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Malaria hits home for African Bishop

Bishop Gabriel Unda Yemba is a wise man with a gentle soul. You wouldn’t think a man like him would have an enemy in the world, and yet he does.

“Malaria is my number one enemy,” the bishop said.

In 2007, his wife Charlotte Omba Unda died from malaria. Six years later, the Bishop’s heart was again broken when his 30-year-old daughter, Blondine Yema Unda, also died from the disease.

“This disease took away someone that I loved and I was left a widower with nine children (maternal orphans) without the support of a mother,” he said. “What has happened to me, I do not want to (continue to) happen to others.”

Much of the bishop’s time is spent consoling families who are dealing with a pain he himself knows well.

“When I minister to someone who has a death in the family,” said Unda.  “I relive my experience through theirs. I feel like I can relate. I walk in their shoes.”

Elected bishop of East Congo in 2012, Unda oversees three annual conferences in Democratic Republic of Congo. He’s dealt with challenges that include a violent civil war, dehumanizing poverty and life-threatening diseases.

How much suffering can this embattled country endure?

“There is no limit so how much pain we can take,” Unda said. “Until our last day, we have to take what happens. Look at Job…he experienced so much, but he stayed firm and his faith stayed strong. That is how we should be too. Everything comes from God. If God chooses to take back something he has given us, it doesn’t change his love for us.”

Unda lives in a place where an average of 5 million cases of malaria is registered every year--a country with a population of nearly 60 million. The battle is especially frustrating because the disease is both preventable and curable.

Bolstered by the support offered by Imagine No Malaria, Unda uses his role as a Christian and a pastor to underline efforts made by INM to prevent malaria through education and bed net distribution, communicate life-saving solutions using technology, medically manage cases and train local community health workers.

“It’s a new passion I have—to eliminate malaria through educating people about things they can do to reduce the incidence of this disease,” Unda said. “That helps console me if I can prevent other deaths.

Though the sadness remains, Unda said he is not living differently. “I continue to lean on Jesus.”

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