A Minnesota mother and her two young children stranded in Liberia amid the Ebola outbreak are coming home with the help of a stranger who said the family's story and his faith in God moved him to act.
Bernice Sulomna and her two sons traveled to Monrovia, Liberia's capital, in July to visit family. When the Nigerian airline they used abruptly canceled all flights in and out of the Ebola hot zones indefinitely, Sulomna and the kids were stuck.
The working-class family from the city of Ramsey, all U.S. citizens, had saved for two years for the trip. Father and fiancé Jacob Mayson, who had stayed behind to work, was desperately trying to scrape together the nearly $4,000 needed to buy new tickets on a different airline.
Dozens of people called and e-mailed offers of help after a story about the family ran in the Star Tribune. While Mayson scrambled to set up a P.O. box to collect donations, one man paid for the whole thing.
Tim Stahl, a Greenfield resident, said he read the family's story "and it physically impacted me. I literally had to get up and walk around the house," he said Monday.
"I have kids; God has blessed me. And to see somebody separated from their family with no options, it just shook me to the core," Stahl said. "I talked to my wife and I said, 'I think I'm supposed to do something.' And she said, 'I agree.' "
Stahl and Mayson met for coffee, and Stahl said he would buy Mayson's family three return flights on Brussels Airlines.
Floored by the gesture, Mayson asked, "Are you a pastor or something?" Stahl replied, "No, I am an ordinary guy."
That "ordinary guy" is a marketing manager for Intuit, the software company that makes TurboTax and other programs.
"I don't run around with my checkbook every day," said Stahl, the father of three. "I felt God called me to do this."
Stahl said his grandfather came through Ellis Island as a German immigrant who didn't speak a word of English.
"That has made an incredible life for my family," Stahl said. "And that's who Jacob is and that's what he's trying to do."
Sulomna, 8-year-old Jacob Jr. and 2-year-old Benzel will arrive home the afternoon of Nov. 29 and stay at home for 21 days to ensure no one in the family is ill.
"We are overjoyed and ecstatic," Mayson said.
Mayson said he immediately called his relatives in Liberia. They were so excited they couldn't sleep, he said.
"A tremendous burden was taken off my shoulders," said Mayson, who has a bachelor's degree in accounting but works the overnight shift at a group home. "He is a wonderful person."
Staff writer John Reinan contributed to this report.