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United Methodists look forward to nets outreach in Côte d’Ivoire

Therese Akichi welcomes participants to a dedication service for insecticide-treated mosquito nets at the United Methodist Church in Dabou, Côte d’Ivoire. The nets will be distributed through the Nothing But Nets campaign.
UMNS photos by Mike DuBose.

By Tim Tanton*
Nov. 10, 2008 | DABOU, Côte d’Ivoire (UMNS)

Bishops Janice Riggle Huie (left) of Texas and Benjamin Boni (center) of Côte d’Ivoire sing a hymn during the dedication service.

United Methodist leaders held up a vision of hope for Côte d’Ivoire during a worship service that signaled the start of an historic week of outreach.

A sense of expectation added to the excitement of the Nov. 9 service as dignitaries from the church and government spoke about plans to distribute free bed nets to protect families from mosquito-borne malaria. The distribution begins Nov. 11 and lasts throughout the week.

"Tomorrow, we look forward to beginning this historic distribution of 855,000 long-lasting, insecticide-treated nets to prevent malaria in the women and children of Côte d’Ivoire," said Bishop Janice Riggle Huie, who leads the denomination’s Texas Annual (regional) Conference. Nearly 1,000 volunteers from Côte d’Ivoire and more than 30 people from Texas spent Nov. 10 preparing for the distribution.

Huie and Bishop Benjamin Boni, of the Côte d’Ivoire Conference, led the worship service, held on the grounds of United Methodist-related Dabou Hospital.

Speaking in French, Boni said it was a joy to see the brothers and sisters from the United States and church agencies "here to express their love. We don’t have words to express our gratitude."

Boni spoke of eradicating malaria, citing the need not only to distribute nets but to promote a clean environment where mosquitoes can’t breed, and to educate people on healthy practices to prevent malaria.

Blazing heat and a lengthy program did nothing to diminish the enthusiasm and spirit of the crowd, which filled some 1,800 seats under large tents. The morning began with a revved up brass band, choral singing and dancing. Then the worship band kicked in and played throughout the three-hour service. Two large choirs — Bethel Choir from Dabou and the Union Choir, comprising members from several churches — held forth side by side with powerful singing, accentuating their songs by waving white handkerchiefs in unison.

Huie began the sermon by thanking the Côte d’Ivoire Conference for its prayer support and financial contribution following Hurricane Ike. The Côte d’Ivoire Conference sent $4,000 to help its friends in Texas after the storm.

The nets campaign would not be possible without God, who inspired the vision, Huie said. "I believe that God has guided our work in these many months of planning. I believe that God will be with us as these nets are distributed. God will see us through.

"Our God is a God of hope. In the next few days, we will be blessed to bring living hope to many people."

Forming partnerships

The campaign is significant in terms of the number of nets being distributed in Côte d’Ivoire and the partnerships formed between The United Methodist Church and other major nongovernmental organizations, as well as with the Ivoirian Ministry of Health and its National Malaria Control Program.

Members of the United Methodist Church in Dabou, Côte d’Ivoire, celebrate following the nets dedication.

Beatrice Nandjui, who is coordinating the United Methodist involvement in the distribution campaign, emphasized the importance of the Ministry of Health’s support, stating that nothing can happen without it. The Rev. Michel Lobo, inspector general of the Côte d’Ivoire Conference, said the campaign marks the beginning of what he believes will be a strong and fruitful collaboration between the church and the Health Ministry.

Joseph Andoh, Côte d’Ivoire’s health inspector general, brought greetings on behalf of the minister of health, who could not attend the service. Andoh, a United Methodist, thanked the church for its involvement. "We need a lot of support for the welfare of this population," he said, speaking in French.

Other partners in the campaign include the United Nations Foundation, the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries and its United Methodist Committee on Relief unit, United Methodist Communications, Population Services International, CARE International, the World Health Organization and UNICEF.

The Texas and Côte d’Ivoire conferences have forged a strong partnership in the past two years, and together have developed an extensive plan for ministering to needs in the West African country. The nets distribution is part of that plan.

"I thank God this day has finally come," said the Rev. Rick Goodrich, assistant to Bishop Huie and co-leader of the Texas delegation, drawing applause.

He noted that 20 months ago, Huie led the first delegation from the Texas Conference to Côte d’Ivoire, and that last year, the conference decided to raise at least $1 million for the Nothing But Nets campaign by the end of 2007. United Methodists in the Texas Conference exceeded that goal, and the funds raised, along with contributions from other organizations, were used to buy the nets that will be distributed this week.

Nothing But Nets is a partnership of the U.N. Foundation, United Methodist Church, National Basketball Association, Major League Soccer and other organizations to combat malaria through the distribution of bed nets and educating people in their use. The integrated health campaign is the result of strong collaboration among local and international partners, including the Measles Initiative (led by the American Red Cross; the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; the denomination’s Global Health Initiative; the government of Japan; Population Services International (PSI); the Côte d'Ivoire Red Cross; and others.

Symbol of grace

Malaria kills a child in Africa every 30 seconds. In a Nov. 4 press conference at United Methodist Church of Plateau in Abidjan, Nandjui said Côte d’Ivoire has about 3 million children age 5 or younger, and some have never slept under a net.

Clergy from Côte d’Ivoire and the
United States process into the
dedication service.

The nets will be distributed to children between 9 months and 59 months old, and each child will also receive a vaccination against measles, a dose of Vitamin A and a de-worming tablet. The nets will be distributed in 18 public health districts, but the vaccinations, vitamins and de-worming tablets will be provided to children in that age range all over the country.

A donation to UNICEF from the government of Japan will result in more than 300,000 additional bed nets, which will arrive after the weeklong distribution. That will bring the total number of nets distributed to about 1.1 million, said Adrianna Logalbo, director of the Nothing But Nets campaign for the U.N. Foundation, speaking with UMNS Nov. 10.

During the worship service, the Rev. Cynthia Harvey, co-leader of the Texas delegation and conference director of the center for missional excellence, thanked the volunteers for giving their time and themselves to be part of something that will change life in Côte d’Ivoire. "You see, the net is obviously critical, but my prayer is because of you, that net will become a symbol of God’s love and grace to all people."

Information about Nothing But Nets is available at www.nothingbutnets.net. Donations to support the Nothing But Nets effort in Cote d’Ivoire can be made online through the Advance, the designated giving arm of The United Methodist Church. Give to Advance #982015 at www.givetomission.org. Checks can be placed in church collection plates or mailed to GCFA, P.O. Box 9069, New York, NY 10087.

*Tanton is director of the Media Group at United Methodist Communications.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.


Holy Communion at Dabou Hospital

Dancers at worship

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