'Imagine Something More' to End Malaria, Bishop Says

October 23, 2009

By Linda Bloom
Oct. 16, 2009 | STAMFORD, Conn. (UMNS)

United Methodist Bishop Thomas Bickerton keeps a $10 bill in his pocket so he can demonstrate how little money it takes to protect an African household from malaria.
But the roving ambassador for the denomination's involvement in the Nothing But Nets project, a joint effort with the United Nations Foundations and other groups, has a much larger goal than the millions of bed nets that have been sent to Africa.
Bickerton, who is chairperson of the Global Health Initiative for the United Methodist Council of Bishops, seeks nothing less than the elimination of malaria – a treatable and preventable disease that still claims a life every 30 seconds -- by 2015.
The reality, he told directors of the United Methodist Committee on Relief during their Oct. 13 meeting, is that it will take a far greater effort than Nothing But Nets to achieve that goal.
Although UMCOR has been among the United Methodist partners combating malaria, "we have to imagine something more," the bishop explained. "We have to imagine collaboration, cooperation and partnership on a scale we have not thought of before."
A new campaign, Imagine No Malaria, has been formed, with a public launch set for the next World Malaria Day - April 25, 2010.
$75 million fundraising goal
The church's Global Health Initiative has a $75 million fundraising goal approved by the 2008 General Conference. Imagine No Malaria will expand grassroots programs like Nothing But Nets and develop more comprehensive efforts to promote prevention and education activities, strengthen health delivery systems and train health care workers to more effectively treat the disease.
The United Methodist Church was the first faith-based partner in Imagine No Malaria, but the Lutherans have joined the cause. The Lutheran Malaria Initiative, also with a $75 million goal, is a shared effort among the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod and Lutheran World Relief.
Bickerton, who leads the Pittsburgh episcopal area, admits that the 2015 deadline - a date set to halt deaths from malaria in one of the millennium goals of the United Nations - "has been laughed at."
But in the midst of such doubts, "the power of God is at work. We have 160 years of success in this denomination when it comes to the mission of the church."
The United Methodist Church was approached to be a partner in this endeavor because of the health delivery system it already has in Africa, an aging but intact infrastructure that "has put us in place to be a player on the world scene," he said.
In fact, Bickerton added, a distinctly Methodist system - the connectional system that binds its churches together around the world - is serving as a model for the campaign.
"Malaria is being eliminated through connectionalism," he declared. "What the world is discovering is that we need each other to solve big problems."
The connection with the United Nations Foundation is "putting us in places where, as a church, we could not go on our own," Bickerton pointed out.
The church, for example, is both a donor to and recipient of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, has received a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and is working with International Federation of the Red Cross on distributing mosquito nets in Sierra Leone.
'Uniting of faith and work'
United Methodist Communications is leading the denomination's effort to meet the $75 million goal by the end of 2012. "This effort is really a uniting of faith and work," said the Rev. Gary Henderson, staff executive.
An Imagine No Malaria pilot fundraising project in the Southwest Texas Conference, which will expand across the denomination on a regional basis, uses a five-step plan to attract donations.
"We go to churches and we ask them to set a goal - and then make it fun," explained Kevin Armshaw, a fundraising consultant. One of the models is the "Impact 100 Society," where individuals pledge gifts of $1,000, $5,000 and $10,000.
Other church agencies are playing a role in the Global Health Initiative. The Board of Global Ministries is focusing on the delivery of health care-focused services to Africa through missionary work and UMCOR.
The Board of Higher Education and Ministry is educating Africans to help them acquire the skills to lift themselves out of poverty and raising funds in the United States to aid the effort.
The Board of Church and Society is advocating for better education about diseases of poverty plaguing Africa and asking lawmakers to adopt policies to address the diseases.
Shannon Trilli, an executive with UMCOR Health, noted that a significant portion of the $75 million goal will be invested back into United Methodists hospitals and health systems in Africa. Church leaders and local health boards "will tell us what they need, in their communities, to fight malaria."
Bickerton believes the goal is attainable. "When people sense a need in The United Methodist Church, they have an overwhelming ability to respond," he said.