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IN THE SPIRIT: Church body vows to wipe our malaria

For what's believed to be the first time in the history of an individual church denomination, a vow has been made to wipe out a devastating disease within a certain time period.

Naomi Dunavan
Naomi Dunavan

For what's believed to be the first time in the history of an individual church denomination, a vow has been made to wipe out a devastating disease within a certain time period.

The church body: United Methodist. The disease: malaria in sub-Saharan Africa. The time period: three years.

Christened, "Imagine No Malaria," this mission project has been wholeheartedly embraced by Thief River Falls United Methodist Church, which just last weekend exceeded $10,000 on its way to its total pledge of $20,000.

"As of Easter we are at the halfway point," said the Rev. Rob Kopp. "With matching dollars through our conference that means the saving of 2,000 lives, which was quite an Easter gift."

Malaria, a disease caused by a parasite and transmitted by mosquitoes, is found in almost every country in Africa where most deaths occur among children 5 and younger in sub-Saharan areas.


"Imagine No Malaria" closely follows an existing program called "Nothing But Nets", which provides treated bed nets for families in Africa. Drawing from basketball terminology (nothing but net!), Rick Reilly, a mission-minded former columnist for Sports Illustrated, challenged his readers to purchase $10 treated bed nets in an effort to eliminate malaria. Progress has been made because at the time Reilly presented his challenge, a malaria death occurred every 18 seconds. Currently deaths occur about every 45 seconds.

Monies raised through "Imagine No Malaria" also is used to buy treated bed nets as well as provide malaria education materials, diagnostic testing and medications to ease suffering.

In Minnesota, the United Methodist Church plans to raise 1.8 million for the program and thanks to an anonymous donor, matching funds are available up to $600,000.

Pastor Kopp credits Bishop Sally Dyck, Episcopal leader of the Minnesota Annual Conference of UMC for stirring up excitement for "Imagine No Malaria," among his parishioners.

"We were introduced to it at a conference and there was a training session in our church last fall," Pastor Kopp said. "We've been seeking donations within the church and have asked people to make this a regular part of their pledge offering. Like every other church we've been facing our own financial challenges. Nevertheless we have made this the focus of what we are doing. When a church is facing financial challenges, the temptation sometimes is that we can't do mission work. We need to pay our own bills. One of the strengths of this church is that commitment to mission continues to be a priority."

The people of Thief River Falls UMC now are working food and fellowship into their commitment to "Imagine No Malaria."

Here's how: On April 25, members will host an "Imagine No Malaria" fundraiser. The public is welcome to a free-will offering meal of sloppy joes, chips, desserts and beverages to be served from 5:15 to 6:15 p.m. in the Thief River Falls Eagles Club.

A concert follows at 6:30 p.m., with these guest artists: United Methodist Church Choir and Handbells, Greater Middle River Community Choir, Sherry Knott, Jane Anderson, Donna Helmich, Brianna Helm, Desmond Hicks, Alexis Lane, Lincoln High School Chamber Orchestra, Franklin Honors Orchestra, Pembina Trail Group, Aisling Cox, Laurel Johnson, Linda and Molly Lindom, Pastor Rob Kopp and The Trinity Trio.


The three year time frame for "Imagine No Malaria" began in the fall of 2011.

"We reached the halfway point within a relatively short period of time," Pastor Kopp said. "There's a lot of anxiety about mainline churches shrinking. What are we going to do about the future? This kind of mission has us more engaged in being the church rather than worrying about what's going to happen to the church. Yes, we've made a commitment, but we also want to inform people in our community and our area and invite them to participate in the healing that's going on."

Amazing song

During United Methodist Church's "Imagine No Malaria," fundraising meal and concert on April 25 in the Thief River Falls Eagles Club, the Rev. Rob Kopp will sing, "Amazing Grace," as he accompanies himself on guitar.

Rev. Kopp tells of an incident that happened concerning this song when he was serving a parish in southeastern Minnesota.

He said, "Once a month I would bring Communion to Harriet, one of my elderly nursing home-bound parishioners. We visited monthly for about a year then she became ill and entered hospice care.

"Shortly before my last visit with Harriet, I had begun taking guitar lessons. I was somewhat less than a beginner, but I decided to bring my guitar along with me when we had what I knew would be our last visit. Harriet had been mostly unresponsive for a couple of days prior to my visit.

"I put together a little worship service for her and her family -- and ended the service by playing, 'Amazing Grace.' When the song was over, she sat bolt upright on the edge of the bed and looked directly into my eyes. She was too weak to say anything, but she gave me the same look as when she received the Eucharist. It was a timeless moment -- in a precarious place that was both heaven and earth. I expect to see her on the other side.


"Later that day, Harriet died. Her family asked me to perform 'Amazing Grace' for her funeral. I told this story during the service.

"I love to sing -- and love music. I'm still more of a guitar owner than a musician. But I was especially thankful for the opportunity to use music in serving Harriet and her family."

To contact Thief River Falls United Methodist Church call (218) 681-4388 or email umctrf@wiktel.com .

The Herald publishes Naomi Dunavan's "In the Spirit" column the second Saturday of each month. Her email is: naomiinthespirit@aol.com . Her blog: www.areavoices.com/inthespirit .

Rev. Rob Kopp
Rev. Rob Kopp poses in front of United Methodist Church in Thief River Falls.

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