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Basketball scores big win in anti-malaria campaign

Bishop Thomas Bickerton holds an autographed basketball that was auctioned off during the 2008 United Methodist General Conference, raising almost $430,000 to fight malaria through the Nothing But Nets campaign. UMNS photos by Mike DuBose.

By Kathy L. Gilbert*

May 19, 2008 | FORT WORTH, Texas (UMNS)

Delegates to the top legislative body of The United Methodist Church saved the lives of more than 50,000 children while deciding church policy for the next four years.

It all began when Bishop Thomas Bickerton challenged the 992 delegates to General Conference to give up their lunch money on April 25, World Malaria Day, and donate $10 to the Nothing But Nets anti-malaria campaign.

That challenge netted $15,000 and launched a bidding war for a basketball signed by United Methodist bishops. The auction ended in an additional offering of $429,270. At $10 a net, close to 50,000 families will be covered by insecticide-treated sleeping nets in Africa as a result of the donations.

Bickerton prepares to present the basketball to Bishop Bruce Ough, whose West Ohio Area scored the winning.

"Who knew one basketball could save so many lives!" declared Elizabeth McKee Gore of the United Nations Foundation, adding that the foundation was "overwhelmed" by the delegates' support of Nothing But Nets.

Along with the foundation, The United Methodist Church is a founding partner of Nothing But Nets, which fights malaria by purchasing and distributing nets to Africa. A donation of $10 covers the cost of delivering one net and teaching a family how to protect themselves from malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

Nothing But Nets is part of the church’s Global Health Initiative to fight diseases of poverty and promote congregational health and wholeness.

"Who would have thought that a spontaneous plea for sensitivity in response to World Malaria Day would result in a one-time offering of nearly $15,000 and an auction that has raised nearly $450,000 in pledges!" said Bickerton, president of United Methodist Communications and spokesperson for Nothing But Nets.

"I think we can and should learn some valuable lessons from the whole campaign. It is a spontaneous, grassroots response to a stated need to make the world a better place."

Bidding war

The West Ohio Annual (regional) Conference made the slam-dunk bid of $80,000 to score the basketball. Other bidding conferences were encouraged to pay the amount of their bids as well, even if they were outbid.

"Dear friends, don't you love being part of a church that is becoming a global movement for the making of disciples for the transformation of the world?" asked Bishop Bruce R. Ough of West Ohio, as he took the pass from Bickerton and dribbled the autographed ball to the podium.

Ough dribbles to the podium.
"I often get asked in West Ohio what does it mean to be part of a church that is a movement rather than institution. My standard response is a movement is driven and empowered and guided by the Holy Spirit to reflect the justice and compassion we just sung about. And you have been a part of the movement at this General Conference. We did not vote to do this, did you notice that?"

The bidding among annual conferences began at $1,000, but the action heated up when the Holston Conference offered $32,000 and Central Texas matched that bid. Western Pennsylvania upped the ante to $40,000, and Greater New Jersey came in at $75,000 before West Ohio's offer of $80,000.

"Do I hear a bid of $80,001?" asked Bickerton, before announcing the winning bid.

West Ohio's offering was matched by William H. Gates Sr., co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, who had addressed the conference on May 1 and pledged to match the top bid.

Gates praised The United Methodist Church for its work to wipe out malaria. "We are proud to be your partner in this campaign to end the world’s worst killer of children. We believe the campaign cannot succeed without you," Gates said.

Global health

The United Methodist Church has "ramped up" its commitment to fight malaria by agreeing to enter into a capital campaign to raise $75 million to $100 million for global health.

"This is a milestone in the church’s long history of caring for the poor and the whole person," said Bishop Janice Riggle Huie as General Conference approved the Global Health Initiative on May 1.

Agencies and boards of the church will join with the U.N. Foundation and other organizations to combat the diseases of poverty: HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.

To help launch its capital campaign, the church will use a $5 million grant from the U.N. Foundation with support from the Gates Foundation.

The action will mean a four-month planning phase for the Global Health Initiative involving the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, Board of Higher Education and Ministry, Board of Church and Society and United Methodist Communications, said the Rev. Larry Hollon, top executive of United Methodist Communications.

This collaboration of resources "allows us to be more effective," Hollon said.

Hollon said fighting malaria and other diseases of poverty requires a "seismic shift … that we move toward each other in partnership. What I sense is that there is a great yearning. I believe we are at the dawn of a new day."

Bickerton said the church's involvement in addressing global health with secular partners is critical.

"Our unprecedented partnership with the secular world only continues to grow. But as it grows, we find out more and more that our partners are looking for the church to be the glue that will give purpose and meaning to this important endeavor to bring life to a dying world.

"We all need to continue to pray and work for the fulfillment of the goal to make malaria a word we only use when we talk about history."

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

Bishop Thomas Bickerton
"This General Conference ... has raised $428,030."

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