DAYTONA BEACH -- At sunrise Thursday, a crowd gathered beside the Daytona Beach Pier united by a common cause.
"We had 187 registrants and 179 participants in attendance," Rev. Sarah Beth-Ann Miller said. "Ages range from 7 to over 70. The youngest is 7."
"He beat me," one of the runners chimed in.
Bishop Ken Carter opened the event with prayer, shortly after runners, joggers and walkers set off down the sandy stretch to raise money for Imagine No Malaria."The group includes lay members, clergy, district superintendents, cabinet, extended cabinet and our very own Bishop Carter," Miller said.
Individually, participants contributed $4,400 for Imagine No Malaria. Through online donations, an additional $5,800 was raised in support of individual participants. Online donations will be matched by the Florida United Methodist Foundation, bringing the total amount raised to $16,000.
The fastest time at the 5K was logged by David Williamson, co-pastor at Grace UMC, St. Augustine, with a time of 18:10.
"This is the best shape I've ever been in," Williamson said. "Maybe I'll break 18 minutes next year in Orlando." Annual Conference 2016 is scheduled to be held near Downtown Disney, and 5K organizers have said they would like to make the fundraiser an annual mission event.
Later in the day, Annual Conference attendees at Bethune-Cookman University learned that one of their own nearly died of the mosquito-borne illness when he was a child growing up in Kenya. Click here for other Annual Conference coverage.
During an update on the Florida Conference Imagine No Malaria campaign, Dr. Silas M'Mworia, pastor of Stewart Memorial UMC, Daytona Beach, told his story in a video presentation. “I was born and raised in Kenya. I’m here today to share with you my survival story, my near-death encounter with malaria. I was only 9 years old,” M’Mworia said in the video.
His parents thought he was going to die, so they took him to bushes near the house. It was taboo to have someone die in the house, he explained. His mother sat with him for hours and by the next morning, the worst of it was over and his parents took him to a clinic, where he was treated.
“My 2-year-old nephew was not as lucky as I was,” M’Mworia said, noting the boy died in his grandmother’s arms. Two years later, his 12-year-old niece died while her mother was carrying her to the hospital.
“Malaria is a killer, a ruthless killer. Now, imagine a world without this ruthless killer. What a joy that could be,” M’Mworia said.
After the video, Carter greeted M’Mworia on the stage.
Efforts to end preventable deaths by malaria in Africa are going strong throughout the Florida Conference, with fundraising approaches ranging from karaoke contests to spaghetti dinners, from 5K fun runs to the auctioning of a caricature drawing of the bishop. On Friday, Fresh Expressions Florida will host a tailgate party, including a giant slide and bounce house suitable for adults, at 11:30 a.m. Friday in the Bethune-Cookman University Quad area. Proceeds raised will benefit Imagine No Malaria.
The effort also will receive half of the Annual Conference 2015 offering, which totaled $55,150 on Wednesday.
“Over 75 percent of our churches have officially signed on to (support) Imagine No Malaria this year,” reported Kylie Foley, field coordinator for the Florida Conference campaign that started a year ago.
“Our goal is to save 250,000 lives,” she told the crowd at Annual Conference, noting that it costs $10 to save a life.
As of the end of April 2015, there were more than 75 churches that had reached or exceeded their goals, and 13 had doubled or tripled theirs, Foley said.
“In the first half of 2015, we have witnessed churches coming together,” said Jeff St. Clair, associate pastor of Mandarin UMC, Jacksonville, and a member of Florida’s Imagine No Malaria steering committee.
“We have seen communities joining in the efforts. We have seen generosity being poured out,” St. Clair said. “Friends, the momentum is building.”
Kids can do everything from running lemonade stands to setting up cardboard arcades and selling mosquitoes fashioned from pipe-cleaners as possible fundraisers, St. Clair suggested.
“If you empower your children and youth to take this on, I guarantee you, your church is going to be on fire,” St. Clair said.
-- Tim Turner is the Florida Conference digital media coordinator. B.C. Manion is a freelance writer based in Tampa.
Click on the banner above to view the full gallery from the event. Photos of the 5K event by Tim Turner.