While visiting Mozambique in 2002, my group drove several miles into the rural bush country to visit some United Methodist brothers and sisters. After arriving in what appeared to be the middle-of-nowhere, we were greeted with songs and dancing from a large group of folks that had spent the day waiting for us.
We gathered in a circle as our hosts sang to us. Within a few moments I realized that there was a little boy standing at my feet. I looked down at him, guessed him to be two or three years old and I held my hand out to him. He grabbed a finger and stayed by my side. When the singing ended, we were escorted to some seats for the rest of our conversation together. I picked up my new little friend and carried him to my place. Then he sat in my lap, almost without moving, for several minutes.
As we sat together, I noticed that he was dirty, as are most children that age who are outside. However, there was more. His eyes were muddy, his breathing labored, and it was clear that he had little energy for play. He was clearly a very sick little boy. Eventually, his mother came and took him from me and held him for the duration of our gathering. While she held him, I couldn’t help but wonder what was wrong with him. I also realized that there was no way for Mom to find out what was wrong, and there would be no medicine to make him better. Doctors were nowhere to be found in this area. There was no pharmacy standing at the street corner. In fact, there was no street, and no cars. The little boy would either get better, or he would die.
It may have been malaria, or it may have been some other disease. I will never know. The best and most likely guess, though, is that my little friend, whose name I never learned, was likely to be one of those children in Africa we hear about that does not live to the age of five. Yet, if it was malaria, his death was totally unnecessary. It tears at my heart.
A few days later, I became sick myself. We just happened to be staying at a guest home that is right next to one of the few village hospitals in rural Mozambique. The only doctor there came to my room late at night after a long day of seeing patients He took a blood sample and examined me. The next morning he came back and told me that he believed I had malaria. He gave me some pills that I was later told seldom work against the strain of malaria now present in that area. It was a life-changing diagnosis, and I was left to wonder how it would shape the rest of my life.
A few days passed, and our group made it back to Maputo, a large city in southern Mozambique. I was not really getting better, so I eventually went to a clinic that specializes in giving care to international guests to the country. There, they took more sophisticated tests than were available to the rural doctor. They determined that I was not a malaria victim; rather, I was simply the victim of eating the wrong food at the wrong time.
For a brief moment in time, my little friend and I arrived at the same time and same place in history, and we both got sick at that intersection. Because of where I was born, I received excellent care and treatment. I have since lived another 11 years in good health and happiness. Because of where he was born, he received no formal care, and no treatment. I expect that he did not survive the summer.
Imagine, for a moment, a world in which the playing field is more even. Imagine that at least one of the diseases, malaria, could be wiped from the face of the earth. It is possible. After all, we removed it from the United States decades ago. All that is missing is our will and our commitment.
I can imagine it. That is why I am joining those who are acting to change imagination to reality. It is also why I was willing to go out on a limb and say that the good people of the Heartland North and Pony Express Districts would raise more than $180,000 in the next 12 months in order to buy mosquito nets, improve drinking water conditions, provide education, and more. In the past decade, the number of those who die from malaria has been cut in half. Imagine what we can do if more of us get involved.
This morning, I wrote a check for $1,804, an amount equal to 1% of the Heartland North/Pony Express goal. It is a gift beyond my tithes and other offerings. It will come from assets I have accumulated over the years. I wish I could have used it for the benefit of my little friend in the bush country of Mozambique, but it is still in time to save others. I wonder if there are others in our districts who have been blessed as I have, and who would match the gift that I am making.
Every once in a while we have an opportunity to do something significant. We don’t have to just sit in a chair with the dying on our lap. We can get up and change the world. It is time I got started. Want to join me?