By Linda Unger*
August 12, 2014—The United Methodist Church is seeking input from members and partners worldwide as it prepares to launch a new stage of global health ministry that will build on and deepen the success of the much-applauded Imagine No Malaria (INM) program.
Kicking off the process today is the first phase of a broad stakeholder consultation meant to harness the experience and imagination of United Methodists and other health partners to help the church discern an answer to the question: Where does United Methodist health programming go from here?
“We’re excited about building on INM’s momentum,” said Shannon Trilli, a global health consultant to the General Board of Global Ministries and the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). Trilli led UMCOR Global Health for three years, through July 2014, while it implemented the church’s anti-malaria program across Africa.
“Through INM,” she reported, “United Methodists have distributed 1.9 million anti-malaria bed nets, trained more than 11,000 community health volunteers, and established 13 United Methodist health boards, which today guide annual conference health strategy and outreach in 16 African nations.”
INM, which already has raised more than U.S. $62 million to underwrite its activities, was the first expression of the church’s Global Health Initiative (GHI), one of four areas of strategic focus United Methodists embraced beginning at General Conference in 2008.
It engaged United Methodists across the United States and around the world and was part of the successful global movement to reduce malaria deaths in sub-Saharan Africa by improving the ways people fight the disease. Malaria deaths in the region have declined from a rate of one death every 30 seconds to one death a minute—still too high, but a significant improvement of nearly 50 percent.
“At the same time, INM revealed a host of other health issues and opportunities for ministry that are shared to different degrees and in various forms across continents,” said Dr. Piper Crisovan, UMCOR technical officer in charge of community-based primary healthcare programs.
With General Conference 2016 less than two years away, The United Methodist Church is studying the successes and lessons of INM and seeking to identify the core of a new stage of global health ministry that will continue to engage its members in advancing health and wholeness for all people.
Phase one survey
To achieve a broad participatory visioning process, the GHI stakeholder consultation is rolling out using a simple survey to gauge what respondents perceive the impact of INM to be and to request their feedback regarding what should come next.
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More than 30 stakeholder groups have been identified to respond to the survey and of them, 10 will be polled in the first phase of the process. Remaining stakeholder groups will be polled in phase two, beginning in January. In both phases, the survey will be posted to the UMCOR and Global Ministries websites, where it can be accessed by anyone interested in contributing to the process. All input will be appreciated and counted.
The initial 10 groups, in particular, were identified based on their involvement in INM, their unique insight into health issues and/or The United Methodist Church, their ability to influence the discernment and success of the church’s health strategy, their representation of essential demographic sectors, their expressed interest in the process and their availability.
Respondents will be contacted via email, internet and focus groups (for which a facilitator’s guide is available). A special cross-cutting team will reach stakeholders outside the United States, taking into account issues such as language (the survey will be available in English, Portuguese, French and Spanish) and cultural context to ensure a meaningful international process.
Phase one surveys will be completed by mid-August, and September and October will be devoted to the analysis and assessment of data and feedback.
Global Ministries will present initial results to the Council of Bishops and Connectional Table in November. From their deliberations, the outline of a new stage of health ministry in The United Methodist Church will emerge. It will be confirmed or adjusted based on the additional polling and further research of phase two, and a strategic plan will be fleshed out by mid-2016
Health: A ministry of the whole church
“Additional efforts are already being developed that underscore the importance of health as a ministry of the entire United Methodist Church,” said Trilli.
Principal among these is the transition of the Global Health unit of UMCOR into a full-fledged unit of the General Board of Global Ministries, with its own deputy general secretary. UMCOR Global Health implemented training, grant-making and net distributions under INM, and also supported UMCOR’s relief and development initiatives around the world.
“As denominational health efforts have become stronger and more sophisticated, this move will allow Global Health to be a signature unit of Global Ministries,” said Thomas Kemper, the agency’s general secretary. “It will create flexibility and a concerted focus that will facilitate the flow of communication among programmatic units.”
For example, he said, “Missionary health professionals from our Mission and Evangelism unit and staff from UMCOR’s Water and Sanitation program will all work together.”
While the transition will become official as of September 1, 2014, UMCOR will continue, through its eight country offices, to address health and hygiene concerns with the communities it serves. More information about the transition will be forthcoming.
Until a new director of Global Health is announced, Dr. Crisovan will take the lead in ensuring the effective roll-out of the GHI stakeholder consultation process.
“The process provides a great opportunity for the church’s Global Health Initiative to listen to what United Methodists feel is important in the field of health and to promote their investment in and ownership of a truly effective and meaningful worldwide health ministry,” Crisovan said.
Read a fact sheet on the Global Health Initiative stakeholder consultation.
*Linda Unger is senior writer for the General Board of Global Ministries.