Dr. David Boan, a member of First United Methodist Church of Boise, Idaho, and Kathleen Griffith, a global heath leader with the General Board of Global Ministries, discuss Love Beyond Borders, an equitable vaccine distribution campaign. The goal: To make sure every person in every part of the world has access to COVID-19 vaccines.
Dr. David Boan and Kathleen Griffith
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- Kathleen Griffith is the team lead and senior technical advisor for the General Board of Global Ministries' Global Health unit, including the Abundant Health initiative.
- David Boan is a member of Cathedral of the Rockies/First United Methodist Church at Boise, Idaho.
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This episode posted on February 4, 2022.
PrologueCrystal Caviness, host: Today we invite you hear the inspiring story of how one United Methodist in Idaho, dismayed at the inequity of global Covid 19 vaccine distribution spoke up in his local church, inspired a grassroots campaign that has engaged the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Global Ministries and UNICEF in an effort to make sure every person in every part of the world has access to vaccines.
Crystal: Hi, David and Kathy. We’re so excited to have you here on this episode of Get Your Spirit in Shape. Welcome.
David: Thank you, Crystal. It’s really a pleasure to be here.
Kathy: Thank you, Crystal, for the privilege. We’ll enjoy it.
Crystal: We’re going to talk about something that is just so topical right now, so relevant, super important, an initiative called Love Beyond Borders. Before we just kind of jump into that conversation, though, I would appreciate if each of you would just take a minute to tell our audience a little bit about who you are and the work you do even beyond the context of Love Beyond Borders.
Kathy: David, please go first.
David: You beat me to it, Kathy. Okay. Well, thank you for that. So, again, I’m David Boan and I’m here actually as a member of the Cathedral of the Rockies which is First United Methodist Church here in Boise, Idaho. It’s really through my engagement with my church that we have developed Love Beyond Borders. It came out of a missioncy of Cathedral of the Rockies. Going into that, I bought into that engagement my experience going back a number of years doing international work. I’d have to say I’ve had a couple of careers. I have a healthcare background, mental health. I’m a psychologist by training. And I was also at Wheaton College where I co-directed the Humanitarian Disaster Institute. And in that role became connected with the World Evangelical Alliance, and worked with them as the Director for Humanitarian Advocacy and then later a fulltime role as Director for Youth and Development which I, last month, retired from. But it was in that context and working in a number of international settings that I began to see the broad impact of the pandemic, especially in poorer countries. And it’s from that background began to have a conversation with the missions team at Amity. And we can go into that later on when we talk about background. But that’s briefly who I am and what I’ve brought to this.
Kathy: Thank you, David. And congratulations on your retirement. My name is, as you know, Kathleen, or Kathy, Griffith. I’m originally from Zimbabwe. So mine is the correct accent. I work for the General Board of Global Ministries in the Global Health unit. So we have a great deal to do with Covid, with Covid interventions—Covid interventions on their own, but also integrated with other programming like malaria, health facilities, maternal, newborn and child health. I live in Atlanta. And I’m a member of the Smyrna First United Methodist Church. I’m a nurse midwife registered in Zimbabwe and South Africa, but not here in the United States. It’s a tremendous background for the work that we do.
Crystal: Well, thank you both for being here. So I want to talk about Love Beyond Borders. The tagline on that is ‘The Interfaith Movement to End the Pandemic.’ And it’s really about equitable vaccine distribution. And that feels like such a big task. It’s fascinating to me that this initiative, which is a partnership with UNICEF... (We’ll talk more about that, too.) …started in the local church, started with a United Methodist who said we must make a difference here. We must do something. And David, that’s your story. Can you tell us about that?
David: Well, thank you. Yeah, I’d be happy to tell you about that. You know, it goes back to the team, and actually the Amity Campus of the Cathedral of the Rockies, which I mention because we’re really a pretty small church in the suburbs outside of Boise. Cathedral of the Rockies is a large church, but we’re a small group that came together. The church had just moved online as a result of the pandemic. And a group decided in conversations about how do we do missions in this context. And part of that conversation was ‘and who is our neighbor.’ And so when we started talking about that I was talking with a colleague of mine, Christine McMillon, and she shared with me what they were doing in Canada with an initiative called Love My Neighbor. And basically Christine and her associate Sara Hildebrand were inspired to say to their churches, we should pay this forward. We live a life of privilege. We have access to vaccine. We are protected, but so many millions of people are not and don’t even have access to that. And so we’re going to say pay that forward as a demonstration of loving our neighbor. So our missions team started talking with Christine and Sarah about what they’re doing in Canada. And the team was really inspired by that, and saying really in an online world it transforms ‘who is our neighbor,’ and who do we have the opportunity to be able to serve. And so the group decided we would like to do something similar. And so the next step from that was to begin to reach out, reaching out to the pastors and our pastors Ben Cremer and Duane Anders were wonderful in terms of their immediate support for that, saying absolutely the church should be doing this. And from there reaching out to UNICEF-USA which was really similar to what they had done in Canada, the ??? partnership with UNICEF. And we can say a little more later about the role of UNICEF. So it really started moving in 2 directions—sharing the word among our own church, getting people on board in terms of supporting that, and thinking about how important it is to help others to be vaccinated and at the same time reaching out to UNICEF, reaching out to Abundant Health and the Abundant Health network with the wonderful support of Emily Kahn(?) and then reaching out to Global Missions and getting connected with Pat Fleem(?) and the wonderful support there. So, one point I’d like to emphasize about that is that while our team took the first steps with this, it has really been the way the Methodist Church at large has embraced this initiative and really made it possible to be able to reach out through the network and through Global Missions that has allowed this to grow the way it has.
Kathy: Thank you, David. The Global Health Unit of Global Ministries works with The Abundant Health Initiative. And of course we have thought so much about what we could do for Covid and have had programming for it, but had not worked with actually procuring or transporting vaccines. That seemed beyond our reach. And we did not want to start another Advance, another special way of giving in the United Methodist Church because we didn’t want overly to be from Global Ministries. So we’re very, very grateful to David’s church, Cathedral of the Rockies, for this partnership and that we could join them and help to promote this way of giving that is a way of getting vaccines to everyone. Our focus in The Abundant Health Initiative is working towards accessible, affordable, equitable health services for everyone, with a focus on those who have the least and who are furthest away. So working like this and UNICEF’s incredible reach, but having United Methodists involved to the hilt is a wonderful way of mission. It’s radical and it’s one more way to care for our neighbor.
Crystal: Kathy, why does The United Methodist Church have a place, have a role in this space of this really important work?
Kathy: Oh, Crystal, how long have you got? Firstly, we’re a connectional church. We really believe in reaching out to our neighbors around the world. We have this opportunity to reach out to our own constituents. But we have this opportunity also to reach out to other denominations and to work with people of other faiths. This seems the most wonderful opportunity. And if Covid has provided anything, perhaps we could take this as an opportunity for this radical mission, radical hope and radical neighborliness. You know, in our health work with The Abundant Health Initiative, which is mostly in sub-Saharan Africa at the moment, the episcopal areas work with networks of health facilities. And these health facilities all have catchment areas. And these catchment communities all have Methodist churches, Catholic churches. They have traditional leaders. They have traditional birth attendants and traditional healers. We are trying to include them all in this initiative to overcome vaccine hesitancy, the myths about Covid, and as we’re able to…as more and more centers open for vaccination…to make this accessible to them. So this is part of our programming, but Love Beyond Borders makes it possible for UNICEF as the lead partner and Covax to procure vaccines, to transport vaccines, to maintain the cold chain and all the logistical management to get vaccines into the arm of women, of men, of grandmothers, of grandfathers, of community leaders of the least, of the most. So this is a connection for our connectional church. I could say more but maybe I should hand over to David.
David: Thank you, Kathleen, because that’s really good. And I’d like to build on that a little bit. I think it’s really necessary for the church to do this. It’s not only an opportunity to serve, but it’s also an opportunity to demonstrate the church in its compassion for others and its seeking justice. And that’s, I think, a really important statement to the community. It’s important for us to create opportunities for the members of our church to put their faith into action and to become agents of justice and compassion. And it’s also important, I think, as Americans who are really seen as really privileged, to demonstrate to the rest of the world that people of faith in the United States recognize, care about and will do something about their suffering. And we will do something to create equity and reach out to those in need and be able to help them in their circumstance. And it’s the church that needs to do that. I really don’t expect the government to do that. Frankly, I think government’s completely failed to do that. And we’ve really seen that as where countries in the West have really, if you will, taken up the majority of the available vaccines and most recently in the G7 meetings they really failed to step up to the plate and do something in terms of more equitable distribution. So the church really needs to be the agent of justice and compassion and step into that gap and do something.
Kathy: So you see, Crystal, that we are working well together with two hands. We’re using the resources we have with the relationships we have in communities in sub-Saharan Africa and in other places to actually deliver the services. But the other complementary and higher level, at least multi-level, the compassionate advocacy, justice level are just as important or in some aspects even more important to get the message, to get the knowledge and to get the giving.
Crystal: David, you mentioned that is an opportunity for United Methodists to get involved in this work. How can I, as a United Methodist in my own church, become involved in Love Beyond Borders?
David: Well, there are a lot of ways. And again, as Kathleen suggested, that’s at multiple levels. First of all, I think it’s important to keep in mind that while having the donations and getting funds to UNICEF and through UNICEF is really important. That’s the output. But the greater aim is the engagement of the church. And so how do we engage the church? Well, we have a couple of strategies related to that. And these are all strategies that we invite people to help with. One of those is gathering stories about what is happening in the rest of the world. And so we have a website where we’re beginning to post these stories so that we can humanize what generally comes across as really large numbers without really kind of the human suffering that exists behind those numbers. So we’re trying to humanize that so people can see what’s actually going on in people’s lives, and through that, really from a sense of empathy. And, if you will, it’s empathy that’s the foundation for moral action. So people need to understand it’s a human story not just a numbers story. So as far as getting engaged we welcome people to share the stories that we’ve been collecting and also help us to collect more stories and be able to get that out to other people. Secondly, think about the ministries you already have in your own church. When we work in disaster preparedness and disaster resilience we often emphasize to people it’s not so much creating a new effort, but thinking about how you can leverage those efforts, those ministries you already have. And so looking at how your existing ministries are being impacted by the pandemic and use that to help begin to create greater awareness of the broad impact of this pandemic. It’s not only a story of infection and disease. It’s also a story of increasing poverty, of people losing their jobs, impacts on child development as well as broader impacts on family, increasing in substance abuse, spousal abuse, all kinds of things. It’s very much a holistic impact. And so many of our various ministries are being impacted. And so all of those are ways in which we can raise awareness and create much more of a role, incentive and awareness of the need to respond to do something about the pandemic itself, around the world. It’s also possible for people to have a country-specific focus. And so in our work with UNICEF, the people raise…I think the threshold number is 11 thousand dollars…and you have a specific ministry to a certain poor country, you can target donations to that country. And so it’s possible then to rally support around individual countries where churches already may have a connection. And then one more suggestion. This is just a few. But churches certainly can start their own Love Beyond Borders initiative. We’re happy to share the resources that we have, some of the things we’ve learned along the way. We’re happy to partner with others if they want to do a similar initiative in their own community and use it as a way to reach out and get people to become much more involved.
Crystal: How is it going? How is the initiative going? I know it’s fairly new and launched in late in 2021, I believe. What are you seeing happen?
David: Well, we’re seeing a couple of different things. And Kathy probably sees some other things that I am not necessarily exposed to. But locally there’s been a lot of interest. And I have been hearing from individual pastors, for the most part in the Northwest, but in other parts of the country as well. And people are beginning to become aware and talk about Love Beyond Borders and getting their own churches onboard. For example, I received a wonderful note from a pastor of a Methodist Church in Cleveland and saying that at their Christmas offering their church got behind us and gave their entire Christmas offering to support this initiative. And I’m getting emails from other pastors saying our church is talking about this. Tell us how we can participate and what we can do. And I see that increasing. In terms of raising funds, I think the Christmas response, which is still being counted, is going to be significant. And on a larger national level together with UNICEF we’re also reaching out to other faith groups. And so we have participation from Buddhist groups, from Muslim groups. Early on we were partnered with both Mennonite Conference. So there are other groups that are picking this up and beginning to work together with us.
Crystal: Kathy, do you have some information on how the vaccine distributions are going as far as in other countries where the access just has been very limited and even existing.
Kathy: Crystal, I don’t have anything specific to tell you. I can say that I saw the other day that the Democratic Republic of Congo is 0.5% immunized in the population. And it’s a huge country with a very large population, but that’s scary. And I do know that UNICEF in the Covax partnership, they’re focusing on Africa at this time and last year they had hopes to deliver… Let me just see here. …2 billion doses of vaccine, which is a lot of vaccine. It is ramping up. Countries are receiving more vaccine, but we need to…. Please pray for us as every country works on this. You can have as much vaccine as you like, but if the sites aren’t set up, if the logistics aren’t set up and if the community does not believe that it is necessary or that it is evil then the vaccine is going to expire and be wasted. And that’s a very real situation. And so we’re working on multiple concerns at a time, asking perhaps…. You know, using the video of bishops being immunized and giving messages that this is something good. Asking bishops to speak to their clergy, asking clergy to speak to their congregations, asking women’s groups to speak to their networks, all to overcome hesitancy, but also finding ways that people can travel to vaccine sites.
Crystal: As I hear you talking about this, it feels big It almost feels like this is just too much. And yet, David, I’m going give you a chance to talk about this book that you’ve written. The title is Creating Shared Resilience: The Role of the Church in a Hopeful Future. And I love that resilience piece. We’re going to need to be resilient here, aren’t we?
David: Well, absolutely. And interestingly the book was published just at the start of the pandemic. And so we hadn’t anticipated how relevant it was gonna become in a very short time. It comes out of the work that I did in a number of the poorer countries where it was just very obviously that the health ??? of the community was directly related to the extent in which people brought down barriers in the communities so that they could work together, that they could recognize and share from those who were in need, respond to them, care for them. And the role of the church in creating that kind of environment. In the work that I did one of the things I often fought against was the idea of a local church network just being an extension of the work being done by the government or by the NGO. Churches really have a unique role in the community and it’s an important and necessary role where you’re reaching out across the barriers that often exist in a community and being able to communicate across those lines and respond with compassion to all people in the community. And the church has an important role in creating that kind of environment. And, as a direct connection to that and how communities are impacted in a disaster and their ability to cope with and recover from that disaster. And that was a variety of research that makes it very clear how connected that is. So it was coming out of that background and the work that I was doing with WEA that led to my colleague Josh Ayers and I writing the book about the role of the church and how it really is not only distinct, but it’s essential if we’re going to create healthy communities.
Crystal: Kathy, I know your work with GBGM, the General Board of Global Ministries, the resiliency that you’ve seen the church exhibit…the people of the church exhibit time and time again. How do we feel hopeful here?
Kathy: I think that we are seeking to serve people who are determined to come through it. And we learn from that determination. It’s a mutual learning process. But, as David said, we need to keep more than a silo-ed view here. Let me just emphasize what he was saying, and from our own observation. Tuberculosis, HIV, malaria, they’re on the rise because so many resources have gone into Covid and people have been afraid. There have been lockdowns. Maternal, newborn and child health services, women are still having babies and still need help. There are still health crises. There are still conflicts going on where people have traumatic injuries. These are still necessary, but have been impacted by Covid. There’s more food insecurity. There’s more malnutrition. Children haven’t been able to go to school. So everything is impacted. And so in our work we’re talking about, yes, Covid on its own, but always Covid integrated. And what can we do about Covid integrated? So this is a very long story, not just a story for today, but in the days to come. And for many people that we work with who earn $2 and less a day, this is not a story for 15 years. This is how can we eat today? But somehow they teach us to carry on, and are looking to us as their partners, to America as their partner, and people that they’ve looked to for a long, long time to stand with them.
David: If I could share a quick example, building on what Kathy was just saying…. One of the ministries that I have had the privilege of supporting is also in The Congo, in the Northeast. And there’s a wonderful ministry where a group of churches came together to find and rescue street children. And they bring them into an orphanage where they have housing, food and education. But they don’t operate as an orphanage. They operate as a family reunification program. And then once they find a child and get the child off the street, then the church network goes looking for their families because so often, with all the violence in The Congo, families are broken apart. And there are many children living on the street who just can’t find their parents and other relatives. And that ministry has been devastated by the pandemic because churches have had to lock down. And so they no longer have the individual resources to support this, and now this ministry for street children is having to turn children away because they simply can’t feed them. And there are so many stories like that of the ramifications of this pandemic have caused so many different kinds of ??? ministries. And so it’s stories like that that I think really emphasize the importance of us reaching out to countries like Congo, helping them to get vaccinated and bring this pandemic to an end.
Kathy: Crystal, I’d like to add another thought. We’ve been talking mainly about Love Beyond Borders being advocacy awareness and also giving from the developed world to countries that haven’t had…don’t have this access. But I’d like to say that as United Methodists here and in other developed countries, there’s a chance, as David again said, about awareness. But there’s also a huge chance for this huge opportunity for this wonderful discipline we have of praying for each other. And that’s praying for our people around the world. But also, praying and being aware of communities in the United States that also have issues with access or have issues and hesitancy about the vaccine. There are hundreds of thousands of people in the United States whom I respect, but who haven’t access or haven’t the desire for immunization. So support, prayer and spreading the awareness in this country is also terribly important. And we can begin without having a hammer but a care for people in our own community for discerning, for knowing, for understanding and offering to help here and away.
Crystal: You both work so tirelessly on behalf of The United Methodist Church, on behalf of just humanity, really. I’m going to ask you a question that we ask all of our guests on Get Your Spirit in Shape. How do you keep your own spirt in shape?
David: Well, for me I think it’s a couple of things. On one level, it’s my own family and having support from my own family. But in terms of my spiritual connection, I have the privilege of living in an area where it’s very easy to get connected to some really wonderful aspects of nature. So camping, hiking and I’ve more recently got into night sky photography. And I live in an area which is a dark sky area. And that means it’s an area…it’s about 3 hours north of Boise, but it’s recognized by the United Nations as a dark sky zone, which means there’s very little light pollution. And you get out into those mountains. And in the middle of a clear night the Milky Way just jumps out at you. And it’s probably where I feel closest to creation and really re-experience that sense of wonder at what God has created.
Kathy: Crystal, you don’t want an hour long…. I think I can say two things. One, life is so busy and so I find resourcing in being still—being still in prayer, being still in reading Scripture, but the importance of quieting, of stilling my spirit and my thoughts so that I can breathe and receive. But the other part, like David, is that I have a wonderful family. They are…my husband is with me here in Atlanta, but we have family in Pennsylvania and family in England and family in South Africa. I mean, we are spread out, but that doesn’t stop the support. And it’s wonderful. And my team at Global Ministries and Global Ministries itself has become a rock and a trusted place that I deeply appreciate.
Crystal: Thank you for sharing that. Thank you both for being here today. You know, I'm really inspired by you. Kathy, I’ve known your work for a long time. And David, I’m just so happy to have met you and hear about not only what you’re doing now but what you have done. It’s so important. And I appreciate that we all have a chance to step into the initiative and be a part of it. And that’s really what we’re called to be as followers of Jesus and as part of The United Methodist Church. So thank you for leading the way on that. And I hope you guys have a great rest of the day. Thanks so much.
David: Well, thank you, Crystal. And thank you for the opportunity for us to share.
Kathy: And we share our appreciation and that no one can do it alone. We need each other. Thank you so much.
EpilogueCrystal: That was Dr. David Boan, a member at First United Methodist Church in Boise, Idaho, and Kathleen Griffith a veteran Global Health leader with the General Board of Global Ministries discussing Love Beyond Borders, an equitable vaccine distribution campaign. To learn more about Love Beyond Borders and how you can be a part of this important work, go to UMC.org/podcasts and look for this episode. In addition to the helpful links and transcript of our conversation you’ll find email address so you can talk with me about Get Your Spirit in Shape. Thank you so much for joining us for today’s episode of Get Your Spirit in Shape. I look forward to the next time that we’re together. I’m Crystal Caviness.