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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) — Joe Boway is sitting at a church conference room table when his cellphone starts to buzz.
It's a call he needs to take, from a pastor in Liberia who's bringing him the latest on the deadly Ebola virus.
"Every day I'm on the phone and looking at TV trying to figure out what is going on," he says. This time, the pastor tells him of two more Ebola deaths in the Liberian capital of Monrovia and in Foya, a village Boway knows well.
For Boway, 49, the virus that has killed more than 1,000 people and sickened nearly 2,000 in Liberia as of Sept. 8 is personal. He grew up there, escaping the West African nation while it was war-torn in the late 1980s. For the past 12 years, he has been living in Fort Wayne while organizing and heading an effort to assist the nation's children.
Boway's Liberian Children's Ministry now works with 12 schools throughout Liberia to serve about 3,400 children, The Journal Gazette reported (http://bit.ly/1wo1fYS ). The ministry is organized under the auspices of New Life Lutheran Church, a Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod congregation in Fort Wayne.
Normally, at this time of year, Boway would be traveling to Liberia, delivering the school supplies he collects through fundraising, largely in LCMS churches. But this year, he is unable to travel because of restrictions related to Ebola.
The disease has also altered his fundraising focus.
Schools throughout the nation are closed until at least November or December because of a government-declared state of emergency. But, Boway says, the schools have taken on a new role - fighting Ebola.
"The principal of one school called and said they (the schools) are in charge of educating their village about the virus. They (government health officials) gave them one copy of a DVD for the whole region. He has to make copies of it. So I am trying to find a way to help him do that," he says. "Teachers are being asked to help educate people."
Schools also can be on the front lines of the disease.
Some have been pressed into becoming isolation areas for infected people because doctors and hospitals are few and far between, even in the best of times, Boway says. Now, hospitals are "overwhelmed" with patients, he says.
Boway, who began educating people in Liberia through newsletters when the first case came to light, has begun raising money for sanitary and medical supplies.
He says the simplest items - soap, hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, disposable thermometers, bleach, rubber gloves, even buckets for cleaning homes of the affected - are in short supply.
World health officials say the need for supplies is critical.
Nancy Writebol, the American missionary nurse who recovered from the virus, and her husband, David, said in a recent Associated Press interview that the inability to get medicine, gear and supplies for health workers was the nation's biggest problem.
The World Health Organization reported that so far, 152 Liberian doctors had been infected and 79 had died. The agency also reported the number of Ebola cases in Liberia, now in 13 of the country's 14 counties, was increasing exponentially. WHO predicted thousands of new cases in just the next three weeks.
That doesn't surprise the Rev. Mike Saylor, pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church outside Van Wert, Ohio. A friend and colleague of Boway for more than 20 years, Saylor has traveled with Boway to Liberia four times since 2010.
The reason for the spread, Saylor says, is geography. When he heard that the epidemic in Liberia had started in Lofa County in the rural north, he knew it was inevitable that it would spread to Monrovia, which has a population of 1 million, even though it was 300 miles away.
"There's only one highway to the north in the whole country," Saylor says, and it winds north from Monrovia. The highway amounts to a muddy or dusty two-lane road, depending on the season, he says. But people travel it from rural areas every day to buy and sell food and other goods - and lately, exchange germs.
"Yeah," he says, "the Ebola road. You could call it that."
Boway says the country now is on lock-down, with people other than health workers ordered not to travel. As a result, food prices are skyrocketing and food shortages are looming, he says.
Many people cannot work if they cannot travel, putting the economy at risk. And the problems from the disease in villages will likely be exacerbated as people cannot travel for treatment.
"There's real concern whether the government is going to survive Ebola," Saylor adds.
The nation, desperately poor, is still recovering from civil war. Saylor recalls seeing burned-out buildings from the war still standing in Monrovia during one of his trips. When he saw lights in them at night, he realized "there were people living in them."
"They actually have to pay rent to live there. . If the government falls, then it's just back to square one."
Boway says, "Everyone is afraid. Everyone is scared. You just don't know that someone you might come in contact with has Ebola. . Every day, people are dying, and it's still not getting better."
But he holds out hope, even as his homeland struggles. So far, he says, none of the children in the schools he's affiliated with has died of Ebola, although it's likely some will lose parents and other friends and relatives to the disease.
"It's like we take three steps forward and two steps back," he says. "That's Liberia."
Information from: The Journal Gazette, http://www.journalgazette.net
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