JACKSONVILLE – The way Rev. Jeff St. Clair sees it, youthful enthusiasm from one United Methodist congregation has saved 1,656 lives from malaria.
St. Clair is associate pastor at Mandarin UMC, one of many churches now part of the significant impact of the global Imagine No Malaria campaign of The United Methodist Church. The Jacksonville congregation raised more than $16,500 to give people living in malaria-infected areas of the world the opportunity to fight the disease.
“It all stems back from a passion that I had about four years ago,” St. Clair says. “I just transferred conferences and was in a conference in Pittsburgh, and this was one of our charities in my former South Hills church.
“Then when I moved down here, my name was passed along for the steering committee at the Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church and I joined the efforts and was made chairman.
“We assembled a committee for Imagine No Malaria. We started talking about it at the church [Mandarin], and the passion came from the kids. They came back from camp and had seen a movie on Imagine No Malaria, and that was their passion -- they wanted to help.”
Funds raised are used to purchase tent-like nets treated with an insecticide that are tightly fitted over beds at night, providing protection from mosquitos that carry the disease. The bed nets are distributed free to families in parts of Africa where malaria takes many lives year after year.
Mandarin’s adults caught the bug of enthusiasm from the youth. Fundraisers included inviting nearby congregations to a Sunday afternoon event of arcade games fashioned from cardboard, an effort that raised $1,000.
Among the most fruitful fundraisers was a visit from Bishop Thomas Bickerton of the Western Pennsylvania Conference, the denomination’s spokesperson for Imagine No Malaria. The church raised $3,000 by hosting a beat-the-bishop basketball throw, charging $10 – the cost of a single bed net -- for each shot.
Other fundraisers included men in the congregation growing beards for donations, lemonade stands on Memorial Day that raised $180 from neighborhood children and a paper airplane competition held in the church gymnasium in August.
The efforts paid off, and church members not only met their initial goal but decided to keep going. Calculated at $10 per bed net to save one life, the congregation ended up saving 1,656 lives, St. Clair says.
“We showed the congregation that this is a preventable disease and we can save lives,” he says, noting that the Global Fund, World Health Organization and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation were partners in the campaign.
“So we realized we didn’t just partner with The United Methodist Church; we saw worldwide effort.”
The Imagine No Malaria campaign funds not only bed nets but education and treatment programs that have helped slow the death toll, St. Clair explains. According to the Imagine No Malaria website, the World Health Organization estimates malaria-related deaths have been reduced from more than a million in 2007 to about 438,000 in 2015.
“Every 30 seconds someone died of malaria in the past, and now it is [one death every] one minute. … We have seen success through the bed nets with 7 million people protected with bed nets. Treatment improved at 300 clinics with 12,000 health workers trained in malaria treatment.”
Local churches in the Florida Conference raised $1.2 million toward the denomination’s $75 million goal, expected to be reached in May.
“I am so proud of the Florida United Methodist churches who stepped out in faith to support Imagine No Malaria (INM) monetarily and by raising awareness,” St. Clair says. The local church arm of the Florida campaign has ended, but donations are still being accepted. Click here for information.
Speaking of the overall Florida Conference campaign, the pastor also credits the work of Kylie Foley, Florida campaign field coordinator; Rev. Clarke Campbell-Evans, Missional Engagement director for the Florida Conference; Tom Wilkinson, vice president of the Florida United Methodist Foundation; the Imagine No Malaria steering committee; Florida Bishop Ken Carter and the conference’s district superintendents.
Says St. Clair, “It could not have been done without these key people.”
– Brenda Eggert Brader is a freelance writer based in Winter Haven.