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Liberian-Americans Feel Effect Of Ebola From Abroad


Nathan Kortu leads the New Life Fellowship Church in Euless, outside of Dallas, Texas. It's a diverse community with strong ties to Liberia. Some members of his congregation know people who have died in the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Nathan Kortu joins us now. Thank you so much for being on our program.

NATHAN KORTU: Thank you.

MARTIN: I guess I would start off by asking you to just give us a sense of what's happening in your community right now.

KORTU: Well, right now the community is shocked, especially for us, the news that comes from Liberia, for our families have been destroyed by this terrible disease. And then for it to come right here in America is shocking to us and we are frightened about it. It's a mixed feeling for us because we have to deal with it from home and now we are dealing with it here. So it is a very terrible situation for everybody at this time.

MARTIN: How many of your congregants have family who have contracted the disease?

KORTU: I have probably a membership of 150 to 200-member church. I can say about 30 percent of us have a situation in Liberia. I get news every day from my relatives and friends in the ministry that I have lost. They are family and some of them have died. So I know personally people that have died from this in Liberia - some of them my own relatives.

MARTIN: Some of your relatives?

KORTU: Yes, yes and so we're dealing with it from both sides of the aisle. But one of the important things that we are dealing with now is a fight of the stigma. You know, when people identify you as a Liberian, they're going to think that you are an Ebola patient. So that is really a problem now for our community because some people here, they were born here, some of them never been to Liberia for 30 years. But when they identify you as Liberian, people start distancing away from you - they think that you are an Ebola patient.

I had a call today from St. Louis, Missouri. A Liberian got there. She went there to work and somebody said, are you from Liberia? Yes. Oh, you might be Ebola-infected. We don't want to come around you. It might be a joke, but it is not healthy for our community.

MARTIN: I hear you saying you're concerned that there's a larger stigma associated with anyone who is from Liberia.

KORTU: That's correct. That is correct because we have already been traumatized and we really don't want this stigma on us. Ebola is a disease that does not discriminate. So anybody can be infected with the disease. It's not just Liberians, it's not only Africans. So we need to educate the public that this is a disease. It's not for just one group of people.

MARTIN: I imagine your congregants are talking to their families back in Liberia. Your own family - you have family members who are still back home. What are you hearing about the conditions on the ground? What kind of resources are needed?

KORTU: Right now the country is basically shut down. They need everything. I mean, gloves just for medical staff to wear, hospital clothes in Liberia because the nurses don't have clothes to wear. They don't have masks to wear. So the community here, we came together and loaded a container that will be leaving tomorrow with those stuff. So that's one of the things that's devastated the country there very, very bad. It's a worry for every Liberian over the world.

MARTIN: So how are you trying to minister to your congregation right now, during what must be obviously such a difficult time?

KORTU: Yes. We are doing counseling for people that have relatives in Liberia, including myself, that need to deal with this. Also, we are doing a lot of praying. Liberians - we are resilient people, we'll go through this, but we're just depending on God. We are always dependent on God to come through for us and this is one of the areas that we need to trust God that we'll be able to overcome it again.

MARTIN: Nathan Kortu. He is the bishop at the New Fellowship Church in Euless, Texas outside Dallas. Thank you so much for your time.

KORTU: I appreciate it. God bless you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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