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St. John’s Soars High, Exceeds Goal

 

Julia Frisbie, Greater Northwest Episcopal Area
January 15th, 2015

St. John’s United Methodist Church in Anchorage, Alaska is a congregation with a mission. They’ve been raising money for malaria relief for almost a decade. It started when they heard about Nothing But Nets. This partnership between the United Nations Foundation, the NBA, the United Methodist Church, and many other organizations– inspired many of them, including a pilot named Harry DeBruhl.

“It all started in 1996,” Harry writes, “with a column in Sports Illustrated magazine… about how kids in Africa were dying of malaria. A lot of kids. 3,000 kids a day! And about how a simple treated bed net could prevent it. And only for $10! I could save a life for just $10! But then I had a God moment– or rather a God shove. He said: You can do more! You have to do more!”

So Harry approached his pastor and rallied a team of volunteers. It wasn’t hard to get the whole church on board. Alaskans take mosquitoes seriously. If everything is bigger in Texas, then everything is biggest in Alaska. Biggest, and buggiest. Locals describe skeeters as big as birds and as numerous as the grains of silt rushing through glacier-fed rivers. People who enjoy outdoor activities in this rugged landscape often have special empathy for communities suffering from mosquito-borne illness.

St. John’s raised more than $22,000 for Nothing But Nets. Then, in 2010, the United Methodist Church extended its reach beyond Nothing But Nets by starting Imagine No Malaria. The program’s goal was to provide more than nets– it funded treatment at local hospitals and clinics, communication campaigns, and education for community health leaders and volunteers.

The Alaska Missionary Conference responded with great generosity. “Our conference set a $150,000 goal in January of 2013, to be met by 2016,” explains Carlo Rapanut, superintendent of the conference. “Setting this goal was a leap of faith! This number translates to $100 per church member in our conference. It is five times bigger than the biggest fundraiser our conference has ever done before. It is heartwarming to see churches, big and small, catching the vision of INM and doing their part in meeting our collective goal.”

St. John’s lead the charge with a whopping $45,000 goal, above and beyond the $22,000 they’d already raised for the cause. They did everything they could think of to solicit donations– cookouts, selling cards as alternative gifts during holidays, and soliciting yearlong, $10/month pledges from church members.

The tipping point was this year’s Christmas Eve offering, which was dedicated 100% to Imagine No Malaria. The congregation outdid itself, raising nearly twice the usual amount during the Christmas holidays to bring in more than $23,000.

Rev. Jenny Smith, the associate pastor at St. John’s, says: “The kids and youth of our church led the way in raising support for Imagine No Malaria.” During the summers of 2013, they learned about Imagine No Malaria at camp and raised funds. “After our church council decided to give away our entire Christmas Eve offering to Imagine No Malaria,” explains Jenny, “our children’s director, Judith Goodrum, invited children at Saint John to bring in their change each week during Advent. The kids alone raised $315.” Judith says: “We are truly blessed to be a part of a congregation that sees wealth and value in people beyond its walls.”

Altogether, St. John’s UMC has raised more than $66,000 for Imagine No Malaria, far exceeding its original goal. Mark Geskey is one of the lay people who has championed this campaign. He imagines the money being used to provide nets and treatment to more than 6,000 families. That could mean universal coverage in some rural areas, which is the best way to reduce malaria infections. “The congregation should be very proud,” says Mark.