By: Christa Meland
“We are a people who save lives, and we’re fearless about it,” Bishop Bruce R. Ough told members of the 160th session of the Minnesota Annual Conference.
And saving lives is exactly what Minnesota United Methodists did through their strong commitment to Imagine No Malaria. On Wednesday, conference attendees celebrated having raised $2.7 million to date for this denomination-wide effort to eliminate malaria deaths in sub-Saharan Africa by 2015—which equates to 270,000 lives saved.
The Minnesota Conference has raised more than any other annual conference to date and far exceeded its initial $1.8 million goal. At a worship service to announce and celebrate the conference’s Imagine No Malaria achievement, attendees rolled three large scrolls down the aisles of the large exhibit hall where hundreds were seated. On each scroll were mosquitos, each the size of a postage stamp and each with a red “no” circle on it.
“I watched you step out in faith to set a goal you weren’t even sure you could reach,” Leia Williams, former Imagine No Malaria field coordinator for Minnesota, told conference session attendees. “But after you set that goal, you fearlessly went after it. . . . You trusted the Holy Spirit even when the task seemed daunting.”
Just a few years ago, malaria claimed a life every 30 seconds. That rate has been cut in half, thanks in part to the generous support of the state’s United Methodist churches.
“Most of you in this room at one time did not believe that you could change a death statistic…in Africa,” said Williams, who now serves as director of communications and discipleship for the Northwest Texas Conference. “Yet here we are today celebrating that you changed that statistic for 270,000 children in Africa. This conference trusted the Holy Spirit to take care of children they knew they would never meet. . . . You did not fall silent when you were asked to answer prayers for parents in Africa. You did not look the other way.”
Gary Henderson, executive director of the United Methodist Church’s Global Health Initiative, echoed that sentiment: “You have cared for members of the family of God half a world away,” he told conference attendees.
He said United Methodists from across the connection have collectively given $60 million to eradicate malaria in Africa—80 percent of the $75 million denominational goal. Those dollars have paid for more than 2 million insecticide-treated bed nets. But they have also paid for education, prevention, and communication efforts. The United Methodist Church has trained thousands of community health workers to deliver mosquito nets and measure usage rates, and it operates hundreds of hospitals, clinics, and health posts throughout Africa that have life-saving resources like malaria medication.
But Williams made clear that our work is far from finished; we helped reverse one statistic, but there are many others that still need changing.
“It’s a statistic of the status quo,” she said. “We United Methodists have become afraid of sharing the story of Christ because it makes us feel awkward.”
Ninety percent of United Methodists won’t invite someone to church because it makes them feel awkward, she noted.
“Guess what? I’m one of the 90 percent, and I have a feeling I’m not the only one in this room,” she said. “Even though I know how powerful it can be when someone shares their faith with you . . . it still makes me uncomfortable.”
She told attendees: You may think you can’t change statistics about faith sharing. But most didn’t think they could change the malaria statistic in Africa either.
Toward the end of the worship service, volunteers stood up on the stage and held letters that spelled out “Be Not Afraid.”
Drawing on the dandelion theme for the worship services at this annual conference session, Williams said: “You have so many seeds left, Minnesota. Will you let Imagine No Malaria be the last one you bravely send out or are you ready to send another and ignite fearlessness once again?”
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church