By: Amanda Willis
Growing up in Sierra Leone, Judith Banya lived like one of the many malnourished children that appear in TV commercials. Eventually, at the age of 13, she was put into a boarding school where she was given three meals a day, had her own bed, and flourished. The school was run by missionaries—and it was there that she discovered she was called to a similar type of work.
In 1995, Banya left Sierra Leone during the nation’s long and brutal Civil War and came to Minneapolis. But despite what she had witnessed and experienced, she knew that she would one day return to help others—and, with the support of United Methodists in Minnesota and beyond, she’s done just that.
“I always wanted to go back and be a missionary to my people because missionaries are the ones who saved me from hunger and disease and gave me an education,” she said. “It’s what God had in his heart for me to do.”
Once in Minneapolis, Banya attended Simpson UMC. She met Rev. Rick Ormsby, who eventually became her mentor and helped her through the process of becoming a pastor. Banya was ordained in the Minnesota Conference and served Wheelock Parkway UMC (now Wheelock UMC) in St. Paul and Alden UMC. But she returned to her home country in 2014 and was appointed to the small, poor village of Baiwala, where she grew up.
Since then, Banya’s work—supported in part by OC Ministries, a non-profit mission of the Minnesota Conference—has made a substantial impact. She receives $2,000 a month to oversee various efforts, including feeding more than 500 children one meal each day, Bible studies, adult literacy and basic computer classes, and three church services.
Her ministry is growing quickly, and her next goal is to build a United Methodist middle school. Her first step was to build a house where missionaries can stay while working to build the school—and that house is nearly finished.
“The next thing I want to do is have a school like the one where all of these good things happened to me—a middle school with boarding for both boys and girls,” she said.
She estimates the school will take about five years to complete. About eight OC Ministries volunteers will travel to Baiwala from Feb. 2-19, 2017 to work on the school, which will begin with digging a foundation. Because the school will benefit children from throughout the community, the village is providing all of the raw materials for construction, including handmade bricks. When the school is finished, it will house at least 100 children.
Marc Belton, a former General Mills executive, has pledged to donate about $150,000 to fund the middle school, and he and his wife have built three others already.
Individual churches in the Minnesota Conference have also been key to helping Banya with her ministry. Pine Island UMC purchased, shipped, and paid taxes for a pick-up truck, which is used to take people to the hospital, gather food supplies, and meet other transportation needs. Meanwhile, Rosemount UMC donated enough money to build a well that the whole community now uses. Some churches from outside of Minnesota also fund Banya’s work.
Banya is working to assemble a core group to advance the ministry, but as more people and villages hear about her work, she will need additional help to be the hands and feet of Christ. Sierra Leone Bishop John K. Yambasu has challenged her to plant new churches throughout her area.
“One person can’t do it,” she said. “God always keeps the vision to one person, but the work should be done by many people. My biggest hope is to have this core team of people that can carry out the mission and continue to share the word of God and draw people to the church and continue other ministries.”
If you or your church would like to donate to Banya’s ministry, checks can be made out to the Minnesota Annual Conference, c/o OC Ministries — Judith Banya, 122 W. Franklin Ave., Suite 400, Minneapolis, MN 55404.
To learn more about Banya’s work, contact Ormsby (507-356-4984 or firstname.lastname@example.org) or Jerry Gilman (612-963-6793 or email@example.com).
Amanda Willis is communications associate for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church