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Commentary: A child shows the way in fight against malaria


 Katherine Commale talks about her fundraising efforts with the Nothing But Nets campaign during a videotaped launch at the NBA Store in New York.
A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

A UMNS Commentary by Bishop Thomas Bickerton*
Jan. 17, 2007


Thomas Bickerton

At 48 years of age, it is quite a challenge to recall all of my emotions and habits at age 6. My memory was just being formed. I was just a boy - innocent, playful, and caught up in all of the things that make life wonderful for a 6-year-old.

Katherine Commale is 6 years old. Last September, Katherine and her mother, Lynda, made a presentation on bed nets at her local church, Hopewell United Methodist Church, near Philadelphia. In less than 24 hours, they raised $1,500 to purchase bed nets to help combat the cruel reality that every 30 seconds a child in Africa dies from malaria.

But Katherine and Lynda didn't stop there. Their mission grew as Katherine moved from one Sunday school class to another, educating the church's children about the plight of African children stricken with malaria. She displayed actual bed nets, performed skits with her mom, made bookmarks wrapped in netting, and used a handmade diorama, which she had constructed with the help of her 3-year-old brother, Joseph.

During the Christmas holidays, Katherine, her neighborhood friends and the children from Hopewell Church, hand-decorated more than 500 gift certificates, providing gift givers with an opportunity to purchase bed nets in honor of a friend, teacher or family member. By Christmas Day, Katherine and her friends had raised more than $10,000 for "Nothing but Nets," the anti-malaria, bed net campaign. 


 Six-year-old Katherine Commale, sitting atop her father Anthony's shoulders, reaches for a basketball net during the launch of the Nothing But Nets campaign. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

I met Katherine and her family in early January in New York City for the kickoff of Nothing But Nets with the United Nations Foundation, the NBA Cares Foundation, the people of The United Methodist Church, and other partners, such as VH1. During the taping of a show for the NBA, a producer wheeled out Katherine's diorama in front of the camera. There, under bright lights, a studio audience and intimidating television cameras, this 6-year-old demonstrated with a little doll, some netting, and a toy mosquito how a bed net saves a child's life. She then looked into the camera and told the audience that we have to do all we can to save children in Africa from malaria. That from a 6-year-old! 

I began to think to myself, "If a 6-year-old can raise $10,000 for Nothing But Nets, can you imagine what every one of our local churches could do if they centered their minds and energies on telling the story and encouraging the contributions? What would happen if we began to understand more fully that the church's ministry extends beyond the walls of our local churches? What would it look like if we opened our eyes and realized the magnitude of what United Methodist people can do together?"

A long time ago, a boy gave Jesus five barley loaves and two fish. Jesus took the results of his work and fed 5,000 people. We're still talking about that one.  Katherine raised $10,000 and gave 1,000 kids a chance to live. That too is worth talking about and remembering. Jesus himself said, "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." It probably would do some of us well to become like a 6-year-old once more. If we do, it might save someone's life.

Bishop Thomas Bickerton (left) and
Sports Illustrated columnist Rick Reilly talk at the Nothing But Nets campaign launch at the NBA Store in New York.
A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

Malaria kills a million people a year, 75 percent of whom are children. Yet there is a simple way for everyone to participate in beating this disease: spend $10, send a bed net, and save a life. That's all it takes.

Not so long ago, the United States eliminated polio from the radar screen of concern. If we put our heads, hearts and $10 bills together, we can do the same with malaria.

Can you imagine it? I can. But what's more amazing is that there is a 6-year-old outside of Philadelphia who can imagine it too. She's not just imagining it - she's doing something about it. 

The question is: Can you?

Contributions to the "Nothing But Nets" campaign can be made by logging onto www.NothingButNets.net or www.umc.org, or dropping a check in your church offering plate with the designation for Advance #982015.

Send a net. Save a life.

*Bickerton is bishop of The United Methodist Church's Pittsburgh Area and president of the denomination's Commission on Communication, which governs United Methodist Communications. A longer version of this commentary originally appeared in InterLink, the publication of the church's Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference.

News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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