UM clergy compete on court to fight malaria

By Lisa Diehl, Special Contributor…

The opportunity to play basketball brought a young boy to church more than 40 years ago. Today, the man, a United Methodist pastor in the Kansas West Conference, is using those skills to save lives in Africa.

The Rev. Kip Ryherd, pastor at Minneola UMC, issued a challenge to his congregation to guess how many free throws he could make out of 1,000 attempts. For each guess, the congregation was asked to donate $10 to Imagine No Malaria, the United Methodist campaign to end malaria deaths in Africa by 2015.

On Feb. 23, Mr. Ryherd put his basketball skills to work. He made 722 free throws and raised around $1,000 for the campaign.

The Rev. Kip Ryherd with Mirranda, who helped him during a free-throw challenge that raised approximately $1,000 for Imagine No Malaria. PHOTO BY JULIE RYHERD

As a teen, Mr. Ryherd knew very little about God or the church. When a new church started a youth basketball team, he joined the team with his older brother.

“The church required us to attend three out of four Sundays each month, either Sunday school or a worship service, if we were going to play on their team,” Mr. Ryherd recalled. “After basketball season was over the first year, I quit going to the church.”

But his brother didn’t.

“At first, I thought it was because of a girl he had met, but I began to see a change in his life,” Mr. Ryherd said.

On Sept. 12, 1966, his brother talked him into attending an event at the church where a family from out of town would be singing and sharing God’s word.

“I went because my brother showed me a picture of the girl that was going to be singing with her family,” Mr. Ryherd admitted, describing her as “hot.” But as he listened to the music and to the simple gospel message, he was changed.

“I went forward that night and accepted Jesus as my Lord and savior. He changed my life completely,” Mr. Ryherd said. “His love and transforming power made me a new person.”

Bishop Scott Jones of the UMC’s Great Plains Area challenged pastors across Kansas and Nebraska earlier this year to join him shooting free throws to raise money for Imagine No Malaria. Mr. Ryherd explained that since basketball was a tool that God used to bring him to God’s saving grace, “It was easy for me to take the challenge.”

Mr. Ryherd has been to Zimbabwe twice, once in August 2011 and again in December 2012. During the last visit, he was part of an Imagine No Malaria net distribution in the Chimanimani area.

“We had the humbling experience of going out into the mountainous area to hang some of the [long-lasting insecticide nets] in the small huts that the Zimbabwe people live in,” he said. “We talked to a mother who had lost a son and a sister to malaria. She was caring for her two children and her sister’s two children. She truly appreciated us for hanging nets in her home.”

Minneola UMC set a goal to raise $5,000 for Imagine No Malaria and has already raised $3,800.

“Many new United Methodist churches are starting in areas where nets are being delivered,” Mr. Ryherd said. “Not only are lives being saved here on earth, but many are being saved for eternity.”

He had a friendly agreement with Bishop Jones. If the bishop made more free throws, Mr. Ryherd would buy five nets in his honor; but if the pastor made more, the bishop would buy five nets in Mr. Ryherd’s honor.

Bishop Jones made 360 free throws Feb. 23. He also agreed to contribute $10 for every “air ball” he shot, which totaled another $230. His wife, Mary Lou Reece, pledged $100 for every time the bishop made five free throws in a row, resulting in an additional $300.

United Methodists across Kansas and Nebraska were encouraged to guess how many free throws he would make for a $10 donation to Imagine No Malaria. People also could make a flat donation in lieu of guessing. More than 100 guesses were submitted directly to the Bishop’s Free Throw Challenge, raising $1,150.

In addition, five pastors in Douglas County had their own free-throw challenge to raise funds for Imagine No Malaria. The Rev. Shirley Edgerton, pastor at Vinland UMC, joined the Revs. Tom Brady and Mitch Todd of Lawrence First UMC, the Rev. Jay Henderson of Central UMC and the Rev. Dan Norwood of Centenary UMC to shoot baskets on March 2 at the west campus of Lawrence First.

Each pastor set an individual goal of how many shots to take or baskets to make. Mr. Brady and Mr. Todd each attempted 1,000. Mr. Brady finished with 536 baskets, and Mr. Todd made 200.

Ms. Edgerton shot for 30 minutes and made 100 baskets. Mr. Norwood shot for 15 minutes. Mr. Henderson made 60 baskets to represent a child dying from malaria every 60 seconds.

In addition to the “shootout,” the event included a dribble derby, videos about malaria, lunch and a viewing of the University of Kansas basketball game against West Virginia. Event organizers said that at least $1,500 was raised for the campaign.

The Kansas Area’s Shoot for No Malaria events continued into April. Totals raised will be announced in May.

Ms. Diehl is director of communications for the UMC’s Kansas Area.

Special Contributor to UMR

Special Contributor

This story was written by a special contributor to The United Methodist Reporter. You may send your article submissions to

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