By Michelle Scott
BIDJAN, Côte d'Ivoire - In the midst of celebration and worship, the dream of two bishops who live worlds apart began to be realized.
Bishop Benjamin Boni of Côte d'Ivoire and Bishop Janice Riggle Huie of Texas handed out the first of a million bed nets, tools needed to prevent malaria, the disease that is a top killer of children under five in this West African nation.
Thousands of nets were distributed the first day of an historic ministry that binds together United Methodists in Africa and in the United States. It is expected that by the end of the week, one million nets, enough to provide one to every family with a child under five in each of the 18 civil districts of the country, will be distributed.
Two years ago, the Texas Annual Conference set out to raise $1 million for net distribution in the Côte d'Ivoire Annual Conference. The covenant relationship between the two annual conferences was formalized through a covenant proclamation signed by Bishops Benjamin Boni and Janice Riggle Huie at the Texas Annual Conference in May 2008. The Texas Conference encompasses Houston and a large surrounding area but not the whole state.
A contribution of more than $1 million from the Texas Annual Conference was multiplied many times over with additional contributions from the United Nations Foundation. The nets came from the UN Foundation's Nothing But Nets Campaign, and volunteers received basic malaria education training through the Malaria Control program of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).
The United Methodist Church is a sponsor of Nothing But Nets, a popular campaign that has raised millions of dollars for malaria prevention.
t a district training session of Ivorian volunteers this week, a pastor who calls himself a "malaria champion"-because he contracts it every three to four months - noted: "There are too many mosquitoes in Africa. It is good to see the church in social action."
He plans to use his position as a pastor and the information from the training to educate people in his community about how to prevent malaria.
The distribution involves more than 750 United Methodist volunteers from the Côte d'Ivoire and Texas Annual Conferences and is part of a nationwide vaccination campaign in Côte d'Ivoire.
Huie explains the process in a widely distributed video produced onsite: "Each of the children under the age of five that came forward drank some liquid that contained de-worming medicine, because the water here is not always clean; vitamin A, which helps reduce blindness and also strengthens the immune system; and then they got an injection of measles vaccines; and finally as a reward, they got a bed net to help prevent malaria."
The partnership to combat malaria in Côte d'Ivoire includes The United Methodist Church of Côte d'Ivoire, the Texas Conference, the United Nations Foundation, the Côte d'Ivoire Ministry of Health, United Methodist Communications and the United Methodist Committee on Relief.
To learn more about the net distribution and UMCOR's Community-Based Malaria Control Program, please visit http://new.gbgmumc.org/umcpr/work/health/malaria/news/.