What do we want?

We want our lives to have value, and purpose and significance. We want be part of something bigger than we are, something that has meaning, something that will make a difference. We want our church to help us with direction, and connection and conviction.

But in my own life, I had somehow missed Jesus’ message that “there is no greater joy than the joy of being in mission.” I had missed the message that Jesus most wants us to hear: “I have come that you would have life – and have it abundantly” and “I have told you this so that my joy might be in you, and that your joy would be complete.”

I had never come to grips with the reason we’re engaged in mission; not out of obligation, or even out of compassion – we’re engaged “in mission” because that’s where the joy is!

Aiah’s Story

Aiah Turay had never been able to go to school. He lost his dad during the “civil war” and was separated from his mother. He even had to spend time “hiding out in the bush” with an uncle to escape the so-called “rebels.” But an Operation Classroom Scholarship provided him with the opportunity to enter first grade – when he was 11 years old.

Nine years later Aiah was in Senior Secondary School, and while in Freetown, Sierra Leone, I visited Aiah. Arriving at his uncle’s home, Aiah popped through the front gate with his typical enormous grin on his face. He might have every reason to “be angry” about his circumstances, but he’s not. After a big hug, I stepped back and said “Aiah, it’s so good to see you.”

Aiah’s response was a surprise. “It’s good to see you too, Pastor Bob – but my name’s not Aiah anymore.”

“What do you mean, you’re name’s not Aiah anymore?” I replied.

Aiah responded, “I’ve decided to become a Christian – and my new name is Benjamin.”

In a country that’s 60 percent Muslim, this young man had made a life-changing decision. And somehow, God had allowed me to be used as part of the process of changing Aiah’s life.

A story worth repeating

Aiah Turay’s story is one that gets repeated again and again in Liberia and Sierra Leone. A recent report by economist/researcher Bruce Wydick in the May/June edition of Christianity Today magazine concludes that there is nothing one can do that has more potential to “change the world” than sponsoring a child. And you can do that through the Operation Classroom Scholars Program. God may be able to use you to change a life. God’s done it hundreds of times before!

The joy of being ‘In Mission’

Are there ways that we at Operation Classroom can assist you and your church in experiencing the joy of being “in mission?” All of the things that Operation Classroom has been engaged in doing through the years, such as Student Sponsorship, Project Support, Shipping and Volunteers In Mission, we’re still doing. The way we do each of those things may be a little different, because we’ve worked with our friends in West Africa to make them more effective, more functional, and more relational and less likely to create “dependencies,” but we’re still doing them – and you can be involved. You can learn more about Operation Classroom’s ministries by visiting www.operationclassroom.org.

Now, you don’t have to get engaged “in mission.” It’s not written anywhere that this is an imperative is it? Well, actually, it is. The Bible lays it out clearly. If we are to be disciples of Jesus Christ, then we’re to be engaged in His mission to transform lives – and experience His joy.

And you don’t have to be engaged with Operation Classroom. Obviously, West Africa isn’t the only place that you can be used by God to help change the world. There are many places you can do that – even in your backyard or around the corner. It’s just that I don’t know of a better place to change the world than West Africa. But here’s the part that takes guts: Don’t do this unless you’re willing to have your life changed and experience the joy of being “in mission”!

The first time I went to Sierra Leone (that’s when I met Aiah), I had no idea God was going to use that trip to change my life, but God did. Then God has used me as a conduit to change other lives – the lives of kids in West Africa. That could happen to you, too.

Bob Coolman is president/CEO of Operation Classroom, a United Methodist-related outreach mission to Liberia and Sierra Leone. He can be reached at bob.coolman@inumc.org.


God has used me as a conduit to change other lives – the lives of kids in West Africa.


That’s Aiah Turay on the left at age 12 years.

Aiah Turay today

Photos courtesy of
Bob Coolman