By Sandra Long Weaver
WASHINGTON —As Imagine No Malaria advocacy days on Capitol Hill began Monday, Bishop Thomas Bickerton, chair of the Global Health Initiatives, told morning worshippers that the campaign is well on its way past the $26 million goal by Jan. 31, 2013 and moving toward the $40 million by June 2013.
God’s presence within us is what enables us to do more than we can imagine, Bickerton, of the Western Pennsylvania area, told more than 100 worshippers in the chapel of the United Methodist Building.
“We are able to accomplish far more than we can imagine” because God is able to equip us with what we need to do our work,” said Bickerton.
Bickerton announced the campaign has received additional pledges in the last 10 days. Those pledges include: Desert Southwest conference, $2 million; Holston conference, $1 million; and Arkansas conference, $1.1 million. In addition, there are pledges of $1.2 million from the Rocky Mountain conference and $2 million from the Iowa conference. There also is a $1 million donation from an anonymous donor.
The promise from Luke 21:25-36 is big enough to sustain us, the bishop said, “big enough to end malaria. The promise brings peace to a troubled soul and makes the United Methodist Church mission statement comes alive.”
There is a seed in your soul planted by the Lord God, Bickerton said. “It will grow; water it, nuture it, believe that it exists. You will make a bold expression of belief.”More than 100 Imagine No Malariaadvocates, including United Methodist members from 29 states, 40 annual conferences and five participants from Africa, are meeting Dec. 3-4 with members of Congress to urge continued global health funding.
“The future of Congressional funding to global health, including to fight malaria, is in jeopardy,” warned Bickerton last week. “The U.S. has been the world leader in global health aid, inspiring other countries to step up their support. To cut this critical funding would mean unnecessary suffering and loss of life from this preventable disease.”
Teams representing more than 40 annual conferences are attending, including those from 15 vanguard annual conferences that have made a commitment to support Imagine No Malaria by planning activities and raising funds. These vanguard conferences include Arkansas, Baltimore-Washington, California-Nevada, Dakotas, Desert Southwest, Great Northwest, Holston, Iowa, Kansas East, Kansas West, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone.
Bickerton took time last week to answer questions about the Imagine No Malaria campaign and The United Methodist Church.
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 fund-raising counsel. Through their extensive research and analysis of the denomination, it was determined that the $75 million dollar 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. This campaign, endorsed by the 2008 General Conference, has as its goal the raising of $75 million dollars to help in the drive to eliminate malaria-related death by 2015.
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 & 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 Missions, Higher Education and Ministry, Discipleship, Church and 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 lead 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 has 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 fund-raising 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 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.
*Weaver is director of communications for Imagine No malaria.
News media contact: Maggie Hillery, Nashville, Tenn. (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org