Monday, July 4, 2011

Imagine No Malaria

At the end of the movie “Letting Go of God”, a one woman show by Julia Sweeney, she muses over the idea of what it would be like if the Pope came to the realization that he had been misguided all his life. In a soft but mocking tone that only Julia can do, she has the Pope apologizing and promising to spend the rest of his life working in a women’s health clinic in Central America. I have had similar visions myself, although more along the line of Catholics returning the art as well as the gold that they have plundered from what are now 3rd world countries.

Whatever you think of religion, you can’t deny that they have a lot of power. Angry atheists claim that accumulating power has been the only thing they accomplished. Those who are more accommodating acknowledge there have been some really bad Popes, but churches were the caregivers and educators in the Dark Ages. They were the first to build hospitals and develop programs to feed the poor. Finding cause and affect in history can be difficult so I will leave that aside for now and take a look at one particular history and a possible future.

In the history of the Methodist church, real estate was accumulated due to their policy of how to grow their church. When a congregation grew to a certain size, they split off some of the membership, went down the road a bit and built a new church. Acquiring real estate was not the goal, but spreading God’s word had the same affect. In the United States, this has become a liability to an organization that is declining in membership. In Africa, it has become an asset for one of the biggest goals for human health in recent history.

You may have heard of Bill Gates. He is not a member of the United Methodist church, or any church for that matter. He does know how to get things done. When he got done playing with computers and finally decided to use his wealth to do something worthwhile, he got interested in the problem of malaria in Africa. Defeating malaria will be on par with defeating polio. And, like Jonas Salk, no one is going to get rich by doing it.

The solution is fairly simple, an insecticide treated net, some education, some preventative health care. Simple if you were in the United States with roads and communication infrastructure. In the language of business, seeing a problem as an opportunity, Gates went searching for an organization that had people spread out across the continent. He was looking for people that were part of the communities, so they could explain these strange white nets in the plastic bags. People who weren’t there to sell anything, but to care for their brothers and sisters. He found two potential organizations, Lutheran World Services, and United Methodists Committee On Relief. He picked UMCOR.

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This partnership of a secular organization and a church to eliminate a disease from a continent is without precedent. I hope it is precedent setting. First, I hope it is successful, then I hope it sets an example that others follow.

In 136 blogs I have never asked for money, and I don’t plan to start now. I would be remiss if I did not at least direct you to where you can participate. One net, including all costs of manufacturing, delivery and follow-up costs only $10. That usually benefits an entire family. The goal is to reduce malaria by 80% by 2015. That will take a concerted, coordinated effort. Toward that goal, a suggested level of giving is $1 per month over the next three years. The success of the program has already been proven in some countries.

Is this the future role of churches? Will UMCOR be here long after the UM part is gone?

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