- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 21, 2014

COLFAX, Ind. (AP) - Travis and Gina Sheets are on a mission.

Literally.

The husband and wife are missionaries who, until earlier this year, worked in West Africa, the epicenter of the growing Ebola virus epidemic.

Some may think at least the Clinton County natives are safe now that they’re in Indiana, but actually, they’ve been back just for a months-long pit stop. They’re longing for the place they now call home - Liberia, one of the three countries hit hardest by this year’s outbreak, the Journal & Courier reported (https://on.jconline.com/1t3Wapp ).

More than half of the 9,000 people infected with the virus have died, and the rate of new infections could accelerate through the end of the year, according to the World Health Organization.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said her nation, already weakened by years of war, has been brought to “a standstill” by Ebola, which has killed more than 2,000 people in Liberia alone, with most of the world’s other cases diagnosed in neighboring Guinea and Sierra Leone.

Yet those statistics represent more than macro-level epidemiological concerns for the missionary couple.

“We’ve had six people that were close to us who passed,” Gina Sheets told about two dozen people gathered Sunday at Colfax United Methodist Church to hear about the couple’s work 5,200 miles away.

Before she and her husband left Liberia in July, a woman asked them to take her teenage grandson, Gabe Brown, under their roof. The Sheetses delayed a decision, but they assured Brown and his grandmother that they’d all sit down and discuss the matter upon their return to Liberia.

Now that conversation won’t happen. Brown and his grandmother died of Ebola in early September, Gina Sheets said, choking back tears.

Mourning the dead comes coupled with a realization of just how destructive the contagious disease could have been for their ministry.

“We could’ve lost our entire team,” she said.

Despite their grief - perhaps emboldened by it - she intends to board a plane with her husband Nov. 20 and return to Liberia.

The Sheetses launched Hope in the Harvest Mission International to help heal Liberia’s economy after political unrest wiped out agricultural know-how that would have continued to be passed down to the next generation.

“We have work to do,” she said, determined.

___

Information from: Journal and Courier, https://www.jconline.com

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