LAKESIDE, Ohio — The West Ohio Annual (regional) Conference will raise $3.5 million for the Imagine No Malaria fundraising campaign, the largest-ever commitment from any conference in The United Methodist Church. Ohio West Episcopal Area Bishop Gregory Vaughn Palmer made the announcement during the third day of the June 9-12 annual conference here.
A critical component of the commitment comes from Ginghamsburg Church – A United Methodist Congregation, Tipp City, Ohio, which voted to raise $1 million over the next five years to donate to Imagine No Malaria. Ginghamsburg is the first church in the denomination to make such a commitment to the fundraising campaign.
“We have been working in Africa for quite some time,” said Karen Smith, Ginghamsburg’s executive director for missional operations. “Since 2005, we have invested $6.2 million through UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) in Darfur for sustainable agriculture, child protection and safe water.
“We are a very blessed church. We are not wealthy,” Smith said of the 4,000-member church. “If we have four weeks of cash, we are doing well. We believe God expects us to be faithful.”
The Rev. Mike Slaughter, lead pastor, added, “Christ’s charge to every Christian and every local church is to proclaim the kingdom, preach, teach and heal. ‘Healing’ malaria is where Jesus is leading the church today. We must be about doing what Jesus is doing and working where Jesus is working.”
The work in Africa started in 2004 when Slaughter said he “heard God say we need to get involved” in helping people in Africa who are suffering. Out of that calling developed the Miracle offering. The special offering emphasizes that “Christmas is not your birthday” and invites people to give half of what they would normally spend on their family and the other half to the fund to help the people in Sudan. The offering continues today.
Two years ago, Ginghamsburg expanded its work to the city of Aweil in South Sudan, the world’s newest country and one of the world’s poorest countries. “In Aweil, we have several health-care initiatives and opened a clinic serving 15,000 people,” Smith said. The congregation has not distributed insecticide-treated bed nets to combat malaria there yet.
While the Miracle offering continues to support the work in Sudan and South Sudan, church members also are encouraged to donate an amount of money equal to their age. “Your birthday is not your birthday,” is the congregation’s new mantra.
‘A cause for rejoicing’
Like Slaughter, Palmer has indicated his quest for the future in the West Ohio Conference is the support of Imagine No Malaria.
In 2012, Palmer transitioned to West Ohio after leading a very successful Imagine No Malaria fundraising campaign in the Illinois Great Rivers Conference, which raised more than $2 million.
Palmer is making this a challenge for all churches in West Ohio, Smith said. “The extraordinary good news of the commitment of Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church to Imagine No Malaria is a cause for rejoicing,” the bishop said. “I look forward to the ways that this commitment will inspire and contribute to the success of our West Ohio and denominational effort to stop deaths from malaria in Africa.”
“It ties so well into what we already care about so passionately, and it is just the right thing to do,” Smith said. “It’s the confluence of a couple of things coming together. Where is God calling us to act next?”
The timing, she noted, seems ideal. “We just have synergy with other folks. We believe this is the thing God is calling us to do.” The church’s leadership board met in mid-May to make the decision about the commitment to the campaign.
The young people in the church also are excited about raising money to help fight malaria. The seventh- through 12th-graders held a “skeeto fair” with net-related and educational games about malaria. The youth also challenged people to donate money equivalent to the age they will reach this year.