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Church hits goal for malaria fund, pastor dyes hair orange


Jim McConnell, Chesterfield Observer
April 16th, 2015

This article originally appeared in the Chesterfield Observer. Read the original article here.

The statistics are sobering.

Every 60 seconds, on average, malaria kills one child in Africa.

More than a half-million people die from malaria annually. The majority are children younger than 5 years old, whose immune systems have not had time to build resistance to the disease.

About 90 percent of all worldwide malaria deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa.

But the members of a Midlothian church are doing their part to combat the mosquito-borne disease and save lives on the African continent.

As part of the United Methodist Church’s “Imagine No Malaria” global initiative, New Life UMC has contributed more than $15,000 toward the effort to prevent infection, treat the sick and eventually eradicate the disease altogether.

“We’ve helped bridge continents so it’s not just something that’s happening ‘over there,’” said the Rev. Mike Maxwell, pastor of New Life, which is located on Old Hundred Road about a mile south of Midlothian Turnpike.

“We wouldn’t be idle if a disease was killing one of our kids every minute. We’re not going to stand by while it happens to other people’s kids.”

World Malaria Day is April 25. Bishop Young Jin Cho, head of the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church, has set a goal to save 100,000 lives from the disease.

New Life is no megachurch, however. On a typical Sunday morning, about 200 people attend its two worship services. So when Maxwell first learned that the goal of its Lenten campaign was to save 500 lives, he thought that sounded like a stretch.

It costs $10 to purchase one insecticide-treated bed net. Such nets have proven to be highly effective in preventing the transmission of malaria.

That meant New Life needed to raise $5,000.

As of Sunday, donations stood at $15,030 … and counting.

“They have far exceeded my expectations,” said Maxwell, a Monacan High graduate whose wife, Maria, serves as “Imagine No Malaria” field coordinator for the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Mike Maxwell praised Isabelle Sullivan, New Life’s connections director, for being “very strategic” in engaging children, youth and adults and educating them about malaria.

That effort has taken place in a variety of formats. The children raised $780 through a “change for change” campaign. The youth group learned about malaria during a lock-in. The church also held a cookout and movie night featuring “Mary and Martha,” an HBO Films documentary about two African mothers who lost children to malaria.

“We didn’t want this to be a situation where, ‘You gave your $10, you did your good deed, and now you’re done,’” Sullivan said. “We wanted them to see how malaria is affecting people’s lives, see the death, so we can put a face to the disease.”

The Maxwells even donated their hair to the cause.

At the outset of New Life’s fundraising effort, Mike Maxwell asked the congregation to submit ideas about activities he and Maria could perform to generate donations for “Imagine No Malaria.”

Church members voted overwhelmingly for them to dye their hair. So when New Life hit its $5,000 goal, Mike and Maria had their hair dyed orange and purple, respectively.

Rebecca Doyle, owner of a salon and spa in Chesterfield, donated her time and products for what wound up being a 6-hour process. Because both Maxwells have naturally dark brown hair, Doyle had to bleach it prior to administering the dye.

The permanent dye can only be removed by letting their hair grow out and cutting it – meaning New Life members will have a reminder of their fundraising success for some time.

Grinning as he ran his hand through his bright orange locks, the pastor said it was a small sacrifice to make for such a worthy endeavor.

“The exciting thing is we’re part of something bigger than ourselves,” Maxwell added. “We have a chance to make history by getting rid of malaria."