I’ve often heard it said that Jesus talked about money more than any other subject. That interests me, because I like knowing this kind of information about the Bible.
And that made me curious to know how many times Jesus healed someone from a sickness or a disease in the gospels. I found out that the words “heal”, “healed”, and “healing” are used a total of seventy-six times in the four gospels! That’s a lot of healing that Jesus did throughout his ministry.
In 2008, the General Conference of the United Methodist Church established Four Areas of Focus to position our church to be the Church of Jesus Christ in the 21st century. The four areas of focus are:
1) Eliminating Poverty.
2) Eradicating Killer Diseases.
3) Rejuvenating the Church.
4) Participating in Ministry.
It’s not too late to ELIMINATE…
Today, we’re going to look at how we are being called to help eradicate killer diseases as part of our Lord’s healing ministry in our world today.
But first, let’s work on our rallying cry…What time is it? “It’s not too late!” Say it with me… “It’s not too late!!!”
It’s not too late to eradicate killer diseases. Let’s watch this short intro video on this very important topic:
In this particular area of focus, the church is zeroing in on the major diseases of global poverty: malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS.
John Wesley clearly understood the connection between poverty and poor health, as he and his fellow Methodists cared for the poor and sick in eighteenth century England.
Those early Methodists also clearly understood that an internal faith is meant to be practiced externally. So caring for the sick, visiting people in prison, and giving money to the poor was expected.
So today we are standing upon a strong and a rich tradition of making a difference in people’s lives all over the world when we take on the initiative of eradicating diseases that are life-threatening.
It is amazing and heart wrenching to me that some of the diseases which kill the most people in our world today are ones that are totally preventable or curable.
One example is malaria. This disease which is spread through mosquito bites used to be prevalent in the United States. During the first half of the last century, a lot was learned about how this disease spread, how to prevent it, and how to treat it. By 1951, malaria was considered to be eradicated here in the United States.
However, more than 200 million people become sick with malaria every year in our world, and 1 million people still die of malaria every year. Most of the victims who die are children under the age of five who live in sub-Saharan Africa, where malaria is the leading cause of death in children. Ten new cases of malaria occur every 10 seconds in Africa, and a child dies of malaria every 45 seconds.
So, to kick off the Global Health Initiative, the United Methodist Church partnered with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the “Nothing But Nets” campaign to help wipe out malaria, because as United Methodists have always believed, “the world is our parish.”
At the 2008 General Conference, William Gates, Sr., father of Microsoft founder, and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, addressed the assembly. He thanked the delegates who represented our entire denomination for our support. In part he said, “United Methodists have decided to wipe out malaria, because brothers and sisters do not sit back and let each other die.”
He asked the nearly 1,000 delegates to make a personal commitment to help The United Methodist Church eradicate malaria. He said the fight is going to take billions of dollars, more health clinics in more countries, and politicians who make the goal a priority. “But more than anything”, Gates said, “The fight against malaria is going to take a firm commitment to John Wesley’s idea. You are 12 million people armed with the conviction that all the world is your parish. That makes you the most powerful weapon there is (in the fight) against malaria.”
The United Methodist Church is also a founding partner in the Nothing But Nets campaign, which raises money to send insect repellent mosquito nets to people in Africa to protect them while they sleep.
The initial outreach for Nothing But Nets™ was accomplished through former SI columnist Rick Reilly's May 5, 2006 column titled "Nothing But Nets" which raised $1.2 million. More than 120,000 bed nets have already been delivered in Nigeria as a result of Reilly’s call to readers who in the words of his column, had "ever cut down a net, jumped over a net, watched the New Jersey Nets, worn a hair net, surfed the net, or thought of Angelina Jolie in fishnets" to donate $10 to purchase insecticide-treated nets.”
The United Nations Foundation and NBA Cares are the two other founding partners of Nothing But Nets.
During the 2008 General Conference, a basketball was being auctioned off to the highest bidder with all of the proceeds going to the fight against malaria. Thank God for the competitive spirit of our West Ohio Conference delegation! They pooled their money together, and raised $80,000 to win that basketball. It’s great to win the challenge, but even greater to think of the 8,000 children who will not die of malaria because of this gift.
Our own Bishop Ough brought that same basketball to our Annual Conference that year at Lakeside, Ohio. Part of our Love First offering was also going to be used to send mosquito nets to Africa. Our conference raised another $157,000 toward that goal. That represents another 15,700 lives saved.
Are you beginning to get the sense at how true Bill Gates, Sr.’s words are? A denomination of 12 million people following the healing example of our Lord Jesus Christ really can change the world!
This initiative and partnership with the Global Health Fund is making a big difference. Here’s a story of how it’s making a difference in Zambia. The Kapirera family used to be regular visitors at the Mombe Health Center. The mother would bring her children in so often with malaria that when they stopped coming, the clinic went to check on them to see if they were OK. They’re fine – they just don’t get malaria any more.
In Zambia, cases of deaths from malaria have fallen by two-thirds. These results are due to the work of clinical staff like Ignicious Bulongo, who runs the Mombe Health Center.
Last September Bulongo and his colleagues organized the distribution of bed nets to 6,000 houses in the community, as well as spraying them with mosquito repellent known as RDT. The results have been staggering; hardly anyone shows up at the clinic with malaria.
“After the intervention they have stopped coming to the health center and we’ve made a follow-up. We’ve gone to visit them. They are healthy. We are just monitoring if they need to be given more mosquito nets in future,” says Bulongo.
Fewer patients means more time to educate the community on the importance of using the bed nets. Having more time to advise on malaria prevention, clinic staff members are now more able to focus their resources on other forms of illness.
It’s not too late to eradicate killer diseases. In fact, the time is now.
I want to remind us, as followers of Jesus, we care about the health of people because our Lord cares about the health of people. Matthew tells us, “Jesus went throughout Galilee…curing every disease and every sickness among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. And great crowds followed him.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control’s web site, Tuberculosis used to be the leading cause of death in the United States. TB is a disease that usually attacks the lungs but can attack other organs too. It’s estimated that one third of the world’s population is infected with the bacteria that causes TB, but most people fight it, develop no symptoms, and it just remains dormant.
However, just like malaria, TB is a disease that disproportionally affects the poor in underdeveloped countries.
A friend of mind remembers being tested for TB at some point in his life. He tells me that he barely remembers that time in his childhood when he compared his forearm that had been pricked to his friends’ arms to see if any of them had TB.
This is why my friend was surprised when he went to Haiti in 2000 as an adult to find out that tuberculosis is still a major cause of death there.
He had the chance to serve at several different places around Port au Prince while they were there, and they toured each place briefly to help them decide where they felt most led to serve.
One of the places they visited was Sans Fil (San feel). This is a home for the destitute and dying run by the Sisters of Charity.
Here is a little of what he wrote in his journal for Thursday, January 27, 2000: “I would estimate that the sisters care for approximately 200 people there. There are men on one floor, and women on the other. Most were able to get up and move about, but some just lay there almost motionless and comatose. We were told that most of the people there suffer from tuberculosis or AIDS. They have no one to take care of them, and no money to pay for treatment. They come here to die. This was a difficult place for me to visit. I felt a little apprehensive and unsure.”
That evening the members of his group talked about where they wanted to go in the morning to work. His head told him, “Go to the orphanage, and play with children,” but his heart said, “Go to Sans Fil.” He had not been able to get the men there out of his mind since he saw them that morning. He felt overwhelmed at the prospect of going there to work and very ill equipped for the task. He wished he could have gone somewhere easier, but he kind of felt like God was challenging him on this one.
Here’s what he wrote in his journal the following day, Friday, January 28, 2000: “Last night as I was trying to fall asleep I kept thinking that God doesn’t call us to do things without giving us the tools to do them. This thought had been planted in my head by a proverb I’d read in a book of Haitian proverbs I’d bought. “If it’s God who send you, he pays your expenses.” This must have run through my mind all night long, because I awoke totally calm, and feeling totally prepared for whatever might come.”
The group caught a tap-tap a little after 8:00 o’clock. A tap-tap is a big, open flatbed truck with a bench down either side for sitting, and a metal rod overhead down the middle to hang onto if standing. He stood as it was very crowded with people. It was a beautiful morning—sun on his face, wind blowing as the tap-tap drove down the mountain from Petionville into Port au Prince.
They got off near the foot of Delmas Street, and walked a good half-mile or so to get to Sans Fil. The streets were crowded with people, vendors, and traffic.
Once at Sans Fil they offered to give a massage to men who wanted one. Many of their limbs seemed atrophied, with muscles that don’t get used much. Many also complained of soreness in their backs and chests, symptoms of TB.
They were taken to a room where the men reside. It was a large room with about fifty beds in it. The floors were concrete, and the beds were only a few feet apart. The windows had decorative bars on them, but were otherwise uncovered with no glass or screens as is common in Haiti.
Not speaking Creole or having a translator by his side, communication was difficult. So, he had a lot of time to think as he gave massage after massage.
The day got hot quickly, and he started sweating. The room became pretty uncomfortable. Then a light breeze would blow in through the window and cool him off, and it would remind him that God cares for our simplest needs.
He thought about how he would gently rub his daughters’ backs at bedtime each night back home. He has done this since they were little, and it was part of their bedtime routine and one of the ways they connect at the end of the day. He felt blessed to be reminded of his own daughters.
His hands, arms and shoulders were getting sore from giving massages.
He couldn’t help but wonder why these men were going to die from a disease that is preventable, and curable. Haiti is only about an hour’s flight from Miami, Florida. Yet the gulf that separates our two countries is much wider than just the stretch of the Caribbean Sea. There were no antibiotics for these men. So, they were doomed to die.
Yes, there is much work to be done still in the area of eradicating killer diseases of poverty. But, it’s not too late! We are making a difference as a denomination. And each of us can make a difference individually or as a family to live out our faith in Christ.
Some resources and ideas are included on your sermon outline this week for you to pray about.
What time is it? “It’s not too late!”
What time is it? “It’s not too late!!”
Thanks be to God as we seek to be agents of God’s healing power in our world.