Featured in each issue of Christ and Pop Culture MagazineCitizenship Confusion” by Alan Noble looks at how we confuse our heavenly citizenship with our citizenship to the state, culture, and world.

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“Greater love has no man, than to lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:13

While West Africa suffers from the worst Ebola outbreak in history and fears of a global epidemic spread and pundits argue over whether or not we should have “risked” bringing home two missionary workers who are deathly ill because of the deadly virus, these same two Christians have lived out a way of being in the world which radically challenges our most basic modern assumptions about sacrifice and mercy work, thus testifying powerfully to the grace and mercy of our living God.

Nancy Writebol and Kent Brantly chose to serve Christ by caring for the sick and poor, knowing that they were putting their lives at risk. They became friends with the dying, and in so doing, even before they contracted the disease, lay down their lives for them, sacrificing their own safety and comfort and well-being for those in need. And they did all of this in obscurity, until their own lives were nearly lost.

The history of the Christian church has been a history of sacrifices of men and women in service to their neighbors. Providing hospitals, schools, food, clothing, shelter–this is our tradition. Oh, there are other histories as well, examples of oppression and greed and violence clothed in the garb of faith. And those evils will continue to tempt the church and our own hearts, but they are distortions of the church, not our right order. As ordained by Christ and the apostles and practiced by the Church for two thousand years, our presence in this fallen world is a sacrificial, redeeming one, seeking out—to love and care for—the hurting and suffering in the forsaken places of the world.

But as Christians we easily forget this. Instead, we accept the dominate perspective of our age, that the State is the solution to every problem. Conservatives believe this, too. We all do. Whenever there is a crisis in our world, when we try to imagine possible solutions, we almost always think in terms of government policies or services. This is just part of the DNA of modern liberal democracy. And while there are certainly times when the State can, should, and must act, its actions never relieve the Church of her obligation to care for those in need.

When news broke that our government had decided to bring Nancy and Kent home, along with that news came a reminder to the world of what Christian charity and compassion looks like. But it was also a reminder to us.

Their service may remind us that our neighbors are global; that true religion is caring for widows and orphans; that suffering in the world cannot be undone by the State; that when we sacrifice, we sacrifice together, and when we risk death, we do that together as well.

I am grateful for the ministry and witness of Nancy Writebol and Kent Brantly, not because they made evangelicals look compassionate at a time when we are regularly called “bigots.” But because they obeyed Christ, and in so doing, they proclaimed Christ to a watching world.

Many others have lost their lives fighting Ebola in West Africa, people who also sacrificed their lives for their neighbor. As American citizens, Nancy and Kent have become the face of US aid in this fight, and in this way they affected the way Americans think about service. May they inspire the church to renew its commitment to mercy and justice in the world and to compassion ministries which treat the needy as image-bearers of God, rather than as statistics or news items or opportunities for fear-mongering.

Neither Nancy nor Kent is out of danger yet, although there are some indications that they are improving. Join me in praying for them and their families. And let us also thank God for their witness.

Alan Noble, Ph.D., (Co-Founder and Managing Editor) is an Assistant Professor of English at Oklahoma Baptist University. He received his Ph.D. from Baylor in 2013. He and his family attend City Presbyterian in OKC.