By Kim Plummer Krull
After learning about the Lutheran Malaria Initiative (LMI) at the LCMS Missouri District convention this summer, a pastor told his wife he planned to challenge his congregation to make a gift to stop the deadly disease for every pound he dropped.
“The wife, who had four little children with her, told me the next day that she didn’t know what I said to her husband, but whatever it was made him decide to do something about losing weight,” said Martha Mitkos, the LCMS director of LMI. “She said she’s been trying to get him to lose weight for a long time, and it took LMI to do it!”
That pastor is only one example of the commitment expressed by a growing number of Lutherans to join the fight against malaria, a preventable disease that kills one child every 60 seconds, with the overwhelming majority in Africa.
While still a staggering statistic, Mitkos says it’s an improvement announced this summer by the World Health Organization. “Until recently, a child was dying every 45 seconds,” she said. The new figure means that “160,000 children were saved in the last year alone, thanks to the global effort to eliminate malaria deaths, of which LMI is an integral part.”
LMI is the partnership of the LCMS and Lutheran World Relief, Baltimore, that seeks to mobilize U.S. Lutherans in the global effort to eliminate malaria deaths in Africa by 2015. LMI is made possible through support from the United Nations Foundation.
At the string of 35 LCMS district conventions that ended in July, delegates showed “overwhelming support” for LMI, Mitkos said. Many passed resolutions urging their congregations to support the initiative with prayers and financial contributions; others designated convention offerings for LMI.
“We’ve heard about congregations initiating everything from skeet shoots to fishing tournaments [in support of LMI]. Children have opened lemonade stands, and everyone from VBS and Sunday school students to the schools in the Concordia University System are making LMI as their mission project,” Mitkos said. (See photos of LMI supporters from throughout the country at facebook.com/lutheranmalaria.)
While LMI still has a long way to reach its goal, LCMS members already are saving lives. More than 3 million individuals have been touched so far by LCMS efforts, Mitkos said.
More than 2,600 people, including many African Lutheran pastors and teachers, have been trained to educate congregations and communities about preventing and treating the disease.
Along with hearing stories of support, Mitkos also gets questions. A frequent one: Why does the initiative favor malaria prevention through alternatives such as mosquito bed nets instead of insecticides?
Mitkos’ response: While DDT and other insecticides are very effective in eliminating mosquito populations, insecticides are very expensive and strictly regulated by the government. Africa is so large — exceeding the surface area of the United States, Europe, China, Argentina, India and New Zealand combined — that the cost of covering the continent with DDT “is far beyond what countries that are helping fight malaria could afford,” she said.
“Research shows that it’s one particular mosquito, the female Anopheles mosquito, which bites between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., that transmits the disease. Sleeping under an insecticide-treated bed net is one of the most efficient and economical ways to avoid contracting and spreading malaria,” Mitkos said.
Even if money were no issue, spraying DDT and then leaving a community includes no opportunity for reaching out with the Gospel.
“What makes LMI unique is that everything we do is in close proximity with the Gospel,” Mitkos said. “It’s the pastors and teachers — some of the most trusted and respected community members — who are saying, ‘We’ll help you hang up your bed net and help you get transportation to take your children to get [malaria] treatment.’ These are opportunities to reach out with Christ’s hand of mercy and Christ’s hand of witness while we work here through our life together.”
To date, LMI has received $4.8 million in cash and pledges, with another $1 million committed, Mitkos said. The goal is to raise $45 million for the initiative by December 31, 2013.
While that sounds challenging, LCMS members are challenging each other to save lives and share mercy.
LCMS Youth Ministry recently asked teens planning to attend the National LCMS Youth Gathering, July 1-5, 2013, to raise a total of $250,000 for LMI and bring those gifts to San Antonio. The Youth Gathering is traditionally the Synod’s single largest event.
A new resource for Sunday schools also is expected to raise awareness among children. LMI starter kits were distributed at this year’s district conventions and last fall’s pastor conferences. Congregations and schools can request these free resources, including the Sunday school tool kit, at 800-977-2017 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
All LMI resources are free, Mitkos said, thanks to the United Nations Foundation support. ”One-hundred percent of every gift goes to programs in Africa,” she said.
Kim Plummer Krull is a freelance writer and a member of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Des Peres, Mo.
Posted Aug. 3, 2012 / Updated Aug. 15, 2012 / Updated Aug. 16, 2012