Florida churches raise $1.2 million to end malaria deaths

The World Health Organization announced in early December that children’s deaths attributed to malaria have dropped dramatically in the last five years, largely due to the use of insecticide-treated nets. The United Methodist Church, through its 5-year-old Imagine No Malaria campaign, has been a significant part of stamping out the deadly mosquito-borne illness, and Florida Conference churches have been a big part of the global effort.

Lighted tabletop tree covered by net and mosquitoes
This "skeeter tree" at Lake Panasoffkee UMC is among creative ideas local churches used to raise $1.2 million to wipe out malaria deaths. Photo from Imagine No Malaria Facebook page

Leaders of the global INM campaign have announced a target date of May 2016, when General Conference convenes, for reaching $75 million in funds raised. The funds go toward buying bed nets, training health-care workers and developing education and prevention programs. 

The Florida Conference made the campaign a priority for its churches, beginning with Annual Conference 2014. Churches in the conference have pledged to give a little over $1.2 million of the Florida Conference’s $2.5 million goal. They join congregations and conferences across the world that have pledged $68 million, or 90 percent of the $75 million goal.

From now until General Conference, efforts in Florida will shift to a “major gifts” component that will complement the “phenomenal work of local churches,” said Rev. Clarke Campbell-Evans, director of the Florida Conference Missional Engagement Office that oversees the local campaign.

In Florida, congregations big and small enthusiastically supported the campaign, according to Kylie Foley, who joined the Florida Conference Missional Engagement Office as campaign field coordinator in May 2015.

She and Campbell-Evans said more than 500 congregations – representing over 75 percent of Florida Conference churches – committed to INM through prayer, donations or awareness.

Foley said awareness efforts ranged from prayers after worship to members speaking about the campaign to local civic groups and neighborhood meetings and staging creative events to make people think about the impact of the devastating disease.

Campbell-Evans praised Foley’s work.

“She visited so many churches and made speeches across the conference, and she helped make this ministry come alive,” he said. “Our churches have achieved a phenomenal accomplishment, and I’m very proud that they made such a concerted effort to promote health and healing around the world.” 

Added Foley, “We are very grateful to our churches for all they have done and hope to celebrate this great participation at Annual Conference 2016.”

She said the fact that Methodists in Florida were willing to give so generously to strangers on the opposite side of the world speaks to the idea of mothers and children being in harm’s way.  

“We know what it’s like to have children. Grandchildren. Being pregnant. Being sick.  We also know most of the time we [in the U.S.] have access to healing, health care and prevention options. When people learn that hundreds of thousands of children die each year from a 100 percent treatable, preventable and beatable disease, they react.” 

Imagine No Malaria Florida committee celebrates campaign with party and posters
Members of the Florida Conference Imagine No Malaria local campaign committee celebrate the global campaign reaching 90 percent of its $75 million goal. In the front row, left to right, are Paulette Monroe, Stephanie Corey and Jeff St. Clair. Behind them, left to right, are Hank Lunsford, Carl Berguson, Clarke Campbell-Evans and Kylie Foley. Photo by Tim Turner.

For example, she said, $10 buys a sleeping tent treated with an insecticide that keeps a family safe from the bites that lead to malaria.

Churches came up with their goals and reached them by many different tactics. One smaller church, First UMC, Lake Wales, employed a number of unique ways of reaching its goal – and then exceeding it. Rev. Jeff Kantz, the church pastor, said his congregation has 283 members, with an average weekly attendance of 120. The church council set an ambitious goal of $10,000.

“It was a God-sized goal,” Kantz said. “We felt that we needed to do something bigger at this church, that it would be a landmark in the life of the congregation. And God did it.”

The church council made the $10,000 pledge in October 2014.  Among innovative ways that church members raised money were an “Angel Tree” at Christmas, which netted over $2,000; a community presence with a van in the local Martin Luther King parade; pumpkin bread sales; and a unique game involving artificial mosquitoes contained in netting hung from the ceiling. People, mostly kids, could take swings at the bugs for $10 a pop. 

“We reached our goal within five months,” explained Kantz. 

“Then we asked ourselves, ‘Did we stop short of what we could achieve?’ and decided to continue.”  As of mid-December, the church had raised a little more than $12,200. 

“I’m just so proud of our church,” the pastor said.

As a new year dawns, churches are encouraged to send in their pledges for this fundraiser, Campbell-Evans said. New donations may still be made at www.imagineflorida.org. Campbell-Evans said some local church efforts to meet final goals will continue until spring, and totals will be announced at Annual Conference 2016 in June.

– Anne Dukes is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.

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