Youth and young adults in Florida “lift malaria burden”

Posted on May 22, 2012 by Jessica Nipp Hacker

“Who is this person to you?” asked Pastor Janis Kinley  of Trinity Lutheran Church in Jacksonville, FL  as she held up a brochure  for the ELCA Malaria Campaign.   The young adult bible study group looked perplexed as they stared at the brochure, which depicts a young African girl with a bright, beautiful smile. 

After a brief awkward silence the six members of the young adult bible started throwing out possible answers that sounded more like questions.  “An African girl?” “A girl with malaria?” “A beautiful young girl?” “Our neighbor?”

 After each answer, the members scanned Pastor Janis’s face for a sign—what was she waiting to hear? “Those are all correct, but who is this girl to YOU?” she said after the members were out of answers. 

Trinity's congregation bows their heads as Michael Dunne, a discipleship training student, commemorates children who have died from malaria by ringing a bell every 45 seconds.

She then had the group read from Matthew 25: “And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'”  Again, Pastor Janis held up the brochure for the ELCA Malaria Campaign, which depicts a young African girl, and asked, “who is this person to you?”

After another brief silence someone spoke up and said “Jesus.”

Pastor Janis’ thought-provoking message served as a pregame speech to the members of Trinity’s Young Adult Bible Study Group.  Together this group led a multifaceted approach to raise awareness to the ELCA Malaria Campaign in the congregation.  Information about the campaign was incorporated in church’s bulletin, newsletter, children’s message, and sermons. 

Ryan Larson, a member of Trinity and one of the members of the adult bible study, is an entomologist who has performed malaria work in Liberia.  He wrote an article for the church newsletter. “I tried to use my experience in Liberia to explain to the congregation that our brothers and sisters in Africa are not all that different from us,” Ryan said.  “I also wanted to convey the burden that malaria places on our Lutheran brothers and sisters.” And he also described what the ELCA is doing to lift this burden.

Trinity's discipleship training students (ages 11-13) proudly stand in front of display advertising the ELCA Malaria Campaign. This display incorporated ELCA Malaria Campaign posters, a bed net, and large whimsical mosquitoes created by the students.

Malaria work at Trinity was intergenerational. The young adult bible study group teamed up with discipleship training students (ages 11-13) to portray the seriousness of malaria in Africa.  Standing before the congregation, the team asked everyone to close their eyes.  A bell was then sounded every 45 seconds to commemorate a child that has died has died from malaria.  It was a very powerful, yet simple message. 

The two groups also set up a display in the church’s hallway.  They constructed large-scale, whimsical mosquitoes out of a variety of materials including mosquito bed net remnants.  Two ELCA Malaria Campaign posters to serve as daily reminder of the urgent need to help lift the burden of malaria in Africa.  

“Young teens and young adults are a natural pairing, because both have tremendous energy for and interest in service to the community,” said Pastor Janis.  “As the two groups worked together on the malaria campaign, they taught and inspired each other, creating an exciting synergy in doing God’s work.”

Kari Larson (center) and Pastor Janis Kinley (left) drape a mosquito net over children as part of the contemporary worship service's Children's Message, desribing what the ELCA and our companions are doing to prevent malaria.

During a worship service, young adult bible study member Kari Larson led the children’s message, which focused on malaria.  After gathering the children, Kari asked the children if they have ever been bitten by mosquitoes.  Most of the children raised their hands.  “For people in Africa, sometimes that mosquito bite can make them very sick,” Kari explained to the children.  She then placed a mosquito net over the children to teach them how the ELCA malaria campaign protects children in Africa. 

Trinity is not a large congregation, but over $2,000 was collected for the ELCA Malaria Campaign, to help our African brothers and sisters in Christ lift the burden of malaria.  This was one of Trinity’s largest-ever “love offerings.” 

“When we follow Jesus,” says Pastor Janis, “he teaches us to share his heart, so that the things that break God’s heart will break our hearts as well.  Our ‘cross’ is to care deeply about the suffering of others.  At Trinity, Jesus is opening our hearts to care about the victims of malaria in Africa. Our commitment to the ELCA Malaria Campaign has helped us to serve Christ and to be true to our congregational mission statement: ‘To proclaim Jesus Christ to the world’.  We are blessed to help end the suffering and death from malaria by 2015.”

**Special thanks to Ryan Larson for sharing this article.**