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.

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