Ebola and the Banwaon

Nothing “just happens”

If you were a Banwaon tribal person living in the humid Philippines jungle some years ago, you would know quite well that nothing “just happens”.

A branch does not fall from a tree hitting your brother on the head and injuring him because the branch was old and it was a windy day.

No, the branch fell because your brother offended the spirits, or broke a taboo or maybe someone from a rival clan put a curse on him.

Boy in tree

Ebola and the Banwaon

Ebola is a terrible viral disease…..

As I’ve read the reports coming out of West Africa and seen the pictures, my heart constricts with compassion for the sick and swells with admiration for the selfless care of the health workers. With the death count in the 1000s medical personnel are stretched to the limit.

One of the biggest challenges aid workers are facing is the same type of animistic fear that Banwaon people lived with prior to the Gospel bringing light and freedom.

The Red Cross reports:

”Ebola has a strong ally: superstition ….. Many think the disease does not exist, that each and every death is triggered by enemies using witchcraft.”

UNICEF coordinator for the Ebola awareness campaign in Africa explained:

“What is actually creating the greatest problem is the behaviour of the population …. Many West Africans see Ebola as a ‘curse’ rather than a medical illness…”

Ebola5The Gospel brings more than spiritual healing

Thankfully the Ebola virus has NOT reached the Philippines.

However, before the Banwaon people became Christians and even in the early days of their faith, there were times when families would lose several children by something as simple as a measles epidemic.

Instead of staying hydrated and trying to reduce fevers, the Banwaon believed what the spirits had taught them – keep well wrapped up and don’t drink anything. In a hot tropical environment, this was often fatal.

As missionaries taught the truth of the Gospel, the Banwaon recognized the animistic spirits they’d been worshipping for who they were – servants of “the father of lies”.

Their eyes opened spiritually and many chose to put their faith in Jesus. As they matured in their understanding of the Gospel and continued to be taught from the Bible, God also gave them understanding in many other areas.

For example, in 2006 a cholera epidemic swept through the Banwaon tribe. The Government school in the village became a make-shift hospital as patients were carried in from the surrounding mountains.


Sadly, over thirty Banwaon died. Of those thirty, only two were Christians.

Health workers at the time battled the fears and superstitions of the non-Christian Banwaon as they often refused to drink and would sometimes pull out IV drips providing life-giving fluid.

The Christians who contracted cholera, and those caring for the sick, understood that cholera is a physical disease caused by harmful bacteria.  Consequently, they were careful to take hygienic precautions and to heed doctors’ instructions if they became ill.

So thankful … but pray

Our greatest joy in working with the Banwaon tribal people of the Philippines has been seeing their saving faith in Christ.

Not too far behind the spiritual joys are the blessings as we see the Banwaon people enriched in many other aspects of their lives – including areas of health.

As you continue to hear reports coming out of Africa concerning the Ebola crisis, please pray for Christians and the many organizations working in these places.

But most of all pray that, like many of the Banwaon, these precious people of Africa will also find the freedom that Christ brings spiritually and in every area of life.

Albert medical work