|United Methodists get their game on to fight malaria|
The Revs. Claude Davison (left) and Howard Martin take a
breather while training for upcoming basketball competitions in the
Central Texas and North Texas Annual (regional) conferences to benefit
Nothing But Nets. UMNS photos by Steve Smith.
By Steve Smith*
Nov. 13, 2007 | RICHLAND HILLS, Texas (UMNS)
Under a cloudless Texas sky, the
Rev. Claude Davison, 75, dribbles his basketball to the chalk "foul
line" on his driveway, aims at the hoop, and shoots.
The ball makes a perfect arc in the air, hits nothing but net and makes a "woosh!" sound.
"Got it!" said the retired United Methodist clergyman as his pastor, the Rev. Howard Martin, watches with admiration.
Both pastors are practicing their
skills for upcoming basketball tournaments in the Central Texas and
North Texas annual (regional) conferences to raise money for Nothing But
Nets, a grassroots campaign to crush malaria in Africa by providing
insecticide-treated sleeping nets to children and families at risk. The
people of The United Methodist Church are a founding partner of the
As part of the effort, the
basketball champs from the Dallas-based North Texas conference will
tangle with their counterparts from the Fort Worth-based Central Texas
conference on April 26, the first Saturday of the 2008 General
Conference. The faceoff will take place at Fort Worth’s First United
Methodist Church near the city’s convention center, site of the
denomination's top legislative assembly. United Methodist bishops from
throughout the world, including Africa, will attend the game.
Davison, who grew up in Indiana
where his father and mother led churches, plans to participate in the
tournament’s free-throw competition, in which each person pays $10 to
sink as many buckets as possible. The major part of the competition will
be 3-on-3 team playoffs.
"Nothing But Nets is a project that
really appeals to me," Davison said between free throws. "And besides,
Indiana boys like their basketball, whether they’re 15 or 75."
Each player pays $10 to compete, and tournament organizers want to present at least a half million dollars to Nothing But Nets.
"Basketball is America’s sport," said
Martin, who is coordinating the Central Texas tourney. "Basketball is
exciting, fast paced, and basically anyone has the potential to be a
star, especially in their driveway.
Davison practices free throws at his home in Richland Hills, Texas, as Martin waits to rebound.
"The reason The United Methodist
Church is participating in Nothing but Nets is we are a social-justice
church with the vitality and capabilities to mobilize several million
members into an immediate response," said Martin, senior pastor at
Richland Hills United Methodist Church.
Nets for nets
To basketball aficionado Martin, the tournament and Nothing But Nets
are an ideal match. There are, of course, the malaria-fighting nets that
cost $10 each to buy and send to Africa. And, in basketball, the phrase
"nothing but net" means sinking a basket without the ball touching the
In Africa, two people die from malaria and malaria-related diseases
every minute, and 20 percent of all children’s deaths are blamed on the
To combat the rising death rates, the United Nations Foundation created Nothing But Nets, which was inspired by Sports Illustrated
columnist Rick Reilly. He challenged readers to donate at least $10 to
buy an anti-malaria bed net, which can protect a family of four from
mosquitoes for up to four years.
In addition to the people of The
United Methodist Church, founding campaign partners include the National
Basketball Association’s NBA Cares, Sports Illustrated magazine and the United Nations Foundation.
To date, the campaign has raised nearly $16 million worldwide, of which United Methodists have contributed about $2 million.
Carolyn Stephens, the Central Texas
conference’s associate director of mission ministries, brought the
Nothing But Nets idea back to Fort Worth after hearing United Methodist
Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton talk about the humanitarian effort last fall.
"His message was so compelling that I
knew I wanted our conference to be involved," said Stephens, whose
local annual conference designated Nets as its major fundraiser.
Stephens contacted her North Texas
counterpart, Joan LaBarr, and the rest is history. "She and I knew we’d
like to share this with people in our respective areas because we share
sports teams, like the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, and people think in terms
of basketball and nets," Stephens said.
Making a difference
Members of the church teams are
mostly from congregations, although some churches are reaching out in
their communities to raise public awareness and foster new relationships
with their neighbors. Teams also include players from the Methodist
Children’s Home in Waco.
"The reason The United Methodist Church is
participating in Nothing but Nets is we are a social-justice church with
the vitality and capabilities to mobilize several million members into
an immediate response.
–The Rev. Howard Martin
"I’m sure the championship game at
General Conference will have several 'ringers' from both conferences,"
said Martin, referring to players who don’t attend the churches but are
recruited for their athletic prowess. "But that’s OK. We must remember
that the reason for the games is to raise awareness and finances to
The Rev. Darian Pace, who is
coordinating the North Texas tourney, says joining the Nets campaign is a
natural for Methodism, which began missions in Africa more than 160
years ago. In June, Pace kicked off the tournament at the annual
conference with Bishop Alfred L. Norris taking shots at a hoop.
North Texas teams are gearing up for
district games but recognize that the tournament's underlying
motivation is not the thrill of competition, according to Pace, senior
pastor at God’s Kingdom United Methodist Church in FerrisUR.
you talk about the seriousness of malaria and how it’s affecting the
people of Africa, the players become more relaxed playing the
games because they know they’re making a difference," he said. "They
know that $10 buys one bed net that will cover a family of four, so they
understand the impact of donating something as small as a 10-dollar
As a result, he adds, people who
otherwise wouldn’t participate in a basketball tournament, or can't even
hit the side of a barn, are joining church teams. Others are donating
$10 and volunteering their time.
"They are gaining an awareness of
things that are going in our world," said Pace. "They understand even
(they) can make a difference, one net can make a difference, and you
don’t have to be rich or in charge of some corporation to make a
*Smith is a freelance writer in Dallas.
News media contact: Marta Aldrich, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
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