Commentary

Restoring health, inspiring hope

Last year, Ngaruma Lutheran Parish on Mount Kilimanjaro, buried seven of their children. They succumbed to an unfamiliar disease characterized by severe chills, high fevers, headaches, nausea, vomiting, convulsions, anemia, and comas. Within as little as two to three days, their precious children died from this devastating disease — malaria.

Mary Simonson Clark. Metro Lutheran photo: Ryan Cosgrove

Each year, 850,000 to one million people die from malaria. As in Ngaruma, children are at greatest risk; a child dies from malaria every 30 to 45 seconds. Pregnant women are also very vulnerable; annually, an estimated 10,000 pregnant women die from malaria. Ngaruma’s story tragically repeats in communities and congregations in half the world’s population.

What would we do if children in our congregation died from a devastating disease? We would educate ourselves and mobilize our resources to prevent and treat the disease. Malaria is preventable and treatable. However, most people who contract malaria live in poverty; they lack education or resources for prevention and treatment.

Christ called his disciples to work together and cast their nets. Their unified labor resulted in an enormous catch of life-giving fish. Today, the Lord calls us to work together to cast nets that are life saving for our companions in Africa.

During recent interviews, Lutherans from Africa voiced this need for education and resources. They shared deeply painful stories of suffering and deaths from malaria among their families, friends, and communities. They explained malaria’s symptoms are frequently unrecognized. Furthermore, health care is often remote, expensive, over-burdened, and under-supplied with medications and blood for transfusions. They remembered having been “weak and sickly” children who had malaria repeatedly.

Malaria’s cycle can be broken:

Communities often do not understand malaria is a mosquito-borne illness and, therefore, do not eliminate mosquitoes’ breeding grounds or use insecticide sprays. Insecticide-treated longlasting bed nets are a final line of prevention. Anti-malaria medications are crucial for women who are pregnant. Once contracted, malaria is treatable with medications and, if necessary, blood transfusions.

The Lutheran Malaria Initiative (LMI) responds to our sisters and brothers’ requests to help them contain malaria by providing support for education, prevention, and treatment. LMI is a movement of Lutherans to reduce infant and child mortality by two-thirds and overall incidences of malaria in Africa by 2015. Support from the United Nations Foundation makes LMI possible. In July, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod voted to participate in LMI. In 2009, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted to pilot LMI; in 2011, it will vote regarding continuing LMI.

LMI provides dual opportunities for congregations. While accompanying our companions in Africa to contain malaria, we have the opportunity to work together as Lutherans united in a common cause. LMI’s work includes four avenues of participation. First, we can pray for our companions suffering from malaria and for people working to contain the disease. Second, we can educate ourselves about malaria and share what we learn with our congregations and communities. Third, we can advocate for our legislators to support funding to break the perpetuating cycle of poverty, malnutrition, and malaria. Finally, we can give financial support for education, bed nets, training, insecticide sprays, medication, environmental cleanup, and numerous capacity building, sustainable approaches to contain malaria. Prayer, education, advocacy, and giving will help contain malaria as well as strengthen our own congregations.

Three congregations began the Minneapolis Area Synod’s LMI pilot. With Diaconal Minister Kirsten Kessel’s leadership, Mount Olivet Lutheran Church of Plymouth educated, engaged, and empowered its children and youth to be LMI leaders. All Saints Lutheran Church in Minnetonka infused LMI throughout its worship services, which included a video made by its members, Rolf and Cindy Olson, and the humor and insights of its new pastors Antonio Machado and Heather Hammond. Congregational President Karen Boberg, Bethany Lutheran Church on 36th in Minneapolis, unified members to work together in multi-generational activities; senior members saved change for children to give as “noisy money” during worship.

Christ called his disciples to work together and cast their nets. Their unified labor resulted in an enormous catch of life-giving fish. Today, the Lord calls us to work together to cast nets that are life saving for our companions in Africa. Through LMI, we can respond to Christ’s command to care for him by caring for his children who society often ignores as “the least”—infants and children, pregnant women, elders, people living in poverty, and all our sisters and brothers who are devastated by malaria. In LMI’s movement, we can unite to restore health and inspire hope.

Mary Simonson Clark is the Lutheran Malaria Initiative Coordinator for the Minneapolis Area Synod of the ELCA’s pilot project and is a faith-based consultant with a dual degree in theology and social work, specializing in program development, policy, and administration. She may be reached at marysimonsonclark@gmail.com, 952/933-8836, or 612/636-5104.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,