Q&A: Anti-malaria drive passes $26 million

By Sandra Long Weaver, United Methodist News Service…

As Imagine No Malaria advocacy days began this month in Washington, D.C., Bishop Thomas Bickerton, who chairs the UMC’s Global Health Initiative, told participants the campaign has already passed the $26 million goal set for Jan. 31, 2013, and is moving toward $40 million by next June.

God’s presence within us is what enables us to do more than we can imagine, Bishop Bickerton said during a morning worship service in the chapel of the United Methodist Building. More than 100 advocates from 40 annual conferences met for two days with members of Congress to urge continued global health funding.

Bishop Thomas Bickerton, chair of the United Methodist Global Health Initiative, speaks on Dec. 3 at the Imagine No Malaria Conference in Washington, D.C. Teams of advocates for the UMC’s anti-malaria campaign spent two days on Capitol Hill, meeting with members of Congress to encourage support for global health funding. UMNS PHOTO BY JAY MALLIN

Bishop Bickerton, of the Western Pennsylvania area, took time before the event to answer questions about the Imagine No Malaria campaign that seeks to end malaria-related deaths worldwide through prevention, treatment and education.

Raising $75 million to $100 million is a formidable task for any undertaking. What made you believe the United Methodist Church could do this?

Before we received our first grant from the United Nations Foundation we were required to employ the services of fundraising counsel. Through their extensive research and analysis of the denomination, it was determined that the $75 million figure was an achievable goal. When we reach our goal this will represent the largest amount of funds raised by the denomination for one single cause.

How does Imagine No Malaria relate to the Four Areas of Focus in the church?

Imagine No Malaria is the Four Areas of Focus and the Four Areas of Focus is Imagine No Malaria. Our work in the Global Health Initiative has, understandably, been almost solely centered around the goal of “eliminating malaria-related deaths by 2015.” The bishops of Africa have been clear with us that if we are concerned about global health, which includes things like HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, we must first deal with the issue of malaria. We have taken their lead and structured everything we have done around elimination of malaria-related death. In addition, whenever our Global Health Initiative executive team gathers we have representatives from the Boards of Global Ministries, Higher Education & Ministry, Discipleship, Church & Society, and United Methodist Communications. Our work centers around issues of leadership development/awareness, ministry with the poor, and new places for new people whenever we gather. Our work has found exciting and creative intersections with the other three areas of focus during our work over the last four years.

What impact have you seen on young people because of the INM campaign?

The College Connection component of our Imagine No Malaria work is only now finding some significant flower, however, we are truly excited about how this campaign is energizing the creative and spiritual energies of our young adults on the college campus. In addition, the young people of our church, from children to youth, have really become the banner carriers of this movement. They have been the creative drivers who have stimulated wonderful ways to raise money among the grassroots sector of our denomination. Young people want to make a difference now. They want to be led in understanding how their faith might find tangible expression, and our Imagine No Malaria campaign has been one of the most significant testimonies to this reality. We love hearing about the constant stories of creativity that have and are emerging from our young people.

Has working on the Imagine No Malaria campaign had a personal impact on you?

Oh my, has it ever! If you had asked me 10 years ago what I thought I might be doing with my life, I would not have imagined that a significant portion of my calling would be centered around the work of eliminating malaria-related death across the world. The opportunity this campaign and my church have provided to me has been truly transformational. It has afforded me the personal privilege of connecting my faith with practical ministries. It has also given me the chance to channel my own creative energies and giftedness in bringing greater awareness and possibility throughout the denomination. I could never have imagined such an opportunity or blessing. I thank God almost every day for the opportunity to serve my God and my global United Methodist Church family in this way.

What impact has working on Imagine No Malaria had in your annual conference?

If you talk to someone in Western Pennsylvania about “drivers of vitality” in their congregation, they will most likely tell you about Imagine No Malaria. The opportunity this campaign provides is a way to point an internally driven congregation outward into the world. Many of the churches here in Western Pennsylvania give wonderful testimony to this reality. Several years ago when our campaign ended here (we raised $1.8 million in the early stages of the campaign), I decided that I needed to lead the people here in such a way that they would hear more from me than just the malaria story. I stopped emphasizing Imagine No Malaria here. The wonderful thing is that although I stopped talking about Imagine No Malaria, my people haven’t! They still are raising money and awareness in their local churches. I don’t have to be the prime spokesperson for Imagine No Malaria in Western Pennsylvania. My people are!

What are your plans for the campaign in 2013 and 2014? Do you think the campaign will reach or exceed its goal?

We have significant challenges as we move forward toward our $75-million campaign. However, our excitement level is higher than it has been in some time. We now have 12 annual conferences that are actively engaged in the campaign and are developing their fundraising plans. We have an additional six annual conferences who are making plans for a formal kickoff around annual conference season 2013. And, we are aggressively pursuing the major donor component of our campaign. We recently received our first $1 million gift from an anonymous donor in California. On the day we announced that gift, I also received $1,000 in cash from Bishop [John] Innis and the Liberia Annual Conference. On the continent of Africa and throughout the connection of United Methodism, Imagine No Malaria continues to gain energy and emphasis. I firmly believe we will reach our goal. But the goal is not $75 million raised just so we can say we did it. Our goal is to see that all of God’s children live a long, healthy, sustainable life.

Ms. Weaver is director of communications for Imagine No Malaria.

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