Laywoman Gives $1.1 Million Gift to Malaria Initiative

January 30, 2014

*By Dr. Larry R. Hygh, Jr.
“I think it’s important that we all give back in some small way to make this world a better place for folks to live,” says Barbara Ferguson. Ferguson, a laywoman from Los Altos United Methodist Church (UMC), is donating $1.1 million towards the California-Nevada Conference’s efforts in the denomination’s Imagine No Malaria campaign. The conference’s goal is to save 200,000 lives on the continent of Africa by raising $2 million by 2015.
Ferguson was present for a presentation by Bishop Warner H. Brown, Jr., resident Bishop of the California-Nevada Conference, upon his return from a trip to Angola. Ferguson says after hearing the presentation, “My heart was tugging and I believed that I needed to do it (give to Imagine No Malaria).”
This is the largest gift to date from an individual donor to Imagine No Malaria.
“Barbara is a marvelous example of living into our calling to be disciples of Jesus.  She faithfully looks for ways she can make a difference in people’s lives,” said Bishop Brown. “Barbara is a humble person and seeks no attention for herself.  Instead, she encourages all of us to be the disciple we were baptized to be.”
Bishop Brown says he is encouraged by the creative ways in which people in the conference are getting involved in Imagine No Malaria. “Even prior to Barbara’s commitment we have saved more than 8,500 lives on the continent of Africa,” said Bishop Brown 
Ferguson, and her late husband Earl Ferguson who passed away suddenly in 2003, both grew up in the farming community of Goldendale, Washington. She says they met at the age of 12, began dating when they were 14, and were married by the age of 23. Ferguson tells of Earl coming from humble beginnings with his family raising cattle of a ranch near the Columbia River with him being eight before they had electricity in the home. 
“He (Earl) always valued education and after high school attended Yakima Valley Community College, University of Washington, and the University of Michigan,” said Ferguson.  Earl Ferguson went on to have a successful career in the computer science industry and helped to develop two companies that were awarded four patents.  Eventually, one of the companies, Foundry Networks, went public.
Ferguson says when the first start-up was sold, the couple had $1 million. “We stood in the kitchen and said we must give back.” She added, “We were richly blessed. We grew up in farm families where we didn’t’ have much money. After Earl’s first company sold, we knew we could act on God’s plan for us.”
Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton, who leads the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference and the denomination’s Imagine No Malaria efforts, said, “I am overjoyed by the receipt of this gift…I pray that is will be multiplied over and over.” He added, “This gift represents the next wave of giving; the large gift connected to the grass roots giving strength of Imagine No Malaria is a winning formula.”
Ferguson, a lifelong Methodist, has been a member of Los Altos UMC since 1985.  She was one of the leaders for the church’s Stephen Ministry for 20 years, and has worked as a volunteer in the finance office for 17 years.  “The individual person needs to think about what tiny bit more they can do to give back in whatever area they can support,” says Ferguson.
The Rev. Mark Bollwinkel, senior pastor of Los Altos UMC, said, “Earl’s genius for mathematics and engineering led him to discover technologies that contributed to the creation of the internet.” Bollwinkel said the Fergusons dedicated much of their wealth to serving others and the church after the founding of two successful network companies. “Following Earl’s unexpected death in 2003, Barbara and her family have continued to resource efforts to make the world a better place,” he said.  “They do so with humility and gratitude to God for the opportunity to give.”
Last February, as a gateway to launch the conference’s Imagine No Malaria efforts, Bishop Brown issued a challenged to the churches of the California-Nevada Conference to raise $50,000 by the annual conference session in June to rebuild a health clinic in Bom Jesus, Angola.  The effort was called “Building a Bridge of Love to Angola” and churches surpassed the goal and raised $61,000. 
The clinic, abandoned during the civil war when most people and church members fled to the city, is the focal point for the medical and health care ministry of the Methodist Church in Angola. Repairs to the clinic will include, but are not limited to, roof and ceiling repairs, window and door security improvements, painting, and utility repairs. Medical clinic equipment and supplies will then be provided and the clinic placed into medical service. The California-Nevada Conference in partnership with the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) will aid in the rebuilding process.
Just a few short years ago, statistics showed a child died every 30 seconds of malaria. Today, because of United Methodist efforts, malaria’s impact has been cut in half. According to the World Health Organization (World Malaria Report 2011), the disease now claims a life every 60 seconds.
For almost 200 years, The United Methodist Church has operated hospitals and clinics throughout Africa. These facilities are a vital and trusted part of the healthcare delivery system on the continent. The Imagine No Malaria approach is focused on four key areas: prevention, education, communication and treatment.
For more information about California-Nevada efforts, log on to
*Hygh is director of communications for the denominations California-Nevada Annual Conference which includes the 360 churches and 78,000 United Methodists in Northern California and Northern Nevada.