Sunday, March 22, 2009

Opportunity International Global Leadership Conference

From Tuesday, March 17 through Friday, March 20, I attended the Opportunity International Global Leadership Conference held in Kampala, Uganda. It is an annual conference that gathers all leadership of OI's operations scattered around the world. OI has four regions: Africa, East Europe, Asia and Latin America. Each region has several countries, totalling 32 countries and 35 financial institutions.

Africa has nine countries. They are Ghana, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique and South Africa. There are other countries where operations are being established, green field or acquisition. In this tapestry of many colors, the common thread is Jesus Christ's call to serve the poor.

The participants are from many nations and cultures, speaking many different languages. But the common language is that of the love of Jesus Christ.

A business enterprise is seeking one bottom line: profitability. OI is seeking triple bottom lines. They are sustainability, scale of outreach and transformational impact. Seeking all three bottom lines is a great challenge since they are offsetting each other to a certain extent. To focus on sustainability, the scale of outreach may have to be compromised, but it cannot be. To achieve the maximum outreach, transformational impact may have to be compromised, but it cannot be. We are called to pursue all three bottom lines without compromising on any. Again, it is a challenge, but it is a mandate to obey.

The global environment is tough and stormy. The theme was batten down the hatches to weather the storm. But the reminder was not to forget our mission to serve the poor. Between these two seemingly contradicting mandates, we have to strike the balance. It is a challenge. But nothing is impossible, Lord's willing and enabling.

The Victoria Lake was still beautiful at a tiny edge of it. I spotted several monkeys on the tree and crossing the street. I have run into a bunch of long horn cows crossing the road and blocking the cars. Uganda is called the Pearl of Africa, comparatively to Kenya's the Pride of Africa and Rwanda's the Heart of Africa.

Oh, Lord. Thank you for the opportunity of gathering together with many leaders of OI, serving the poor all over the world. Thank you for the common vision that you have given us and for the hearts to carry out the mandate you have given us. Thank you for the tough times that we are facing so that we may be made humble before you. Thank you for the determination and resilience that the leadership was showing in weathering the current storm. Thank you for the unity that we sensed in our midst with your presence apparent among us. Thank you for the opportunity that we shared our struggles and challenges to overcome them together. Thank you for the great encouragement that we all received from each other in carrying out the great calling to serve the poor. Thank you for who you are and what you have done for us all. Thank you for the great assurance that you are fighting the war that you have already won. Thank you for so many godly people who are humbling themselves before you and others to exhibit the godly characters with integrity and excellence. Thank you very much for the glory that we all hope for and you will share with us as your co-heirs. Oh, thank you, Lord... Amen! - Jeffrey

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A thought on the Market Day...

Well... back in Korea... when I was young, I remember the market day. It was a time when all merchants brought their items for sale from all over the surrounding places. The market day was held every three days or five days, and they were called as such: "Three-day Market" or "Five-day Market." On the market day, people gathered to look around, to shop, to eat, to play, to meet people or just to watch people.
In the U.S., there are farmers markets. Usually once a week and usually farmers gathered at one place to sell their produces. Other merchants also gathered to take advantage of the crowd in selling their products.

In Rwanda, they have the same market days. They are held every once or twice a week. These market days are lifelines for many poor people. If it rains on the market day, many people cannot even buy food, let alone make their loan payment. Many sell food stuff, such as fruits and vegetables. Some sell other stuff, like cooking oil, but rare. So many compete for the same customers and thus price ends up coming down. I strongly feel that we need to help them with more micro business ideas. It is the issue of micro enterprise development or MED and I intend to develop alliances with organizations and ministries from the second half of this year to expand the business options for the underprivileged.

Many bring their items in baskets on their heads. They can carry a lot over a long distance without having to hold the basket. It is an amazing act of balance. Some bring their stuff on their bicycles. Bicycles are an important transportation means to Rwandans, but they cannot ride up the hills that are so common in Rwanda. Please know that Rwanda is called a "land of thousand hills." So they often have to push the bicycles fully loaded with stuff up the hills for hours.

On one market day, I saw a barber cutting hair for people. You know Africans usually don't have long hair. And, their hair styles are pretty much the same. Shaved. Boys and girls, or man and woman, or young and old. They all have pretty much the same hairstyles. Initially, I was wondering how I could distinguish among them since they all have the same color skins and the same hair styles. But amazingly, I find myself be able to distinguish among them without too much difficulty these days. Their head shapes, their faces, their heights, their skin colors (that is right! there are many colors in black), their skin tones, their noses, their eyes, their lips, their smiles, their body shapes, etc... It is the same with any Asians or White people or "Muzungus" as they call them.

Oh what a finding you may say... but it was an enlightening experience. I remember that many Caucasians or African Americans were saying all Asians look alike. But they soon start distinguishing among Asians. I had a great argument on this issue with them, but now I am on the same boat doing exactly the same thing.

At any rate, the market day is a day of excitement, ancient or contemporary, west or east, and north or south. The same is true in Africa. It is a nostalgic experience. - Jeffrey

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Refugee Camp for Congolese...

On the way to Gicumbi, a hilltop covered with white-roof houses came into my sight. I asked Daniel, a bank employee, what they were. Daniel said they are the refugee camp for the Congolese. Gicumbi is far into the inland of Rwanda from the Congolese border, approximately 200 km. It was a little surprise to find out that the refugee camp was established this deep into the country.

It was run by UNHCR, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the U.N's refugee agency. They were transported by the UN trucks from the border. Of course, the UN feeds them, clothes them and shelter them. 

While I was listening to Daniel's explanation, a flashback memory struck me. The Congolese civil war... that is closely related to Rwanda and the 1994 genocide.

The 1994 genocide was committed by the Hutu extremists to exterminate all Tutsis on a slogan to "cut the tall trees." Tutsis are generally tall and skinny. The Rwandan Freedom fighters based in Uganda then under the leadership of the current Rwandan President Paul Kagame came in to stop the genocide and pushed the militias to the jungle in the Congolese border area. The Hutu militias in DR Congo, the official name of Congo formerly known as Zaire, started using the refugee camps as the means to attract the international community's aids. The refugees were their shield and their prey. Not only were they using the refugees, but also were they killing the Congolese Tutsis living the DR Congo. The DR Congo's government was helpless and could not keep the Hutu militias at bay.

The Congolese Tutsis had to find a way to protect themselves. So, General Nkunda mobilized his own troops as rebels to fight against the Hutu militias trying to kill Tutsis, and naturally fighting against the weak and helpless Congo government. Since they were the rebels, the DR Congo's government wanted to put them under control but with no avail. The DR Congo government ended up hiring the Hutu militias to fight against the Congo's rebels. What an irony...

Rwanda's government got itself into a dilemma. On one hand, the Rwandan government felt the threat of the Hutu militias and wanted to protect the innocent Tutsis being killed for no reason. On the other hand, no matter how weak and helpless the Congo government was, it was still a legitimate government established by a democratic popular vote. For some time, the Rwandan government was believed to have supported the Congolese rebel forces led by General Nkunda and was being criticized by the international community. 

About a month or so ago, however,  the Congolese rebel leader General Nkunda was arrested by the Rwandan troops at the border. Immediately after that, there was an announcement of joint operation between the Rwandan troops and the Congolese troops to destroy the bases of the Hutu militias as well as the rebel forces. It was a shocking news to everyone and the joint operation has been declared to be a great success recently. Nobody knows what has happened to General Nkunda, but many believe that he is probably enjoying his comfortable life somewhere in Rwanda. It is said to be an another military and diplomatic success that President Paul Kagame has achieved in Rwanda's foreign relations. He is a great strategist.

The Congolese refugee camp may soon disappear at least for a while. But the scars and wounds left in their hearts and minds will not soon disappear.  Indeed there is no peace treaty that has not been broken in the human history. There is no genuine peace without knowing and trusting the prince of peace, Jesus Christ. Amen. - Jeffrey

Elie's Commitment for the poor... Bertirida's story...

Elie is another loan officer, 26 years old. His father is a pastor and his mother is a missionary. He grew up in a poor environment. When he was attending the secondary school (high school) he was thinking he wish he could help out the poor if he were rich. After he graduated from the secondary school, one Sunday he heard of an announcement of a vacancy at Urwego Opportunity Bank. So he joined the bank two years ago.

He shared a story of Bertirida. She was living in a grass-thatched house with a leaky roof. Her husband was a drunkard and a violent man. Bertirida was providing for the family by selling vegetables from the nearby field to the market. 

She wanted to join a community banking group with UOB, but was rejected, not because of her but because of her husband. They were afraid that her husband would take the money and spend it for drinking, resulting in her inability to pay back the loan. She was crying aloud, begging for reconsideration. Elie felt sympathetic with her so he approached her to comfort her. Elie heard of the whole family story and felt obligated to do something for her. He talked to the community banking group and pledged that he will pay back if she fails to pay back. Elie spoke with her husband, explaining that Bertirida was trying to support the family, not just herself and urging him not to be violent. It was a bold move for a young man, because everyone else in the village was afraid of him, even the village president. By the power of the Holy Spirit, Elie said, he was able to be strong and courageous. Surprisingly, her husband promised to be supportive of his wife's borrowing and business. It must have been the work of the Holy Spirit!

So Bertirida was able to borrow RWF20,000, approximately $37. It was one and half years ago. She did not disappoint anyone. She paid back as agreed and kept borrowing more to finance the expansion of her small business, up to RWF150,000. After one and half years, there have been great transformation in her family's life.

She now has a house with an iron-sheet roof so she does not have to worry about the leaking. She now owns a cow and a few goats. There has clearly been an economic transformation. But it was not the end of the transformation story. Amazingly, her husband quit drinking and stopped being violent. Moreover, her husband is now helping his wife's business. Praise the Lord! What a social transformation it is!

It was not only a blessing to Bertirida, but also a testimony to her neighbors who have witnessed the transformation in her husband's life and in their family lives. 

Elie is serving 420 clients through 10 community banking groups, but he has many non-clients waiting to start the community banking with Elie because they have witnessed how godly approach Elie took changed their lives.

What kind of change can you make with $37 in your life? I was so grateful to God for Elie's commitment to help out the poor, even at the risk of his own salary.  - Jeffrey

Amazing Jean Baptist's Story...

Today I visited the bank's Gicumbi Office in the Northern Region and met with 9 loan officers, one loan officer supervisor and the regional manager. After I shared my story with them and I listened to each and every one of them about their lives and the transformation stories they have seen. Most of them are moving stories, but here is one that touched me most:

Here is Jean Baptist's story.

Jean is a young man. He was born again only a few years ago. He joined UOB in 2007 as a temporary helper and became a loan officer in 2008. Fairly new. He was assigned to Gatsibo where muslims are dominant. On the first day of his visit, he prayed for God's guide since he did not know anyone in the village. 

As he entered the village, he met a lady, namely Asnat, who was struggling with Gatsibo's muslim leadership on the charges she was getting for attending a Christian wedding. The charge was said to be worse than eating pork and the penalty was to be beaten to near death. Of course, it is only a threat since they cannot beat her up for a religious reason under the Rwandan law. Jean comforted her and calmly talked about the love of Christ that is deeper than the ocean. She listened to Jean and showed interest. A quiet beginning, but God's providence, it was.

This led Jean to being introduced to Asnat's friends and more people in the town.  One group was soon formed with 35 people. This led to another group and another group and so on. Now he is serving 340 or so clients through 9 community banking groups. Plus, 2 more groups are being formed. In about one year! I am oversimplifying the story, but what an amazing story!

I was so touched and moved by his story that I ended up bursting into tears when I was praying for them at the end of an almost three-hour meeting. I was so overjoyed by Jean's and many others' sacrificial service for the poor, for the lost and for the Kingdom. I thanked God for them and I thanked God for the opportunity to work with them. All I could say to Jean was "Take heart! Our Lord has overcome the world and He has already won the war. Keep up the good work!"

If this is not mission, what is?
If this is not life-style evangelism, what is?
If it is not holistic and integral mission, what is?

On the way back, I kept praying for Jean and all others who are in the field offices for their good works with which God will be pleased. - Jeffrey

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The P.E.A.C.E. Plan

Today I met Bob Bradberry at the church. He is the Global Field Director at Saddleback Church in California. He is visiting to follow up on one of the PEACE Projects in Rwanda.

The PEACE Plan was started by Pastor Rick Warren of the Saddleback Church to provide solutions to the giant problems of the world: spiritual emptiness, selfish leadership, extreme poverty, pandemic diseases and illiteracy.

His PEACE Plan includes Promoting reconciliation, Equipping servant leaders, Assisting the poor, Caring for the sick and Educating the next generation. These five components of the PEACE Plan are identical to what Jesus did while He was on earth.

He was the prince of peace and the ultimate peacemaker by offering His own life as a ransom for many. He chose, equipped and developed 12 disciples into servant leaders. He cared for the poor and the sick in tangible ways. He told His disciples to be like children and taught them to be teachers of the truth and fishers of men.

Rick Warren's PEACE Plan works through partnership among three institutions: government, business and church. It is because the five world problems are so gigantic that any one institution cannot solve them alone.

The PEACE Plan has a project in Rwanda, which provides adult education through a 2,000 church network. UOB is exploring to work together on their "A" project: i.e. Assisting the poor. We have the system, knowhow, and people. Saddleback Church or the PEACE Plan partners have capital and the desire to assist the poor in developing financial self-reliance with dignity and respect. We will see how the Lord develops the alliance and where He leads us. It will be done only within His will and plan in His time.

Please pray that:

* we may witness God's blessing on many churches around the world that participate in the PEACE Plan;
* we may witness God's blessing in our efforts to work together; and
* we may witness God's blessing on many projects being carried out in His name so that people may be blessed. - Jeffrey