By United Methodist News Service
Against the backdrop of college basketball's March Madness, United Methodists have rallied around the Nothing But Nets anti-malaria campaign by sponsoring church and conference basketball tournaments, challenges and other fundraisers.
The people of The United Methodist Church are partnering in Nothing But Nets with the United Nations Foundation, the National Basketball Association's NBA Cares initiative, Sports Illustrated and other organizations to prevent malaria by delivering insecticide-treated bed nets to Africa. A donation of $10 covers the cost of one bed net, which protects families from malaria-carrying mosquitoes.
In Indiana, Bishop Mike Coyner issued a "March Madness for Missions" challenge to support Nothing But Nets and the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund. He asked every United Methodist family to purchase at least one bed net and each congregation to donate at least $1 per member to the Global AIDS Fund.
"Indiana is a state which loves basketball," said Coyner, "and so it seemed appropriate to challenge United Methodists in Indiana to use this time of March Madness to have a March Madness for Missions."
His challenge followed an announcement earlier this year from St. Luke's UMC in Indianapolis, which pledged $50,000 to Nothing But Nets and $50,000 to the Global AIDS Fund.
According to Lori Crantford, director of communications at St. Luke's UMC, the 6,000-member congregation was successful in raising approximately $60,000 for Nothing But Nets during Lent, and money is still coming in. Crantford said, "When asked to 'Buy a Net. Save a Life.' the congregation responded with overwhelming enthusiasm and generosity."
Across the church
In South Carolina, 800 young people competed in the annual South Carolina United Methodist State Basketball Tournament March 9-11, raising more than $1,100 for Nothing But Nets. "We heard about the project and adopted it as our own," said tournament director Bob Fowler. The event included a worship service led by Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor.
India Hook UMC in Rock Hill, S.C., raised $380 with a basketball event that included a free-throw competition and a game called NET - "like HORSE, only shorter," said the Rev. Joseph James. And South Carolina's Conference Council on Youth Ministries is selling T-shirts designed by youth in the conference.
In Nebraska, an all-night Nothing But Nets basketball tournament held March 30-31 at Elkhorn Hills United Methodist Church. In addition to giving a trophy to the team that won the most games, the church gave a trophy to the team that saved the most lives.
Other churches and conferences found their own ways to challenge their members.
The Western North Carolina Conference, for instance, asked each family to buy a bed net for Nothing But Nets.
In the Texas Conference, Woodville UMC dedicated its Lenten mission offering to the campaign, said the Rev. Tommy Williams, who introduced the idea at the church's Ash Wednesday service.
Raising money, awareness
In Minnesota, Bishop Sally Dyck is urged youth to get involved in Nothing But Nets while wearing the campaign's "Buzzkill" T-shirt.
"Youth in Minnesota seem to be really excited about the ways in which they can do something about malaria through Nothing But Nets," Dyck said. "Admittedly it's a challenge to explain to them, as I did at a recent confirmation rally, that malaria is transmitted through mosquitoes - when they all know that the state bird of Minnesota is a mosquito!
"Yet they 'get' that usually the worst thing that can happen to you from a mosquito in Minnesota is a big itch, while a mosquito can mean death to a child in other parts of the world."
The Arkansas Conference recently wrapped up a partnership with FM radio station The Buzz 103.7 for the high school basketball game of the week. During halftime, local United Methodist youth ministers talked about the local church's positive impact on area youth and shared information about Nothing But Nets.
In Arkansas, Batesville First UMC hosted a potluck and silent auction, Benton First UMC hosted a praise concert, and Fairview UMC in Camden selected Nothing But Nets as its March mission of the month.
At Trinity UMC in Little Rock, Nothing But Nets was part of the church's "March Madness" campaign in Sunday morning groups, the church newsletter and e-mails. The campaign focused on the "madness" of spending so much money on sporting events and parties while spending so little on caring for the less fortunate.
"We believe that this initiative is something that everyone can get involved in. It's easy, it's exciting and it's enriching," said James Bentley, director of youth ministries at Trinity. "You know, here in Arkansas, we truly understand how irritating those mosquitoes can be, but we take for granted how we are protected. This is an opportunity for us to reach across the divide and make a significant difference."
'I saved a family today'
At Cabot (Ark.) UMC, youth director Denise Wilson and about 30 young people partnered with Cabot High School to create a one-day, three-on-three basketball tournament that raised more than $3,000. Funds were raised through team entries, concession sales, community sponsorships and T-shirt sales. The youth also took donations before and after church on two separate Sundays. Those who gave $10 or more received a lapel sticker stating, "I saved a family today. What did you do?"
The experience helped the youth become more mission-minded. "It was neat to see the youth get their minds around the fact that we were saving lives," Wilson said.
More campaigns are coming up. The Alabama-West Florida Conference is making Nothing But Nets a focus of its annual conference gathering in June, and Bishop Larry M. Goodpaster has challenged the people to raise enough money to buy 10,000 bed nets. "On Sunday evening, June 3, we will act together to save 10,000 lives! Get creative and involved," he wrote in a weekly letter to the conference.
In addition, United Methodists are being asked to skip a meal, send a net and save a life on April 25, Africa Malaria Day. Bishop Janice Riggle Huie, president of the denomination's Council of Bishops, is asking United Methodists and others to skip lunch that day and use their lunch money to buy a bed net. April 25 also has been designated Malaria Awareness Day in the United States by President Bush.
Go to www.UMC.org/nets and donate online to Nothing But Nets, order "Buzzkill" T-shirts and other promotional material, and download resources, including suggestions about how churches can get involved, graphics and worship materials. For more information, log on to www.nothingbutnets.net.
Compiled by Deborah White with reports from conference communicators Mark Barden, Eleanor Colvin, Meredyth Earnest, Dan Gangler, Victoria Rebeck, Martha Taylor, Allison Trussell and Kathryn Witte.