Malaria Fighters Knock at Capitol Hill Doors

December 06, 2012

WASHINGTON — More than 100 Imagine No Malaria advocates, including United Methodist members from 29 states and 40 annual conferences, along with five participants from Africa, moved out across Capitol Hill on Dec. 4 during a "Days on the Hill" gathering in Washington, D.C., to meet with members of Congress to urge continued global health funding.

"The future of Congressional funding to global health, including fighting malaria, is in jeopardy," said Bishop Thomas Bickerton, who chairs the United Methodist Global Health Initiative. "The U.S. has been the world leader in global health aid, inspiring other countries to step up their support. To cut this critical funding would mean unnecessary suffering and loss of life from this preventable disease."

Teams representing more than 40 annual conferences attended, including those from fifteen vanguard annual conferences that have made a commitment to support Imagine No Malaria by planning activities and raising funds. These vanguard conferences include Arkansas, Baltimore-Washington, California-Nevada, Dakotas, Desert Southwest, Great Northwest, Holston, Iowa, Kansas East, Kansas West, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Rocky Mountain, and Yellowstone.

Here is a bit of what they saw and heard during the day.
 
The Rev. Linda Caldwell, Cal-Nevada's Conference Superintendent for Mission Collaboration, the Rev. Saia Fa'asisila, pastor of Shoreview United Methodist Church in San Mateo, and Lynne McCoy from Los Altos United Methodist Church, visited with Carla McGarvey, senior counsel for Mike Thompson, member of Congress from the First District; Ahmed Bhadelia, senior advisor for Michael Honda, member of Congress from the 15th District; Erin Katzelnick-Wise, legislative assistant for Ann G. Eshoo, member of Congress from the 14th District; Erin M. Ryan, legislative counsel for Jackie Speier, member of Congress from the 12th District; and Richard W. Harper, Jr., lgislative assistant for Senator Dianne Feinstein; and Walker Zorensky, legislative research assistant for Senator Barbara Boxer. 
 
"We were encouraged that in all our conversations we found appreciation for The United Methodist Church and its partnership in Imagine No Malaria," Caldwell wrote. "Our appeals to maintain funding of federal programs that support efforts around the world to eradicate malaria were understood and supported. There was recognition of the critical economic time we are in and its impact on the current budget debate on 'the Hill.' In sharing our concerns, they also emphasized how important it is for them to hear from their constituents on this matter and how we see their part in it, so they can use our voices to back up their arguments on the floor," continued Caldwell.
 
"We were grateful to the delegation from the Desert Southwest Conference, who, with a larger delegation, were able to have similar conversations with the leadership in the offices of Nevada Senators Dean Heller and Harry Reid. They also visited in the office of Congressman Joe Heck."
 
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Sandra Weaver, director of communications for Imagine No Malaria, said Phoenix Area Bishop Robert Hoshibata kicked off the meetings with a staffer from the office of outgoing Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.). He made the case for continued U.S. support of The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and fighting malaria, and said he would keep Kyl in prayer as negotiations continue on the federal budget.
 
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The Rev. Mike Dent, senior pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church in Denver, shared his thoughts with his conference in a blog this morning: "What can you do to help? Pray for the campaign, those living and dying with malaria, and this gathering here in the nation's capital. Tonight I walked by many memorials — Jefferson, Lincoln, MLK, WWII, Korean War, and Vietnam War. All paid tribute to those who sacrificed to make a better world. Our names will likely never be on such memorials, but we can sacrifice to save precious children threatened by the parasite received through the bite of an infected female mosquito."
 
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The Rev. Art McClanahan, communications director of the Iowa Conference, kept his recorder handy and used his radio training to capture the actual voices and sounds of presentations to the advocates throughout the two days of meetings. From the stories about what it is like to deal with malaria in Africa, to the inside looks at what organizations are doing to fight the disease, McClanahan offers a close-up understanding of why this effort is so important.
 
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Matthew Stultz, Indiana Conference communicator, visited the office of outgoing Sen. Richard Lugar (R.-Ind.), a well-known United Methodist. Stultz told his group that because Lugar leaves office at the end of this year, he won't be able to vote on their issues of concern. However, the group did get a list of names of other officeholders who are supportive of overseas health issues. Indiana's other senator, Dan Coats, a Republican, met with Vince Zito, who said Coats indicated he is very supportive of foreign aid and seemed receptive to Imagine No Malaria. Zito said they exchanged information and opened up a line of communication.
 
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The Rev. Paul A. Fleck of Connecticut, part of the New York Conference, was with the group that talked with his state's delegation to both the U.S. House and Senate. All were extraordinarily receptive and supportive, he said. They learned about a relative of one of the staffers of Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D.-Conn.), who contracted malaria while visiting Africa and still is recovering from the disease's ravages. A staffer in the office of Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman noted that the senator was a co-sponsor on a resolution seeking to end malaria. A staff member from Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro's office noted that he had been on a fact-finding trip to Zambia recently and found the experience eye-opening. He said he was well aware of the important work being done through the President's Malaria Initiative, the Global Fund, and faith-based groups.
 
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Patrick Scriven, director of communications and young people's ministries for the Pacific Northwest Conference, noted that Congress is dealing with the looming fiscal cliff and blogged that he is "compelled to believe that people of faith, speaking out in favor of global health funding, might make little difference. But while the realist (or perhaps cynic) in me recognizes that our work may be foolish, I do know that praying and reading Scripture, good practices that they are, have no chance of making change if we never allow our spiritual discernment to move us forward toward action. For what it's worth, I had very pleasant meetings with aides for both of Washington state's senators and received their assurance that both supported and appreciated the work of the Global Fund and groups like The United Methodist Church."
 
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Glen Simpson, coordinator of young adult ministries for the Desert Southwest Conference, noted that in addition to the opportunity to speak with U.S. senators and representatives, it was inspiring to share the stories with staffers, who mostly are young adults, as he is. These young people were so interested in the work that The United Methodist Church is doing, Simpson wrote, and some even inquired how they might possibly donate themselves to the cause. "We cannot underestimate the power of the connectional system," he said.
 
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Matt Brodie of the South Carolina Conference said the advocacy team from South Carolina met with staffers from the offices of Sens. Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint, both Republican. Graham's office was clear that they are very supportive of the Global Fund, and even gave the United Methodists some advice and talking points to take to DeMint's office. A DeMint staff member, who also is a United Methodist, was kind and listened well to United Methodist concerns about the Global Fund, Brodie said. "But we felt the response was a little flat. All in all, it was a great experience, and we are hopeful we've made an impact on the fight against malaria," he said. The team members in addition to Brodie were the Revs. Karen Jones, Jeri Katherine Sipes, and Amiri Hooker.
 
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Greg Nelson, director of communications for the Oregon-Idaho Ann Conference, said that he, Emile Kroen, and the Rev. Jim Frisbie were able to visit with staff members from four congressional offices. Frisbee and Nelson met Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) on the sidewalk outside the Capitol building. After hearing the plea to protect funding for the President's Malaria Initiative, Blumenauer challenged them not to ask to hold funding but to ask for more to support this important program.
 
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Torie Hicks from the Alaska Conference says her delegation was received positively. No promises, but everyone shared that they wanted to support it. From Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski's meeting, Hicks wrote, "it is so doable to end malaria and this is where her heart is." From Democratic Sen. Mark Begich's office: One child a minute is still too many; there is still so much more to do. In Rep. Don Young's office: A small portion of the budget that can build friendships where we need friends.
 
The event was held at the same time Imagine No Malaria celebrates that more than 1.2 million nets have been delivered, well ahead of the goal of one million by year's end. More than 9,000 nets were delivered in Angola in October, and 22,000 will be distributed in Zimbabwe in December.

For more information, visit
Imagine No Malaria.org and follow the action on INM's Facebook page and on Twitter.