Malaria close-up: Boo and Phyllis Hankins recall sick children in Africa

Malaria close-up: Boo and Phyllis Hankins recall sick children in Africa

Phyllis and Boo Hankins (pictured during Convocation at Lake Junaluska): Malaria is a "spiritual as well as physical battle."

Boo and Phyllis Hankins know more about malaria than most of their friends in Holston Conference.

The two pastors not only helped treat people who suffered the disease during their 2009-2011 stay in South Sudan. Phyllis and daughter Rachel experienced malaria first-hand during an earlier missionary stay in Liberia.

“It’s like the worst case of flu you could imagine,” says the Rev. Phyllis Hankins, who accompanied her pastor-husband to West Africa in 1980-86 and East Africa 23 years later. For two weeks, mother and daughter were sick with fever spikes and “pain running up and down my arms, legs, and spines.” Other symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, and headaches.

Now serving as pastors in Mountain City, Tenn., Boo and Phyllis Hankins recently reflected on their encounters with the mosquito-borne disease that annually kills 700,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa.

The United Methodist Church’s goal is to eradicate malaria by the end of 2015. The deadline for Holston Conference to meet its goal of raising $1 million (saving 100,000 lives) for the Imagine No Malaria campaign approaches in June 2013.

The Rev. Boo Hankins remembers sick children who died in Liberia and sick children in South Sudan who lived because they received medicine.

“The drugs don’t cost that much,” said Hankins, now pastor at First Mountain City United Methodist Church and Trade United Methodist Church. “Most of the time they couldn’t afford the medicine, which is so cheap to us.”

When Boo Hankins departed South Sudan in May 2011 – after a two-year stint as district superintendent in Yei – it cost about 10 Sudanese pounds to get a malaria test and medication. That’s the equivalent of $3 in the U.S.

“Our pastors didn’t have paying jobs,” said Hankins. “But Liberty Hill Church gave us some money to keep as a fund to provide medical assistance primarily for our pastors and their families.”

Liberty Hill United Methodist Church is located in Holston Conference’s Morristown District. In 2011, Boo Hankins supervised about 19 pastors in South Sudan’s Yei District, now overseen by the Rev. Fred Dearing of Holston Conference.


The Imagine No Malaria campaign will tackle the disease by using donated funds to provide protective bed nets and medication in Africa as well as health care, education, and prevention-planning.

In Liberia, Boo and Phyllis Hankins did not sleep under bed nets to protect themselves from mosquito bites, but they did sleep under nets in South Sudan. The medications used to prevent and treat malaria varied, depending on current recommendations, availability, and side effects.

“Mission teams left malaria drugs for us. We carried them in a medical bag," said Phyllis Hankins of her work in South Sudan. She now serves as pastor of the Mountain City Circuit (Valley View, Shouns, Doe Valley). 

The disease is even tougher to fight when desperately ill victims don’t have transportation to distant clinics, the couple said.

In Liberia, Boo Hankins was once asked by his landlord to drive his sick 12-year-old daughter to Ganta Hospital, located 120 miles away across dangerous territory. Hankins arranged to get the child far enough for a taxi to transport her the rest of the distance.

“Before we could get her there, she developed cerebral meningitis,” Hankins said. “She was completely unconscious and unresponsive as we were bumping along the road.” The girl died shortly.

Phyllis Hankins remembers the terrible sound a sick one-month-old baby made as her mother carried her on her back. “I never heard a child make that sound before. She was gasping for breath, really,” Hankins said.

The mother could not arrange to make the 15-mile trip to the nearest clinic in time to save her baby’s life. 

The funds raised by Imagine No Malaria will not only make medicine and medical care more available, the initiative will help educate Africans in avoiding and treating the disease, the missionary couple said.

“We tried to help them understand that malaria was caused by an insect,” Boo Hankins said of his African neighbors. “Some still believed it was caused by witchcraft. It’s a real spiritual as well as physical battle we’re facing all the time.”

Learn more about Holston's Imagine No Malaria effort at

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Annette Spence

Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newsletter.