- Associated Press - Sunday, November 23, 2014

HYANNIS, Mass. (AP) - Forced by the Ebola epidemic to be under lockdown in a children’s home in Sierra Leone, missionaries Patty and Allen Morell of Centerville are reaching out to thousands of people in the West African nation with a radio program.

“We’re not even going to mention Ebola,” said Patty Morell, who with her husband works at the Child Rescue Centre in Bo. “We just want to be upbeat and educational and fun.”

Schools in Sierra Leone, which, according to the Centers for Disease Control, have lost 1,130 people to the Ebola epidemic, are closed until the outbreak is over.

The death toll includes two workers at Mercy Hospital, which is adjacent to the Child Rescue Centre. The organizations are both supported financially by 14 United Methodist churches, including the Osterville United Methodist Church to which the Morells belong.

Since Aug. 30, the 44 children who live at the Child Rescue Centre in Bo, where Allen Morell is acting director, have not been able to leave the compound to attend school in the community, Patty Morell said in a phone interview from Sierra Leone.

And the more than 300 additional children in the area whose education, medical and - in some cases - foster care expenses are underwritten by the Child Rescue Centre, are stuck at home and feeling stir crazy, she said.

“People here want life to get back to normal,” she said. “You can imagine with schools being closed down and many NGOs leaving the country that the economy is suffering and people are really getting cabin fever. We want to help them feel connected.”

The radio program started Monday and is scheduled to air three times a week. It features games, contests, stories and Bible lessons as well as educational content, said Patty Morell, who is helping with the English academic programming.

“We are targeting the Bo area, but it reaches much farther than that. So we are hoping that thousands of families are listening.”

The Sierra Leone government has provided radios to families and is broadcasting school lessons.

The effects of the hemorrhagic illness that has devastated Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea are all around.

Next door, Mercy Hospital closed for a 21-day period after a patient thought to have malaria died of Ebola, Patty Morell said. She said the hospital has a specially dedicated ambulance to take Ebola patients to treatment in Freetown.

Three hospital staff members caught the disease and one - a housekeeper - died, Morell said. “Our whole community is sad,” she said.

In addition, a physician’s assistant at Mercy Hospital died after treating his brother at another hospital, Morell said.

“It was really devastating. (He was) a really nice man. It’s a scary thing,” she said. “It’s a complicated disease in a developing country.”

The Morells, who have lived on the Cape for the last five years, started doing mission work in Sierra Leone in 2003 in the aftermath of an 11-year civil war. The Child Rescue Centre was founded in 2000 to serve children orphaned or separated from their parents during the civil war.

The Morells have earned the respect of fellow congregants at Osterville United Methodist Church.

The local church recently raised $6,000 for the new radio programming, pastor John Holt said. The church also supports the Child Rescue Centre with an annual stipend, and church members’ children collect basketballs, gifts, books and backpacks for the children of Sierra Leone.

Someday - when the Ebola epidemic is in the past - church members from Osterville would like to join the Morells on a mission trip, Holt said.

“I almost don’t have words for all the courage that they have,” Holt said about the Morells. “It comes from a deep faith they have. A love for those kids. A love for their mission.”

Patty Morell, who relocated with her husband to the Cape from Virginia, said family and friends did not want them to return to Sierra Leone.

“But this is where we feel God wants us to be right now,” she said. “We feel we are at very low risk because we are not only following the protocols but we are in lockdown. Our priority is to keep the children in the residential program safe and busy, plus stay connected to our staff and children on the outside of the walls of the Child Rescue Centre compound.”

No one is coming or going from the Child Rescue Centre compound, where six women residential counselors and security staff have joined the Morells and the children, ages 4 to 17.

“We sent all the administrative staff home. We just cannot (take) a chance of having Ebola come into the center,” Patty Morell said.

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