Malaria, up close and personal: United Methodist in Uganda shares story about coworker who contracted disease

By Jessica Brodie

As the conference gets deeper in its fight against malaria, one South Carolina United Methodist is seeing the disease firsthand in East Africa.

Emily Silvola and her husband, Patrik, are serving as the interim directors of Terra Nova Academy in Kampala, Uganda. Terra Nova is a small school with a vision to provide a top-notch education in a Christian environment at an affordable rate for local families. A 2012 graduate of Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia who served most recently as director of the Academy of Faith and Leadership at LTSS, Silvola also did field education at College Place UMC, Columbia, and served as a part-time local pastor at St. James UMC, Columbia.

Now, one of her teachers at Terra Nova has contracted malaria, and a disease Silvola had always known from a distance became personal.

The teacher, Elijah, teaches art at Terra Nova twice a week. When he arrived one recent Monday, Silvola could tell immediately he was not well.

“His eyes were filled and weakness and discomfort,” she told the Advocate. “I knew something was wrong and asked if he was okay. He told me that he had malaria, and did not feel well.”

In spite of his condition, Elijah carried on and taught art class, not wanting to let the children down—and, Silvola imagined, not wanting to forfeit part of his pay for the month.

But after Elijah left that day, Silvola became consumed with worry about him.

“I know that malaria can be fatal, and I was fearful of this possibility,” Silvola said. “It impacted me deeply to consider the possibility that this preventable disease could potentially kill someone I have grown to care about.”

Elijah was one of the lucky ones. He was able to get medication to treat the malaria early enough, Silvola said, and he is now healthy and strong again.

“However, had he not been able to access the needed medication in a timely fashion, I may not be sharing the same happy ending today,” she said.

Uganda is one of many sub-Saharan countries in Africa that is hard-hit by malaria, a mosquito-borne disease that has claimed the lives of millions, particularly children, the elderly and pregnant women. Every 60 seconds, a child in Africa dies from malaria, and in Uganda, the disease is the leading cause of mortality.

The South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church is joining in the denomination’s $75 million initiative to fight the disease, Imagine No Malaria, and has committed to raising $1 million over the next year in support. To date, the UMC has raised $68 million, and South Carolina has played a role in that.

“Witnessing the power of malaria firsthand was a startling reminder of how incredibly fragile life is here in Uganda,” Silvola said.

For her part, she takes a malaria prophylactic daily and will continue to for the duration of her time in Uganda; she and her husband will be there until at least mid-January, helping the school renovate a newly acquired school property and run their holiday break soccer academy.

“But many, if not all, of our staff at Terra Nova have had malaria at least once in their lives,” Silvola said. “I am told it is a miserable illness, making you incredibly sick for days.”

Silvola said she is grateful for the work of the UMC to combat what she called “this terrible, yet preventable, illness.”

“It is encouraging to see the results of their efforts to this point, and I long for the day that the work will be complete—a time when the children of Uganda and other countries in Africa do not even know the word malaria, because it is no longer a threat in their lives,” she told the Advocate.

Across the state and world, individuals and churches are stepping up and giving what they can to the Imagine No Malaria initiative. One hundred percent of the funds go to Imagine No Malaria initiatives focusing on prevention (bed nets given to families), treatment (improving and equipping hospitals, medication and setting up clinics in rural areas), education (training health workers) and communication (reaching out to the community with information on how to prevent malaria, identify symptoms and get treatment). They are focusing on sub-Saharan Africa because that is where 90 percent of the deaths occur.

In just six years, the UMC has been able to reduce the number of deaths by malaria from one every 30 seconds to one every 60 seconds.

“There are an abundance of reasons why every United Methodist should contribute to the Imagine No Malaria campaign,” Silvola said. “First and foremost, you should give because human life is a precious gift—a gift that is all too often cut short when children and adults alike contract malaria and are not able to receive life-saving medical treatment. There are innumerable threats to life on a daily basis in Uganda, but malaria does not have to be one of them. Why on earth would we not want to be a part of such important work—work that literally saves lives every day?

“We can all be a part of God’s work in every corner of the world if we are willing to share just a bit of our abundance.”

Across South Carolina, conference leaders are making personal donations to combat the disease. Bishop Jonathan Holston, his wife, Felecia, and the Extended Cabinet—including all 12 district superintendents—have pledged to give a combined total of $20,000 to the Imagine No Malaria initiative, with varying amounts going to each local church in their district that will be used as seed money to ensure 100 percent participation in the conference’s undertaking.

As well, Conference Lay Leader Barbara Ware challenged all district lay leaders, the conference president of United Methodist Women, the conference president of United Methodist Men and the conference director of Lay Servant Ministries to match her pledge.

Marlene Spencer, conference president of United Methodist Women, is one of many who plans to match that challenge.

“I believe in the Imagine No Malaria campaign,” Spencer said. “The donation that I give is an opportunity for me to make a difference in the lives of many children who go to bed hungry or who do not have nets to protect them from the malaria-bearing mosquito. And it's a great way to spread some joy to those in need and to create more joy in my life.”

Spencer has now challenged her local unit of United Methodist Women to double what they pay to the campaign, as well.

“It’s our way of putting faith, hope and love into action for a very worthy cause,” Spencer said.

New S.C. Imagine No Malaria Advent devotional booklet free for every church, pastor

Also, Imagine No Malaria task force members have dreamed up a new way this Christmas for South Carolina United Methodists to have more of a heart for those affected by the mosquito-borne disease.

The team has developed a South Carolina Imagine No Malaria Advent Devotional Booklet that they will distribute for free to every pastor and congregation throughout the conference.

“Here’s a gift to your congregation to use, and pastors, you don’t have to create it,” said the Rev. Terry Fleming, pastor of New Beginnings United Methodist Church, Boiling Springs, who spearheaded the project. “You can print one or a hundred copies, and all you have to do is receive it. It celebrates the Advent season and gives the focus repeatedly to Imagine No Malaria, and at the same time involves clergy and laity all over the conference. It’s going to be a wonderful tool.”

The booklet runs throughout Advent, from the first Sunday, Nov. 29, to Christmas Eve, Dec. 24. Devotionals are written by a variety of voices, including Bishop Jonathan Holston, several district superintendents, youth, local pastors and even Gov. Nikki Haley, who is also a United Methodist.

“It’s set up as a booklet, and any local church can print it,” Fleming said.

He and the rest of the task force hope churches will be able to use the devotional booklet as a tool.

It will be emailed to pastors shortly, as well as posted online at Churches are also welcome to personalize the booklet with devotionals of their own; they are invited to email Fleming directly to request a copy they can change at [email protected].

To learn more about Imagine No Malaria or to help, visit

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