Make Malaria History

By Bishop Mike Rinehart

Mosquitoes “swarm” the sanctuary at Zion Lutheran Church, Marinette, Wisc.

When we are told in Luke 4:38-39 that Peter’s mother-in-law had a “high” fever, some, including Andrea DeGroot-Nesdahl, who is a pastor in the ELCA and coordinator for the ELCA Malaria Campaign, are convinced she had malaria. We know what Jesus’ response to malaria was: He rebuked it. And if this was Jesus’ response, what should our response be?

Monday night, at the 2011 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, voting members approved a $15 million campaign to join with our global partners and domestic colleagues to address and contain malaria by 2015. These are exciting times.

Monday morning I sat with Andrea. She is a friend. She has been a pastor for many years and served as bishop of the South Dakota Synod of the ELCA for 12 years. I asked her a little about the ELCA Malaria Campaign.

Here are some reflections on our conversation.

Why did you agree to coordinate this campaign?

Andrea’s short answer was to change the world, and to change the church. Some folks remember when polio was eradicated. Some even remember malaria in this country. The World Health Organization says malaria can be contained by 2015, four short years. We could be a part of it. Personally, if we eradicate malaria, I would be disappointed if I were not a part of the effort.

Why malaria?

Battling malaria, AIDS and tuberculosis are all part of the millennium development goals. Malaria is one of the most prevalent diseases in the world. Nearly 1 million people die of malaria every year. Every 45 seconds a child under the age of 5 dies of malaria.

How are we going to get to $15 million?

If each synod would raise $150,000 we’d get up over $9 million. Some synods could do a lot more. Others might be able to do a little less. The rest will have to be gained by individual donors with the capacity for major gifts. (You know who you are out there. Are you ready to make a huge difference?) We have four years to get there. The goal is entirely attainable. Several synods have already started, right?

There were 10 pilot synods, including our neighbor, the Southwestern Texas Synod. They set a goal of $100,000. They have raised over $125,000 so far. Andrea mentioned several fun ideas that synods have tried. Some have done traditional campaigns: four weeks, bulletin inserts, posters, sermon starters, etc. Others have bought nets for each congregation.

The Southwestern Texas Synod had large mosquito piñatas made. (Wouldn’t it be fun to get your aggression out taking a bat to a stupid mosquito?)

In Wisconsin, they had giant mosquitoes made. Every time someone gave, a mosquito came down, so people could see progress being made.

The Southwestern Texas Synod asked each conference to fund a certain amount of mosquito nets. As a result they had a huge Synod Assembly offering for the ELCA Malaria Campaign.

It’s about more than nets, but nets are tangible and an easy way to help people get their minds around this. Fighting malaria involves education, nets, medication, draining swamps, bug spray and more.

Closing thoughts

Andrea and I discussed the fact that this campaign will not only serve the world, it will unite congregations in a common effort. We’ve not done many churchwide initiatives like this. It will also encourage all congregations to work hard on something outwardly focused, other-centered.

So what are you waiting for? We have four years to change the world.

What are you going to do in your congregation? Your community? Learn more by going to the malaria information on the ELCA’s website. Watch the ELCA Malaria Campaign video. Find posters, bulletin inserts, brochures and offering envelopes at the ELCA Resource Catalog or call 800-638-3522, ext 2580. You’ll find:

  • Graphics
  • Video
  • Stories
  • Envelopes
  • Youth activities
  • Games
  • Worship activities
  • Craft projects
  • How to structure a synod campaign
  • How to structure a congregational campaign

Let’s get started. One child dies of malaria every 45 seconds. Let’s make this stop. Let’s make malaria history!

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