Saturday, February 28, 2009

Gacaca... and a sad story...

Gacaca (pronounced as Ga-cha-cha) is a traditional dispute resolution system in Rwanda. Since the genocide 1994, the Rwandan government has struggled to administer justice to hundreds of thousands of genocide suspects. A UN court was set up in Tanzania to try high level suspects. The regular Rwandan courts began processing the rest. But they were soon overwhelmed. So the government adopted a traditional form of dispute resolution into a grassroots apparatus for trying genocide cases. It has been a legal experiment, mostly successful but here and there injustice and side effects exist.

I have a case right at the bank. One of the directors, who is a Hutu, has been tried at Gacaca for many years. Last year, he was found not guilty and he thought it was the end of the fiasco. This year, however, he was tried again and was charged to the second degree that is a pretty serious charge. He chose to flee the country and sent in his resignation via e-mail. He explained in his long e-mail that he did not kill anybody and rather hid a lot of Tutsis in his house.

I do not know the truth whether he was involved in the genocide or not, let alone whether he killed people or not. The fact of the matter is that he had to give up everything, his job, his family, his property, to save his life. He was asking for help... and I did not know what to do... except prayer. He is 60 years old and I am not sure how he will be able to live overseas as a fugitive.

I do not know why the genocide had to happen in such a horrible way. But, I have to believe that God is able to turn the human's evil intent and acts into His goodness. Obviously the genocide was acts of the devil and all the international community turned their back against it. Sad. But it is the reality.

God, I am so glad that you are the only truth. May your mercy be upon him as he tries to find a life as a fugitive. Not knowing the truth, all I can do is seeking your mercy. Oh, Lord... Be merciful. - Jeffrey

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A visit to Southern Region...

Last week, Wednesday, I visited credit offices in Southern Region: Muhango (used to be Gitarama), Ruhango, Nyanza and Ntyazo (can you try to pronounce it?). Vincent is the regional manager. I repeated the importance of transformational impact that they are doing and asked each one of them to talk about their stories. Their stories are not very well presented now, but as time goes by they will be more conscious of it and will be able to articulate the stories. At least I am meeting them individually and listening to their grievances and suggestions also. I decided to buy some sodas for them. Fanta, Coca Cola, Sprite in the glass bottle. Remember?

For lunch, we went to a motel. Motel? Well, they serve food and motels/hotels are where they go for decent food. RWF1,500 per person or $2.70. It was sort of noodles with sauce and a couple of pieces of beef. I ate it all whether you like it or not, remembering a missionary's prayer:

"Lord, wherever you lead me, I will follow.
whatever you feed me, I will swallow."

The last stop was Ntyazo. It took us more thant two hours to get to Nyanza, but on a paved road. From Nyanza, it took us another 40 minutes to Ntyazo, but on an unpaved narrow road. Later I found out from the map that we went all the way down very close to the border with Brundi and Tanzania. When we pulled into the village, it was a market place crowded with a lot of people. It was a huge crowd. It was unbelievable. Why so many people in this village deep in the mountain? It was a market day, but so crowded! I asked why? Apparently it is a place where all farmers in the surrounding areas come for trade. We have two loan officers. Can you guess how many clients they serve? Together they serve almost 1,200 and they cannot take any more. They ask for help. No brainer. I asked the regional manager and the supervisor why not adding more people? They replied that they asked for two more loan officers and their request has been on hold until I arrive. I see... We will take care of it, I said.

On the way, I felt like I was in one of the villages in Kangwon-do province.. back in the sixties or seventies. The scenery is pretty much the same... except that the people have dark skins with pretty uniform hairstyle. You know what I mean.

I intend to visit all credit offices and meet all loan officers because they are the faces of UOB. They are in the frontline of UOB. Apparently, they have been neglected for some reason. Although most of them are working for UOB with a mission, they are humans and they have been discouraged at times. It needs to fixed. For His goodness.

Please pray that:

* the Lord will give me wisdom in reorganizing the bank's structure;
* the Lord will give our staff open-mindedness to the change that is soon to come; and
* the Lord will give all of us a sense of direction in unity on various issues. - Jeffrey

Kimironko Market...

Kimironko Market is the central market where you can buy fresh vegetables, fruits, fish and many household goods. It is an open space with the roof on it. It is a Rwanda version of Jungbu Market in Seoul. One of our Saturday routines is going to the Kimironko Market. We buy all grocery items there to live for a week. I have been there twice and each time it is a thrill. Let me tell you why.

[<= This is the shopping helper, No. 85.]

When you pull your car into the crowded market place, a bunch of young guys rush to you, shouting at you in Kinyarwanda. Without knowing what they are saying, it would be scary. But they are saying that they will watch your car and they will help you with your shopping. Of course I was informed in advance so I acted like a pro. I picked one for watching the car and another for helping with our shopping. I picked number 85 for the shopping helper and number 96 for the car watcher last week. What is interesting is once you pick the guys, all others withdraw like an ebb tide. It must be their rule.

Frankly, I am not sure what the guy who is supposed to watch the car is doing, but it is a local custom to help them earn some money. After all, I paid him about 35 cents and he is very happy. I suppose he is protecting the car from any damage. Or, if you do not hire a guy, your car is more likely to be exposed to some damage. Get it?

The shopping helper is helpful, though. He carries the bags, helps find the items you are looking for, interpretes the price and help negotiate the price. Do I really need the help? No... we can get by without the helper, but it is a way of helping them earn some money. How do we get by? I can carry the bags. It is not an enormously huge place so it is not impossible to find the items you are looking for once you get used to the place. We use the calculator to show the price they want and we want to pay, and negotiate. Yes or no is a simple expression. Universal. There could be situations that require some creativity, but it is possible to figure it out. Example? Sure.

Yesterday, we were looking for eggs. The helper (No. 58) did not understand what we were saying. So I immitated the chicken sound and made a little circle with fingers. Then he said "Amazi." That is how we communicate. At the end, we paid him 500 Rwandan Francs, about 90 cents. He is very happy and asking me to hire him again.

Before you pulled out, a parking attendant showed up and asked for money. RWF100, about 18 cents. He issues a receipt. I say, "Murakoze, cyane." (Thank you very much.) Pulling out of the market place is another challenge because there are motorcycles and people all around you. Without help or audacity to be bold, it is pretty difficult. The parking attendant was nice enough to help me out. As I drove out of the market... slowly... slowly... Kristin and I exhaled a sigh of relief and said. "We made it again!" How much did we spend? Approximately $38. Not bad, huh?

You can buy similar stuff in the city, but they are not as fresh and obviously a lot more expensive. Also, we feel like helping the farmers more directly rather than a rich guy who owns the market in the city. Sounds strange to hear me saying a supermarket owner a rich guy? Well... it is all relative.

Kristin washed all items with chlorine before she put them into a small refrigerator. She feels now rich with a refrigerator-full of food. We are ready for another week. Praise the Lord! - Jeffrey

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Devotion Time at Work...

I have already written before that we hold two devotion times every week: Mondays and Fridays. In the regions, they hold their own and at the head office we hold it in the backyard.

It is great that we begin the work week with the worship and end the week with the worship. They sing Kinyarwandan songs. I do not know the meaning, but I am able to lipsing about 75%. I am getting more used to the pronumciation. There is a choir. They sing a song or two, and it is beautiful. They memorize the lyrics. Sometimes they sing even without musical instruments. They practice after work or over the weekend, giving their talent as well as time, at the work place. Their rythmical swing is so smooth. Music is so natural to Africans. They are precious: Odette, Rosine, Francine, Solange, Dorothy, Marie, Lydia, Pelagie etc.

During the message time, a bilingual employee usually sits next to me or any other non-Rwandan guests for interpretation. Usually Daniel, Transformation Manager, is my interpretor. Among the speakers, I like Orren, the Kigali Regional Manager. He is an ordained pastor. He delivers the message about 2-3 times a month. I have pledged to speak at least once a month.

Somday I would like to be able to not only listen to the message in Kinyarwanda but also preach in Kinyarwanda. It is a challenge because it is a difficult language, but Lord's willing, I will be able to. Kristin and I will start taking lessons from Wednesday next week. The teacher's name is Silas. He is also an ordained pastor. I really look forward to the lessons. - Jeffrey

A newly wed couple...

I went to a wedding last Saturday, February 14. It was the wedding for one of the bank employees. They were lovely. The wedding ceremony was contemporary and presided by a pastor, so there was no real excitement. But the ceremony was conducted in a way that must have given them a great meaning because they all memorized a lot of phrases. Moreover, it was the Valentine's Day.

In Rwandan culture, the groom has to send a cow or two to the bride's parents to marry their daughter. So it is costly to get married. Charles, the bank employee, had to borrow money from the bank to send the cow. Many cannot afford the cow so they choose not to get married. Some suspect that this custom will gradually disappear. Until then, however, it is a great burden to all grooms in Rwanda. Moreover, the process of sending the cow is not easy. It takes a lot of haggle and negotiation for the value of the groom and the bride side also negotiates back with more haggle and negotiation. This taks approximately three hours, they say. Elderly people take it more seriously than young people.

After the wedding, I realized that they were hugging three times when they were greeting each other. So I hugged the groom three time crossing the faces. It is a Rwandan way... - Jeffrey

Ipikipiki or Imotor or Motorcycle Taxi...

You can find a lot of things that you are familiar with in Kigali, but not this one.

It is Ipikipiki or motorcycle taxi.'pikipiki' comes from the sound of a motorcycle. All motorcycles are one size at 125 cc and one style. It will take you where you want to go, but only one person can ride. So if you are a party of more than one, then you individually will have to ride a different motorcycle. It will cost you Rwandan Franc 300-1,000 (60 cents to $1.8) depending on the distance in the city of Kigali. I would really like to try it, but Kristin is warning me that I will not be covered by the insurance if I get involved in an accident. It looks a little scary, but everyone is riding it. Man and woman... young and old... in skirts or in suits... Yes, they all share one helmet and yes it is usually hot and humid here. So... yes the helmet is most likely smelly and sweaty. Well... it is a culture and a custom. Tourists are riding it. Do you want to try it?

- Jeffrey

Saturday, February 14, 2009

My Colleagues in East Region...A Touching Story

[<=The Gahini Office staff]
[=> The Ngoma Office staff. Gaudiose is far right]
[<= The Rwamagana Regional Office staff ]
[=> Meeting at the Rwamagana Office ]
On Wednesday and Thursday (February 11 and 12), I visited five credit offices in the Eastern Region, where UOB's loan officers meet and invite their clients for group meetings to disburse loans and collect payments. I met a total of 24 colleagues including one regional manager, Beata, four loan officer supervisors, and 19 loan officers, mostly women.

After I talked about economic, social and spiritual aspects of transformation, I asked each and everyone of the people to talk about what they have witnessed in their fields. I heard many touching stories and praise the Lord for His work through these people.

I cannot talk about all stories, but let me share one of them. Here is the story about Esperans from Gaudiose in the Ngoma Office.

Esperans became a widow when her husband died of AIDS. She was left with six children. She had to do men's work to make a living. In this country, no women are doing such hard construction labor work for living. One day, Gaudiose was passing by and found her doing the hard work. She invited her to one of her "Community Banking Group." Reluctantly she came because she did not have any decent clothes she can wear in a public place. But after she found out that the meeting started and ended with prayer, she was so delighted since she stopped going to church because of her poverty. She first borrowed $30. With the loan, she bought some fruits from the farm and started selling them in the market as a peddler. After four months, she paidd the loan back. She then borrowed $60 to expand her business. She paid the loan back also. After several cycles, she has secured a retail store and started a new line of business of selling dairy products in addition to selling the fruits. Now she is borrowing $800.

During the period of two years, she has been able to improve her life tremendously. She now can feed her children without too much trouble and has a store to do the business, without having to go to the market, leaving her young children. She has started going to church again on Sundays. She is an active member of her "Community Banking Group", providing assistance for those who are still struggling. What was so amazing was that she started adopting orphants in the village as a way of sharing the love she has experienced through Urwego, now two but she intends to adopt up to six. In Rwanda, there still are a lot of widows and orphans in the aftermath of the genocide and becausse of the poverty and AIDS. What a blessing it was to witness how God was working in the lives of Esperans. Indeed it is a holistic transformation story through microfinance. Praise the Lord!

I shared my deep gratitude for what they do and I promised to improve their working environment because none of the offices had access to internet or e-mail and they had to carry all their work to remote places for processing. We will soon distribute motorcycles for the offices, but it is not going to be a permanent solution. We are thinking of introducing mobile banking, using a customized bus to go to the towns and villages for their banking. It is another story to be shared later.

They also expressed their gratitude for my coming out to meet them because this is their first experience to meet and talk to the CEO. I promised that I would be more readily available.

Please pray that:

* I will be under God's abundant grace to meet and learn from all credit officers in the field;
* I will be under God's divine wisdom to learn, analyze, and make decision on various issues according to His will; and
* I will be under God's faithful guidance to find ways to bring solutions to many issues. - Jeffrey

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The First Week and the First Lord's Day in Kigali...

[<= This is the head office of Urwgo Opportunity Bank where my office is located.]

A week has passed by in Kigali. It was a hectic week that has flown away like at the blink of an eye.

My week was full of meetings with people and busy taking over from the interim CEO. Kristin spent the week, coming up with creative cooking out of limited resources available from the market and looking for our housing, while recovering from sickness she had right before we left on Friday.

On Friday, I had an opportunity to open and share the Word with the staff at the head office. It was at one of the two devotion times that the bank holds every week. The other is held on Mondays. We all were blessed and challenged. I managed to say a few expressions in Kinyarwanda, the native language, and they all responded with applause. I expressed my desire to be able to share the Word in Kinyarwanda someday in the future, which drew another applause. Praise the Lord.

Yesterday, I practiced driving a stick shift car. In Rwanda, almost all cars are on the stick shift. So it is challenging to drive cars here since the country has a lot of hills. Rwanda's nickname is 'the land of thousand hills.' I barely managed to drive around the town, I still need more practices. Lord's willing and enabling, I will be able to drive more comfotably.

This coming week, I plan to visit the bank's credit offices in the Eastern Region on Wednesday and Thursday. Rwanda has five regions, including Kigali. Urwego Opportunity Bank (UOB), the bank I will be leading, has 27 credit offices scattered around the nation. So I will be able to see and experience the rural areas and the real poorest of the poor for the first time. Thus far my experiences in Rwanda have been limited to the city of Kigali where a decent lifestyle is still made available.

This coming week will be the first week on my own since the interim CEO handed the office and keys over to me in the Friday afternoon. On Monday, I will distribute my message to all staff in English as well as in Kinyarwanda. I plan to meet all VPs, directors, and managers individually to learn what they do and to find out what their suggestions are.

We are still hunting for a house. We have found one that we think will suit our needs. The landlord is reviewing the lease agreement that I ended up drafting. We hope to get the house since it is not too big and it will be within our budget.

Kristin has been working on our monthly budget. She has also been testing her creative cooking skills. So far she has proven to be creative enough to prepare our dining table with a lot of varieties without having to eat the same meal twice. This week she may explore some options for her future ministry opportunities. But her effort will be limited until we are settling down at a place with the household stuff expectedly to arrive on the 20th of February.

Please pray that:

* we will depend on God's grace in securing our house suitable for our budget;
* we will depend on God's wisdom in learning about the work and people; and
* we will depend on God's discernment in making judgment and every decision. - Jeffrey

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Now we are in Rwanda!!!

After a total of 30 hours in flight and transit, we finally arrived in Kigali, Rwanda at 1PM, local time. It is GMT+2 or 7 hours ahead of EST.

We were so grateful that all seven pieces of luggage arrived, although one of the luggage was badly damaged. The damage occurred probably because they had to be trans-shipped three times: New York JFK to London, London to Nairoby, and Nairoby to Kigali. Moreover, only one of the luggage was inspected at the customs office. They picked one that was full of used clothes and let us go. The customs office was small and the procedure was informal. The airport is very small, but is nonetheless called "International" airport. Naturally we were the last passenger leaving the arrival area.

Archie Mears, the interim CEO for Urwego Opportunity Bank, was waiting for us along with Wilbur, one of the bank employees. Two vehicles were necessary to load all our luggage.

This is my third time visit to Kigali, but the streets are so clean that every time I have to say, "It is so impressive!" I already spotted familiar hills, streets, buildings, and corners.

"This is the place." I murmured and my thought continued the murmurring. "It is the place to live and work... the place to seek God's grace... the place to serve the poorest of the poor... the place to fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ... the place to witness God's mighty work in healing the souls that were severely wounded during the 1994 genocide. It is also the place for Kristin and me to commit to focus on "being" rather than "doing" for the next three years... at least."

On the airplane, I wrote down a "TO BE" list for the next three years, like a "TO DO" list. Quite a long list... Kristin and I both shared that all of them were applicable to us and both have committed to working together with conscious efforts in prayer through the help of the Holy Spirit.

After unloading and unpacking the luggage at the temporary shelter, quite nice, we were physically exhausted. But our spirit was high. We sang "God is so good..." several times and praised the good Lord for His direction and protection during our journey up to this point.

Lying down on a bed, we felt quiet... so quiet that our ears were hearing the "sound of silence" even during the daytime. We felt awkward... at least initially. But soon we realized that it was what we need to get used to going forward. I remembered Richard Foster's comments about fasting..... fasting not only from food but also from media, people, entertainment, etc. Indeed we need such fasting in our lives to restore our in depth relationship with our Creator.

Praise the Lord for His goodness in leading us to Rwanda to serve Him through the people of Rwanda!

Praise the Lord for His faithfulness in making our journey to Kigali work out, long and finally after our first hearing about Rwanda and UOB in July 2007!

Praise the Lord for His graciousness in letting us handle all tasks back in the states well and bringing us safely so far to this point!

He is indeed good... indeed faithful... indeed gracious. He is worthy of our praise. Amen! - Jeffrey