"Malaria, malaria, malaria-the horror, the killer," 23 children from Uganda's Hope for Africa Children's Choir chanted April 26.
The chant came during a skit before United Methodist basketball teams squared off in championship games of a tournament held to benefit the anti-malaria Nothing But Nets campaign.
The 3-on-3 basketball games, played at First United Methodist Church in downtown Fort Worth, pitted teams of boys and men from the North Texas Annual (regional) Conference and the Central Texas Conference. Five United Methodist bishops took time out from attending General Conference 2008 to speak at a pre-game news briefing and to show support for Nothing But Nets. In the boys' division, First United Methodist Church of Alvarado in the Central Texas Conference beat Hamilton Park United Methodist Church of Dallas in the North Texas Conference in a close 24-22 game. Men from Whaley United Methodist Church in Gainesville won 34-27 over First United Methodist Church in Fort Worth.
"At the end of the game, because of the cause you are playing for, there are no losers," said Bishop Thomas Bickerton, who serves as spokesperson for Nothing But Nets.
The tournament between the two Texas conferences began at the local church level in June 2007. To participate, all players paid $10-the cost to buy and distribute one bed net to prevent malaria-carrying mosquitoes from biting. Through proceeds of the basketball tournament and offerings, the two conferences have raised $300,000 for Nothing But Nets.
At the news briefing, Bishop Ben Chamness of the Central Texas Conference introduced the other bishops and members of the choir, pointing out that the children "have been orphaned by malaria, HIV/AIDS and war."
Nothing But Nets has raised more than $20 million since the campaign began in 2006. The United Methodist Church is a partner in the campaign with many other organizations. "To blanket the continent of Africa, we need $330 million," Bickerton said. "Until we reach that goal, we need to do whatever it takes to cause malaria to be a word in the back of our minds historically."
Bishop Daniel Wandabula of the East Africa Area said malaria is the main killer disease in his region, which includes Uganda, Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda and Sudan. "Through the distribution of nets we are able to bring life to people," he said. "We will enable people to live longer lives &ellipsis; and be able to make a difference."
Bishop David Yemba of the Central Congo Area said, "Nets have not been distributed yet, but we know it is coming. People are aware of the efforts of The United Methodist Church."
Yemba added that it is encouraging to witness the participation of youth and young adults. "The awareness this effort is giving you goes beyond this project," he said.
Awareness of hunger was on the minds of four of the seven players on the Hamilton Park boys' team because they were in the middle of a 30-hour fast during the tournament. "We were fasting for the children of Africa who don't have food," said A.J. Williams, a sophomore at Allen High School.
In a prayer before the games, Bishop Alfred Norris of the North Texas Conference asked for God's blessings for "the mission to stamp out the killer diseases of poverty, particularly malaria. Thank you for the hope we have that in the day to come, this disease will be a thing of the past.
*Deborah White is associate editor of Interpreter magazine.
News media contact: Deborah White, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Phone calls can be made to the General Conference Newsroom in Fort Worth, Texas, at (817) 698-4405(817) 698-4405 until May 3. Afterward, call United Methodist News Service in Nashville, Tenn., at (615) 742-5470(615) 742-5470.