As the Ebola pandemic was sweeping across West Africa in the spring of 2014, one organization was willing to step up and fully commit its people and resources to provide comfort, compassion, and care to the hurting people of Africa … all in the Name of Jesus. But when the deadly virus infected its own medical personnel, including Dr. Kent Brantly, the epic crisis truly hit home for Samaritan’s Purse and its leader Franklin Graham. Facing Darkness tells the incredible true story of how—with only faith, determination, and prayer—the ministry moved mountains … and God performed a miracle!
Kathy Larson recently interviewed Franklin Graham, President and CEO of Samaritan’s Purse, about the organization’s new documentary – Facing Darkness. The movie will be in select theaters across America one night only – Thursday, March 30. To find a theater near you or to buy tickets visit http://facingdarknessmovie.com/
KL: Why did Samaritan’s Purse choose to make this documentary?
Graham: At Samaritan’s Purse, we have always felt like it’s important to run toward problems, not away from them. That’s what we do. We work in 136 countries around the world. We were not in Liberia to fight Ebola. We had been there since 2003, right after the civil war came to an end, to help the churches and the Christians try to recover from this horrific 20-year war. In 2015, Ebola came into Liberia and there was no one else there to fight it. So, we were asked by the NGOs to set up an Ebola Treatment Unit. An ETU is basically a place where you make the patients as comfortable as possible, but really, you just hold their hands until they die.
It was very difficult work. The doctors are gowned in suits with duct tape, you can’t have any exposed skin, and the climate there is so hot, they couldn’t be in the ETUs for more than 10-15 minutes at a time. It was very difficult work, but somebody had to do it. Dr. Kent Brantley was there working with Samaritan’s Purse, so we asked him … but I had a knot in my stomach, because this was the world’s most dangerous virus and we had no business doing this. But there was no one else to do it. So, we responded, and within a few months, Dr. Brantley and Nancy Writebol both got Ebola. I was working on another project in Alaska when I got the call, and that was probably one of the worst days of my life. I thought how in the world will we help these people? We will never get them out of Africa. They will die there.
I came home and we began to work 24/7 and we saw God begin to work, and the walls that were in front of us that we thought we would never be able to climb… God got us over them. It was God who saved their lives. We wanted to produce this film to show people what God can do in the middle of a storm.
I hope this film will motivate an army of young men and women who will say, “Here I am, Send me.” Not only did God save Dr. Brantley’s life, He elevated him as the spokesman for Ebola survivors. He’s spoken before Congress, he’s met with the president, and with health organization leaders around the world. They learned so much from him. I so appreciate this man. He’s a hero of mine. He’s such a well-spoken, soft-spoken man who chooses his words so carefully. He was such a great help to give hope to these people. I want the world to know and another generation of young people to see what God can do with your life if you say, “Here I am, Lord. Send me.”
KL: Would you say that film is the best medium to do that, more so than books or other avenues?
Graham: There are other avenues, of course. But this is a real-life story. These are not actors in this film. You’re watching the real deal here. Sometimes that makes the difference. God uses books, no doubt about it, but sometimes He also uses films like this. I’m kind of a visual person. I respond to pictures. I respond to films. If I can see it, I can understand it. Sometimes when you read things in books, it’s hard to get your mind around it. But if you see it, you can understand it.
This film is about young people putting their lives on the line to make a difference in this world. There are a lot of young people today who want their lives to count for something. They want to go and they want their life to matter. I’m hoping this will encourage and motivate a whole army to say “Here I am. Send me.”
KL: Out of these other places where Samaritan’s Purse is working, where do you have the most need right now? Where do you hope people who are inspired by this film will volunteer to go?
Graham: We have the only hospital in northern Iraq. It’s a trauma hospital, 11 miles from the front lines. We have ambulances who come in all day and night, we have 80 doctors and nurses, two operating theaters, an ER.
A lot of our patients are women and children who are shot trying to get away from ISIS. They run away and ISIS shoots them in the back as they run. Also, a lot of damage from IEDs that have been put in people’s homes. They go into their homes and pick up a pot and it blows up in their face. So, a lot of women who have literally had their faces blown off.
Samaritan’s Purse has the only hospital in this area. We need doctors and nurses right now in northern Iraq. We are specifically looking for people who have trauma experience and surgeons — orthopedics and general surgeons.
KL: Promotional materials say that the film is called Facing Darkness because there was a moment during the Ebola crisis where you felt as if you were facing darkness in prayer. Can you tell us about that?
Graham: I remember the moment. Dr. Brantley had now had Ebola for a little over a week and we had a plane on its way into Liberia to pick him up and I got word that he wouldn’t make it through the night; that he was dying. I remember praying and said, “God, we have Emory University ready to go, we have a plane… Father, why? Save his life Father. It is nothing for you to save it, Father.”
I looked up at the ceiling in my office and it just seemed dark to me. The lights were on, but it was like a big dark fog in my office. I got down on the floor and prayed for Dr. Brantley. People were praying all over the world for him.
We had an experimental serum that had never been used before on a human being, only on primates. It sounded like something out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. It was made of mice’s blood and cultivated on tobacco leaves. That night, Dr. Brantley was saying his goodbyes. He told us he didn’t have any fight left in him; he wouldn’t make it through the night.
The way the drug worked was it took four doses — four bags that would each take 9 hours to get into your system. You would put one bag of medicine in, then wait two days, then another bag and wait two days… We put that first bag of the medicine in him and he began to shake violently, to go into convulsions. We thought we were killing him, but the scientists who developed the drug said they had seen this in the primates as well. After only 30 minutes of that, the shaking subsided and Dr. Brantley got up and went to the bathroom. It had been the first time he had gotten out of bed in three days.
It was that quick, it was that dramatic. It was clear that in that moment, God showed up. This whole film is just a testimony to God’s faithfulness, His goodness. His being with us in the middle of those storms of life.
KL: One of the central themes of the movie is that “faith doesn’t make you safe.” Where did that theme come from?
Graham: Dr. Brantley said to me, “Faith doesn’t make you safe.” That kind of surprised me when he said that. He said, “It was my faith that put me on the front lines. It was faith that put me in the Ebola Treatment Unit.” I thought about that and I thought, he was absolutely right.
Our faith doesn’t make us safe. It’s our faith that takes us to the front lines, it takes us into the storms. It’s our faith that takes us where we get ourselves in trouble. Our faith doesn’t necessarily protect us and keep us from the storms. But if you’re in the will of God, there is no better place to be. If God has called you to Iraq or Liberia or wherever, He will be with you in those storms. Though you may not be “safe,” you will have refuge in Him.
KL: Is there anything else you would like to share about why you think people should come to see this movie?
Graham: When I was growing up, the story of Nate Saint and how they were trying to reach the Auca Indians in Ecuador, and the book Through Gates of Splendor made a huge difference in my life. God used that story to motivate a whole new generation of missionaries to be inspired to God and serve God, even in dangerous places. I am hoping that this film will be used by God in the same way. I’m hoping Sunday School classes, church groups, whole families will come. It will inspire you. It will encourage you. You can’t help but watch this and have it speak to you.