MALARIA INITIATIVE APPROVED
MINNEAPOLIS (ELCA) -- Voting members at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Churchwide Assembly voted overwhelmingly on Aug. 18 to support a program that seeks to eliminate malaria in south-Saharan Africa by 2015. The Lutheran Malaria Initiative (LMI), with a fund-raising goal of $75 million, was endorsed by a vote of 989 to 11. It would create a shared effort in concert with the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), Lutheran World Relief (LWR), and the United Nations Foundation. The churchwide assembly, the chief legislative authority of the ELCA, is meeting here Aug. 17-23 at the Minneapolis Convention Center. About 2,000 people are participating, including 1,045 ELCA voting members. The theme for the biennial assembly is “God’s work. Our hands.” A significant element of LMI will be the purchase of $10 malaria nets to be distributed in Africa. The Rev. Andrea DeGroot-Nesdahl, director for the LMI and the ELCA HIV and AIDS strategy, said “this program is God’s work.” She said the United Nations approached LWR, inviting the faith-based non-profit to embrace the project. LWR is jointly supported by ELCA and LCMS. Elizabeth Gore, executive director for the United Nations’ Partnership Alliances, told voters that malaria affects much of Africa, spread by mosquitoes. Children are the most vulnerable. A child dies from it every 30 seconds. “This is a monumental partnership,” said the Rev. John Nunes, president and CEO, LWR. He pointed to the link between poverty and malaria. “When you’re sick, you can’t work. When you can’t work, you can’t provide for your family.” Prior to the vote, moving testimony came from voting members speaking in support of the initiative. Said the Rev. Jan Ruud, of the ELCA Southwestern Washington Synod, “I served a one-month pastorate in the African nation of Cameroon. During that month, I had funerals for four small children, all victims of malaria.” He reminded voters the disease is preventable. The Rev. Richard T. Wintersteen, of the ELCA Southwestern Minnesota Synod, said, “It’s critical we provide rural clinics for those infected. If you get the [anti-malaria] medicine, you get well. If you don’t get it, you die.” Joseph Roberts, a voting member from the ELCA Minneapolis Area Synod, said he supported the initiative because his relatives in Africa had been malaria victims. “I was inflicted with it myself,” he reported. DeGroot-Nesdahl said six ELCA synods, yet to be identified, will be invited to serve as pilot synods as the initiative gets underway.