Archive - April, 2010

More on Thinking Globally, Acting Locally

In a previous post I referred to the phrase, “Think globally, act locally.” It’s become a bumper sticker cliché, yet it remains meaningful in our shrunken, globally interconnected world.

We are connected in ways unknown to earlier generations. From global economic policy to national governance. From local community organization to the education and training of individuals.

No single entry point is sufficient and no small scale effort independent of others is adequate. This goes against the grain of our desire to make a difference immediately, locally and personally, yet I believe it’s necessary to take this broader view in order to effect change at a level that affects the most people.

What the people in The United Methodist Church are doing in Imagine No Malaria is partnering to achieve scale while also rebuilding local infrastructure to support community health and social development. They are thinking globally, acting locally.

The fight to end deaths caused by malaria is a global fight and it will be won neighborhood by neighborhood, one family at a time. But individual children live in families and families live in communities and individuals are affected by the quality of life of communities.

Viewed in its totality, the effort to substantially reduce deaths caused by malaria is a huge undertaking. Only a couple of years ago it was considered an impossibility. But in the years since the people of the UMC have become involved, a global movement has developed that views this goal not merely as a vision but as a target.

When then-General Secretary Randy Day hung a bednet at a meeting of the Board of Global Ministries four years ago, he put the challenge to the church. Then he and Bishop Jao Machado of Mozambique spoke at a Summit on Global Health sponsored by TIME magazine. He held up a hand-crank radio and explained how it could be used to deliver information to help prevent malaria. Immediately following this, Dr. Day and I spoke to the Council of Bishops about the challenge to end malaria.

These fledgling efforts led to General Conference affirming Four Areas of Focus with the Global Health focus including a campaign for $75 million to provide bednets to combat the disease. In a mesmerizing speech, Bill Gates, Sr. called the church to join a global movement to end the tragic effects of this disease. And the delegates responded.

Two years later, the people of The United Methodist Church are taking the challenge into their own congregations, acting locally on this global problem. They have raised $10 million, the first goal set by the campaign plan. And they are moving forward.

Last week, a delegation of three bishops, guests and general agency staff participated in two launch events for Imagine No Malaria with the three bishops of the Democratic Republic of Congo in two cities there. The striking thing about this was the crowds that turned out to hear the blunt speeches and wonderful singing of Yvonne Chaka Chaka, a singer of continent-wide renown.

When she asked the thousands of people surrounding the stage in Kamina in central Congo if they wanted nets, they responded with a roar of affirmation. Only a few short months ago, many did not know what causes malaria and were not interested in bednets. The educational message has spread quickly and the response is immediate. These conditions–of awareness and desire for nets–are yet another important step forward.

However, small scale efforts cannot achieve the goal of continent-wide coverage. This requires multiple partners and geographic reach. In Kamina, for example, The United Methodist Church has already distributed 15,000 nets. This is important. These nets will protect thousands of children. But 450,000 people in the region remain without. This illustrates the challenge. It’s one of scale.

With partners, including the United Nations Foundation, the Global Fund to Combat HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and a host of others, the UMC must scale up to cover the region and, when coupled with other important changes, the goal of reducing malaria deaths in Kamina and the whole of Africa can be achieved.

In Austin last Sunday people danced and celebrated World Malaria Day and the formal launch of the campaign Imagine No Malaria. It was a glorious afternoon of celebration. We celebrated surpassing the first fundraising goal of $10 million. We are a part of a global movement that is making history by thinking globally and acting locally.

FITCHBURG, Mass. –– Faith United Parish, a congregation of The United Methodist Church and the United Church of Christ, teamed up with students from Fitchburg State College to do an “extreme makeover” of nearby Longsjo Middle School. The school now has freshly painted classrooms, an operating theater, and the love of many volunteers. See http://fsc.edu/fitchburgeducationfoundation/ott.html

Crying Out for Bednets in Kamina, DR Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo has seen its most basic infrastructure destroyed by ten years of civil war. Roads, schools, hospitals and clinics, nearly every basic piece of infrastructure necessary for life is lacking, compromised, or doesn’t exist.

We discovered this in Lumbumbashi when we experienced roads within the city that in the developed world would be considered impassable. And we rediscovered it when we drove from the airbase in rural Kamina into the small town. A strip of asphalt in the center, not wide enough for a vehicle, was all that remained of a paved road that once connected the dilapidated base to the town.

But this lack of essential service doesn’t necessarily mean lack of community, nor lack of enthusiasm for improvement. Perhaps the most dangerous result of resource deprivation is the risk that people begin to believe they don’t matter, or deserve better, because they adapt to living without. It’s the risk to human dignity that comes with lack of economic resources.

But we experienced a surge of community-wide expressiveness that I’ve never witnessed before in Africa. As she did in Lumbumbashi, Yvonne Chaka Chaka called people to come forward to the stage as she sang and danced. And a sea of humanity surged forward. Sitting on the stage I could not see the end of the mass of people who had come to hear her and to learn about malaria.

But it became clear they already know malaria’s toll. They wanted nets. Now. One man held up money to demonstrate that he would pay for a net at that moment.

What this said to me is that the education about malaria has been successful. People in Kamina understand what causes it and they want help to prevent their children and loved ones from contracting it. And it says that people want action. They want change.

Unlike the children in Lumbumbashi, this crowd was insistent and assertive. I began to be concerned about the mood of the celebratory event. It wasn’t menacing in the least, but we had thousands of people standing shoulder-to-shoulder calling for nets, and we had no nets. An earlier distribution had already been carried out here. This was a launch event for more.

Yvonne managed them well, changed the mood to celebration and hope, and offerred words of education about what can be done even without nets to reduce the risk.

And the community has done significant work already. A canal 15 kilometers long has been dug to drain a large areas of standing water to reduce the breeding ground for mosquitos. Nets have been distributed, not nearly enough for the entire city, but a small fraction at least. And community health workers are accessible. The local hospital is functioning and agriculture development is producing food and generating income.

These are no small accomplishments. And yet blazed into my memory of Kamina is thousands of people crying out for nets. Crying out for the chance to live a better, healthier life.

Where Faith is Confirmed

It was already an emotional day for me. The past two years have pointed toward the launch of the campaign by The United Methodist Church called Imagine No Malaria. It’s been a long, sometimes frustrating journey. And this day symbolized for me the first milestone after General Conference initiated this effort to end the preventable death and suffering that results from malaria.

The stage was set in what was a day earlier a filthy trash dump surrounded by pools of fetid water. I could not have imagined workers could clean up this place so quickly and so completely. It was testimony to the high value placed on the net distribution that would take place here. But first we were holding a public celebration to emphasize the importance of sleeping under the nets, keeping the environment clean, draining standing water and recognizing the symptoms of malaria when they appear.

Yvonne Chaka Chaka, an African singer of continent-wide renown and adoration, was the celebrity attraction. And when she called the children to come forward toward the stage there was a rush of tiny limbs and legs the likes of which I’ve never seen before. They screamed and reached out to her, they danced and created a dust storm, they smiled and the day seemed to come alive in a new way.

And I lost it. I think the tears were my own expression of thanksgiving, joy and hope. This is what we are working for. It’s about these little children having a fair chance to live full, long, productive lives. To experience the words that Jesus spoke, “I am come that you may have life, and live it abundantly.” And it’s clear in their innocence with their bright smiles and dancing feet, these little faces deserve that chance. They deserve to have a future in which life is more than a struggle to survive each day. They deserve to have the opportunity to grow and develop into the full, productive people God has created all of us to be.

In my thirty years of communicating about faith and the abundant life this day will stand out as one of the most meaningful and moving. Through the movement to end malaria deaths, the people of The United Methodist Church have truly joined in the work of establishing the kingdom of God in the most forgotten places among the most overlooked people. Here is where we will find God and here is where our faith will be confirmed.

More on Thinking Globally, Acting Locally

In a previous post, I referred to the phrase, “Think globally, act locally.” It’s become a bumper sticker cliché, yet it remains meaningful in our shrunken, globally interconnected world.
We are connected in ways unknown to earlier generations–from global economic policy to national governance to local community organization to the education and training of individuals.

No single entry point is sufficient, and no small-scale, independent effort is adequate.

In Imagine No Malaria, the people of The United Methodist Church are partnering to achieve scale while also rebuilding local infrastructure to support community health and social development. They are thinking globally, acting locally.
The fight to end deaths caused by malaria is global, but it will be won, neighborhood by neighborhood, one family at a time. Viewed in its totality, the effort substantially to reduce deaths caused by malaria is a huge undertaking. Only a couple of years ago, it was considered an impossibility. But in the years since the people of The United Methodist Church have become involved, a global movement has developed that sees this goal not merely as a vision but as a target.
When then-General Secretary Randy Day hung a bed net at a meeting of the Board of Global Ministries, he put the challenge to the church. Then he and Bishop Joao Machado spoke at a Summit on Global Health sponsored by TIME. The bishop held up a hand-cranked radio and explained how it could deliver information to help prevent malaria. Immediately following this, Dr. Day and I spoke to the Council of Bishops about the challenge to end malaria.
These fledgling efforts led to General Conference affirming the Four Areas of Focus with the Global Health area, including a campaign for $75 million to provide bed nets to combat the disease. This decision followed a mesmerizing speech by Bill Gates Sr. Mr. Gates called the church to join a global movement to end the tragic effects of this disease. And the delegates responded.
Two years later, the people of The United Methodist Church are taking the challenge into their own congregations, acting locally on this global problem. They have raised $10 million, the first goal set by the campaign plan. And they are moving forward.
Last week, a delegation of three bishops, guests and general agency staff participated in two launch events for Imagine No Malaria with the three bishops of the Democratic Republic of Congo in two cities there. The striking thing about this was the crowds that turned out to hear the blunt speeches and the wonderful singing of Yvonne Chaka Chaka, a singer of continent-wide renown.
When she asked the thousands of people surrounding the stage in Kamina in central Congo if they wanted nets, they responded with a roar of affirmation. What is significant about this is that only a few short months ago, many did not know what causes malaria and were not interested in bed nets as a result. The educational message has spread quickly, and the response is immediate. These conditions–of awareness and desire for nets–are yet another important step forward.
However, small-scale efforts cannot achieve the goal of continent-wide coverage. This requires multiple partners and geographic reach. In Kamina, for example, The United Methodist Church has already distributed 15,000 nets. This is important. These nets will protect thousands of children. But 450,000 people in this region alone remain without. This illustrates the challenge. It’s one of scale.
With partners, including the United Nations Foundation; the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; and a host of others, The UMC must scale up to cover the region. Coupled with other important changes, the goal of reducing malaria deaths in Kamina and the whole of Africa can be achieved.
In Austin Sunday, people danced and celebrated World Malaria Day and the formal launch of the campaign Imagine No Malaria. It was a glorious afternoon of celebration, and we celebrated surpassing the first fundraising goal of $10 million. We are a part of a global movement that is making history. And more.
Jesus said, “Bring the children to me, for of such is the kingdom of God.”
I have seen God’s kingdom in little feet dancing and kicking up dust to the mellifluous singing of a beautiful African woman in what only a day earlier was a trash dump in a forgotten neighborhood of a resource-deprived African city. And I have never been more firmly convinced that the transforming love of God does not operate within the limits of local or global. It happens wherever and whenever we have the eyes to see, the ears to hear and the hands to join in the work of transformation in Jesus’ name.
God is already about the work of transformation. God is present in our lives teaching us to be about, no, calling us to, the leading causes of life, as Gary Gunderson has so aptly stated it.
Challenging us to see that a trash-laden field with fetid standing water can become God’s kingdom. Challenging our imagination. Imagine, no malaria.

A Surplus of Community Health Workers In Congo

As we stepped into the classroom at a mission school in Bongonga, a neighborhood in Lumbumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo, I was surprised at how many mostly young adults listened intently to the instructor. He explained how to speak to residents of the poor neighborhood about the use of bednets.

A list of points were written on a blackboard. He spoke each in a single sentence and asked a volunteer to repeat. Then he asked the entire group.

What struck me was that this has never happened before in this resource-deprived community. And I was taken aback by how many community health workers had volunteered for this duty. And those in the room aren’t the full complement. More than 150 have volunteered to take bednets into homes and teach how to use them. From none to a small complement in a matter of only a few months.

For the demonstration project only six workers were needed. It was unique—to have more volunteers than needed. However, after the celebration that would follow and the demonstration for dignitaries this small group will be taxed to deliver and train residents in the community to use the nets properly. They have their job cut out for them because nets have never been available to people here.

In fact, barely any services to sustain and enhance life are here. Not clean water. Not proper sanitation. Not paved streets. Not anything but rudimentary health services.

But perhaps these enthusiastic young people reveal at least the start of an essential asset that can provoke change. They are here, they are willing and they want to learn and act. This alone is worth celebrating.

Malaria battle is won a family at a time

April 22, 2010

The Teeming City of Kinshasha.

The first thing that struck me about Kinshasha, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is the crush of people. On the way from the airport, you pass markets teeming with people. People line the roads waiting for transport vans, walking and selling their wares.

As war progressed across the north and east, people came to the city for safety and stayed. Today it’s a mass of people and clogged streets with vehicles jockeying for inches of space in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
While construction projects are underway in nearly every section of the city, run by Chinese engineers, people are making do. Nearly everything is recycled for another purpose—bricks, wood, auto parts, even plastic jugs. Many of the city’s streets have been neglected for years and are barely passable in four-wheel drive vehicles. Our driver drove into an unmarked section of concrete that had been removed from the street and our vehicle dropped to its front axle.

Sewers run with foul drainage, and some hold standing water. Trash is not collected and lies everywhere. A heavy rain flooded local neighborhoods and roads. As we sat in a traffic jam, I watched a woman clean her home and shop only feet from the street where we were immobilized. She removed soaked cardboard that had lined the walls of her living area. She carried out a small water-logged table, and laid out bedding, clothing and food boxes.

Beyond the daily struggle to survive under these conditions, I thought how challenging it would be to take on health care in these neighborhoods. People live literally on top of each other with inadequate sanitation and substandard housing. Where would a community improvement effort begin? How would you distribute bed nets to these teeming masses in these terribly congested neighborhoods with no basic services?

That is the challenge of scale and it’s an enormous challenge. It highlights that we must think about engaging at every level of relationship from global economic policy to national governance to local community organization to educating and training individuals. No single entry point is sufficient, and no small scale effort independent of others is adequate.

What we are trying to do in Imagine No Malaria is partner to achieve scale, while also rebuild local infrastructure to support community development. The fight to end deaths caused by malaria is a global fight, but it will be won neighborhood by neighborhood, one family at a time.

Hearing the cries for a better life

April 17, 2010

Kamina.

The Democratic Republic of Congo has seen its most basic infrastructure destroyed by ten years of civil war. Roads, schools, hospitals and clinics, nearly every basic piece of infrastructure necessary for life is lacking, compromised, or doesn’t exist.

We discovered this in Lubumbashi when we experienced roads within the city that in the developed world would be considered impassable. And we rediscovered it when we drove from the airbase in ru-ral Kamina into the small town. A strip of asphalt in the center, not wide enough for a vehicle, was all that remained of a paved road that once connected the dilapidated base to the town.

But this lack of essential service doesn’t necessarily mean lack of community, nor lack of enthusiasm for improvement. Perhaps the most dangerous result of resource deprivation is the risk that people begin to believe they don’t matter, or deserve better, because they adapt to being without. It’s the risk to human dignity.

But we experienced a surge of community-wide expressiveness that I’ve never witnessed before in Africa in such a place as Kamina. As she did in Lubumbashi, Yvonne Chaka Chaka called people to come forward to the stage as she sang and danced. And a sea of humanity surged forward. Sitting on the stage, I could not see the end of the mass of people who had come to hear her and to learn about malaria.

But it became clear that they already know malaria’s toll. They wanted nets. And they made that clear. One man held up money to demonstrate that he would pay for a net at that moment.

What this said to me is that the education about malaria has been successful. People in Kamina under-stand what causes it, and they want help to prevent their children and loved ones from contracting it. And it says that people want action. They want change.

Unlike the children in Lubumbashi, this crowd was insistent and assertive. They want nets, and they want them now. I began to be concerned about the mood of the celebratory event. It wasn’t menacing in the least, but we had thousands of people standing shoulder to shoulder calling for nets, and we had no nets. An earlier distribution had already been carried out here.

Yvonne managed them well, changed the mood to celebration and hope, and offered words of educa-tion about what can be done even without nets to reduce the risk.

And the community has done significant work already. A canal 15 kilometers long has been dug to drain large areas of standing water to reduce the breeding ground for mosquitoes. Nets have been dis-tributed, not nearly enough for the entire city, but a small fraction at least. And community health workers are accessible, the local hospital is functioning and agriculture development is producing food and generating income.

These are no small accomplishments. And yet blazed into my memory of Kamina is thousands of people crying out for nets. Crying out for the chance to live a better, healthier life.

Celebration brings tears of joy, hope

April 15, 2010

It was already an emotional day for me. The past two years had pointed toward the launch of the campaign by The United Methodist Church called Imagine No Malaria. It had been a long, sometimes frustrating journey. And this day symbolized for me the first milestone after General Conference initiated this effort to end the preventable death and suffering that results from malaria.
The stage was set in what had been, a day earlier, a filthy trash dump surrounded by pools of fetid water. I could not have imagined workers could clean up this place so quickly and so completely. It was testimony to the high value placed on the net distribution that would take place here.
But first we were holding a public celebration to emphasize the importance of sleeping under the nets, keeping the environment clean, draining standing water and recognizing the symptoms of malaria.

Photo by Lynne Dobson

Yvonne Chaka Chaka, an African singer of continent-wide renown and adoration, was the celebrity attraction. When she called the children to come toward the stage, there was a rush of tiny limbs and legs the likes of which I’d never seen before. They screamed and reached out to her, they danced and created a dust storm, they smiled and the day seemed to come alive in a new way.

And I lost it. I think the tears were my own expression of thanksgiving, joy and hope. This is what we have been working for. It’s about these little children having a fair chance to live full, long productive lives. To experience the words that Jesus spoke, “I am come that you may have life, and live it abundantly.” 
It’s clear in their innocence, with their bright smiles and dancing feet, these little faces deserve that chance. They deserve to have a future in which life is more than a struggle to survive each day. They deserve to have the opportunity to grow and develop into the full, productive people God has created all of us to be.
In my 30 years of communicating about faith and the abundant life, this day will stand out as one of the most meaningful and moving. Through the movement to end malaria deaths, the people of The United Methodist Church have truly joined in the work of establishing the kingdom of God in the most forgotten places among the most overlooked people. Here is where we will find God, and here is where our faith will be confirmed.

Nets distribution signals time for change

April 14, 2010

As we stepped into the classroom at a mission school, I was surprised at how many mostly young adults listened intently to the instructor. He explained how to speak to residents of the poor neighborhood about the use of bed nets.
A list of points was written on a blackboard. He spoke each in a single sentence and asked a volunteer to repeat. Then he asked the entire group.
What struck me was that this effort had never happened before in this resource-deprived community. I was taken aback by how many community health workers had volunteered for this duty. More than 150 had volunteered to take bed nets into homes and teach people how to use them. And the volunteers in the room weren’t the full complement.
For the demonstration project, only six workers were needed. It was unusual to have more volunteers than needed. However, after the celebration that would follow and the demonstration for dignitaries, this small group would be taxed to deliver and train residents in the community to use the nets properly. They had their job cut out for them because nets had never been available to people here.
In fact, the community has barely any services to sustain and enhance life. Not clean water. Not proper sanitation. Not paved streets. Nothing but rudimentary health services.
But perhaps these enthusiastic young people revealed at least the start of an essential asset that can provoke change. They were here, they were willing and they wanted to learn and act. This alone is worth celebrating.