(Photo: World Vision/Sandra Chelimo)
In the past, the church has not been a major player in the fight against malaria, but World Vision, along with Christian leaders and churches across the U.S., is working to unite the faith community in its war against the disease responsible for the deaths of millions of children.
Malaria is a completely preventable disease that can be caused by a single mosquito bite, yet its impact on Africa has been enormous.
Malaria is estimated to take the life of a child on the African continent every 60 seconds and remains the leading cause of death for children under the age of five, but a simple bed net – costing $6 dollars – can prevent children from succumbing to the deadly disease. When properly supplied, the insecticide -treated bed nets have proven to significantly reduce the spread of malaria.
This year, as in years past, churches around the country are partnering with World Vision to host "Malaria Sunday," when worshippers raise money to go toward the purchasing of nets.
World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organization that works to tackle the challenges of global poverty and injustice in over 100 countries around the world.
Churches, such as the Celebration Center in Puyallup, Wash., are dedicating their time and using complimentary informational resources such as DVDs, information packets, and web banners offered by World Vision, to educate their congregations about malaria.
"We started our malaria project on Easter Sunday this year knowing that we have a lot of visitors on Easter, so that way the congregation would have information from the beginning," lead pastor of the Celebration Center, Chris Hansler, told The Christian Post.
Celebration Center will be running a five-week campaign called "Death to Life," in which each Sunday, five-minute presentations will be held during worship services to inform church members about the different facts associated with malaria and provide them with an opportunity to act.
The Celebration Center has also involved children in their malaria campaign – and the response has been nothing short of touching, according to Hansler.
"We try to help them understand," Hansler told CP. "At the Easter egg hunt this year at the end of our services there were special eggs hidden with a coupon that would enable the children to give or provide a bed net for every special egg that was found. In that way the kids were able to give something and be involved as well."
"I hear stories of the kids who are taking all of their money and allowance out of their piggy bank and donating it to the campaign," he added. "We had one kid last week who said to his mom on Sunday, 'Mom, kids have to live.' He is seven years old and donated all his savings to the initiative."
Although World Vision has been reaching out to churches and offering free resources for "Malaria Sunday" initiatives for several years, this year in particular has seen a vast response from the Christian community.
"We've held 'Malaria Sundays' in previous years, but this year it is ramped up and seems like the Holy Spirit is doing something exciting and unusual," Jeff Farmer, President of Pentecostal Charismatic Churches of North America, who is actively working with World Vision to engage church leaders from across the Christian faith to join the cause, told CP.
Farmer became involved with World Vision in 2010 following a frightening cancer diagnosis shortly before he retired from his 16-year position as president of Open Bible Churches. In recovery and ready to begin a new relaxing phase of his life, Farmer became inspired to fight against malaria when one morning he was preparing to read Psalm 91 and his wife brought him the mail – which contained a World Vision newsletter about malaria.
"Other than hearing the word malaria, I knew absolutely nothing about it. I didn't know it came from a mosquito bite. I didn't know that the mosquito bit at night time. I didn't know most effective means of defeating malaria was a simple $6 insecticide-treated bed net," he said.
After reading the newsletter, Farmer read Psalm 91, which speaks of finding refuge in God, and made an immediate connection between the newsletter and Bible passage and felt that God was guiding him into a new purpose.
"God gripped my heart and the Holy Spirit moved on me," he said. "In my mind I was already standing in line for social security, but God said, 'No, I want you to engage in the war on malaria, start a movement, and to help World Vision bring it to a close.'"
Thus, in March of 2011, Farmer gathered 30 faith leaders to meet at World Vision's headquarters in Washington to discuss the disease, its devastating impact, and how leaders of faith could join together in the war against malaria.
The meeting was truly groundbreaking, as the church has not been "at the table in the global consortium of governments, businesses, nonprofits, and humanitarian relief organizations working to eradicate the disease," according to Farmer. All attendees at the March 2011 World Vision meeting "almost without acceptation" became inspired to join the war against this deadly but preventable disease.
"I believe the Holy Spirit was saying 'Church, you need to rise up and unite,' I don't know in modern times when the Christian church has spoken with such a united voice on a single issue," Farmer said. "I believe the Lord is asking the church, 'You've been saving souls, now its time to save lives,' and I know from a Pentecostal and Evangelical perspective that is a message that resonates."
Indeed the message has resonated and churches across the country, small and large, have been making efforts to raise awareness, funds, and support for helping to eradicate the disease, and the efforts are paying off.
Since 2000, malaria mortality rates have fallen by 25 percent and global initiatives targeting the disease, such as the United Nations Millennium Development Goal 6 to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases, are witnessing success – but the war is far from over.
Children in Africa continue to lose their lives to malaria on a daily basis and malaria remains the leading cause of death for children under five on the continent.
Despite the continuing concerns, ending malaria is a feasible goal, according to Farmer.
"It's something we must do and can do," Farmer told CP. "It's a divine initiative."