By: Christa Meland
Since 1989, OC Ministries has ministered to minds, bodies, and souls in Jamaica, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Over the years, OC Ministries—a Minnesota Conference Advance Special—has completed more than 50 projects in seven countries, also including Chile, Haiti, Puerto Rico, and Uganda. The ministry was initially called “Operation Classroom,” and the “C” in “Classroom” expanded to also include Church, Clinic, Clean Water, Crops, Clear Vision, and Connection (student scholarships). Watch introduction video to learn more.
“It’s a growing movement,” said Rev. Lyndy Zabel, the conference’s director of community engagement and OC Ministries’ co-founder. “Lives are changed by participating with, not doing things for, others. We walk alongside people in the countries and communities we’re involved with.”
Here are five compelling reasons why you and your church should get involved with this nonprofit mission:
1. OC Ministries built a school in Baiwalla, Sierra Leone, and feeds 900 of its students lunch every day. Rev. Judith Banya, who was ordained in the Minnesota Conference and served Wheelock UMC and Alden UMC, heads up this ministry, which is made possible through a partnership with Feed My Starving Children. Banya and has started three churches in the area. A new 12-classroom junior high and high school is currently being built in Baiwalla, and plans are coming together for a girls’ dorm and eight housing units for teachers, which will help attract high-quality teachers to work there.
2. OC Ministries distributes $32,000 annually to Sierra Leone students in the form of scholarships. The scholarships go to students from pre-school to college who are high academic performers; 206 received one within the past year. Although most schools in Sierra Leone don’t charge tuition, students are required to have shoes, uniforms, backpacks, and various supplies—and funds for these items can be difficult for families to provide.
3. OC Ministries planted 40 acres of avocados in Browns Town, Jamaica that will support local churches and schools. They were planted in 2010, but it takes six or seven years for avocado trees to become full grown. So only in the past few years have the trees have become mature and started to produce plants. Sales of the avocados are expected to result in $20,000 annually starting in 2020. Those funds will be used to support local schools and United Methodist churches. The avocado trees have given students in Browns Town an opportunity to learn about both agriculture and business, which is an added benefit.
4. Each year, OC Ministries distributes more than 3,000 pairs of glasses in Browns Town, Jamaica. Although health care is accessible to many people in Jamaica, optometry and dental services are severely lacking, so many people with impaired vision do not receive the services they need. Annually, a team travels to Browns Town, uses an auto refractor to assess visual acuity of visually impaired people, and invites them to pick out a pair of glasses that are fitted with the proper lenses. This ministry has changed the lives of thousands of people. Starting in 2019, two teams will visit the country each year and distribute glasses in two different parts of Jamaica—Browns Town and Duncans.
5. There are a variety of ways to get involved in OC Ministries. Funding is always needed and appreciated, but another option is to go to Jamaica, Sierra Leone, Liberia, or Haiti on a work team. Nine teams will be traveling to those four countries this year alone. Teams work with local residents on projects such as building classrooms, building and working in clinics, planting crops, distributing glasses, digging wells, and working on curriculum. There are opportunities for people of all ages, abilities, and interests. Individuals and groups are also welcome to simply visit the sites even if they cannot work at one. Another way to get involved is to sponsor a student and help him or her get an education by providing a scholarship.
“It’s life-changing,” Zabel said about the work OC Ministries is doing. “OC Ministries isn’t about money—it’s about people. You really don’t know your own culture until you go somewhere and learn about another one.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church