Courage, Compassion, Care on Full Display in Facing Darkness
Franklin Graham has seen a lot of things in his 37 years as the CEO of Christian international relief organization Samaritan’s Purse. Providing disaster relief and fighting poverty in the name of Jesus are challenges they have tackled head-on over the years and routinely conquered. But Graham and Samaritan’s Purse had never seen anything like Ebola as it swept across West Africa in 2014.
When the deadly virus infected two Samaritan’s Purse team members, Graham was faced with the realization that were was a very good chance that both of them would lose their lives. But God had other plans.
In a gritty, unvarnished documentary, Facing Darkness chronicles the incredible true story of how Samaritan’s Purse worked relentlessly to bring Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol back to the United States for treatment. An exceptional example of comfort, compassion, and care, the documentary will be shown as a one-night only (March 30th) Fathom movie event in theaters nationwide.
Editors Note: Originally a one-night event, overwhelming response to the film now leads to an encore presentation on April 10.
I recently sat down with Graham to discuss this miraculous example of God’s deliverance, the moment he actually “faced darkness” in this ordeal, and how being the hands and feet of God doesn’t always keep you safe.
You have been quoted as saying, “Jesus Christ didn’t run. We run toward the fire.” How did Samaritan’s Purse respond to the Ebola pandemic in Liberia?
First, when we thought that it would come into Liberia, we had a helicopter and airplane there. We let the World Health Organization and some of the experts use our equipment just because they needed to get around the country doing testing, watching for Ebola, trying to get ready for Ebola, and then it came; and there was no one in the country that was willing or prepared to fight Ebola. We were asked by the World Health Organization, would Samaritan’s Purse be willing to stand in. When they asked me, it was a knot in the bottom of my stomach, because I said to myself, “This is not going to be good.” We’re not prepared. We don’t have the training. We don’t have the financial wherewithal. We’re getting ready to get ourselves into something that could be a disaster, not knowing at the time that God had a plan. And this Ebola, we did everything that we could to stop it and to fight it, and we set up an Ebola treatment unit. We got the training. Médecins Sans Frontières came in. They were the world’s experts in this. They gave us the protocols, showed us how to do it, and we followed their protocols exactly, and we were operating in these containment units safely, but there wasn’t much you could do. People with Ebola, it was almost a 100% fatality rate, but not quite. So if a person got Ebola, very few people were surviving, just a handful. But we began to treat them. We began to put IVs in them trying to rehydrate them, praying for them, holding their hands, but just watching them die in our arms.
Dr. Brantly, one of our doctors, got infected, and the documentary, Facing Darkness, is a film about how God saved his life. It wasn’t Franklin Graham; it was God, because when I got the call that he had Ebola, I knew that he was going to die and that there was nothing that I could do to save his life.
Let’s talk about that. What was your initial reaction and thought process when you heard that a Samaritan’s Purse doctor, Kent Brantly was infected with the Ebola virus?
First of all, my question to God was “Why?” Here you’ve got a young doctor with his family, and he’s there to save life, and now he’s going to die. Why? I didn’t even know how to pray at first. I was numb. I couldn’t believe it. They said, “Franklin, you need to call his wife.” That was not a phone call I wanted to make because I didn’t know what to say to her. She got on the phone and she was, of course, sobbing; and I just said, 'Amber, this is Franklin Graham, I just want to let you know that we’re going to do everything we can to save your husband, and I would just like to have a word of prayer with you.' I prayed with her and hung up, and then I realized I have no clue what I’m going to be able to do to save his life. But we began to pray. I went right back to North Carolina (He was in Alaska), and we began to work on trying to get Dr. Brantly out of the country. Facing Darkness is a testimony to what God did, not what Franklin Graham did, but what God did in a series of miracles that He performed to save the life of Dr. Brantly. He came back into the country and he survived. He became a symbol of hope for people that had Ebola. He proved to the healthcare system in this country that you can survive.
Was there a moment when you actually “faced darkness” when you came to the reality that your team was not only fighting a disease but also fighting for their lives?
The night that Dr. Brantly was dying. I was in my office, and I don’t see visions and I don’t hear voices or anything like that, but I looked up at that ceiling and I could see a darkness, like a dark fog, and I knew there was something supernatural. I wasn’t afraid. I just stared at it and it descended slowly, and I thought about the 23rd Psalm where David said, “Ye though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” And I thought about the shadow, not the valley of death. He didn’t walk through the valley of death, he talked about the valley of the shadow, and I thought about it, and I thought, “Is this the shadow of death coming for Dr. Brantly?” We knew that he was dying. We were told he wasn’t going to survive more than a couple of hours. I remember just getting on the floor just praying, 'Lord, it’s not too hard for you to save his life, but if it be Thy will, if it can bring glory to your Son, I ask that you would save his life,' and it wasn’t just me praying. People were praying all around our office, they were praying in Liberia, his friends around the world were praying, all at that time praying, and that was about 4 o’clock in the afternoon. At about 5 o’clock I went into a boardroom where we all gathered in the evening to see what else we could do and other phone calls that we could make and so forth. And we got a phone call in that room. The person on the line said, “Oh, by the way, regarding Dr. Brantly, it looks like he may be just a little bit better.” I thought, you know, God’s still in the miracle business.
In these types of situations and which is portrayed very well in Facing Darkness is the concept that being the hands and feet of Christ does not always make you safe. How do you want people to respond to that concept?
In Facing Darkness, this is a story of young people who were not there to fight Ebola. They never signed up for that. They didn’t come to Samaritan’s Purse and say, “Oh, by the way, we want to sign up to fight Ebola.” No. But when Ebola came, I said to our guys and gals, “This is what we’re going to do,” and they all rallied and they all stood up and said, here I am, I’ll go. And I hope that Facing Darkness will challenge another generation of young people, just like when Nate Saint was killed in Ecuador. For that generation, for my generation, so many people said, “Hey, here I am, I’ll go.” And I hope Facing Darkness will be something that will inspire another generation, saying, “Lord, here I am, I want to be your hands and I want to be your feet, and I’m willing to go face that darkness. Wherever that darkness may be in the world, here I am and I will go.” That’s my prayer.
What is your ultimate hope for your documentary, Facing Darkness?
I hope it will raise up an army. But again, the film is a testimony to God’s faithfulness. It’s a testimony to what God can do in your darkest hour and how He can reach down when you think it’s impossible, and lift you.
Watch the Trailer for Facing Darkness: