A native of Wheeling, W. Va., who had never traveled outside the United States until his trip to Africa, Bickerton never dreamed he would battle malaria across the globe.
“This was one of those gifts that this office opens up, but that you can’t predict,” he says. “When Nothing But Nets came along, I had a world perspective that had been building since ’86.
“Today there’s a 3-year-old who’s going to be bit by a tiny bug and, in 48 hours, she is going to die,” says Bickerton. “She’s the reason I do what I do. When she grows up, I pray, she will have been able to see the face of Jesus in the person who gave her that bed net.
“To make the world a healthy place for every child has everything to do with what Mr. Wesley intended us to do.”
On stage at United Methodist Youth 2006 in Greensboro, N.C., Bickerton and soccer star Diego Gutierrez had just finished describing how a $10 bed net could protect an entire family from mosquito-borne malaria, which kills nearly a million African children under 5 every year.
Bickerton pulled out a $10 bill and said, “This $10 represents your lunch at McDonald’s, or your snack at Domino’s Pizza. Or it could represent a mosquito net that can save a life.”
Just as he finished speaking, Bickerton felt something hit his shoe. One of the 6,000 youth had balled up a $10 bill and thrown it at him. Soon he and Gutierrez, who played for the Chicago Fire, were barraged by currency.
“A total of $15,000 came showering onto that stage,” says Bickerton. “I told Diego that we should be glad they didn’t have any change in their pockets.”
Between Bickerton’s passionate endorsement and the grassroots appeal of Nothing But Nets, support among United Methodists caught fire.
“Bishop Bickerton saw God open a door for millions of lives to be saved through the purchase and use of long-lasting insecticide treated nets, and he helped the United Methodist Church walk through that door,” says Janice Huie, bishop of the Texas Annual Conference and a fellow champion for the campaign.
“He’s a visionary who is fearless in stepping out into God’s future. And he’s also a superb communicator who can paint a picture with words. When Bishop Bickerton talks about nets, people literally throw money at him.”
The success of Nothing But Nets provided momentum for the broader goal of the United Methodist Global Health Initiative.
That goal — the global eradication of diseases of poverty — was formally adopted last spring at the quadrennial General Conference in Ft. Worth, Texas, where Bickerton announced a $5 million grant from the United Nations Foundation. The grant, which included support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, was announced April 25 — World Malaria Day — as seed money for programs to combat diseases of poverty in Africa.
The goal of the UN, which estimates it will cost $330 million to blanket Africa with insecticide-treated nets, is to raise that and the billion or more it will take to eradicate diseases of poverty.