Dear Partners in Ministry,
I heard on the radio the other day a fascinating story about the dedicated efforts of a scientist to pursue a possible way to wipe out Dengue fever. I was so taken with the story, as reported by Benjamin Arthur, that I actually checked it out further on the internet. I want to share it with you.
Dengue fever is a terrible disease transmitted by infected mosquitoes which sickens millions and kills thousands. There is no cure. There are no drugs to treat it. There is no vaccine for it and no way to prevent it. It lasts 10 days and includes high fever, terrible pain in the muscles and joints and a horrible headache. As a topical disease researcher by the name of Steven Williams put it, “It’s pretty much the worst disease I’ve ever had. It was no fun.”
An Australian scientist by the name of Scott O’Neill has spent the past 20 years on a quest to defeat this disease. His quest began with the idea of infecting mosquitoes with a naturally occurring bacteria called Wolbachia: a bacteria that can’t transmit the virus that causes dengue. Once mosquitoes infected with the bacteria are released into the wild, nature will take care of spreading it! Mosquitoes reproduce at a phenomenal rate and would pass the bacteria on, eventually leading to 100% of all mosquitoes no longer able to transmit dengue. At least that’s the theory!
But to pursue this idea involved incredibly frustrating work. The problem? Scott couldn’t figure out how to infect mosquitoes with Wolbachia. He discovered that in order to get the bacteria into the mosquito he had to puncture a mosquito egg or embryo about the size of a poppy seed with a hair-thin needle containing the bacteria, looking through a microscope the entire time so that he could see what he was doing. It is incredibly frustrating and tedious work with a very low success rate. Finally, in 2006 one of Scott’s graduate students told him he thought he’d finally succeed in infecting a dengue mosquito with Wolbachia. Instead of celebrating, Scott and his fellow researchers held off because, as Scott put it, “(I thought) this looks good but I’ve been burnt thousands of time before. Let’s go and do it again, and then do it another time, and check and check and make sure it’s actually real.”
When things looked good, his team released infected mosquitoes into a community and they are measuring the results. As of the second release Scott said “it’s not yet time to celebrate but the results are promising.” What results are he looking for? A decline in cases of dengue fever in those communities gradually being taken over by the Wolbachia infected mosquitoes.
Can you imagine the fortitude to follow through on something like that? What’s behind such devotion, such commitment? Scott O’Neill simply said he thought it was a “good idea” and he didn’t expect to have many good ideas worth pursuing in his lifetime so…he’s devoted 20 years of his life to this tedious and frustrating work with no sign that he will be successful in his pursuit. When asked he admitted that it takes being a bit obsessive and maybe even a little ill in that regard to maintain the pursuit of his “good idea”. Who could argue with the worthiness of his goal: to eliminate dengue fever!?! What perseverance in the face of long term frustration with no guarantee of success! Let us pray that his quest is rewarded with success for the sake of the millions who suffer and will suffer and the thousands who are dying and will die if it isn’t.
I find stories like this extremely fascinating, truly humbling and very inspiring.
It certainly puts the challenges we face as we do the work of our Lord in our congregations into perspective, doesn’t it?
Here we are the blessed people of God. We’ve been promised the empowerment of the Holy Spirit and given the highly valued work of sharing the saving love of God by serving those around us. We are charged with the task of sharing our experience of God’s saving presence in our lives so that others may come to know God as well, becoming citizens of God’s kingdom. And yet we get discouraged and turn negative when we can’t see dramatic and immediate results from our efforts? Or when what we need to do is simple, even tedious. Much like the task of inserting tiny needles into mosquito embryos for years and years, the work we do for our Lord often seems inconsequential and ultimately hopeless. So what keeps us going? Just as Scott O’Neill has the vision of a dengue free world to keep him going, we have a vision of the new creation being worked out by our God through the work of his church to keep us going.
We have been entrusted, not with just a “good idea”, but with the “greatest idea of all time” – God’s plan to save the world that he loves through his Son, Jesus Christ. And we are a part of that plan, called to be messengers of this good news. In addition, Jesus has promised us that we will never be left alone, abandoned in our work or forsaken; that our savior will accompany us on our way. We are even given the source of divine power to sustain us in our work: a power that works in us all the things that we need to persevere: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We have been infused with the very Spirit of God so that sin, death and the devil are powerless to snatch us out of God’s hands, to deny us our place in the new creation.
That’s what we need to remember when we feel as though our efforts aren’t accomplishing anything. That’s what we need to turn to when we find ourselves turning negative and feeling hopeless. Summertime might seem like a time for our work as God’s people to slow down and take a back seat to other seasonal activities but it’s actually a great time to reach out into our communities. When we’re out mowing our lawns, walking the dog, tending the garden or getting some sun at the pool take the opportunities provided to build relationships with your neighbors, talk positively about things happening at the church and always remember to INVITE! Invite them to worship or to anything else going on at the church: Bible School, picnics, Bible Study, community outreach events, etc. Let’s face it, that’s infinitely easier than infecting mosquito embryos!
I was involved in a discussion about outreach at one of our PLUM congregations when a man spoke up and said, “It all depends on how much we value the promises of God, doesn’t it? That’s what will or will not motivate us to get out there and share what we have been given with others!” It’s not tedious microscopic work with needles and mosquito eggs in the hope of wiping out the cause of a disease. It’s the work of sharing the Word of God which has life giving, life sustaining power for those who are dying.
The Good News of Jesus Christ isn’t just a “good idea” worth devoting 20 years of our lives. It’s God’s “saving Word” worth life itself! Let’s act on it!
Pittsburgh Lutheran United Ministries (PLUM), 405 Kennedy Avenue, Duquesne, PA 15110 412-466-7773