When a can-do pastor challenges a can-do church to raise money for the United Methodist Imagine No Malaria campaign, what could be a better technique than an “I Can Do” can”?
Shortly after The United Methodist Church launched Imagine No Malaria with the goal of raising $75 million to eradicate the disease in Africa by 2015, the Rev. Eston Williams posed a question: How could Aley United Methodist Church, a small, rural congregation of about 100 members in the far southeastern corner of the North Texas Annual (regional) Conference, make a significant difference? Initially, the idea seemed daunting.
“But then I got to thinking about it and did a little math,” Williams said. “In 2009, the General Council on Finance and Administration reported 7.7 million United Methodists in the United States. I realized that if every one of those members contributed $1 a month for 10 months, we could exceed our goal. And, if only half of us did $1 a month, we could still knock it out in less than two years.”
Williams would challenge the good folk of Aley United Methodist Church to do what they could do. He covered a large coffee can with a sheet of paper inscribed with “I Can Do” hand-lettered in black marker.
The members, most of whom are retirement age and enjoy referring to themselves as “Aleyans,” have a special spirit. They love to help others and enjoy a good challenge.
“What can one person do? We can do what we can do together,” Williams told his flock. He explained how United Methodists were rallying to save children and adults from the ravages of a disease long eradicated in the developed world, and that every week the children in the Aley congregation would pass the “I Can Do” can and do what they could do together.
The children passed the can each Sunday, and the dollars started to mount. From 2010 to 2013, the Aleyans came up with other ideas to supplement the can and raised a total of $10,031 for Imagine No Malaria.
To keep the effort lively, the Aleyans also repurposed a plastic quarter coin tube used in a previous mission effort. The children took ownership of the quarter tube, filled and refilled it, producing $4,820 over four years.
Can-do attitude pays off
Ralph Monroe, administrative council chair when the “I Can Do” can effort launched, said, “The very possibility that malaria can be eliminated is energizing. Eston introduced this program to our church with the challenge that we could make a difference. Then, he told us how we could help make this happen. Every Sunday morning young children would pass the can. (They represent the very age we want to save from malaria).
“The money was counted, and just before worship service started, an announcement was made, as to how many (insecticide-treated bed) nets we were able to purchase with the money received and how many children would be helped.”
Williams invited other Kaufman County United Methodist congregations to join Aley Church in sponsoring a benefit concert by the Connections Band. The band, composed of North Texas clergy, had been doing concerts on behalf of Imagine No Malaria. The first of three Kaufman County concerts was held in the Mabank High School auditorium in 2011. The concerts brought in more money for Imagine No Malaria than any of the band’s other venues.
Judge Ron Chapman, a longtime member, retired judge and attorney, said the Imagine No Malaria effort reflects the overall spirit of the church.
“As I’ve said many times,” he commented, “the people at Aley United Methodist Church are some of the most giving and loving you will ever meet. Most, if not all, do not have a lot of resources or material possessions, but they always find some way to respond to the needs of ‘the least of these,’ whether it is to stamp out malaria or support a fundraising drive for diabetes or Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or to provide school lunches for kids at risk.
“Eston does a marvelous job of balancing the many requests we get for help to present us with the challenges we can realistically meet, sometimes with just a little effort and other times with something as big as a Connections Band fundraising concert where little Aley United Methodist Church leads the way in promotion and contributions. Sometimes, I secretly wish the ‘bigger’ churches would match our efforts, but we all do what we can,” Chapman said.
The Rev. Vic Casad, East District superintendent, shared his appreciation of and praise for Aley United Methodist Church’s efforts and its ongoing support of the Imagine No Malaria campaign. “Aley has consistently taken the lead in funds raised and promoting the Connections concert,” he said. “It is a wonderful example of how small-membership churches are making a significant impact in making disciples who transform the world for Christ.”
*LaBarr is a retired clergy member of the North Texas Annual (regional) Conference.