Nathan Glancy (’10) Leads Response to Ebola with Samaritan’s Purse

Shaun Short

Not many people enjoy being thrust into chaos or frequently finding themselves at the center of major crises. Yet that is exactly where Nathan Glancy – an MDiv graduate of Portland Seminary in 2010 – finds himself on a regular basis.

“That’s all I do – disasters,” he says of his current job with Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical organization that provides aid to countries in crisis around the world.

Glancy’s work with Samaritan’s Purse began in January 2011, when he moved with his wife Deanna and daughters Chelsea and Emily to Mozambique to take on the position of country director. They had lived there previously for several years while working with One Mission Society, so this assignment was a perfect fit.

One area of global relief that Glancy has been involved in during the last year is responding to the Ebola crisis in Liberia.

“We started responding as an organization in March 2014,” Glancy says. His first responsibility in regards to the crisis was as a response manager at the Samaritan’s Purse headquarters in North Carolina. From there he oversaw an Incident Management Team (IMT). The counterpart to the IMT is a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART), which Glancy oversaw in Liberia starting in July.

“I was sent to mostly evacuate people and oversee the work that was being done on the ground,” he says. “We were responding clinically at that time, so we had what are called ETUs – Ebola Treatment Units.” In addition to ETUs, Samaritan’s Purse responded with smaller Community Care Centers and Rapid Response teams. These nimble teams deployed to new Ebola-positive hot spots to implement clinical care for Ebola patients.

Much of the clinical care done by the DART in Liberia involved hygiene sensitization, infection protection and control education, and distribution of non-food item kits. There were around 75 medical staff members on the ground, with about 500 national staff doing other activities. As team leader, Glancy was responsible for everything happening on the ground.  

“We were in the communities a lot,” he explains, “but because Ebola was there you can’t eat with people, you can’t shake hands, you can’t be in contact. Any normal cultural customs were not practiced [because of Ebola].”

Cultural barriers were not the only problems faced by Glancy and his staff. Glancy was confronted by many questions during his time in Liberia.

“How do I keep my staff safe?” he remembers asking himself. “How do I return back to my family and not bring the disease with me?”

In September and October, Glancy and his staff saw 250 to 500 cases of Ebola per day. Although the ever-present threat to those working to relieve this crisis is real, Glancy believes that is precisely what finally brought global attention to the disaster.

“We were responding in March [2014] and trying to bring international attention to the issue,” he says. “It didn’t really make the radar until a Western person tested Ebola positive.”

Glancy says this lack of Western involvement in global issues is not limited to the Ebola crisis.

“Our desire to consume does directly affect the developing world, and directly drives conflict,” he says. “The average person in the U.S./West doesn’t understand, and doesn’t keep up with the suffering of other people.”

Nathan GlancyGlancy’s understanding of reaching the suffering was shaped in part by his time at GFES.

“My time at Fox definitely was challenging theologically, philosophically, and has forever impacted how I interact with the world,” he says. “My understanding of reaching the suffering, the marginalized, the forgotten, the poor, was a huge part of my formation in seminary.”  

Glancy was invited to the White House in February to represent Samaritan’s Purse at a gathering of NGO, private sector and military leaders involved in the Ebola response. President Obama personally expressed gratitude to this group of Americans who have led the response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.  

“It was great to see the president and meet our partners and other organizations that we have worked with throughout the Ebola response,” says Glancy, who attended the event with Samaritan’s vice president of program and government relations, Ken Isaacs.

Joseph N. Boakai, the vice president of Liberia, has also recently commended Samaritan’s Purse for its work in the fight against Ebola. Vice President Boakai gratefully noted that Samaritan’s Purse was one of the first organizations to respond to the epidemic in his country.

Though his work is receiving the appreciation of executive government leaders, Glancy seems more comfortable moving forward with the response work yet to be done than reveling in any recognition. A few days after the White House event, Glancy headed to Geneva, Switzerland, for a week of meetings with the World Health Organization to discuss the ongoing response to Ebola and best practices for medical field hospitals. After those meetings, Glancy will return to his station at Samaritan’s Purse headquarters in North Carolina, where he now manages the unit that responds to global disasters from the states.

While the uncertainty of responding to disasters would be discomforting for most, to Glancy, “It’s just the nature of my work.”

-- Lizzy Riese

Read more about Glancy and the work of Samaritan's Purse on their website.