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A group of scholars from Operation Classroom shown during a recent fact-finding trip to Sierra Leone. Photo courtesy of Bob Coolman

Photo courtesy of Bob Coolman

A group of scholars from Operation Classroom shown during a recent fact-finding trip to Sierra Leone.

This building is being considered for academic space for Taidama Enterprise Academy located in Sierra Leone near Njala University. For nearly 30 years, Operation Classroom’s primary mission has been “To Partner with the United Methodist Church in Liberia and Sierra Leone to Improve Education.” Photo courtesy of Bob Coolman

Photo courtesy of Bob Coolman

This building is being considered for academic space for Taidama Enterprise Academy located in Sierra Leone near Njala University.

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Commentary: New directions for Operation Classroom

By Bob Coolman
Nov. 18, 2015 | VALPARAISO, Ind. (UMNS)

A recent article by Phileas Jusu, director of communications for the Sierra Leone Conference of the United Methodist Church, highlighted conversations held recently in Sierra Leone between an Operation Classroom fact-finding team and various Sierra Leone United Methodists around the concept of developing an “Enterprise Academy” at Taiama in up-country Sierra Leone, near Njala University. 

There’s no need to repeat what Phileas reported on – he did a great job of covering the conversations. 

But the question can be legitimately asked “Why is Operation Classroom striking out in a new direction?   Why not just do what you’ve always done?” 

  • Part of the answer is that we’ve been challenged by our Sierra Leone partners to think differently and come up with ways to solve the problems of poverty in the developing world differently.
  • And, a number of recent critiques of the way we do Christian mission (“When Helping Hurts,” “Toxic Charity,” “Dead Aid” and others) have caused us to take a hard look at the way we’ve engaged in mission. (Note:  These are all positive critiques focused on helping us understand how to be engaged in more effective ways.)  There was nothing wrong with what Operation Classroom has been engaged doing and lots of good things have come from that work. But if we wanted to be truly effective, we needed to take a hard look at what we were engaged in doing. 
  • Finally, every organization periodically must reinvent itself.  The world changes.  Situations change.  Funding streams change.  Markets change.  People change.  Churches change.  And, as we’ve already indicated, our understanding of how to do “effective” mission has changed. 
    HOW YOU CAN HELP

    People or churches interested in learning more about the Enterprise Academy concept can contact Bob Coolman, president/CEO of Operation Classroom at 219-405-5821 or  robert.coolman@inumc.org.

    To learn more, visit operationclassroom.org.

One thing that hasn’t changed is Operation Classroom’s mission.  For nearly 30 years, Operation Classroom’s primary mission has been “To Partner with the United Methodist Church in Liberia and Sierra Leone to Improve Education.”  And the need is just a great today as it was 30 years ago.  But it had become clear that how we responded to that need had to change for two reasons:

  • First, it wasn’t enough to just build schools, provide scholarships, and send supplies.  Those were all good things, but they weren’t “game-changers.” 
  • Second, Operation Classroom needed to find a way to energize churches back here in the U.S. (primarily Indiana.)  Like it or not, we have to understand that there is enormous competition for “giving” dollars today.  Donors want to know what they are giving to, and they want to know that there is real and lasting impact from their donation. 

Operation Classroom’s mission hadn’t changed – but we realized that we needed to be much more focused at where we were going and what we were trying to do.  Thus, at the 2015 Operation Classroom Strategic Summit in early October, the Board of Directors adopted a vision statement to provide that focus:  “To See Lives Changed, Vocations Inspired, Leadership Empowered, and Hope Realized – for the Advancement of God’s Kingdom in the World.” 

Maybe the most important part of that vision is understanding that this needs to happen on both sides of the partnership.  It’s not sufficient that it just happens in West Africa – it needs to happen in the U.S. as well.

  • If we are truly engaged in doing God’s work through this ministry, then we need to see lives changed in both West Africa and in Indiana. 
  • If we are being faithful to God’s call on our lives, then vocations should be inspired not just on the African continent, but on the North American continent as well. 
  • If what is happening is by the Holy Spirit, then leadership needs be empowered in churches on both sides of the pond. 

Thanks to our partners in Sierra Leone, and thanks to all kinds of folks here in the U.S., we think that what is being envisioned with the Enterprise Academy really does have the chance to “Change the face of a nation,” in the words of a Sierra Leonean attendee at the Taiama Enterprise Academy stakeholders meeting.) But it won’t be easy.  It’s going to take the support of a lot of churches and individuals here in Indiana.  And more than anything, it will take the dedication, passion, and expertise of our partners in Sierra Leone. 

Bob Coolman is president and CEO of Operation Classroom.