Churches imaginatively combat malaria
Faith United Methodist Church (Saint Anthony) made a pinata mosquito for an Imagine No Malaria fund raiser. (Susan Mullin photo)
January 3, 2012
It’s about time, thought James Coward, age 12, when he learned about Imagine No Malaria.
“It’s something that should have been done before now,” says Coward, a member of Woodbury-Peaceful Grove United Methodist Church (which made a church pledge of $45,500). “I want to hurry it along because people in the church are finally taking action.”
Coward donates a significant portion of his own allowance toward buying T-shirts and tie-dying materials. He sells the T-shirts for $10 each and donates the full proceeds to Imagine No Malaria.
He’s motivated his youth group to join his tie-dying efforts and to engage in other awareness- and fund-raising projects, such as selling ten chocolate chip cookies for $10.
Coward committed himself to the project after attending a training event about Imagine No Malaria. He was particularly encouraged when he learned that the United Methodist Church is in partnership with organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Eradicating malaria deaths is an ambitious undertaking. Learning that the Gates Foundation is a partner gave Coward confidence that the United Methodist Church is serious about this ministry. And he wants to be part of “one of the biggest church-coordinated projects ever that will help people on a massive scale.”
Several large churches pledged $100 per average worship attendee, which represents a strong commitment to the project. Several small churches and some new-church starts set even higher per-capita goals.
"It's what it means to be church"
“When I first came to Thief River Falls United Methodist Church in northern Minnesota, I expected a little Scandinavia,” says the church’s pastor, Rev. Robert Kopp. “When I arrived I was impressed to see they had mounted several displays about missions in Africa.”
Imagine No Malaria was a natural leap into further commitment for this congregation.
“Some young people in the church also said, ‘We need to do this; this is what it means to be church,” Kopp says.
With an average worship attendance of 114, this small church would have been courageous to accept the challenge of pledging $11,400. They set of goal of $20,000.
“Enough people were bold enough to say, ‘We should do this and this is the level we should support,’” Kopp says.
Individuals are making significant gifts. The church made Imagine No Malaria a line item in its budget. Proceeds from the twice-annual rummage sales benefit the project.
At Christmas, church members bought “gift bags” for friends and family. Donors “purchased” the bags in $10 increments. Recipients opened the packages to find a note that through the gift they are saving children (one child for every $10 donated for the bag) from malaria.
It’s not just an internal mission.
“I’ve done radio interviews and local newspaper stories about Imagine No Malaria,” Kopp says. “People have been very receptive to the story.
“This is one of the ways that people can ‘catch us being church,’ rather than depending only on our telling them how we are being church,” Kopp says. “It is cohesive and interrelated—genuine evidence of Rethink Church.”
"I want them to know it will get better"
The average worship attendance of New Day United Methodist Church, a new church start in Big Lake, Minnesota, is 85. Its pledge for Imagine No Malaria: $10,000.
“We are about 75 percent there” in receipts toward pledges, New Day’s Pastor James Beard says.
The church is having fun with the project.
Its entry in a community parade last summer raised awareness. Ten people wore roller skates and mosquito wings and antennae, representing the malaria-bearing insects. Eighteen others carried oversized flyswatter signs, each bearing a letter. When not chasing the skating mosquitos, the swatters lifted their signs to spell out “Join our Swat Team.” (They won the fourth-place award for the best floats.)
From their parade float the church kept a bed they had made and wrapped in netting, illustrating the bed nets that protect children from overnight bites from mosquitoes. Now it sits in the front of the church as a visual indication of how close the church is toward meeting its pledge. For every $10 given, a child gets to throw a brightly-colored ball into the bed. The number of balls collected in the net indicates the number of lives the church has saved thus far.
Families who are not used to the discipline of giving participate in this gladly because it is fun and the project is inspiring. And “as people see the bed filling up, their energy and passion for this ministry increases,” Beard says.
The New Day worshipers are taking the project personally.
The second week of the church’s awareness-raising period, a ten-year-old girl approached Beard and asked if the children in Africa knew that the church was raising funds to help protect them from malaria.
“I think they do,” Beard responded. “Why do you ask?”
“I just want them to know that it is going to get better,” she said.
“She’s talking about hope and perseverance,” Beard says, “and that there are people who care.”
A developmentally disabled adult in the church who likes to collect Matchbook-brand toy cars came in proudly one day and told Beard that instead of buying another car that week, he donated the funds to Imagine No Malaria, “because it is more important.” He’s done that a number of times.
After week one, Beard had sent worshipers home with the challenge that each one raise $100 in order to save ten children.
“One church family consists of two parents and six children,” Beard says. “The challenge for them added up to $800 to save 80 people.
“The mother is a photographer. On her Facebook page she announced that she’d do a portrait sitting and charge $30 for three poses, and donate all the receipts to Imagine No Malaria. Responses came to $600 within one week. Her husband, who runs a house-painting business, donated an additional $400. They are saving 100 lives.”
“Sacrificial giving is kicking in,” Beard says, “because people want to do something important.”
Local businesses have also displayed one of the netted display beds for a period of time and used it to raise Imagine No Malaria funds.
“We got a lot of attention last fall when I rolled the bed-and-net display down the street about eight blocks to the chamber of commerce,” Beard says. “We raised a lot of funds at the chamber meeting and raised a lot of awareness by pushing the bed down the street.”
The church youth had creative ideas as well. Big Lake High School does not permit students to wear hats in the building. The exception is the weekly Hat Day—students can pay a dollar for the right to wear a hat that day. The New Day students convinced the student council to donate proceeds from every other week’s Hat Day to Imagine No Malaria.
Large generosity from small sources
United Methodist college students strongly promote the project.
Students from Hamline University's Wesley Center visited a Youth Voice gathering at Arlington Hills United Methodist Church in Maplewood and told the participating young people about Imagine No Malaria. Youth Voice is a project of McVay Youth Partnership, through which Hamline students mentor community youth at various United Methodist sites in the Twin Cities area.
“After the presentation the children made mosquitoes from pipe cleaners to place on our net display for the Imagine No Malaria campaign in our narthex,” Arlington Hills’ Thelma James told Leia Williams, Minnesota’s Imagine No Malaria field coordinator. “The kids were not asked to donate money. But one little girl was so struck by what she heard that when she returned to Youth Voice the next Wednesday, she brought a donation of $1 and gave it to the Hamline staff to pass on to our church.
“This child is from a family of nine. Their income is well below the poverty line. Her one dollar donation is a much higher percentage of her family's income than probably any other donation Imagine No Malaria will receive.”
Other churches have organized five-kilometer runs and scooter-and-bike rides, toll a bell every 45 seconds during worship as a reminder that every 45 seconds a child dies of malaria, and created maps of Africa to which they affix, for every $10 donated, an outline of a child cut from colorful paper to show how many children are being saved.
Small churches have been particularly generous. Villard United Methodist Church in northwest Minnesota has an average of 54 in worship every week. They pledged $10,000—and raised $12,000 so far. Villard shares a pastor with Osakis United Methodist Church, which has 16 in worship every week. That small group pledged a generous and visionary $3,000.
Read more examples here.