By: Susan Passi-Klaus
Emily (not her real name), a Colorado fifth-grader, was looking forward to how she would spend her birthday money – that is, until she was inspired to do something that would prompt her entire church to give extravagantly.
Up until recently, Emily had about $300 in the bank. A hundred of those precious dollars was a gift from her grandparents on her 11th birthday. She had lots plans for that big bill—new clothes, music for her IPod and an international Barbie doll. Then something happened that changed her spending priorities – and saved thousands of lives.
It happened in late June, when 100 children and 40 adult and youth leaders gathered around Dr. Michael Dent at Trinity United Methodist Church in Denver as he kicked off Vacation Bible School by talking about loving our neighbors. He wanted the kids to learn five things: Good neighbors are friendly; good neighbors are bold; good neighbors are forgiving; good neighbors are welcoming. However, it was the fifth point, good neighbors are giving, that really caught Emily’s attention.
The VBS leaders decided to use a mission opportunity to let the youngsters know that malaria kills a child in Africa every minute. Teachers showed video clips and talked about how malaria is passed on by infected mosquitos. They explained that children with malaria get very high fevers and severe body aches and too often, they don’t recover. The children were surprised to learn that a simple $10 insecticide-treated mosquito net helps prevent malaria.
Little white churches sat on tables as centerpieces. Each day, VBS participants, often carrying their nickels and dimes in plastic sandwich bags, would slip coins through the slots in the churches. Bible school helpers would ask, “How many nets do you think our VBS could buy together?” The children were excited that their pennies would help Imagine No Malaria buy nets and medicine.
At the end of one day, Emily asked her mom to take her to the bank. She withdrew $100 from her savings account – but not to spend on the pink sweatshirt she had budgeted for, or music from Train, her favorite band, or even an Irish Barbie. She took an entire third of her bank balance because she believed her money would be better used for giving than for spending.
“I think most people would choose to save someone’s life and donate to Imagine No Malaria instead of buy something,” she said.
When Dent, a fervent six-year supporter of United Methodist efforts to beat malaria, stood before his congregation on the following Sunday morning, he asked the same questions he asked the children earlier in the week. So what is a good neighbor? What kind of neighbor does our Creator desire us to be?
“What better way to be a good neighbor than to give a special present to preserve the lives of precious progeny of parents in places where a mosquito bite can be lethal,” Dent preached.
“Cheerful givers” is what he called the children who dug deep into their small pockets to make a difference in Africa. Those little cardboard churches were stuffed with coins and dollar bills totaling over $600.
And without sharing her name, Pastor Dent told of the little girl who gave up a pink sweatshirt and a Barbie doll so people would not die of malaria – a little girl who did not want her name to be mentioned, not because she is shy or afraid, but because she takes the words of Jesus to heart.
“I don’t think you should give to get attention, and I don’t think it would make God happy to give for praise,” she said. “Jesus said in Matthew that we should give in secret and that God will know what we did.”
The very same week that young Emily deposited five $20 bills in different cardboard churches, another anonymous donor from Trinity wrote a $50,000 check to Imagine No Malaria. When the congregation was challenged to make a matching gift, generous givers enabled Trinity UMC to add $100,000 to the Imagine No Malaria coffers. Next Spring’s goal is even bigger — $120,000 – which is one-tenth of the $1.2 million Rocky Mountain Conference’s commitment.
“This experience reminds me of the little boy in the Bible who gave his fish and loaves to Jesus who multiplied it to feed the 5,000,” Dent said. “Jesus is smiling at this spontaneous act of love. Thanks be to God for our children … they are models of generosity, fulfilling that scripture, ‘A child shall lead them’.”