A 21st Century Approach to Mission
By Linda Unger
Tampa, Florida, April 27, 2012--Imagine No Malaria, The United Methodist Church's campaign to help eliminate malaria-related deaths in Africa, models a 21st-century approach to mission, one built on partnership and capacity building, indicated Bishop Thomas Bickerton, head of the denomination's Global Health initiative.
In a press conference held on World Malaria Day last Wednesday during the 2012 General Conference of The United Methodist Church, in Tampa, Bickerton also announced significant gains achieved by Imagine No Malaria (INM) and the efforts with church and secular partners to eradicate the disease.
"I'm happy to announce to you that we have raised in excess of $20.2 million over the past four years," since the Global Health initiative was mandated at the 2008 General Conference, giving birth to INM, said Bickerton, bishop of the Western Pennsylvania Conference.
"Those funds have been used to provide a million insecticide-treated bed nets, to train more than 5,000 community health workers, and to establish health boards in the 12 countries where we are now working," he indicated.
Bishop John Yambasu of Sierra Leone, who attended the briefing with Bickerton, INM advocate Elisabeth Clymer, and Michael Pajonk of the United Nations Foundation, underscored, "For the first time in our life as a denomination, we are all organized together to wage an all-out war" against malaria.
"One of the things that INM has helped us to do is to restructure our health-care system," Yambasu explained. The United Methodist Church in Sierra Leone runs four major hospitals and seven other health-care delivery systems, he said.
"With INM, all of our hospitals and clinics in the country now have organized health boards to oversee the work against malaria—and not only malaria but, also, other diseases across the nation," added Yambasu, who sits on the INM executive committee.
The development of community health boards "is a completely different approach to mission in the 21st century," said Bickerton. "That is to say, sitting to my left," and he indicated Yambasu, "is a colleague of mine who is called and gifted of God. He serves people who are off the chart in their abilities to live out their faith."
"In our history, and confessionally speaking," he said, "we have [had] a very US-driven, parochial mindset in terms of our mission…. It is no longer a parochially driven process." He added, "We will not send our funding into places where we cannot develop those kinds of delivery systems and accountability systems on the ground."
Bickerton praised the role of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) in helping to develop those systems. "This holistic approach is absolutely critical to our ability to stamp out [malaria]. Now that holistic approach would not be possible…if it were not for our friends at UMCOR…."
UMCOR has supported the work of Imagine No Malaria in Africa by providing training for community health workers, annual conference health boards, and INM grant petitioners.
"[INM's] work to train and equip indigenous leaders to make decisions about the projects we will be funding and to provide the accountability networks so that those projects can find their full flower is absolutely the way for us to live out our faith in the twenty-first century."
Linda Unger is staff editor and senior writer for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).
A costumed mosquito menaces a dance mob during a World Malaria Day observance on April 25 at the 2012 United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Fla.
A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.