|Operation Classroom celebrates 20 years of mission|
The Rev. Joseph and Carolyn Wagner coordinate Operation Classroom, a
United Methodist mission supporting educational and medical ministries
in Liberia and Sierra Leone. UMNS photos by Daniel R. Gangler.
By Daniel R. Gangler and Phileas Jusu*
Nov. 1, 2007 | GREENWOOD, Ind. (UMNS)
Bishop John Innis and fellow Liberians thank supporters for 20 years of commitment.
More than 400 supporters of a mission outreach to West African United
Methodists packed a suburban Indianapolis banquet hall Oct. 28 to
celebrate 20 years of educational and medical ministries in two
countries torn by civil war.
Operation Classroom was designed originally as a partnership linking
the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries and the church's Liberia
and Sierra Leone annual (regional) conferences with the two Indiana
annual conferences to upgrade secondary education in the West African
Today, Indiana’s Operation Classroom works with 15 elementary and
secondary schools, one college and two United Methodist-related
hospitals in Liberia and Sierra Leone. A medical component, called
Operation Doctor, was established in 1994.
Operation Classroom partners with United Methodists in the North
Indiana, South Indiana, Rocky Mountain, Minnesota and Holston (Tenn.)
conferences, plus congregations and individuals from 25 states.
Conferences beyond Indiana sponsor even more schools.
"You have touched and transformed thousands of lives (through this
ministry)," said Indiana Area Bishop Michael J. Coyner in his welcome
message at the banquet. "This has given hope and resolution. You have
expanded this ministry far beyond anyone’s expectations."
The Rev. Joseph and Carolyn Wagner of Colfax, Ind., were honored as
coordinators of Operation Classroom during its entire 20-year existence.
Bringing hope to turmoil
Bishop Joseph Humper of Sierra Leone called Operation Classroom "mission in a unique way."
Recalling 11 years of civil war in his country, he said, "You
renounced that war and continued to work in the midst of conflict.
Mission came alive and hope came from hopelessness. The challenge is to
go and tell the story of Operation Classroom and Operation Doctor, of a
great mission come of age. Say it with all your hearts, minds and souls.
You came to us in the midst of turmoil."
"You educate and redeem people from
darkness to light. Many would not have been educated had it not been for
your work with Operation Classroom."
-Bishop John Innis
Joining 13 other Liberians at the banquet, Bishop John Innis lauded
the mission's educational focus. "We are all proud students of United
Methodist church schools in Liberia. Our life was given by Operation
Classroom," he said. "You are the light of the world. You educate and
redeem people from darkness to light. Many would not have been educated
had it not been for your work with Operation Classroom."
Bishop Felton May, interim chief executive for the Board of Global
Ministries, pointed to the need to eradicate malaria, HIV/AIDS and
diseases of poverty in Africa. The board supports programs that combat
poverty. "It is our hope to make Operation Classroom a prototype for
every nation in sub-Sahara Africa," said May. "We have, at present,
Operation Classroom in front to educate, to heal and to make friends."
Education for the future
Operation Classroom was borne in 1987 out the vision of two
conference lay leaders: Bob Bowman of Newcastle, Ind., and John Shettle
of Orestes, Ind., both of whom attended the banquet.
Bowman issued a challenge to support students by providing
scholarships. "The mission train is running for 15 schools and 14,000
students who need supplies and tuition," he said. "These countries can
come back. Education is the only way it can be improved."
Shettle auctioned off a hand-carved nativity set for $2,350, which will provide 32 student scholarships
Margaret Ewbank of New Salisbury, Ind., a retired laywoman, was honored
for contributing $100,000 to a new Operation Classroom endowment fund.
John Shettle auctions a hand-carved
nativity set to raise money for the
Other bishops attending the festivities included retired Bishop
Arthur Kulah of Liberia and retired Bishop John Samuel of the Church of
Pakistan. Kulah helped organize Operation Classroom in partnership with
the late Bishop Leroy Hodapp and the late Rev. Mark Blaising, both of
Also present from Sierra Leone was Saffa Koroma, Operation Classroom
coordinator and head administrator of the country’s 295 United Methodist
schools, and Anthony and Jennifer Dioh, project coordinators in
The banquet culminated two days of consultation with more than 30
volunteers in mission from Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina,
Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and South Dakota who planned for future
Operation Classroom programs and expansions.
Since its beginning, Operation Classroom has renovated each of the 15
partner schools and constructed two security walls, two principals’
houses, four school buildings and established school libraries.
Operation Doctor has, among other things, constructed a surgical unit
and post-operation ward at Kissy Hospital in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
During its 20-year history, Operation Classroom has sent more than 60
construction teams and 14 counselor training teams to Liberia and
Sierra Leone and has deployed 28 people who served in West Africa from
two months to three years.
Operation Classroom also has shipped 61,000 boxes of medical and
educational supplies and equipment to Liberia, Sierra Leone and the
For more information, contact coordinators Joe and Carolyn Wagner at (765) 436-2805, e-mail email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, write P.O. Box 246, Colfax, IN 46035 or visit the Web site at www.operationclassroom.org.
*Gangler is director of communication for the Indiana Area of The
United Methodist Church. Jusu is director of communication for the
Sierra Leone Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or email@example.com.
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