Sharing the Light of Faith for the NetsforLife® Inspiration Fund

Dioceses and parishes across the Episcopal Church are rallying against the scourge of malaria, a preventable disease that claims close to one million lives each year. Through launching local campaigns to support the NetsforLife® Inspiration Fund, these communities are helping raise $5 million dollars for NetsforLife®, Episcopal Relief & Development’s program partnership to fight malaria in sub-Saharan Africa. This churchwide campaign will run through 2012.

One example is the Diocese of Wyoming, which has set a goal of raising funds for 5,000 malaria nets—one for each of its members. In February, diocesan representatives coordinated an event to raise awareness and support for the effort, while celebrating diversities of faith and culture locally and internationally.

The theme of the gathering, “Peace, Faith & Community,” was based on the Episcopal Church’s compassionate response to human suffering worldwide through Episcopal Relief & Development, and on sharing a common vision for justice and peace among all people. Event chair Sylvia Stewart, the Episcopal Relief & Development Parish Representative at St. Mark’s, Cheyenne, felt an interfaith aspect was important to help support diversity and build understanding among area residents.

“We are all connected,” Sylvia said. “The faith community can lead the way in embracing our differences, while bringing awareness of the need to support people around the world.”

This vision came to life through the dedicated efforts of Sylvia and her planning team: Kay Perry of St. Mark’s; Margene Lyon and the Rev. Robin Chance of St. Christopher’s, Cheyenne; and Carla Rumsey of St. Matthew’s Cathedral, Laramie, who is Episcopal Relief & Development’s Diocesan Coordinator for Wyoming. Many additional volunteers and supporters from the three churches also helped make the event possible.

On the big day, close to 100 people gathered at the Depot, a venue that was once a Union Pacific train station. With State Representative Dan Zwonitzer serving as emcee, the time opened with a Native American family drum circle. Group member Jan Iron set the tone for the day as she explained that drumming was one of many forms of prayer in her community. The Rev. Chance then gave a blessing before participants enjoyed foods from countries where NetsforLife® works, catered by a local alternative school, Triumph High.

Following lunch, the afternoon brought a number of ecumenical and cultural experiences, including performances by the Flores de Colores children’s dance group and Second Baptist Church and Cheyenne Unitarian Universalist choirs. Blessings were offered by Rabbi Harley Karz-Wagman, Dr. Mohamed Salih, cofounder of the Southeast Wyoming Islamic Center, and the Rev. Dana Lightsey of the Unitarian Universalist Church. Carla also shared about NetsforLife®’s work in helping communities reduce malaria with nets and education. She was assisted by the Very Rev. Marilyn Engstrom, Dean of St. Matthew’s, who demonstrated how the nets are used.

The time drew to a close with everyone singing “Peace, Salaam, Shalom,” hand in hand. “Everyone had a great time,” Sylvia said, thanking the many supporters and volunteers who helped “bring together local residents in such a meaningful way.” In addition to uniting diverse community members around the goal of ending a deadly disease, the event raised more than $1,000 to support the effort.

“[As] someone who experienced malaria more than once in my life, I can attest to the ravages of the disease,” Dr. Salih said. “I lost a brother and many in my family to the disease. A simple net would have saved many of them and I know this disease killed as many in Sudan as the wars have over the years…So I thank you for your big heart and your dedication to this issue.”

“The Inspiration Fund is meant to be a life-giving effort throughout the Church,” said Joy Shigaki, Director of the NetsforLife® Inspiration Fund and Church Campaigns. “This event in Southeast Wyoming is an incredible example of how we can bring our communities together to inspire and engage one another around the importance of the Millennium Development Goals, malaria prevention and the work of NetsforLife®.”