By: Victoria Rebeck
Raising a record amount for Imagine No Malaria by January was not enough for Minnesota United Methodists. At their annual conference session last week, they collected an additional $22,000, raising their total to about $2,500,000
“Nothing has made me prouder than your willingness and determination to commit to eliminate deaths by malaria,” Bishop Sally Dyck told the Minnesota United Methodists at their Imagine No Malaria celebration on May 30, the opening night of session.
Two years ago, this conference of 70,000 members questioned whether they could reach an ambitious goal of $1.8 million. With the help of a $600,000 challenge grant and mission-minded churches, Minnesota has raised more for this cause than any other United Methodist conference.
The celebration opened with the song “What’s the Buzz,” from the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, with new lyrics by Rev. Kay Hacklander: “What do you want to know? Saving lives for the children; we’re saving lives one by one. But there are so many children, so much work to be done, oh yeah,” the first verse goes.
The celebration thanked the 83 “challenge churches” that pledged at least $100 times its average worship attendance—many surpassing that goal.
Small churches were among the most generous. Villard United Methodist Church has an average of 54 in worship every week. A challenge pledge would be $5,400. They pledged $10,000—and raised $12,000 so far. Osakis United Methodist Church has 16 in worship every week. A challenge pledge would have been $1,600. That intimate group pledged a generous and visionary $3,000.
Following the song, members watched a “commercial” for Imagine No Malaria made by the youth of Excelsior United Methodist church. The humorous short video portrays a bored youth group becoming convinced of the urgency of combating malaria deaths after encountering a particularly threatening swarm of mosquitoes.
Throughout session, members watched other “commercials” from Park Avenue United Methodist Church (Minneapolis), Centennial United Methodist Church (Roseville), and Hamline University (St. Paul) students.
Churches have organized five-kilometer runs and scooter-and-bike rides; toll a bell every 60 seconds during worship as a reminder that every 60 seconds a child dies of malaria; created maps of Africa to which they paste, for every $10 donated, a graphic representing another child saved; participate in community parades by entering a “Join Our Swat Team” float; and held neighborhood parties where they beat mosquito piñatas.
Discovery United Methodist Church (Chaska) created lawn-ornament mosquitoes. Members can purchase swarming rights on another member’s home at $10 per residence. Those “swarmed” wake up one morning to find a crowd of the lawn ornaments in their yard. They can either call the swarm hotline to have the mosquitoes removed within a 24-hour period or they can wait until the Swarm Squad removes them in about a week.
Those who want to avoid being swarmed altogether can purchase swarm insurance for $10. All proceeds benefit Imagine No Malaria, of course. (http://www.discoveryumc.net/publications/compass/2012_May.pdf)
Hilltop United Methodist Church’s Pastor Fred Vanderwerf told the Imagine No Malaria story to neighbors through interviews on Mankato’s KTOE-AM radio. Ten-year-old Alayna Strunk, daughter of Pastor Greg Strunk at First United Methodist Church in Red Wing, told a reporter at the Red Wing Republican Eagle newspaper that she is selling her own artwork and hand-made bracelets to raise funds.
Thief River Falls United Methodist Church made sure the Grand Forks Herald and nearby radio stations interviewed them about Imagine No Malaria. That church’s pastor, Rob Kopp, says that “Young people in the church have said, ‘We need to do this; this is what it means to be church.’”
James Coward, a teen at Woodbury Peaceful Grove United Methodist, has said the same. He’s making tie-dyed T-shirts to raise funds—because, he says, “I want to hurry Imagine No Malaria along because the church is finally taking action.”
“You have become standard bearers in the United Methodist Church,” Gary Henderson, executive director of the United Methodist Church’s global health initiative, told session members. “God is able to do immeasurably more than we can imagine.”
“All over the connections, people are talking about Minnesota. Because of Minnesota, twelve other conferences are lined up to try to do what you did.”
Henderson urges Minnesota United Methodists to turn their pledges into reality, and “keep the storytelling. Many people don’t know about the urgent need to eliminate malaria deaths.”
“I had the privilege of watching you step out in faith to participate in greater levels than any other conference across the country,” said Leia Williams, who served as Imagine No Malaria field coordinator in Minnesota for almost a year. “You moved a mountain for those children [who are vulnerable to malaria] and their families. Remember who you are and know what your faith can do. Because it is in the moment you know, that you move mountains.”
At the celebration, members learned that a fifth-grader named Allison asked Pastor Jim Beard at New Day United Methodist Church (Big Lake) if the people in Africa knew that United Methodists were raising funds and working to protect people from malaria.
He said he thought they knew—then asked her why she raised this question.
“I just want them to know that it will get better,” she said.
Bishop Dyck pointed out that as the statistic of children dying of malaria in sub-Saharan Africa slowed from a death every 30 seconds to every 60 seconds, it is getting better.
And as Minnesota’s example inspires and challenges other conferences, it will get only better.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church