By Larry R. Hygh Jr.*
LOS ALTOS, Calif. (UMNS) — Not everyone can give $1.1 million, but everyone can think of a way to “give just a tiny bit more,” says Barbara Ferguson, whose donation is the largest ever given from an individual donor to Imagine No Malaria.
“I think it’s important that we all give back in some small way to make this world a better place for folks to live,” says Ferguson, a laywoman from Los Altos United Methodist Church in California’s Bay Area.
Her donation to The United Methodist Church’s campaign to help eradicate preventable deaths by malaria by 2015, came after she heard a presentation by Bishop Warner H. Brown Jr., leader of the California-Nevada Annual (regional) Conference, about his trip to Angola.
The conference’s goal is to save 200,000 lives on the continent of Africa by raising $2 million by 2015. “It gives me great joy to announce that we are now more than halfway towards meeting that goal,” Brown said.
“Barbara is a marvelous example of living into our calling to be disciples of Jesus. She faithfully looks for ways she can make a difference in people’s lives,” Brown said. “Barbara is a humble person and seeks no attention for herself. Instead, she encourages all of us to be the disciple we were baptized to be.”
Brown said he is encouraged by the creative ways in which people in the conference are getting involved in Imagine No Malaria. “Even prior to Barbara’s commitment, we have saved more than 8,500 lives on the continent of Africa,” he said.
Ferguson and her late husband, Earl Ferguson, who passed away in 2003, both grew up in the farming community of Goldendale, Wash. She said they met at the age of 12, began dating when they were 14 and were married by age 23. Ferguson tells of Earl coming from humble beginnings with his family raising cattle at a ranch near the Columbia River, and he was 8 before the family had electricity in the home.
“He (Earl) always valued education and after high school attended Yakima Valley Community College, University of Washington, and the University of Michigan,” said Ferguson. Earl Ferguson went on to have a successful career in the computer science industry and helped to develop two companies that were awarded four patents. Eventually, one of the companies, Foundry Networks, went public.
Ferguson said that when the first start-up was sold, the couple had $1 million. “We stood in the kitchen and said we must give back.” She added, “We were richly blessed. We grew up in farm families where we didn’t’ have much money. After Earl’s first company sold, we knew we could act on God’s plan for us.”
The Rev. Mark Bollwinkel, senior pastor of Los Altos United Methodist Church, said, “Earl’s genius for mathematics and engineering led him to discover technologies that contributed to the creation of the Internet.” Bollwinkel said the Fergusons dedicated much of their wealth to serving others and the church.
“Following Earl’s unexpected death in 2003, Barbara and her family have continued to resource efforts to make the world a better place,” he said. “They do so with humility and gratitude to God for the opportunity to give.”
Ferguson, a lifelong Methodist, has been a member of Los Altos United Methodist Church since 1985. She was one of the leaders of the church’s Stephen Ministry for 20 years and has worked as a volunteer in the finance office for 17 years.
“The individual person needs to think about what tiny bit more they can do to give back in whatever area they can support,” Ferguson said.
Next wave of giving
Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton, who leads the Western Pennsylvania Conference and the denomination’s Imagine No Malaria efforts, said, “I am overjoyed by the receipt of this gift. … I pray that it will be multiplied over and over.”
He added, “This gift represents the next wave of giving; the large gift connected to the grassroots giving strength of Imagine No Malaria is a winning formula.”
In February 2013, as a gateway to launch the conference’s Imagine No Malaria efforts, Brown challenged the churches of the California-Nevada Conference to raise $50,000 by the annual conference session in June to rebuild a health clinic in Bom Jesus, Angola. The effort was called “Building a Bridge of Love to Angola” and churches surpassed the goal and raised $61,000.
The clinic, abandoned during the civil war when most people and church members fled the area, is the focal point for the medical and health care ministry of The United Methodist Church in Angola. Repairs to the clinic will include, but are not limited to, roof and ceiling repairs, window and door security improvements, painting and utility repairs. Medical clinic equipment and supplies will then be provided and the clinic placed into medical service. The California-Nevada Conference in partnership with the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries will aid in the rebuilding process.
Just a few years ago, statistics showed a child died every 30 seconds of malaria. The United Methodist Church has worked with global partners such as the United Nations Foundation, The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the World Health Organization and others, and the death rate has dropped to one every 60 seconds.
So far, The United Methodist Church as a whole has raised more than $60 million in pledges and gifts to fight the disease. The denomination’s goal is to raise at least $75 million for the effort by 2015.
For almost 200 years, The United Methodist Church has operated hospitals and clinics throughout Africa. These facilities are a vital and trusted part of the health-care delivery system on the continent. The Imagine No Malaria approach is focused on four key areas: prevention, education, communication and treatment.
Learn more about Imagine No Malaria.
*Hygh is director of communications for the denomination’s California-Nevada Annual Conference.
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