by: Kelley Ritsema, CU Class of 2013 & Former Member of the CU Women’s Soccer Team
Until the first Night of Nets event I participated in, I was completely unaware of how deadly and widespread malaria is in Africa. Quite honestly, I didn’t know it still existed, let alone to the magnitude that it does there. It blew my mind that a child per minute dies from malaria, and that it is the leading cause of death for children under the age of 5. That first event opened my eyes to a need so great, led to a surprising call from God, and after much prayer took me across the world to learn more about it. Taking a step such as this, entering into something much bigger than myself, has changed my life.
A year and a half ago, I sat in a circle with an African family outside their home in a very remote area of Zambia. When I was in Africa I barely worried about getting malaria. I was taking the medicine, sleeping under a bed net, and if the worst happened and I came back with it, I felt like I would be fine because I was minutes away from great healthcare. Well there I sat, facing a family with none of this. And they felt the worst of it. Their son Alex died of malaria when he was under 2 years old. I can’t think of a more heartbreaking and humbling moment in my life than when I sat as a complete stranger listening to a mother tell us about the death of her son. I can’t describe how hard I was hit by everything I take for granted. Even more heartbreaking is the fact that the root cause in this scenario was completely preventable. Malaria is a preventable disease that can be stopped by eliminating the risk of a mosquito bite. A bed net can do just that.
In light of this experience in my life, the idea that $6 could save a life became so much more real for me. Yes, I had loved being a part of Night of Nets up until this point. It is an amazing cause and of course I wanted to give up $6 and play a soccer game for the cause. And then I went to Africa. And a lot more passion for this Night of Nets event was stirred up. I could no longer approach this event like before. With the knowledge of what remarkable, life changing capabilities could come from this event…I knew I needed to take steps to do more. I needed to go all in.
Yet despite feeling this way, I sometimes feel like I am at a loss for how to convey my passion for this event and this cause in a way that people can relate to. And this is one of the things I love about God, when He steps in to remind me that this is in no way about me. It is all about glorifying Him through fulfilling what I believe to be a key part of our relationship with Him; to care for other brothers and sisters in Christ, our fellow children of God. I know that not everyone has had the same experience that I have. Not everyone can understand how it feels to see the devastating reality of malaria first hand like I did. Ever since going to Zambia I have struggled with how I can best explain to others how God used what I experienced there. Why do I want my family, friends, and anyone else I know to understand this? I guess because I think they should feel the same way too. My desire in writing this blog is to convey as clearly as possible that I believe God has shown me that no matter how much or little you may know about Africa, malaria, or a family in the middle of nowhere Zambia…He has given us the unique opportunity to save a life. I think everyone should be able to get behind that 100%. A disease that is completely preventable should not continue to take lives. God calls us to care for the needs of others, and there is a huge need across the world we have been called to meet. What I love about God is even though there is great pain, suffering, and need in the world; there is so much of His hope, love, and care to be poured out. And what an amazing blessing He has given us to be a part of carrying this out. I have also seen that beautiful reality, and that is why I wholly believe that everyone should dare to step into something bigger than themselves, altering millions of lives for the better. That’s why I think everyone can and should be part of Night of Nets…