By Andrew Flake
In recent weeks, as we continue to see so much unresolved global conflict and suffering, my spirit has really grieved. Perhaps you feel the same way. Problems like war and extremism seem overwhelming, and the root causes, intractable. Contemplating them, we can easily lapse into a sense of anxiety for our shared future. But it is in those moments, that I remind myself of the incredible promise of our global mission work and the calling as followers of Christ that we all share. We are called not to fret but to act, each of us bringing a little light back into the world. One of the brightest lights, one whose reach North Georgians are helping every day to cast further and further, is Imagine No Malaria.
Imagine No Malaria is the UMC’s comprehensive campaign to end death and suffering from malaria not just in our lifetime but in the immediate future. At the beginning last year’s Advent season, I was privileged to represent our conference on a mission trip to support Imagine No Malaria efforts in Uganda. Uganda is a country of about 33 million people, a country of stunning natural beauty, a young and vital population, and a very hopeful outlook for the future. And although malaria remains the leading cause of death there, the efforts of Imagine No Malaria and its partner organizations are making a huge impact.
Insecticide-treated bed nets, many of which Imagine No Malaria has funded, have proven to be a powerful preventative measure. They are even more powerful when combined with community education about anti-malaria best practices (e.g., elimination of standing water) and a network of clinics across the African subcontinent that the UMC helps supply with live-saving medical equipment and supplies.
What most impressed me is how Imagine No Malaria accomplishes the necessary communication and health education. It teams with the local communities, most often through village health teams, who are the ones most directly invested in and able to effect positive change in community public health. The volunteer health team members are the ones who visit all the people of their village, assess their wellness, make recommendations and aid them in bettering their quality of life. This group also makes regular announcements, tracks village health data, and offers educational programs, all the while working full time jobs to support their own families.
Throughout the week, we heard powerful testimonies from volunteer members of village health teams about their personal faith and how the Holy Spirit is energizing them to meet the health problems in their villages. I remain so inspired by their stories, and by the many stories of hope and progress from the families and communities our work with Imagine No Malaria is supporting.
It reminds me of what Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus, that under Christ we are no longer strangers with one another -- we are fellow citizens with God’s people, and we belong to the same household. We saw this unity during our travels. Despite some of the vast differences in external and economic environments, our friends in Uganda share the same aspirations and hopes that we do. The mothers and fathers there, just like us, want a better future for their children and themselves. And to my observation it was the church, more than any other institution, that is the sustained hope, spiritual support and motivation to bring about that better future.
And every one of us can help. All of our North Georgia churches will be working this year to raise awareness and support for Imagine No Malaria. Gifts to the program go one hundred percent to program activities, and just ten dollars can save at least one life. Combatting the darkness of suffering in this world has been and will be the work of many lifetimes, but with Imagine No Malaria, we are already bringing light and life to an entire continent. God bless us in our efforts.
Andrew Flake is a lay member of Decatur First UMC. He accompanied Jessica Terrell and Jamie Jenkins on a trip to Uganda last December to distribute bed nets. He is an attorney with Arnold, Golden, Gregory in Atlanta.