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United Methodists celebrate partnership, lives saved in Côte d’Ivoire health campaign


The Rev. Cynthia Harvey of Texas dances with choir members at Jourdain United Methodist Church in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, during worship celebrating the distribution of insecticide-treated mosquito nets. UMNS photos by Mike DuBose. 

By Tim Tanton*
Nov. 18, 2008 | ABIDJAN, Côte d’Ivoire (UMNS)

United Methodists from two continents joined hands and voices to celebrate a weeklong campaign that provided malaria-fighting bed nets and other services for thousands of Côte d’Ivoire’s most vulnerable children.

A few hundred United Methodists in the Côte d’Ivoire Conference joined with a 35-person delegation from the denomination’s Texas Conference in a service of celebration on Nov. 16. Leaders of both conferences expressed thanks for the partnership that bore fruit during an integrated health campaign in the West African nation.


Bishop Benjamin Boni of Côte d’Ivoire (right), along with Harvey and other clergy, praise God during worship.
 

 

The hospitality of the Côte d’Ivoire churches, government, villagers and campaign partners "has been beyond our wildest dreams," said the Rev. Cynthia Harvey, director of missional excellence for The United Methodist Church’s Texas Annual Conference. She was co-leader of the delegation with the Rev. Rick Goodrich, assistant to Bishop Janice Riggle Huie.

"Our team is exhilaratingly exhausted," Harvey said, delivering the sermon. "Vaccines have been given, vitamin A distributed, and long-lasting insecticide-treated nets have been lovingly handed out by our team from Adiake to Bassam, Agboville to Alepe and to Dabou. My brothers and sisters, lives have been saved."

Lives were saved because the church "chose to be the church," she said. "Friends, you answered the call of Jesus Christ, and this country will never be the same."

A time for thanksgiving

The music of a large choir and band poured through the open windows and doors of Jourdain United Methodist Church, a large, semi-circular building still under construction. The singing was as passionate at the end of the service as at the beginning.

"This service is a thanksgiving service for everything God has to offer us," said the Rev. Isaac Bodje, secretary of the Côte d’Ivoire Conference.

Bishop Benjamin Boni thanked all of the people who volunteered in the effort, noting that many traveled to remote areas on bumpy roads. He looked ahead to future work with the people of the Texas Conference.

Reflecting on the service in a Nov. 18 interview, the bishop said he felt "gratitude toward our God. He is the head of the church."

He said he was grateful to see how brothers and sisters from the Texas Conference, United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, United Methodist Communications, United Methodist Committee on Relief and the United Nations Foundation are concerned about the welfare of children in Côte d’Ivoire.


Ministers prepare to distribute
Holy Communion.

 

Other partners in the campaign included Population Services International and the Ivorian Ministry of Health.

The Nov. 11-15 campaign distributed some 855,000 bed nets to children between the ages of 9 months and 59 months in areas of Côte d’Ivoire where the need has been great. In addition, children in that age range all over the country received free measles vaccinations, doses of vitamin A and de-worming tablets.

Beatrice Nandjui coordinated United Methodist volunteers in the campaign, organizing about 1,000 Ivoirians to staff the distribution stations. She said the presence of the Texans gave a "special importance" to the role of the church. When people from outside the country come to Côte d’Ivoire for such a campaign, it adds a new dimension, she said.

Nandjui said the volunteers will rest for a week. Then she will organize a meeting to explore training for follow-up work. About 750 people have been trained already to follow up with people who received the nets to see how they are being used, she said.

In addition, about 300,000 more nets are on the way to Côte d’Ivoire, provided through a donation from the Japanese government to UNICEF.

Beyond imagination

In her sermon, Harvey emphasized that those gathered were not The United Methodist Church in Côte d’Ivoire and The United Methodist Church in Texas, but that they were one United Methodist Church. "Never have any of us experienced more clearly what it means to be the body of Christ as we have this last week," she said.


Clergy from Africa and the U.S.
participate in the Nov. 16 service.

She preached on Ephesians 3, in which Paul describes how God can accomplish abundantly more than anyone can ask or imagine. She said she had imagined the crowds and the hospitality, but she never would have imagined the relationships—"the love that would bring two annual conferences, thousands of miles apart, together to experience what we have experienced together this week."

She didn’t imagine being brought to tears as the volunteers approached a health care site "with more people than we could count." And the group didn’t imagine falling in love with an entire country, she said.

The work isn’t over. "We do not want to leave women standing in line for a net," she said. "We will be back."

She praised the faith, resilience and resourcefulness of the people of Côte d’Ivoire and the Ivoirian church. "We came to bring you nets, and you gave us so much more. You gave us a new faith in Christ. You gave us a new hope. You gave us more than we could ever have asked or dreamed or imagined."

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

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

Video

Bishop Benjamin Boni: "Brothers and sisters, go in peace."

The Rev. Cynthia Harvey: "It's been an incredible journey."

Communion service at Jourdain United Methodist Church

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