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Dollars in the plate save lives in Africa

Imagine No Malaria - What Is MalariaWhen you give a $10 gift to Imagine No Malaria, how does the money go from your local church to saving lives in Africa?

The Rev. Arlindo Romão can attest to how those gifts do far more than buy insecticide-treated bed nets.

Romão, a United Methodist and a malaria survivor himself, is the health care coordinator at the Center of Hope, a United Methodist-supported center in rural Mozambique that is dedicated to public health education and disease prevention.

The center recently received its first grant of about $10,000 from the Imagine No Malaria initiative. Romão hopes those funds will be just the beginning of church financial support for the center’s efforts to fight the deadly disease.

First, he wants to assess the needs. And to do that, it’s best to start small.

Mozambique, unlike other sub-Saharan African nations, has no shortage of mosquito bed nets. Both the national government and various nongovernmental organizations distribute nets far and wide.

“But there is no organization that follows up on how people are using the mosquito nets and what the local environmental issues are, like sanitation,” Romão told an international delegation of church leaders that included members of the United Methodist Connectional Table.

He hopes the Center of Hope can fill that gap.

Matilda Ndanema displays the insecticide-treated mosquito net she received from the United Methodist Church's Imagine No Malaria campaign in 2010 at her home in Bumpe, near Bo, Sierra Leone.

Matilda Ndanema displays the insecticide-treated mosquito net she received from the United Methodist Church’s Imagine No Malaria campaign in 2010 at her home in Bumpe, near Bo, Sierra Leone.

The limits of mosquito nets

Mosquito netting is not a magic bullet to stop malaria.

The New York Times in January reported that people in countries across Africa, including Mozambique, are using the tiny-holed nets for fishing rather than their intended purpose, imperiling supplies of a limited food source. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the insecticide used in the nets also can cause cancer in humans when ingested.

Neither Romão nor other Mozambicans who spoke with the church delegation had ever seen mosquito nets used for fishing. In fact, they pointed out that the government fines people for using the mosquito nets to fish precisely because doing so stresses the population of a diet staple.

But Romão did talk of seeing people sleep beneath worn-out nets with holes big enough to let in mosquitoes or not using nets at all. A net typically works for only three years before needing replacement and sleeping under them without air conditioning — as the international delegation learned — can be uncomfortable during Mozambique’s hot, muggy nights.

Nets are just one tool in preventing the spread of the mosquito-borne parasite that causes malaria. Another important step is to reduce the standing water where mosquitoes breed. Romão said his center has learned that most mosquitoes develop in households.

“One of our strategies is to go to the community and train community health workers,” he said. “We train them to find the sanitation conditions that can most lead to the production of mosquitoes and help correct those conditions.”

The center plans to use part of its initial Imagine No Malaria grant to survey conditions in a Mozambican community where — despite national trends — malaria is on the rise. The survey will aim to identify those who are receiving nets from the government and how the nets are being used.

The Rev. Gary R. Henderson, the executive director of the Global Health Initiative at United Methodist Communications, was part of the international delegation that met with Romão.

“Part of what donors have been asking is what is the impact, what is the difference made by the money being raised,” said Henderson. The center’s survey will provide a baseline from which future progress can be measured.

The Center of Hope then can use its findings to apply for more Imagine No Malaria grants, Henderson said, which could end up being worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

How Imagine No Malaria funds are distributed

Since April 2010, The United Methodist Church’s Imagine No Malaria initiative has raised around $66 million in gifts and pledges to reduce deaths and suffering in sub-Saharan Africa.  The initiative aims to have a commitment of $75 million by the end of the year.

Imagine No Malaria 4To gIve

To learn more and support Imagine No Malaria, visit imaginenomalaria.org/

The Center of Hope is in part supported through the United Methodist Advance. You can support its work here

So far, the initiative has used those funds to distribute more than 2.3 million bed nets, train more than 11,600 health workers and help support more than 300 United Methodist clinics and hospitals.

The Imagine No Malaria grants aren’t awarded to just anyone.

“What we are looking at is the need in that area, the successful implementation in the past, and the efficiency — are you getting the right bang for your buck?” said Dr. Olusimbo Ige, a physician and executive director for global health at the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

Imagine No Malaria works with United Methodist health boards across Africa to implement the grants, she said.

Each health board includes health care professionals, lawyers and other experts selected by the United Methodist conferences in Africa. They identify health needs, distribute resources and help document how the money is used.

Imagine No Malaria’s technical review panel in New York reviews grant applications from the health boards three times a year. Typically, the panel receives three to five grant requests at each review.

The grant distribution system began in 2012 with five health boards and has now grown to 12 health boards. Mozambique is the most recent addition.

Paul, in his first letter to the Thessalonians, advised the early Christians to “examine everything carefully and hang on to what is good.”  That is a guiding principle for Imagine No Malaria. Each health board is expected to report to the panel regularly about how the money is used, what is working and what is not.

They each receive an initial grant for $10,000. “If that is implemented properly and the report completed satisfactorily, you go up to $50,000 and from there to $100,000,” Ige said.

After repeated success, a health board can receive grants of up to $300,000. After multiple reviews, the health boards in Sierra Leone, East Congo and Central Congo have all reached the maximum level.

Bearing fruitImagine No Malaria - The Plan

The United Methodist Church’s approach, along with the efforts of international partners, is bearing fruit.

The number of people dying from malaria has fallen dramatically since 2000 and malaria cases also are steadily declining, said the  World Health Organization’s World Malaria Report 2014, released in December. Between 2000 and 2013, the report says, the malaria mortality rate decreased by 47 percent worldwide. In the WHO African Region — where about 90 percent of malaria deaths occur — the decrease is 54 percent.

But there is more work to do. Romão pointed out that while malaria rates are declining in Mozambique overall, the disease is still the top killer of children under 5 in his country.

Pregnant women and people who are HIV-positive also are especially at risk of dying from malaria, Ige said.

Romão, who studied public health administration at United Methodist-related Africa University in Mutare, Zimbabwe, is a member of Mozambique’s health board. Before applying for a grant, he attended training on how to integrate malaria control with his center’s work in preventing the spread of HIV. He also learned how to measure and document grant results.

Imagine No Malaria - Hope WayaHis health board’s first grant will focus on children. In addition to the survey, he said the center’s staff also plans to do educational programs at schools in the targeted community.

One of the main problems the center has already identified is that as many as 40 percent of children in the community are not using their government-supplied bed nets.

If at the end of the current grant, the center finds that the vast majority of children are sleeping soundly under their nets, Romão said he will consider this first effort successful.

“The Bible says, ‘Teach the children while they are young,’” he said. “If we start with them, I believe the Bible is true, it will make a difference.”

 

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Lenten Devotional – Day 7 – Prove It

Lent 3Key Bible Verse: (Jesus said) “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.”John 4:48

Bonus Reading: John 4:46-54

When Jesus’ enemies in Jerusalem learned He was becoming more popular than John the Baptist, He left and returned to Galilee in the north.

Huge crowds gather, but Jesus knows their faith is shallow and superficial. When an important official comes to ask the Lord to heal his dying son, Jesus challenges the entire crowd: “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.”

How deep is your faith? Can you take Him at His word, or do you insist on more?

If you listen closely you almost pick up a tone of defiance in Jesus’ voice … or is it sorrow? He wants them to believe, but they must believe on His terms, not theirs.

The official knew only one thing really mattered: his son was dying and only Jesus could save him. So he begged Jesus to come down and heal him. But Jesus didn’t go. Instead, He sent the father away with a promise: “Go; your son will live.”

Would you be able to trust Jesus and go?

The official did. He accepted Jesus’ words and on the way home he learned his faith had been well founded: his son was healed.

We don’t need to see miraculous signs to believe in Jesus as our Savior. God uses old familiar words to give us faith; He uses water and His Word to wash away our sins, and He joins His body and blood to simple bread and wine to forgive us all our sins.

Don’t stay on the outside waiting to see some miracle in your life before you’ll follow Jesus.

Learn a lesson from the official in today’s Scripture passage: the stakes are life and death, heaven and hell.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, give me faith to trust Your words and promises through every circumstance in my life. Amen.

 

 

Imagine No Malaria Recognized as Superhero at Global Meeting

Imagine No Malaria 4Imagine No Malaria, an initiative of The United Methodist Church to prevent and treat malaria, has received a Superhero Award from the Rotarians Action Group on Malaria. The award was given during the recent annual meeting of the Alliance for Malaria Prevention in Geneva.

Imagine No Malaria, the only faith-based organization represented among the award recipients, was recognized for its grassroots efforts in reaching rural and hard-to-reach areas with its prevention methods.

Imagine No Malaria is committed to ending death and suffering from malaria through prevention, communication, trained health workers and facilities, and grassroots education. To date, INM has raised 86 percent of its goal with more than $65 million in gifts and pledges. United Methodists across the world are working hard to reach and celebrate the initiative’s $75 million goal before the denomination’s General Conference in 2016.

Safe, secure and easy giving opportunities are available on the site so that anyone can participate and join the effort to eliminate this disease. Visitors can make one-time gifts and pledges of any amount, but many individuals participate with a recurring pledge of $28 per month over three years, to potentially save the lives of up to 100 children at risk for contracting the deadly disease.

Additionally, visitors can get a glimpse at the lives Imagine No Malaria is changing through video diaries, touching photos and news stories.

 

 

Final Words From the Cross – Special Lenten Adult Sunday School Study

Final Words from the CrossBeginning today, our Adult Sunday School Class will begin a special6-week Lenten study of Christ’s 7 Last Words using Adam Hamilton’s study, Final Words.

In 24 Hours That Changed the World, Adam Hamilton took us on a Lenten journey through the last day of Jesus’ life. Now, in his inspiring follow-up book, Hamilton examines Christ’s dying hours and his final words as seen and heard through the eyes and ears of those who stood near the cross.

This small-group study DVD contains seven teaching sessions featuring Hamilton providing fresh insight into Jesus’ final words at the cross through the perspective of those who witnessed the crucifixion. Then, he moves beyond the cross to Jesus’ words to the disciples on the road to Emmaus and to those who were witnesses to the Resurrection. Each session is approximately 8-10 minutes.

Final Words from the Cross offers six chapters/sessions plus a postscript chapter/session, so that classes have the option of a seventh session on Easter Sunday.

Session 1: Father Forgive Them (10:09)
Session 2: Today You Will Be with Me in Paradise (8:47)
Session 3: Behold Your Son…Behold Your Mother (10:26)
Session 4: My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me? (9:05)
Session 5: I Thirst (10:16)
Session 6: It Is Finished…Into Your Hands I Commit My Spirit (10:15)
Postscript: The Words After That (10:11)

Please join us at 10 am each Sunday in Lent as we explore this study together.

 

Hackers loyal to ISIS hit PCA church websites, others

ISISHackers claiming allegiance to ISIS have posted jihadist content on websites for several churches and organizations, and more web portals are vulnerable to the attacks.

Jim Richter, pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church, a Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) congregation in Johnson City, Tenn., learned about a cyberattack on his church’s site Jan. 22 when a church member sent him an email. The member visited the website and saw “I love ISIS and Jihad,” a violent video, and obscene language. The hackers claimed to be located in Algeria.

Richter’s church wasn’t the only hacking victim. The hackers also defaced the websites of Pastor Michael Milton, president of Faith for Living Inc., and Hope Presbyterian Church, another PCA church in Martinsville, Va.

Five More Talents, a web-hosting company for churches and Christian organizations, designed and hosted the three sites on a server in Texas. CEO Douglas Vos said the attacks were random; websites for a community college, wedding planner, and Virginia county government stored on the server were also defaced.

These attacks are common in the cybersecurity world. Small businesses, churches, and organizations can expect between 500 and several thousand attempted hacks each month, Vos said.

“It’s not a question of if you’ll be hacked, but when your website’s defaced what you’ll do next,” he said. “Most people are protected because of relative obscurity. But obscurity won’t protect you forever.”

Website hackers break into servers to harvest information or to deface websites, as in this case. Hackers frequently know before software companies when vulnerabilities occur.

Even the U.S. military hasn’t been completely immune to cyberattacks by ISIS. Hackers claiming ISIS allegiance took over military social media accounts Jan. 12, posting jihad propaganda and some military documents. The hackers didn’t leak classified information, so the government classified the attack as “cybervandalism.”

Meanwhile, the FBI continues to investigate the Jan. 22 hack on Five More Talents.

 

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow

Central - SnowDespite yet another major snowfall during the day today and into tonight, the sidewalks and steps at Central Church are cleared and salted.

If you can get out of your driveway tomorrow morning, you can get in our Church.

See you tomorrow!

 

 

Why ashes? Connecting to who we are and who we can be

Lenten Display - 3-10-2013One Wednesday a year, sometime in February or March, you notice someone at work, school, or elsewhere with a smudge on her forehead. It looks as if she missed a spot when washing. Then you see another who looks as though he needs to glance in the mirror. By the time you see the third, you realize it is Ash Wednesday and these passersby must have received the imposition of ashes.

This practice we use to mark the first day of Lent may seem odd. People go to church mid-week to have a cleric place dirt on their foreheads.

In the early days of the church, it was even more dramatic. Pastors did not dip their thumbs into the ashes to draw the shape of a cross on your forehead. Instead, they poured or sprinkled ashes over your head.

Under any other circumstances, most would run from ashes. We avoid cleaning fireplaces for fear of the filth from them, yet we participate in this practice that is growing in popularity. In fact, the receiving of ashes seems to connect with all sorts of people.

Several United Methodist pastors will be taking their vials of ashes to the street this Ash Wednesday, to meet people where they are.

The Rev. Kim Kinsey applies ashes outside of her church building.

The Rev. Kim Kinsey offers ashes to a youth on the sidewalk outside of Christ United Methodist Church in Albuquerque, NM.

In Clearwater, Florida, the Rev. Emily Oliver of Skycrest United Methodist Church will be applying ashes to the foreheads of those who drive into the church parking lot on the morning of February 18.

In Albuquerque, New Mexico, the Rev. Kim Kinsey will spend much of her day on the busy sidewalk in front of Christ United Methodist Church with her pyxis of ashes. Last year she made the sign of the cross on the forehead of one she describes as “tattooed head to foot,” and adults from a nearby housing complex for those with developmental disabilities.

The Rev. Peter McNabb of Wheatland United Methodist Church will be offering ashes outside a Dallas Area Rapid Transit train and bus station. McNabb sees this as a way of living into “our Wesleyan tradition: to literally take the ashes to the streets.”

Why ashes?

In “A Service for Worship for Ash Wednesday” in the United Methodist Book of Worship, two suggestions of what worship leaders may say as they make the sign of the cross on another’s forehead are offered: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” and Repent, and believe the gospel.” Each points to an aspect of what the ashes represent.

Remember that you are dust…

Ashes were an ancient symbol of our humanity. In Genesis, we read that God formed human beings out of the dust of the earth (Genesis 2:7). The Hebrew word translated dust, is occasionally translated ashes elsewhere.

When Abraham felt the need to acknowledge the difference between him, a human being, and the infinite God, he referred to himself as dust and ashes. “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord,” he said, “I who am but dust and ashes” (Genesis 18:27).

…and to dust you shall return

Our humanity also calls to mind our mortality.

After expulsion from the Garden of Eden, the first human beings are told by God, “you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19 NRSV). We know the day is coming for each of us when we will return to dust.

We wear black as a sign of mourning. Ancient people wore ashes. For example, a priest named Modecai puts on sackcloth and ashes to grieve the many deaths he sees coming from an order King Ahasuerus gives to kill all Jewish people (Esther 4:1-3). The prophet Jeremiah later calls the people of God to “roll in ashes” as a way of mourning the coming devastation from an opposing army (Jeremiah 6:26).

Receiving the imposition of ashes is a powerful way to confront our humanity and mortality. They remind us that we are not God, but God’s good creation. In them we recognize that our bodies will not last forever, and come face-to-face with the reality of our eventual death.

Repent…

Ashes also signify our sorrow for the mistakes we have made. People in ancient times wore sackcloth and ashes as a way of expressing their repentance of their sins.

When Jonah reluctantly preached to the people of Nineveh after the giant fish spit him up on the beach, the King and his people put on sackcloth and sat in ashes. God saw this act of repentance and spared the people (Jonah 3:1-10).

In the New Testament Jesus mentions this practice. Warning the cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida Jesus said, “if the miracles done among you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have changed their hearts and lives and put on funeral clothes and ashes a long time ago.” (Matthew 11:21 CEB).

Dried palms being burned for Ash Wednesday ashes.

The dried palms from the previous Palm Sunday are burned to make the ashes used for Ash Wednesday.

When we participate in the service of ashes, we confront our sin. We recognize our inability to live up to all God has created us to be, and our need to be forgiven. No matter how often we go to church, how far we have come in our spiritual journeys, how accomplished we may feel, each of us has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

The palms waved the previous Palm Sunday to welcome Jesus as our King, have been burned to form the ashes. In some sense, they serve as a reminder of how far we fall short of living up to the glory of Christ.

On the first day of Lent, we come before God recognizing our humanity and repenting of our sin.

…and believe the gospel

While this may sound fatalistic, it is not the end of the story. Lent leads to Easter, the day we celebrate that though our bodies are temporary and our lives are flawed, a day of resurrection will come when we will live in the presence of God forever.

One Wednesday every year we go to church remembering who we are, and hopeful of who we can be.

When did United Methodists start the ‘imposition of ashes?’

Lenten Display - 3-10-201300This practice became part of our official worship resources in 1992 when General Conference adopted The United Methodist Book of Worship.

It is optional to use it.

Learn more about Lenten practices in The United Methodist Church.

What does the term ‘Lent,’ which comes from ‘lencten,’ mean?

Lenten Display - 3-10-201300Lent comes from the Anglo Saxon word lencten, which means “spring.” The root words mean “long days,” and this combination probably refers to the increasing daylight at this time of year.

Lent’s 40 days represent Jesus’ time in the wilderness, enduring temptation and preparing to begin his ministry.

How Did the Early Church Observe Lent?

Lenten Display - 3-10-2013In addition to being a time to remember the mercy and forgiveness of Jesus, the early church used Lent to prepare converts for baptism, and to offer opportunities for those who had been separated from the church to be reconciled.

Today Lent remains an ideal time to remember our baptism and to reconcile relationships with those we may have harmed. All of this signifies to us our sinfulness and the sacrifice of Jesus which makes our forgiveness possible.

What People Say They Are Giving Up for Lent – 2015

Lent 4Lent, the period of 40 days that precedes the celebration of Easter, has its origin in the early days of the Church. Converts seeking to become Christian, who at that time were mostly adults, spent several years in study and preparation.  Under the threat of Roman persecution, becoming a Christian was serious business, so their process of preparation was intensive!

Then they went through a final period of “purification and enlightenment” for the 40 days before their baptism at Easter. The rest of the Church began to observe the season of Lent in solidarity with these newest Christians.  It became an opportunity for all Christians to recall and renew the commitment of their baptism.

Today we know Lent as a season of conversion: we acknowledge the ways we have turned away from God in our lives and we focus on turning our hearts and minds back toward God.  Hence the three pillars of Lent are prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

These observances help us turn away from whatever has distracted or derailed us and to turn back to God. Giving up something for Lent is ultimately a form of fasting. We can deprive ourselves of some small pleasure or indulgence and offer that sacrifice up to God.  Or we might “give up” a bad habit such as smoking as a way of positively turning our life back towards what God wants for us.

Lent - What to Give Up - 2015Nearly one in five Americans observed Lent last year, and more than half a million tweeted about their fast.

Each year, Stephen Smith of OpenBible.info tracks hundreds of thousands of Lenten tweets during the week of Ash Wednesday.  Here is Smith’s running total of the top 100 most-mentioned Lenten sacrifices (both serious and cynical) in 2015:

Rank Word Tweets
1 chocolate 2,356
2 twitter 2,032
3 social networking 1,803
4 school 1,498
5 alcohol 1,462
6 swearing 952
7 sweets 929
8 soda 902
9 fast food 810
10 coffee 673
11 lent 570
12 meat 528
13 bread 500
14 chips 474
15 junk food 473
16 sex 454
17 you 450
18 homework 406
19 facebook 402
20 pizza 396
21 college 260
22 boys 257
23 work 253
24 religion 245
25 giving up things 243
26 sugar 238
27 netflix 238
28 candy 237
29 beer 230
30 starbucks 221
31 instagram 221
32 cookies 206
33 wine 192
34 smoking 185
35 ice cream 178
36 chipotle 168
37 snapchat 168
38 food 163
39 cheese 154
40 life 152
41 stuff 152
42 my phone 150
43 carbs 146
44 mcdonalds 142
45 pancakes 140
46 snow 135
47 shopping 135
48 takeout 135
49 me 130
50 catholicism 126
51 rice 124
52 fizzy drinks 115
53 marijuana 113
54 winter 111
55 coke 106
56 cake 105
57 desserts 105
58 fried food 105
59 feelings 103
60 booze 100
61 procrastination 100
62 diet coke 98
63 hope 97
64 red meat 97
65 caffeine 95
66 people 92
67 makeup 90
68 complaining 89
69 virginity 89
70 french fries 88
71 lectures 85
72 a levels 84
73 selfies 83
74 negativity 82
75 tea 76
76 masturbation 74
77 eating out 71
78 peanut butter 70
79 breathing 68
80 sobriety 64
81 nothing 62
82 dairy 60
83 men 60
84 porn 58
85 gluten 58
86 dunkin donuts 57
87 chick fil a 57
88 sleep 56
89 juice 56
90 pasta 54
91 classes 53
92 sweet tea 52
93 christianity 52
94 sarcasm 52
95 chicken 49
96 bad tenants 48
97 online shopping 48
98 liquor 47
99 new years resolutions 46
100 hot cheetos 46

LentAn experience of want, however temporary, can help us to appreciate the true abundance in our lives.  And a small positive change can have a big impact that lasts beyond the 40 days of Lent.

Take the time now to think about what you might give up this year. 

  • Is it something you enjoy that you want to sacrifice for a while, like your daily latte? 
  • Or is it a bad habit you want to conquer, like running in late to meetings with co-workers? 
  • Or perhaps you want to turn your cell phone off for a few hours each day and not let it distract you from the loved ones you are with in real time? 

Find something that works for you, and whatever it is, may it help you to turn towards God in this holy season of Lent.

Preparation for Lent – God’s Invitation to Lent

Lent 2Lent is a season of being invited by God in a deeply personal way. “Come back to me, with all of your heart,” our Lord beckons.

“We will,” we respond, but we aren’t quite ready yet, our hearts are not prepared. We want to squirm, evade, avoid. Our souls not yet perfect. We are not ready for God to love us.

Yes, of course we want to have a deeper relationship with God, we tell ourselves earnestly. And we will….Soon.

God calls to us again: Come back to me, with all of your heart.

Ok, ok, I really will. Just a few more things to do at work. Let me spend a little more time in prayer first. Let me clean my oven, tidy my closets. Sell my yoke of oxen. Check a field I have purchased….

Come back to me, with all of your heart.

It is an extraordinary invitation to each one of us. To me in a personal, individual way. God invites me to drop the defenses that I hold up between myself and God. All God wants is for me to realize that my standards, my way of judging and loving are so very different from God’s way, and so much smaller.

God offers an entire Lent season, an entire lifetime, of loving me unconditionally, no matter what I have done or how much I think I have hidden from God.

Especially from the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, God’s call to us is clear: “Return to me with your whole heart.”

“A clean heart create for me, O God,” Psalm 51 offers. “Give me back the joy of your salvation.” That is exactly what our loving God wants to give us, the joy of salvation.

In North America, Lent falls in winter and these days are cold and dark, perfect for hiding ourselves indoors, perfect for hiding from God – or so we imagine.

But our God is insistent, loving, gently prodding. God is the parent of the Prodigal Child, waiting faithfully, eagerly on the road for our return, night after night. There are no folded arms and stern judging stares, only the straining eyes of a parent eager for our return, longing to embrace us and rejoice in us.

Yet we spend so much time trying to think of how to return and what to say, how to begin the conversation. It’s only when we finally appear after so much time away, embarrassed and confused, that we understand we don’t have to say anything. We only have to show up. Return of the Prodigal Son, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, National Gallery, Washington, DC

Look up there on the road ahead of us: our loving God is jumping up and down for joy. The invitation to us has been heard. We have returned home!

But, wait… What stops us from this great reunion? What keeps us from accepting this invitation to something deeper in our lives with God? We feel in our hearts that there are things we should say first: “wait…but…if only” and finally, “If God really knew about me…”

It doesn’t matter. None of it matters. Only the joy that we have turned to God and that like a loving father or mother, God is smothering us with embraces and joyful cries. We have returned!

Come back to me, with all of your heart.

Our acceptance of this call, this appeal to our hearts is simple if we can only get beyond the fear. All we have to do is say to our Lord, “I’m here. Where do I start? Yes, I want to be with you.” Our hearts have been opened and we have taken the first step toward the rejoicing parent on the road. No explanations are necessary, only to pause and picture in our hearts the joyfully loving and unblinking gaze of God that falls on us.

What’s the next step on our journey home?

We could take the earliest moments of our day, before we have gotten out of bed to thank God for such a loving invitation and ask for help in opening our hearts to it. We could remember throughout the day the invitation that has moved our hearts: Come back to me, with all of your heart. And we can rejoice along with God.

That is the invitation of each day of Lent. Today is the day to accept it.

 

WHO reports ‘dramatic’ decrease in malaria deaths

The number of people dying from malaria has fallen dramatically since 2000 and malaria cases also are steadily declining, according to the World Health Organization’s World Malaria Report 2014.

Between 2000 and 2013, the report says, the malaria mortality rate decreased by 47 percent worldwide. In the WHO African Region – where about 90 percent of malaria deaths occur – the decrease is 54 percent.

The Dec. 9 report estimates that, globally, 670 million fewer cases and 4.3 million fewer malaria deaths occurred between 2001 and 2013 than would have occurred had incidence and mortality rates remained unchanged since 2000.

Abdul and Maseray Koroma stand with their daughter, Kelvin, 9 months, beside the new insecticide-treated mosquito net they received from the Imagine No Malaria campaign.

Abdul and Maseray Koroma stand with their daughter, Kelvin, 9 months, beside the new insecticide-treated mosquito net they received from the Imagine No Malaria campaign.

The use of insecticide-treated bed nets is one important reason for the drop, the report said. Between 2000 and 2013, access to bed nets increased substantially.

In 2013, 49 percent of all people at risk of malaria in sub-Saharan Africa had access to an insecticide-treated net — a marked increase from just 3 percent in 2004. This trend is set to continue, with a record 214 million bed nets scheduled for delivery to endemic countries in Africa by year-end.

Since April 2010, The United Methodist Church’s Imagine No Malaria initiative has distributed more than 2.3 million bed nets, and is less than $10 million shy of its goal to raise $75 million by 2015 to dramatically reduce deaths and suffering in Africa.

“In the countries where we work, national net coverage averages range from about 50 percent to 90 percent,” said Dr. Olusimbo Ige, director of Global Health at the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

The church’s work has targeted communities where access to nets is low. “Our grants in the last two years have contributed to increasing net ownership to 98 percent in Bo district in Sierra Leone, 90 percent in Maniema (Democratic Republic of Congo) and 90 percent in Yei, South Sudan,” Ige said.

Acting in partnership

The Rev. Gary Henderson, executive director for Global Health Initiatives for United Methodist Communications, said The United Methodist Church has been a good international partner in this global effort.

“Reduction of death from malaria is only possible on this scale because of the integration of efforts. This report helps us to know that we are on the right path and should inspire United Methodist to stay the course,” he explained.

The malaria-specific Millennium Development Goal to halt and begin to reverse the incidence of malaria by 2015 already has been met in 64 countries. In 2013, two countries reported zero indigenous cases for the first time, and 11 countries succeeded in maintaining zero cases. Another four countries reported fewer than 10 local cases annually.

Despite these victories, malaria remains a major threat and greater global commitment is necessary for success. In 2013, one-third of households in areas with malaria transmission in sub-Saharan Africa did not have a single insecticide treated net, the report noted. Approximately $5.1 billion is needed annually to achieve malaria control and, eventually, elimination but current annual funds remain around $2.7 billion.

“We can win the fight against malaria,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO director-general. “We have the right tools and our defenses are working, but we still need to get those tools to a lot more people if we are to make these gains sustainable.”

 

Pray for Your Pastor

Pray for Your Pastor

United Methodist doctor gets trial Ebola vaccine

Dr. Francis Kateh, right, and Dr. Stephen B. Kennedy, left, took the experimental Ebola vaccine and testified before Liberia’s legislature that the vaccine trials are safe.

Dr. Francis Kateh, right, and Dr. Stephen B. Kennedy, left, took the experimental Ebola vaccine and testified before Liberia’s legislature that the vaccine trials are safe.

A United Methodist doctor took the trial Ebola vaccine because he wanted to encourage others to volunteer.

Dr. Francis Kateh, a former administrator of the Ganta United Methodist Hospital, was among 12 volunteers who took the vaccine as the first large-scale trials of two experimental vaccines against the deadly virus began in Liberia.

“I had to come forward to take it since it is my duty to encourage people to volunteer their services in participating in this Ebola trial vaccine process,” said Kateh, who is now chief medical officer of the Jackson F. Doe Memorial Hospital in Tappita, Nimba County.

Kateh said he was simply fulfilling his Christian duty of leading the way in all things.

Ebola cases have steadily declined in Liberia, although last week new cases in West Africa inched up for the first time this year, so there is still danger of resurgence, according to the World Health Organization. There were five new cases in Liberia last week, where more than 9,000 people have been infected since the epidemic began and 3,746 have died.

Kateh said The United Methodist Church has worked for the greater good of Liberia since the civil war, when the church was the first to reach to places that others did not want to go, and he hopes that leadership will continue.

“It will be good if The United Methodist Church offer their medical facilities for the Ebola trial vaccine when the request is made by the government of Liberia,” Kateh said.

Goal is 30,000 immunizations

Scientists hope to immunize 30,000 volunteers.

Kateh got the vaccine at the Redemption Hospital in New Kru Town, a suburb of Monrovia. The Redemption Hospital trial is expected to vaccinate 600 Liberians who volunteer.

Kateh said he weighed the dangers of taking a trial vaccine, but decided to go ahead. He said so far he had experienced some momentary muscle pain and an elevation in his temperature, but was feeling much better.

Kateh also accompanied officials of the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare who were subpoenaed to appear before the Senate Committee on Health to answer questions about the vaccine trial. He testified that the vaccine was in the best interests of the Liberian people and the rest of the world.

“There must be Liberians who will be in the frontline of this clinical trial process no matter what the outcome will be,” he said.

The National Legislature, Liberia’s equivalent of the U.S. Congress, questioned the health ministry officials for what they referred to as the failure of the officials to inform them before starting the vaccination program in Liberia.

Dr. Stephen N. Kennedy, coordinator of Ebola research and co-investigator of the trial vaccine study, apologized on behalf of Health Ministry officials and promised to improve the dissemination of information about the vaccine. “All the safety measures from phase one to where we are in this vaccination process have been checked and certified for the good of the Liberian people,” he said.

Nurturing Children of Unchurched Parents: a Report from the Family Life Committee

Messy ChurchIn the UK, there is a ‘missing generation’.  There are children being brought up now who have never heard of God and have no concept of the church.

Once at school they learn about religion as a subject alongside Mathematics, History and Science. One of the main problems is that their parents, those adults in the 20-40 age bracket, have had no experience of church themselves, or if they have it was as very small children in Sunday School.

In order to address this ‘gap’ in society and to give unchurched families an introduction to the Christian faith many churches in the UK are turning to ‘fresh expressions’ of church, an initiative being followed by several denominations including the Methodist Church. ‘Fresh Expressions’ are new ways of being church, often organized alongside a traditional church but with their own identity and way of expressing themselves.

One such ‘fresh expression’ is Messy Church, which was been growing and developing not only in the UK but across the world since 2006. Messy Church combines Bible-based craft activities and worship with the chance to share food together as a whole family. Messy Church is ‘trying to be a worshipping community for all ages, centered on Christ, showing Christian hospitality – giving people the chance to express their creativity, to sit down together to eat a meal and have fun within a church context.

Those churches which have started a Messy Church have seen a positive response from families who have previously had no church experience. Families, both the children and adults, ask questions, because the atmosphere is relaxed and conducive to discussion. There is no pressure to ‘do’ anything or join anything nor to attend regularly, but experience has shown that over time families begin to get a sense of belonging to Messy Church, friendships develop and the questions get deeper. Messy Church is a place where new disciples can be very carefully nurtured – never forcing ‘religion’ but allowing the seeds of faith to start to grow.