This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

$1 million award gives pastor clear vision

Greg Wiens was a Mennonite Brethren pastor for 21 years, but since winning a $1 million award he has transitioned into full-time ministry of another kind — restoring clear vision in developing nations by distributing inexpensive eyeglasses.

His nine-year ministry as pastor of Waldheim (Sask.) Mennonite Brethren Church ended Aug. 1, with the blessing of the congregation.

Greg Wiens shares the experience of distributing glasses in Myanmar on Jan. 17 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, where Global Vision 2020 won the WeWorks Creator Awards $1 million grand prize. — WeWork YouTube
Greg Wiens shares the experience of distributing glasses in Myanmar on Jan. 17 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, where Global Vision 2020 won the WeWorks Creator Awards $1 million grand prize. — WeWork YouTube

Wiens read an article in National Geographic in 2009 describing liquid-filled adjustable eyeglasses developed by Oxford University physics professor Joshua Silver and distributed globally by U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Kevin White. The article stuck in his mind.

“I had the same dream three nights in a row,” he said. “I was reading an article in National Geographic in 2020: ‘10 ideas that never took off and why they should have.’ ”

The dream surprised him.

“I’m a pastor; I believe in the power of dreams and healing, but it wasn’t my experience,” he said.

After emailing Silver, Wiens got in touch with White, whose organization, Global Vision 2020, was distributing the eyeglasses internationally.

Wiens wanted to connect Christian organizations with distribution. He worked on fundraising and partnered with Canadian Mennonite University to take a few hundred pairs of glasses to Guatemala.

“I was passionate about it,” he said.

The initial model of the glasses was clunky. Wiens said many people who could have used them chose to go without unless their vision was exceptionally poor.

White continued to build on the initial concept until he developed the current model, called the USee. It’s a device that works similarly to binoculars. A progressive lens is adjusted with a dial that corresponds to premade lenses. This enables anyone, with minimal training, to diagnose a prescription, choose the correct lenses and snap them into frames. The process takes 10 to 15 minutes, requires no optometrist and costs less than $5.

Clinical trials for the USee were completed in 2017, and recognition and awards started to come. In front of a large screen identifying him as “Mennonite pastor,” Wiens spoke in January to a crowd in Madison Square Garden in New York City about how he had helped distribute eyeglasses with the help of Mennonite Brethren churches in Myanmar in November. The USee won the $1 million WeWork Creator Awards grand prize.

Wiens and his congregation began talking about how he might work full-time with Global Vision 2020, where he is now the director of faith connections.

Connecting with MCC

Global Vision 2020 estimates 2.5 billion people live with poor vision. Wiens is working to make a dent in that number.

“We’re really hoping 2018 is the year where we cross that 100,000 [glasses distributed] mark,” he said.

His most recent journey was to the West Bank at the end of August, coordinating with Mennonite Central Committee’s Jerusalem office to distribute eyeglasses with MCC partner organizations.

MCC Jerusalem representative Snezana Andjelic said she heard from MCC Canada’s office in May about Wiens’ project.

“I saw that that could be very useful for the children in Palestine, and I contacted him,” she said.

On Aug. 30, Wiens visited Hope School in Beit Jala, distributing 30 pairs of glasses to students and teachers. The school was founded in 1962 by MCC workers.

“Many of the children [at Hope School] have never been to the eye doctor; their eyes have never been checked,” Andjelic said. “. . . The teacher realizes, ‘Oh, he can’t read from where he was sitting because he can’t see.’ ”

She said she hoped to take the USee and the remaining glasses into Gaza after Wiens left.

“I can see that Greg’s heart is in it,” she said. “He’s really excited, and he wants to give those children new eyes. It’s really amazing to see him with such love and excitement.”

Wiens’ goal was to get the distribution into the hands of the church, not only to improve people’s vision but to provide income for church leaders.

“I think this is what God has dropped in the lap of the church. It’s one of those opportunities for church leaders to have a tent-making tool,” he said, referencing the Apostle Paul’s work to support his ministry. “One of the things holding back church growth is that their churches can’t pay them, and they’re so worn out.”

In November he plans to travel to Malawi with MB Mission, training MB pastors to use the USee and help set up an eyeglasses clinic.

“I envision helping pastors’ wives to sell glasses,” he said. “. . . I get shivers thinking about potentially feeding pastors’ children by the fruits of their mothers’ labor, which opens doors for people to find Christ.”

He hopes to connect with more Mennonite and evangelical churches and agencies to distribute eyeglasses.

“What on earth have I gotten myself into? I’m a farm boy,” Wiens said. “I literally live in the middle of nowhere. Here I am going off to travel the world. . . . I’m willing to go where God leads.”

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