Children leading children: Fighting malaria South Carolina-style
A conference-wide initiative to end death and suffering from malaria is being led by the very group of people it benefits—children.
That’s the word from the Rev. Jeri Katherine Warden Sipes, Imagine No Malaria field coordinator for the South Carolina Conference, who said the most significant amounts of money right now are all being netted by children and youth of local congregations.
Sipes said three churches each have a team of children and youth who have raised hundreds of dollars for the initiative: Trenton UMC in Trenton, St. James UMC in Spartanburg and Tabernacle UMC in Lancaster. This is in addition to efforts by young Olive, the 6-year-old Imagine No Malaria advocate from Wesley United Methodist Church, Hartsville, who has raised more than $4,000 to fight the disease
“It’s children saving children,” Sipes said. “We’re really being led by our children right now.”
‘An offering that can move mountains’
Trenton UMC, a very small church in the Greenwood District (35 in worship each week), came back from June’s Annual Conference with the idea that its Sunday school children—five in total—could join the Imagine No Malaria campaign. After researching the disease and how the money would be spent, the children cited malaria facts during announcements on four Sundays. They also passed out coin collection folders, which they had decorated with their drawings of mosquitoes. Then on Aug. 2, they sponsored a spaghetti lunch, and church members presented their quarters as their meal tickets. To date, the children have raised $350 for the initiative.
“It was a great learning experience, and the children were so excited when they counted their money,” said Pamela Cook, their Sunday school teacher. “Trenton United Methodist Church is very proud of what five young children were able to accomplish to help stop deaths caused by malaria.”
Trenton’s pastor, the Rev. Cameron Levi, said their goal for the campaign was for the children of the church to take the lead in actively serving as members of the church and as servants of Christ.
“Much like the widow’s offering from Luke, chapter 21, the children put all they had into this cause,” Levi said. “We believe at Trenton UMC in a savior that can take a small contribution like this and use it to heal and deliver those affected by malaria. Our small church believes in a big God that can take an offering like this and move mountains.”
Likewise, the children and youth at Tabernacle UMC used a little friendly competition in their superhero-themed vacation Bible school to raise $200 for Imagine No Malaria. The Rev. Heather Humphries said, as per Isaiah 11 (“And a little child shall lead them…”), she knew the church could begin to participate in the conference-wide initiative by linking the mission through their VBS.
“We talked about the capes of superheroes and how nets covering children in Africa can protect them from mosquitos and malaria,” Humphries said. “Our focus was on change and the small difference we could each make. We raised money by collecting money from the boys and money from the girls to see who could raise the most money. On the last night the girls won, but each child received a small gift to celebrate our contributions.”
Humphries said this is the beginning of one small congregation helping to fulfill a God-sized mission to raise $1 million dollars for Imagine No Malaria.
The children and youth at St. James also raised $800 through their VBS for the Imagine No Malaria initiative. St. James pastor the Rev. J. Wayne Smith Jr. said VBS coordinators felt it would be something the church’s kids may be able to relate well with because other kids are being helped.
“We thought the idea of $10 per net was something they could understand and grab hold by helping other kids,” Smith said.
They thought right; the church matched the $400 the children were able to raise, and Smith said they now plan to ask each member for $1 so the contribution can fully come from the people of the church.
‘Skin in the game’
Sipes said children are so effective in leading churches in mission because they don’t see barriers. She travels the state each week and preaches every Sunday, plus also speaks in weekday fellowship times. She brings along her mosquito puppet to help make malaria understandable for children, and the children’s comments in reaction usually help the adults understand far more than she ever could explain.
“Last Sunday, I did a children’s sermon at McLeod (UMC, Columbia) and I used the puppet, and one little boy with these big wide eyes was like, ‘A little tiny mosquito can kill somebody? Well, how can we stop that?’” Sipes said. “They see it as so simple. We (adults) don’t. We make it so complicated. But as Jesus said, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
That’s why it can be so good to see life—and mission—through the eyes of a child, she said. It can also have the double benefit of keeping kids invested in the church long-term.
“When you engage children in work like this, let them lead, they have skin in the game,” Sipes said. “They are a part of the church, not an appendage.”
Story originally appeared in the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate.