The United Methodist Church is issuing a challenge: “Change the World.” Billed as a “worldwide event,” this April 24-25 threshold event will show where the values, heart and soul of the UMC really is. I am not talking about participation in this two-day event. I am talking about whether it will be the launch of a new direction (a transformation process) or simply a single-shot “feel-good” photo-op. The invitation to this event is “to bring the people of the church together to make a tangible difference in their communities and across the globe.” Man, if we can do that, it would be an incredible witness to the world. Of course, this cannot happen in two days. Real change takes time, effort, commitment, and resources. April 24 and 25 can be no more than a symbolic launch of a radical and fundamental long-term commitment on the part of the church. And that’s exciting! What if… we really mean it? What if… we really do it!
The slogan of the “event” is, “Build community locally. Fight malaria globally. Change the World.” In this simple phrase lies the key to global transformation. It can’t be done by individuals; it must be done by communities — and communities of communities knit together as the body of Christ. It is a fight, and as with most fights it will take time. Malaria is but one simple factor in a much larger equation. It brings to mind two conversations I have had with global sustainability experts about the larger implications of addressing malaria. One man who I met at Vanderbilt University told me, “There is a huge difference between preventing a death and saving a life. Preventing a death may only cost a few dollars. But saving a life in Africa today costs approximately $74,000. Your brochure says “Imagine No Malaria!” and that is a good and noble thing. But if you do nothing but stop malaria, Imagine an Africa with hundreds of thousands of hungry and starving children, suffering from many diseases, without adequate clothing and shelter, where many young children join gangs and live with violence until they die or move away. That is what happened the last time the “world” worked to eliminate infant mortality in Africa. Actions have consequences, and giving life does not come without costs.” Another sustainability expert from the University of Wisconsin makes a similar point. “Be certain that those who give money for an anti-malarial mosquito net are then ready with food and medicine, then with clothing and school books, and with building materials and jobs later on. You may give $7 million to save 700,000 children’s lives, but who will supply the $50 billion dollars needed to guarantee these children will have a stable childhood unto adulthood?” The challenge to “Change the World,” is enormous — exactly the kind of thing The United Methodist Church needs to give it direction and focus. This could be a turning point time for United Methodism… if we take it seriously. We have proven what we can do in the short-term with Haiti — when we really care we do amazing things. The time has come to prove what we can do over the long-term.
Every church, regardless of size or resources, is encouraged to get outside the four walls of its building into their local community to serve the needs of others. While there is emphasis on the “Imagine No Malaria” campaign, any activity outside the local church to serve others is welcome. This campaign hearkens back to early Methodism when it was fundamentally a missional-evangelical movement, not an institution. The motivation to “spread scriptural holiness across the land” was a vision that drove our earliest growth and impact. The healthiest churches in our denomination today are those who equip and motivate people to live their faith out in the world. They don’t count members and attendance; they count the number of lives touched, people served, and lives saved.
This is a call to full commitment throughout our connectional system. Anything else simply cannot “change” the world. All too often, we throw around the term “transformation,” but all we do is behavior modification, launching a campaign or a slogan or an event with limited or no long-term impact. What will make “Change the World” different? We will… or we won’t. Once more, we have raised the bar, saying to the world that The United Methodist Church is a force to be reckoned with. Either we mean it or we don’t. Time will tell. But we have been given an opportunity to recover our credibility and restore our image — to put the “united” back in United Methodist. Pray that we rise to the occasion, as a witness to the love and grace of our God and the redemptive power of the Savior, Jesus Christ!