Living overseas for most of my adult life as a Baptist missionary, I came across a lot of suffering. I will never forget seeing elephantiasis for the first time in a remote village in Africa or the squalor in a Palestinian refuge camp in Lebanon. Perhaps worst of all, I saw a child die from an ear infection due to a lack of antibiotics.
Like most folks, I have often said, “Ain’t it awful? Somebody ought to do something about that!” We even said that when one of our own children nearly died of malaria while we were serving in West Africa in the early ’70s. We didn’t know what to do, so we did nothing.
Then about six years ago, our family put our heads together and decided to finally do something about malaria. First, we created a 501(c)3 called His Nets. Then we began to collect money in order to purchase and distribute insecticide-treated mosquito nets to those who need them most. For the price of lunch, a $6 net can protect an entire family and save at least two lives.
I will never forget our first distribution in Ghana in 2005. With the help of Dr. Frank Adams (now deceased) of the Baptist World Alliance in Africa, we distributed 1,800 nets to pregnant women and families with children under 5 years old – the two groups most at risk of dying from malaria. One woman in particular had walked two days with a baby on her back and another small child by the hand just to receive a net. With a smile that lit up her whole face, she said, “Now my husband and all of my children will live. Thank you!”
Most Americans are ignorant of the fact that malaria is the biggest killer of children in Africa, with one dying every 30 seconds and 10,000 people dying each day. His Nets partners with churches, schools, civic groups and individuals to fight malaria one net at a time. Even the governor of Oklahoma, Brad Henry, and his wife, Kim, have contributed to His Nets and made a trip to Africa to personally distribute nets.
I have been amazed at the imagination, especially of young people and children, when it comes to raising money for His Nets. Last year, three boys in Kentucky asked for donations to His Nets rather than birthday presents and raised hundreds of dollars to purchase nets. A church in Texas collected “Nickels for Nets” during Vacation Bible School and purchased more than 60 nets.
Dozens of churches have partnered with His Nets to do projects in Africa. Most often these are connected to missionaries or churches with which they already have a connection. For example, we partnered in 2009 with the Milledge Avenue Baptist Church in Athens, Ga., to help them get 1,000 nets to their sister congregation in Liberia, The Commission Baptist Church in Monrovia.
So this year, when you experience something bad, don’t say, “Ain’t it awful! Somebody ought to do something!” Why don’t you do something important? Get involved with His Nets and save a few lives in 2010.
T Thomas is executive director of His Nets. Thomas and His Nets are featured in EthicsDaily.com’s new documentary, “Different Books, Common Word: Baptists and Muslims.”