, and how elected officials, volunteers, and faith-based leadership came together and showed resolve.

Anyway, he was kind enough to send us his thoughts in a letter, which we’ve printed in its entirety after the jump. It’s worth reading.

5 Reasons I am Proud to Live in Dallas
By Rev. Brent A. Barry

I am the pastor of the closest church to Texas Presbyterian Health Hospital. My church, NorthPark Presbyterian Church, also does most of its local mission work in Vickery Meadow where Eric Duncan stayed upon arriving in the metroplex.

I have been witness to how our city has responded to the three cases of Ebola. I can say without question that I am proud to be a citizen of Dallas. Here are five reasons why:

1. I am proud of Mayor Mike Rawlings and his leadership.

Mayor Rawlings stood in our pulpit during a Service of Hope and Prayer last Wednesday and said multiple times how personal the last few weeks have been for him and quoted a hymn stating “he prays for wisdom and courage for the facing of this hour.”

Wisdom and courage are exactly what the mayor has shown. He has had plenty of opportunities to place blame on one person or institution, instead he called for accountability and strategic response. He has had plenty of opportunities to let unwarranted fear trump scientific fact. Instead he has been a non-anxious presence in the midst of a very anxious situation.  He has had plenty of opportunity to engage in politics and grandstanding. Instead he has spent time caring for the families of the three Ebola patients and has called for our city to unite.

2. I am proud that our faith communities have come together as one.

Not only have Wilshire Baptist Church and the Catholic Diocese shown great leadership in caring for Mr. Duncan’s fiancé, Louise Troh, other faith communities have provided leadership also. Our Service of Hope and Prayer at NorthPark was hastily arranged upon learning of a third Ebola case, but faith leaders and churches of denominations around Dallas came together to light candles and pray for all those affected.

When the news first broke about Mr. Duncan being in Vickery Meadow, people of many faiths gathered together at our church for a meeting. That meeting had great leadership from the city provided by Councilperson Jennifer Staubach-Gates. Park Cities Baptist Church and Temple Emanu-el were also strong and compassionate voices. We all went back into our churches, synagogues and non-profits determined to speak of neighborly love instead of fear.

3. I am proud of the many who have volunteered in Vickery Meadow after some pulled away.

At the meeting NorthPark hosted, we learned that some non-profit agencies in Vickery Meadow had lost volunteers due to the fear surrounding Ebola. Our church was designated as the clearinghouse for anyone around our city who wanted to fill the volunteer gap left in Vickery Meadow.  Councilperson Staubach-Gates announced our church’s role at a press conference. That was over two weeks ago, and we still have calls coming from people all over Dallas who want to volunteer. Vickery Meadow, which has always desperately needed volunteers, now has more than ever.

4. I am proud of the compassion we have shown to those who are hurting.

While Anderson Cooper stood in front of Presbyterian Hospital night after night berating the hospital for its mistakes, I have seen many people in Dallas show compassion and empathy for all those at the hospital who continue to do the healing work to which they are called. I was at a restaurant near the hospital talking to a nurse last week who said, “yes the stress has been horrible, but now I pray for those doctors and nurses in West Africa even more.”

That is a whole other kind of compassion. I have heard many Dallas citizens say things like “can you imagine what it would be like to be in West Africa?”

Texas Presbyterian is in our backyard. But we know that our backyard is big. It stretches all the way from Walnut Hill to West Africa. That’s the message I have heard these last few weeks.

5. I am proud of a city that chooses facts over fear.

I was recently interviewed by a reporter in another city who talked about a nearby Liberian community. This reporter asked when I thought it might be safe to go back into that Liberian community.

Those kinds of questions, from across the country, are heard few and far between in Dallas. Our church is not only close to “ground zero,” 1/8 of our church membership is of African descent. Yet I have not heard one question like that here. Not one parent has pulled their child out of our preschool. From organ recitals to worship services to Alzheimer’s support groups, people have shown up and trusted the facts more than the fear. That story is true of our church and true of our city.

I would hate for any city to endure what we have endured the last three weeks, but if any city has to, I am glad it is us.  Surely mistakes were made within the healthcare community on a national and local level, but our city with its tremendous leadership, its outstanding faith communities, its level mind and compassionate heart, will stand as a model for how other cities might respond in the future.

Ebola was never the epicenter in Dallas. Fear was never the epicenter in Dallas. Neighborly love is the epicenter in Dallas.  And for that I am very proud.

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