Jars of Clay Asks Crowd to Imagine No Malaria

April 29, 2010

By The Rev. Kathy Noble*

AUSTIN, Texas (UMNS) - To Wilson Pruitt, there's no need to debate whether efforts should be made to stop suffering from malaria in Africa. "It's a simple issue," he says, "There's no conflict. There is no one who is for malaria."
Pruitt, a member of First United Methodist Church in Austin, was among nearly 2,000 people gathered on the lawn of the Texas State Capitol on April 25, World Malaria Day, for the official launch of Imagine No Malaria. The initiative is The United Methodist Church's campaign to raise $75 million toward the elimination of deaths and suffering from malaria in Africa by 2015.
Grammy and Dove Award-winning Christian rock band Jars of Clay headlined the event that brought Austin area bands, singers and drummers together with United Methodist leaders and representatives of the United Nations Foundation and other partners to spread a common message: Malaria is preventable; malaria is treatable. One out of five children in Africa under 5 does not need to die of the disease. The gifts of United Methodists that have provided insecticide-treated bed nets and education are already making a difference.
"What I've learned about malaria today is that it is a very treatable disease," Dan Haseltine, lead vocalist of Jars of Clay, said. "What makes it such an injustice is that over 1 million children die every year of malaria."
"It blows my mind there are people dying of this disease," Stephen Mason, Jars guitarist, said. "We can do something to stop it. That's not true of a lot of diseases today."
The crowd also heard videotaped stories from Texans whose lives were affected by malaria before it was eradicated in the United States in the late 1940s, hammering home the message that the disease is preventable and those who are infected do not have to die.
"If there had not been a cure for it, I would not be here today," the Rev. Bobbi Kaye Jones, superintendent of the Austin district, said in a video presentation. Jones' mother survived two severe childhood bouts with malaria.
The festive World Malaria Day event ended on a celebratory note as United Methodist Bishop Thomas Bickerton of Pittsburgh announced that $10,031,452 has been donated or pledged as of April 25. The total includes a $100,000 gift secured earlier this afternoon, said Bickerton, who chairs the Imagine No Malaria initiative for the denomination.
The Texas event brought two Imagine No Malaria events in Democratic Republic of Congo earlier this month to Bickerton's mind.
"They were similar to this, but different," he said. "We gathered here safe and healthy; they gathered with malaria. Our children live a happy life. Their children are dying of this disease."
Earlier Bickerton commended United Methodists for generously supporting the fight against malaria through Nothing But Nets. In past presentations, he said, he pulled out a $10 bill and asked attendees to match his donation.
"Today, I'm asking you to pull out your cell phone and push 27722 and text malaria. In this moment, right here in this place, you’ll make another difference." Each text message gives $10 to Imagine No Malaria.
"We've made a huge difference in a short amount of time," Bickerton said, "but it will take a concentrated effort to raise $75 million. We can't let this get ahead of us. We have to make this a part of our lives every day."
As the event launched worldwide fundraising and awareness-building for Imagine No Malaria, it also celebrated pilot efforts in the Southwest Texas (regional) Annual Conference that have garnered $1.2 million in cash and pledges since September. The campaign is also underway in the North Texas and Western Pennsylvania conferences and will be rolled out around the world in coming months.
Last summer, Bishop James Dorff of San Antonio asked for 110 churches to participate. "We got 120 and then district by district, church by church, you've been able to participate in a variety of ways," he said. "Bed nets plus is what we're all about!"
"By the time you graduate from high school, Imagine No Malaria will not be a slogan, it will be a fact," Dorff told sixth and seventh graders attending. "This is your time, do not let it pass; this is our time, we must not let it pass."
As 15-year-old Helen Hesston attended the event, she said she and three of her friends at Westlake United Methodist Church in Austin have pledged to raise $1,000 this year. "We should be thinking about the people," the ninth grader said.
On World Malaria Day, people should be planning "to help one at a time as long as it takes to get it done," said Luke Kerns. "More nets" is the theme for the 14-year-old from Buda United Methodist Church who has pledged $50.
"It's getting the numbers behind Imagine No Malaria," said Ashley Davila of Austin as she wondered, "How can we harness the power of all these Methodists to eradicate the disease?" Her husband Lee wrote a song, "One of These Tomorrows," which the couple recorded as part of Oak Hill United Methodist Church's efforts to provide $120,000 for the campaign.
As a child, Wilson Marimi of Kenya had malaria many times. He vividly recalls suffering a bout when he was 5. His mother gathered him and two siblings to walk to a village where they could be treated - village 20 miles away.
"I walked slowly," Marimi said in a video presentation. "After one mile, I sat down. After another mile, I sat down. We arrived on the third day." A doctor at the clinic gave him one injection and told him to go sit under a tree until the pain subsided. The next day the family began the 20-mile trek home.
"This is a story affecting 5 million people currently," he said. "One million, they die each year. The majority are pregnant women and children below 5 years of age."
The Rev. Ken Dahlberg of Sierra Vista, Texas, contracted malaria as a 16-year-old while spending the summer in Somalia. "It was the most awful thing I'd ever been through," he said. "With an additional 50 years of living, it is still the most awful thing I've ever been through."
"I cannot imagine a child or a mother or a pregnant mother that does not have access to treatment or the tools of prevention. That's why I am a stalwart supporter of Imagine No Malaria."
" want the audience to know that it's easy and affordable to eradicate the problem," Jars keyboardist Charlie Lowell said. "If my kid were sick with malaria, I would want to call on a neighbor to help me. We want to look on Africans as our neighbors and see how we can help them."
"How we will make it possible," Bickerton said, "is when we put on Africa, when we remember with them, when we remember they are family. When we are with them, we are home."
*Noble is editor of Interpreter and Interpreter Online.