I knew that Imagine No Malaria was about saving lives. I knew it was about God’s mission. But the more I sit in training, the more I hear the stories of people impacted by the campaign, the more I understand the training and empowerment of both church folk in the U.S. and the on the ground work in Africa, the more I realize that this work is about discipleship.
I have had a glimpse of the way mission makes disciples at my church in Marengo. As we turned our eyes outward instead of inward and opened the doors of the church and stepped outside, we found that we grew in our faith. As we reached out in love – both to our neighbors and to our brothers and sisters across the globe – we found we were encountering Christ. And as their heart for mission grew, so did the sense of spirit that moved through that church’s midst. And the reason is that they began to understand mission was about more than simply a check, but it was about faith in action.
Throughout this campaign, we are teaching people how to put faith into action. We are going to seek out those with the gifts for generosity and invite them to claim those gifts. But I really think that the heart of this campaign is about empowering individual people to make a difference for Christ. The skills we will teach and the gifts we will nurture will not only help us to be successful with Imagine No Malaria – we are actually building capacity for local church leaders to reach out to their local community in partnerships, developing donor networks, inviting people to give testimonies, increasing the strength of our connection, and capturing the creative spirit of our clergy and laity.
I watched a video segment yesterday where a young man, an inmate with a history of trouble, found his faith in the prison system. When his chaplain told him about Imagine No Malaria, he put aside $5 of the $15 he makes each month in the prison industry – money that was to be used to buy shampoo and soap and basic things… and he gave it to make a difference. He gave it because Jesus invites us to heal the sick. He gave it because it was what he could give.
As United Methodists, we believe that we not only make disciples, but we make disciples who make a difference. As I have been preaching through the book of James this month, I have been reminded over and over again that our faith is nothing if it is not lived through our words AND deeds. We have to reach out… not because it earns us points with Jesus, but because mission is what we were saved to do.
When we are engaged in mission, the initial faith that saved us is deepened. When we are engaged in mission, our life becomes less about “me” and more about God’s vision for the world. When we are engaged in mission, we find that we are in turn blessed by those we serve with (** note: not for or to, but with**).
When we are engaged in mission, we truly are living out our calling to be disciples of Jesus Christ. And while we might fight about the Call to Action and debate about the hot button political topics of the day and look suspiciously at those different from us across the table, Imagine No Malaria is different. The United Methodist Church has the opportunity right now to join with one another across the globe to do this one big thing in the name of God – to transform the world as we live out our faith and our mission. It is unprecedented. It is amazing. And it is entirely possible.
As someone who walked away from General Conference disheartened about “the institution,” I suddenly find myself in the midst of the institution… and yet, this campaign is about people coming together, focused on God, focused on a simple uniting task, focused on the elimination of deaths by malaria. While at times I have felt like I am on a very slowly sinking ship, I believe this project is rekindling hope in my heart that God isn’t done with us yet and that together we can truly revitalize our church and transform the world.