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What if?

Five years ago I began a journey with the phrase “What If”.   It started when I volunteered for a week of service in a rural health clinic in northern Haiti as part of an UMVIM team.  On that first trip I watched as a dehydrated, 3-day old infant was brought back from the brink as sugar water was pushed into her stomach via a syringe connected to a tiny tube threaded down her esophagus.  The moments as I slowly pushed on the syringe with a nurse by my side, doing my part to rehydrate the child, those moments transformed not only her life, but mine as well.  I watched as her skin began to plump up, losing its wrinkles, her eyes brighten, and I asked myself silently - “What if the woman who had begun this medical clinic effort had seen the overwhelming need in this village and simply turned away to deal with the everyday pressures of her life?”  The child before me would be dead, have no chance.  Instead this woman, a member of my church,  decided to do what she could to help alleviate the pain, and for 30 years this village has received medical care through the work of trained Haitian healthcare workers, as well as quarterly visits by American medical teams.   She answered that “What If” question in a way that mattered for others.

I returned to my home after that first trip and began to ask myself more “What If” questions.  What if my church could make a difference?  What if we could do more?  What if I asked other churches to help?   I did not find it hard to ask others to help when I knew the need firsthand;  I had held the tiny hand that could have been lost that day in the clinic.  In my own small ways, in my hometown and through our church’s ministry I advocated for change in this one place of need in the world.  I guess you could call this my response to a specific need, on a micro level of sorts.

But I have learned recently that there is another “What If” question.  It is a macro level “What If”.  What if our efforts could affect the lives of not just one child, or hundreds even, but MILLIONS every year? What if the effort could be a macro effort saving as many as 500,000 or a million a year from a preventable and treatable illness?   Wouldn’t that be even better?

Just a few short weeks ago I had the opportunity to advocate not just for one village but a continent of need as I joined a group from across our denomination to advocate for continued federal funding to fight against the killer disease, malaria, in sub-Saharan Africa.  I had seen firsthand patients who contracted the illness and witnessed its effects so I was more than willing to add my voice to the effort when I was invited to the event by a friend from the General Board of Church and Society.  I learned that those with vision in our denomination had been asking this very large “What If” question in a significant way, and the results were impressive.   Already the United Methodist Church, along with many world organizations had partnered to deliver life-saving bed nets, as well as vital education about their use to rural villages throughout the continent.  So effective was this effort that where once a child died every 30 seconds of malaria, the toll had now been reduced to one death every 45 seconds.  That meant over 1,000 children saved every day.  So in a group of 40 or more we gathered to learn how we could be a part of the effort.

In the course of our time there several groups visited with their senators and congressional representatives.  We were all asking macro, “what if” questions.  What if our federal government did not cut the 1% of our national budget that makes possible so many highly successful efforts in the area of global health, such as the effort to eradicate malaria?  What if this one percent of our budget stayed the same?  What if that effort continued at the current level and we made even more progress?  How many thousands or millions of lives would be saved?  What if?

As I sat in the office of my congressional representative I was very nervous and then I thought of the small infant who had eventually gained the strength to curl her tiny fingers around mine that day, five years ago, and I thought - “What if when I speak in this place, God is using me to speak on her behalf, as well as for the many millions of those who suffer in similar ways?”  Their voices would never be heard in these elegant rooms, but mine could be.  It was then my voice became strong with emotion as I shared the need.   All my reticence quickly disappeared as I realized that my voice, along with that of my friend Danielle, were speaking for millions of those who would not be heard, who could not walk the halls of Congress or ask for help.

“What if” can be a simple, personal question, a prompting of the spirit to act?  But sometimes “ What If” is a question about not just one child, or one village, but the world.  Then it needs to speak more loudly and convincingly on behalf of the suffering of millions. It needs not the solo voice of a single person,  or a single congregation, but a chorus that is full and strong.  One is no less the call of God upon our lives than the other, but the scale of the dream and the scale of the results we hope and pray for are huge.

About two weeks ago our website featured an article titled “Why Congregations Need Denominations.”  The article stressed the need by congregations for the denominational structure during times of stress, conflict or change.  I believe this is true, but I also believe that our individual congregations cannot achieve this type of change, on this scale, without a denomination.  A single church can support a particular ministry, in a particular village perhaps.  I have seen this happen.  But to effect change on the scale we are discussing we need a denomination.  Or more precisely, we need one another.  For a dream this big, a goal this large, we need to respond in mass, as a connection, to effect the change, whether through advocacy, through our gifts, through diplomacy or through partnerships.  So I returned from my experience in DC asking how I could invite others to join this mighty chorus, and I am honored to have the opportunity to add my voice to this choir.

What if?  A beautiful question for one person, but even more so for a denomination.  What if?

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