Earlier this month, Providence students participated in two days of Missio Dei events. Student Development organized a number of activities including a special chapel with Greg Wiens from Global Vision 2020.
‘Missio Dei’ is a Latin Christian theological term that can be translated as the ‘mission of God’ or the ‘sending of God.’ And, for Providence, this theme was strengthened by Wiens who encouraged students to live a life of obedience to God (1 Peter 1:14). Wiens, a Mennonite Brethren pastor who now works for Global Vision 2020, shared his story about how God called him into missions.
Wiens grew up in Domain, MB and graduated from Providence in 2005 with a BA in Biblical & Theological Studies. Eleven years ago, he read an article in the National Geographic about an invention that made eye glasses accessible to the developing world. For three consecutive nights, he had dreams that God was urging him to get involved with this project and to contact the Inventor and Oxford Professor, Joshua Silver. Silver later introduced Wiens to Kevin White, founder/executive director of GV2020 and a retired US Marine, who first began distributing eye glasses when he was serving overseas as a peacekeeper.
A friendship between Wiens and White soon developed. White took Silver’s original invention of liquid-filled lenses and came up with a new idea of using a binocular-like device to read basic eye prescriptions. Over the course of 12 years, prototypes were developed alongside of John Hopkins Hospital and the New England College of Optometry. Using adjustable dials, color coded numbers and a system of snap-in lenses and frames, White patented the USee kit, providing an easy, affordable and transportable solution for fitting glasses on the field.
“The USee kit allows laypeople to do testing and make prescription eyeglasses for about $3 US a pair,” explained Wiens. “The most impoverished people who need access to optometry and eye glasses are located within the 10/40 window. I was struck by the opportunity these glasses presented in getting me to where I could meet with the world’s most unreached people.”
In 2017, Wiens’ first trip was to Myanmar. He took a jungle trip on elephant-back to a Mennonite-run confederated coffee project where he brought 500 glasses to distribute among the rural residents. The first to receive a pair of glasses was the mother of the village leader. Her eyesight was gradually diminishing.
When she tried the glasses on, she exclaimed, “I can see the mountains!” Wiens went on to explain how the excitement over the glasses led to the first Christian church being built in that region. The local people recognized how Christians (who worshipped a different God) had been helping them with growing sustainable crops and getting access to medical care. They wanted to know the Christian God because of the love and generosity they experienced firsthand.
“USee is a tool that helps you do something dramatic. Every trip, you’ll find somebody legally blind who puts on a pair of glasses and can see well enough to drive,” said Wiens.
Wiens shared another story about a Myanmar island with 300,000 people who were openly hostile to Muslims and Christians, but when they accepted the gift of glasses, they were so delighted with the results that Wiens was able to get legal permission to start a Christian church on Monastery property.
“I can’t think of anything better than that,” said Wiens.
Clinical trials for USee were completed in 2017 and began getting recognized and awarded by organizations such as the National Geographic (for the Chasing Genius’ Award in the medical category), the Inventors’ Guild of America (for Best New Innovation Award in Social Justice) and the European Union (for Aid Exhibition Innovation of the Year Award).
In 2018, Wiens spoke in front of a televised broadcast at Madison Gardens in New York about his trip to Myanmar and GV2020 was awarded the We Works Creator’s grand prize of $1 million. This resulted in White hiring Wiens on-staff as the Faith-Based Coordinator for GV2020.
“GV2020 has reached 38 countries so far,” said Wiens. Working together with more than 20 organizations like the Mennonite Central Committee, World Vision, Operation Mobilization and individual churches has helped to expedite the global distribution of USee kits.
Since Wiens’ trip to Myanmar, he’s been to the Gaza Strip / West Bank, Vietnam, Mongolia, Cambodia, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe to name a few. On his journeys, because he’s training locals how to read prescriptions and providing them with USee kits, he’s had the opportunity to witness the positive effects it has had in sustainable project development.
“In Malawi, a portion of the income from the eye glasses was used to plant crops through drip irrigation during a time when the country was experiencing an unstable climate and shorter growing seasons because of drought and typhoon-flooding,” said Wiens. Malawi put a down payment on 92-acres of land and sought advice from Manitoba farmers so they could start growing potatoes, fruit trees and dwarf varieties of crops on 100 x 100 plots.
Wiens felt called to missions and evangelism as a young man, citing Chuck Swindoll and Ravi Zacharias as early influencers in his life. This calling led to his decision to pursue Biblical & Theological Studies at Providence. “Providence gave me the tools and the confidence to answer the questions people have about God.”
Greg Wiens’ story is an incredible example to our Providence community of what God can do even with one life surrendered to His mission call.