By Paula Schlueter Ross
Back from a weeklong visit to Tanzania, East Africa, the Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray says he was “blessed” to see how efforts to eradicate malaria in Africa are making progress. In that country, malaria deaths are down by 60 percent, according to officials at the Tanzania Ministry of Health, which Murray visited as part of a Lutheran Malaria Initiative (LMI) delegation.
Murray, senior pastor of Memorial Lutheran Church in Houston and LCMS fifth vice-president, represented LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison on the LMI portion of his Aug. 8-16 trip to Tanzania. The LMI delegation included eight U.S. Senate staff members along with representatives from the United Nations Foundation; The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria; and Lutheran World Relief, Baltimore.
The group visited LMI-funded projects in northern Tanzania, including a clinic in Ruvu Parish — a remote or “last-mile” area more than 20 miles from the closest paved road — where many Masai and Swahili-speaking locals are routinely treated for malaria.
Murray said the Senate staffers on the LMI visit — whom he described as “young, very passionate about what they’re doing, very sensible, very committed to the causes [and] important” to the senators they serve — “were really impressed by the last-mile delivery system” for treating malaria patients in Tanzania.
It was very gratifying, he said, “to go through [the local] clinic and see [the Tanzanians'] delight at having instant malaria tests instead of having to look through a microscope” to detect the life-threatening disease. The quick test uses a drop of blood and takes just 15 minutes for a result, he said, so more patients can be seen and treated in less time and with better accuracy than with less-modern diagnostic methods.
Also in Ruvu, the LMI visitors were treated to skits performed by local children who acted out being sick with malaria, what to do if you have it, and how to prevent it — such as sleeping under bed nets so that you won’t get bitten by mosquitoes that spread malaria.
Each $10 donation to LMI can provide one bed net, said Murray, and he encouraged LCMS congregations to become LMI supporters if they’re not already. His congregation, Memorial, Houston, and its elementary school displayed one of the nets for a special chapel offering last year and received more than $6,000 in contributions for LMI. That translates into 600 nets to save children’s lives, Murray said.
While in Africa, the pastor also visited the mother of one of his congregation members in Moshi, Tanzania, and toured mission churches founded by German missionaries in the highlands. Those early churches were planted in the hills, Murray said, to escape the heat and mosquitoes — and disease — even back then, some 100 years ago.
“To meet and to get to know the people of Tanzania was a delight,” said Murray, whose congregation in Houston includes about 50 Tanzanian members. He met with them before the trip to ask how malaria had affected their lives in Africa, and discovered that they all knew people who had been affected by the disease.
They also “were thrilled,” he added, “to find out that I was going to be able to see their home country, about which they’re very proud.”
Murray said the overseas trip had a twofold result that will “have an impact with my Tanzanian community” while also giving him an invaluable opportunity to “see the willingness and sacrifice of Lutheran people in Tanzania offering human care in some very difficult circumstances and providing the care necessary to save lives.”
LMI is now closer to his heart, he said, since he has seen its positive impact: “This is such a fabulous project. Your gift to the Lutheran Malaria Initiative saves lives. And it makes such a difference.”
Those who will benefit the most are children, he added. If a child gets malaria during the rainy season, when crops are at their peak, families may put off taking their sick children to a hospital because it means several days away from the farm and a possible loss of harvested produce.
“If we can keep the children, especially, from getting the disease in these rural places, then their chance of survival is heightened dramatically,” Murray told Reporter. “So if we love children — I mean, as Lutherans … we’re for life — this is the most wonderful way, easiest way, with this delivery system, to keep them alive.”
Lutheran Malaria Initiative 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. To learn more, visit www.lcms.org/lmi or www.lutheranmalaria.org.
Posted Sept. 27, 2012