Love Casts out Fear: Returning to Liberia
by Grace Mullaney Humbles ’13
Born in Liberia, David Yleah ’99 returned to his home country to bring his knowledge of public health and heart for the people of Liberia to the front lines of the Ebola crisis.
David Yleah was born in Liberia and raised in a Christian home. In the early 1990s, Liberia’s brutal civil war uprooted the Yleah family and brought them to the Ivory Coast.
“As refugees, we lived a very humble life, trusting God to meet our daily needs,” says David. “Had you told me during my refugee days that I would end up at Covenant College, I would have doubted that, because I came from such a different background. The day I was accepted to Covenant, I was overjoyed and knew my life would never be the same.”
God brought David to Covenant College through the work of David and Ruth Van Reken. After being accepted, David excitedly shared the news with everyone he knew in his refugee camp, always mentioning Covenant’s motto: In all things Christ preeminent. Now, looking back at his time at Covenant, David recognizes the commitment to Christ’s preeminence as a changing force in his life.
“Covenant gave me the freedom to live out my calling with Christ as the central person guiding me in all things,” says David. “The preeminence of God in my vocation, in my daily life and activities, has radically changed me. It gives me a balanced orientation to love mercy, love justice, and walk humbly with our God.”
Through relationships at Covenant with former president Frank Brock, Lookout Mountain residents, professors Tim Morris ’83 and Jerry Wenger, and many others, David grew in his understanding of biology and the call of Christ on his life. Every spring break, he went on mission trips to New York with Covenant staff member Susan Green, where he served the urban poor.
“Oh, how those trips blessed me,” says David. “They allowed me to see the depravity of our world through the eyes of addicts, but they also allowed me to experience the radiance of redemption that Christ brings when the chains of addiction are broken.”
After graduation, David earned his master’s degree in public health. He lives with his wife and children in California, where he serves with the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health.
In 2014, as word began to spread about the growing Ebola crisis in West Africa, David sensed God’s call on his life.
“The images streaming on our television screen were familiar,” says David. “They were close to my heart. I had lived and walked many of those streets. I also felt a deep sense that God had given me the skills needed to help Liberia respond to a crisis of unbelievable magnitude.”
David notes that Liberia was recovering from fifteen years of war and had as few as 250 physicians in a country of 4.5 million people. With a weak and fragile healthcare system, skilled labor was hard to find and the men and women who were trained were overworked and overwhelmed. David knew that serving in Liberia would mean leaving his well-paying job for a year, or more. He knew it would mean sacrifice for his family. But he also knew that Liberia needed willing partners who could help the country respond to this crisis.
“I was faced with a decision between believing that God is able to provide for our needs or staying in California and enjoying the comfortable, suburban lifestyle I was accustomed to,” says David.
David and his wife fervently prayed and sought wisdom from trusted friends and family. With encouragement and support from family and friends, David decided to take a leave of absence from his job and go to Liberia. Today, after four trips to the country, he has seen God’s faithfulness magnified through his time in Liberia and in the protection and provision his family has received.
During his trips to Liberia, David primarily works with the Liberian Ministry of Health, which is responsible for leading and coordinating all Ebola-related efforts throughout the nation. He also collaborates with an Eternal Love Winning Africa (ELWA) treatment unit.
“I particularly chose to be embedded within the Ministry of Health because I felt that this was the entity with the greatest need and where I could have a significant impact,” says David. “This strategic placement has allowed me to partner with major national and international leaders in Liberia along with mission organizations, and given me unprecedented access to members of Liberia’s executive branch of government.”
David is confident that before coming to Covenant he would not have chosen to work with and in government. Many of the people in his home culture believed that the government was corrupt and beyond redemption.
“Covenant radically transformed my view of the places we perceive as darkest in this life,” says David. “It is in those places that God can use our lives to shine brightly, if we allow Him to work in and through us to influence others. This is one of the key messages I use to challenge church leaders in Liberia. I want them to encourage their congregants to break out into spheres of society perceived as corrupt and depraved, so that they can bring light and hope and transformation.”
David recalls a vivid memory of the human burden of Ebola. On his second trip to Liberia, he met a young boy being released from an ELWA Ebola treatment unit (ETU). At nine years old, the boy was the height of David’s six-year-old son. He wore a red T-shirt, tucked into blue jeans, and David found him wandering around the grounds, with nowhere to go.
“For this boy, triumph over a deadly and unseen enemy was not greeted by joys, excitement, or jubilation of family members,” says David. “No family member was on site to receive him because his surviving family members were now quarantined after the Ebola death of a community member. I wanted to embrace him, to congratulate him, to take him home, to bring him with me to the U.S. All of my sincere thoughts turned into unspeakable emotions as I imagined the boy being my own son.”
David’s passion for this young boy and for the many men, women, and children suffering from the Ebola crisis has become a family passion. He and his wife encourage their three children to give away something special for the children in Liberia. The entire Yleah family is consistently lifted up in prayer by family members, friends, and their church.
“I believe the Lord is giving our family an utter sense of how blessed we are just by living in the U.S. and being loved by so many people who show us that we are not in this alone,” says David. “The Lord is molding us to learn how to sacrificially give to others and serve others through our talents. We pray that our children grow up seeing the world as God’s world, having a kingdom-heart for this world, and contributing to redeeming it for Christ in whatever way our Lord chooses to use them.”
Although the World Health Organization declared Liberia Ebola-free in January 2016, the work is not done. David encourages the Covenant community to pray, give, and take part in bringing healing to this part of the world. As of the fall of 2015, the largest outbreak of Ebola has led to 26,502 infections and 11,312 deaths. Liberia and neighboring countries will struggle for many years to recover from the Ebola crisis. Some estimate that it will take Liberia ten years to recover and rebuild its healthcare system.
“Pray for the spiritual healing of the Liberian people,” says David. “Disease in our world reveals the general effect of the Fall. I believe that the Lord can bring restoration, hope, and vitality to these nations by using members of the greater Covenant community. Many Liberians believe, and are encouraged when their brothers and sisters come alongside them to encourage them with such a message.”
From a refugee camp in the Ivory Coast, to the top of Lookout Mountain, all the way back around the world to Liberia—David’s journey is marked by the hand of a faithful God.
“I left Covenant with a big heart, having spent four years acquiring a world-class education and learning how to be the hands and feet of Jesus,” says David. “Going to Liberia was a natural product of that inner conviction and love I acquired many moons ago while at Covenant.”