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UMC Bishop Thomas Bickerton Speaks on Ending Malaria Deaths at U.N. Panel

By Leigh Rogers


United Methodist Women had a presence at the United Nations (U.N.) Week’s Digital Media Lounge Tuesday during which a panel discussion was held about malaria that included United Methodist Bishop Thomas Bickerton of the Pittsburgh Episcopal Area, who spearheads the Nothing But Nets campaign.
Earlier in the day he also attended the United Nations summit on the Millennium Development Goals as a speaker at the “Champions of Health” event hosted by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which included Thomas Kemper, general secretary of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries, as an invited guest.
Global Health has been one of the initiatives of the United Methodist Church, which helped found Imagine No Malaria to hone in on the issue and lead a global grassroots movement to end malaria deaths by 2015, according to a United Methodist News Service report. Nothing but Nets is a campaign of the United Nations Foundation in which the United Methodist Church is an active fundraiser. The United Nations Foundation, a U.S.-based U.N. support organization, is also a partner of the U.N. Week Digital Media Lounge.
Malaria is a leading killer of children in Africa with roughly 500 million cases reported worldwide each year. Every 45 seconds, a child is dying of malaria.

U.N. Week Panelists Optimistic

The panel hosted at the 92nd Street Y in New York featured WNBA star and Nothing But Nets Champion Ruth Riley and Mikkel Vestergaard Frandsen of the Vestergaard Frandsen Group along with Bishop Bickerton. They answered the initial questions, “Where are we now? Will we achieve the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of eliminating malaria deaths?”
Overall, the panel had a positive outlook on eliminating Malaria by 2015. Frandsen was optimistic: “We can do it in my lifetime,” he said.
Recognizing the interesting connection of a bishop, basketball player and businessman on stage for a panel on combating malaria, Bishop Bickerton said, “This is not the first time we’re together: faith, business and sports can come together because faith-based orgs play an important role in solving issues” alongside other organizations.

The United Methodist Church’s Unique Perspective in Global Health

Bishop Bickerton said The United Methodist Church has a unique perspective and prerogative for its Nothing But Nets malaria work in Africa since the denomination is growing there. For the church, this focuses the issue by integrating conversations of faith with conversations about social issues in order to implement a successful fight against malaria.
In addition, The United Methodist Church is so far the only faith-based organization directly contributing to the Global Fund. The designated United Methodist donation to the Global Fund was $28 million toward a $75 million fundraising campaign. “We are honored to [donate] because we’re a partner,” he said.

Why the United Methodist Church’s Strategy Fighting Malaria Works

Bishop Bickerton elaborated on why the church partnership is effective: “The United Methodist Church knows not only the names of people who give to Nothing But Nets but also who get the nets.” This is based on the church’s 200-year history developing hospitals, clinics and community centers, he said, along with building relationships with individuals in the communities in which the church works and knowing who is in the pews.
Many of these early church initiatives were started by predecessors of the Women’s Division of the General Board of Global Ministries, the policy-making body of United Methodist Women. The Methodist Women’s Foreign Missionary Society organized women missionaries to aid women in other countries, such as Dr. Clara Swain, who was sent to India in 1869 because Indian women and girls couldn’t be seen by male doctors, and there were no women doctors to treat them. The Women’s Division continues this work through its focus on funding international and national initiatives for the most vulnerable in society, including women, children and youth.
Today, Nothing But Nets connects people to causes and helps people respond to global needs. People respond to upturn of need even in downturn of economy from the Christian prerogative of compassion and justice.
Thomas Kemper writes in an upcoming New World Outlook article, “I consider health and education ministries for children and young people to be at the top of our United Methodist mission-priority list today. We should never forget Jesus’ words to his adult disciples: “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” (Matthew 19:14)
“I know of no greater mission mandate for the contemporary church. One important component of our ‘Imagine No Malaria’ campaign is that it targets a massive killer of children,” he says.

Keeping the Momentum Going

The panel moderator asked, “Where is the epicenter of how people can effect change?” Bishop Bickerton responded that it is passion and awareness: “The more we tell the story, the more we market the message, the more heat will radiate and more likely we can deliver the goods.”
For example, “Two hundred thousand mothers saw their children lead healthy lives” since Nothing But Nets. There is an “imbalance in the world of those who have and those who have not,” he added. “Our job is to balance the equity.”
Ms. Riley added, “Utilize your area of influence to end malaria.”
Bishop Bickerton said the fight against malaria is a “concentrated, coordinated and integrated effort to get the job done.” In this way, it’s more than just nets, he said. 
Leigh Rogers is the web content and public relations associate for the Women’s Division of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries.
Last Updated: 09/22/2010

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