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Published: 3/27/2007

Dear sisters and brothers,

Our media-induced culture has created this thing called �March Madness� to describe the frenzy that is generated by the national college basketball tournament. Teams compete for more than four months for the opportunity to go to the �big dance� and now that number has been reduced to four. Since I am a basketball fan these are fun days for me. My family and I moved to Indiana just one year after the small school of Milan won the state high school championship, a story that inspired the wonderful motion picture Hoosiers, still one of my all time favorite movies. We moved to a very small town and all of us dreamed of being the next Milan. So, early on in my life phrases like �shooting hoops� and �string music� and �nothing but net� became common.
 
In the midst of all this basketball hype and hoopla, another project involving nets is going on with great urgency. The campaign known as �Nothing but Nets� has become an international effort, including The United Methodist Church, to raise money to provide mosquito/malaria nets in many parts of the globe. While I was in Cameroon last month I learned first-hand of the involvement of our United Methodist mission office in the distribution of nets to remote villages. Not only is there the challenge of getting the nets delivered, but there is also the need to provide instruction on how to properly use the nets. But we are already there, involved and extending hope, compassion and healing to those who might otherwise die from the bite of a mosquito. Every thirty seconds a child dies of malaria on the continent of Africa which means that during every game of the NCAA basketball tournament eighty children die � and that is just the actual playing time, not the two or more hours that time-outs and television stretches the games.
 
The theme of our 2007 Annual Conference is Serving the Present Age. When our lay and clergy members assemble in Montgomery, we will celebrate what God has been doing through our churches, and we will anticipate what God will yet do. We will be reminded that we have been called to love God and neighbor in concrete and specific ways, offering healing and hope in this world. In the words of Charles Wesley: �To serve the present age, my calling to fulfill; O may it all my powers engage to do my Master�s will.�
 
So let�s tie �nothing but nets� and �serving the present age� together at Annual Conference. A few weeks ago I wrote that our mission offering goal for the Sunday night of Annual Conference this year was to provide 10,000 nets to save the lives of at least 10,000 children. I have been thrilled to hear from a number of churches that are already at work to raise funds to buy nets. Spring Hill Ave. UMC in Mobile has been working during Lent in a number of creative projects, and has already past 220 nets! Larry Teasley, pastor at the Marion UMC in the Demopolis District tells me that they have already exceeded their goal of 100 nets. I want to encourage every church across our conference to get the information, issue the challenge, receive an offering, and join us in surpassing our goal of 10,000 nets. (There is a link on our conference web site; and you can read Spring Hill Ave.�s story there as well.)
 
Last month I had the opportunity to preach at the Destin UMC. It was a very positive and inspiring day. During the message I told a story about Nothing but Nets and the difference the campaign is already making. Seated on the back row that day was a gentleman who rode a bicycle to church. He was not dressed or as clean as some might expect for 11 a.m. on Sunday morning. The good news was that he was welcomed in that congregation and stayed for the brief reception and refreshments following the benediction. During that time, he came up to me and told me he wanted to �help out with those nets.� He handed me three crumpled one dollar bills; I wondered even then if that was all he had, but he wanted to be a part of helping in this project. His small contribution will go toward the many nets that the Destin church will buy. But more than that, his gift inspires me to give even more.
 
As Holy Week looms ahead, I recall that while in Jerusalem Jesus watched a widow make an offering and then said: ��all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.� (Mark 12:44) Mercy! Will you join me, and our conference, in �serving the present age� by sharing $10 or more for a net to save a life?
 
Bishop Goodpaster
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