SALUNGA, Pa. — Four and a half months after leaving West Africa because of safety concerns connected to the Ebola crisis, a team of workers from Eastern Mennonite Missions is returning to their assignments.
On Feb. 9, Michael and Karen Baker and their five children returned to Guinea-Bissau, and Dave and Delores Shirk transitioned from previous service in Guinea-Bissau to Gambia.
“When we told our children we were returning, a cheer erupted,” Karen Baker said. “For our children to be so happy was yet another affirmation from God that we should return to Guinea-Bissau. They are ready to see their friends again. As one of them said, ‘I am ready to go home.’ ”
When the Ebola virus began spreading in West Africa last summer, EMM formed a staff crisis management team that monitored the spread of the virus and kept in contact with local church leaders and EMM workers. When the first case of Ebola was confirmed in Senegal, the team consulted with local church leaders and the EMM crisis team and decided to leave the region, arriving in the U.S. on Sept. 4, 2014.
EMM staff met regularly with the Bakers and the Shirks during their time in the U.S., providing support and counsel as they adjusted and praying with them. The crisis team also continued to monitor the situation in West Africa and consulted with other organizations.
“We’ve been in contact with other missions organizations about their observations and timing for sending workers back to the region, have looked at reports from the World Health Organization and have been in touch with national church leaders in the Gambia and Guinea-Bissau,” said EMM human resources co-director Darrel Hostetter. “When we met in January, everyone felt like we had enough information to send our workers back.”
EMM staff and the team in West Africa will continue to assess the situation.
As the team prepares to return, they have been encouraged by how their churches in the U.S. have supported their ministry in West Africa. The Bakers’ congregation, Community Mennonite Church in Milton, purchased supplies that are unavailable in Guinea-Bissau for a preschool with which the Bakers work.