LaVonna Ennis and her husband, Scott, are AGWM missionaries to West Africa.
When news of COVID-19 came to us in March, we began to closely monitor the situation. Operating a newly established Bible school, ministering in local new congregations, discipling believers, and mentoring ministers kept us quite busy in West Africa.
By April, we were faced with a tough decision: return to the United States on a repatriation flight or ride out the pandemic in a nation with less-than-adequate health care. We knew there were an insufficient number of ventilators. According to our sources, there were either five or 11 total units for our population of just over two million.
Our first grandchild, Adalai, was due in May. We had planned to be there for her birth, for our district council, for our daughter’s college graduation, and a few other scheduled meetings. But the only airport in the nation was closing down. Only repatriation and medical flights would be allowed for the foreseeable future. After much prayer and discussing each possible scenario, we made the decision to remain where we were.
We wanted to protect ourselves as much as possible and be prepared in case the worst happened. So we tracked down Z-packs and zinc tablets. We wanted to have hydroxychloroquine – previously an over-the-counter drug. But immediately after President Trump stated it showed promise for COVID, all hydroxychloroquine and quinine were confiscated. These medications have been used for many years in West Africa to treat malaria. But they were no longer available. All medical shipments were either seized or held up. So even medications we had been getting for several years were no longer available.
Because churches were shut down, we felt a need to help keep people connected. Scott began sending out daily devotions and a weekly video sermon, even conducting occasional communion for people to partake as families. I began sending a daily children’s story and producing a weekly video for the kids: Stories with Auntie Mariama (my Gambian name). We sent these via WhatsApp to conserve data costs as much as possible. Soon they were going to five African nations.
When the mask mandate for our country went into play, we complied. We social distanced as much as possible – which is much more difficult in African culture than it is in American culture, where everyone has a personal space bubble. But around the last day of July, Scott began to exhibit symptoms of COVID. He suffered for over a week with harsh, malaria-like symptoms (though the fatigue and pain continued long after). My symptoms showed up about four days later than his. I expected to be much like he was, but my symptoms were much worse.
Health care professionals consulted with us, but they begged us not to be admitted to a local hospital. Very few who were admitted came home alive. Immediately at the onset of our symptoms, we began taking the antibiotics and zinc. We drank Bitter Lemon (a soft drink containing a full dose of quinine) and both of us used an inhaler twice per day. Scott’s parents had just come through COVID, so we followed the orders their health care professionals had given them, working to keep our lungs clear. For four weeks, we did not allow anyone to enter the door of our home. Missionary colleagues and church members brought prepared food to our door and called to let us know it was waiting.
I grew weaker and weaker, and the pain was unbearable at times. Keeping down a few bites and staying hydrated became a battle. I could barely walk from the bedroom to the recliner in the living room. After about a week, I could not walk at all. Scott wheeled me back and forth in an office chair. I couldn’t even walk the 17 steps from the bed to the bathroom. We only played praise and worship music or listened to Scripture during this time [listening to Women’s Ministries Chasing God Bible reading program on YouVersion]. I could not endure any TV, news, or podcasts.
There was such an oppressive darkness surrounding us. We often fight spiritual warfare in West Africa, but we also later learned from many believers who experienced COVID-19 that they felt a spiritual aspect as well.
On the night I was the sickest, the electricity went off (nothing unusual), silencing the soothing praise music. As I woke up, I saw demonic spirits of death flying near the ceiling. I could almost feel the harsh breeze caused by their wings. I whispered, “God, I am ready to meet you if you are ready to take me, but I rebuke these spirits of darkness.”
My greatest regret was that I would not meet my three grandchildren (the first was just over one month old, and the next two were to be born in September and November). I felt a gentle nudge from the Holy Spirit: “You’re going to have to PRAISE your way through this.” I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant, but I began to worship God in a whisper. Partly not to awaken Scott, and partly because I had no voice, and my breathing was labored.
After a few minutes, I began to whisper the lyrics:
I raise a hallelujah in the presence of my enemies
I raise a hallelujah louder than the unbelief
I raise a hallelujah my weapon is a melody
I raise a hallelujah, heaven comes to fight for me
At that point, I saw a light begin to pierce through the center of the demonic spirits. So I continued:
I’m gonna sing in the middle of my storm
Louder and louder You’re gonna hear my praises roar
Up from the ashes, hope will arise
Death is defeated, the King is alive!
I felt the evil spirits move to the edges of the room and the center was filled with light. As long as I praised, the darkness remained at bay. But when I stopped praising, they fluttered back to surround me. I continued to whisper praises and worship songs for about six hours. Finally, well after the sun was up, I no longer sensed evil in the room, though my body was still weak and ravaged with the disease.
I honestly believed I was going home to be with Jesus. And I was ok with that. I woke Scott and told him about my experience. I said I only had one request: that he let the grandchildren know how much I loved them and wanted to get to know them. He obviously was not ready for that to happen.
Scott was able to arrange for a pharmacist (one of our church members) and a nurse (one of our Bible school students) to come to care for me in the home that day. When they arrived my blood pressure was 60/40, and I was severely dehydrated despite our efforts to keep that from happening. They administered life-giving fluids, high doses of vitamin B-12, and started me on new rounds of antibiotics and an alternative malaria medication.
As I was getting the treatment, Scott received a message from our friend, pastor Derwin Ward, who sent a recording I had requested. I wanted to hear the old hymn, Wonderful Peace, but Scott couldn’t find a recording on YouTube with all of the verses. He asked Derwin to record it for me. I was too weak to even hold my phone, so Scott set it on repeat and set it on my chest. Tears streamed down my face as I began to heal, both in body and in spirit.
After a week, I was finally able to walk by pushing the office chair like a walker. Three days later, I let go of that. But my legs could not hold my weight, and I walked like a marionette puppet. On Aug. 18, I shook from head to toe as I finally conquered 200 steps for the day.
Before COVID, I had been hitting 10,000 steps five days per week. Since I didn’t have anyone here to give me therapy, I contacted missionary Suzanne Hurst for tips to regain my strength. As I added a few steps daily and worked with resistance bands, I began to grow stronger. I had an incentive: the airport had reopened on a small scale, and Scott booked tickets for us to meet our Adalai and to be in the States for the births of our other two grandchildren, Amara and Joshua. I needed to be able to walk through the airport and carry my hand baggage.
I later learned that thousands of people were praying for us in the U.S., Africa, and around the world. Our decision to stay — and God’s healing touch on our lives — has greatly impacted our Muslim friends in West Africa as well.
We arrived in the States 11 hours before Amara was born. She was in NICU for two weeks. Joshua had a difficult birth and was in and out of NICU for several days. But we thank God that all three grandbabies are healthy today – and they’re absolutely amazing and beautiful!
Although we were functioning mostly in a normal capacity, I still had a lot of pain and muscle weakness from COVID. It was especially difficult for me to get in and out of a vehicle and to climb stairs. Before COVID, I climbed 15 flights three to four times per week as exercise. Now I could barely climb one flight.
On Nov. 8, Scott dedicated Adalai at Abundant Life Assembly of God in Neosho, Missouri. We had to climb a flight of stairs to get to the sanctuary. I had to literally pull myself up each stair by the banister. During the service, the Holy Spirit began to move. A lady came to the front and said, “God wants to heal someone here of pain and muscle fatigue. I don’t even know what that means, but that’s what He is saying to me.”
As I held Adalai, I began to claim that for me. As the service went on, I noticed I was not feeling the pain which had been with me constantly for the past three and a half months. I handed off the baby and slipped outside to test what I was feeling. I went down the stairs and nearly ran back up, without touching the banister, and with no pain — I have not had any issues since that day!
We are so thankful to God for His hand of healing and direction through this journey. He has taught us much about trust, obedience, and His faithfulness!