Thursday, December 30, 2010

Christmas Gifts for the Needy Families from UOB Staff

We are so grateful for the opportunity that UOB staff had to serve the needy families before the Christmas. UOB staff contributed RWF320,000 (approximately $520) with which UOB matched to make it RWF640,000 or $1,040. Out of this money we bought 550 kg of rice, 22 cartons of soap bars, 275 kg of sugar, and 66 liters of cooking oil.

We visited 22 families (3 widows in Kicukiro and 19 child-headed families in Masaka).

One widow is crippled (both legs) and her artificial legs broke. She has not been able to leave her bed since August 9, 2010 without help. She told us that she had prayed with her two grand children ( between 5 and 7 years) that God provide them with food for Christmas one day before we brought the gifts to them. To her surprise, there we were! She was so emotional that she chocked several times trying to thank us and God for what she had received.

The same applies to the other two widows. They were so thankful for what our staff did!!! They wept, they danced, they became speechless........Praise the Lord and thank Him for the little gift we could share with them.

The 19 child -headed families in Masaka were short of words in expressing their appreciation. The oldest among the 42 children was about 25 years old. He told us that he was worried about where to get food to be shared on the Christmas Day, as the head of all those families. He was so thankful that God cares for them and answered their prayer at the the time of their need. They were all so thankful to know that there are people who can remember and pray for them.

We gave each family one bag of rice (25kg), 17.5 kg of sugar, 3 liters of cooking oil and 12 soap bars.

May God brighten their hearts and bless them with joy and peace! - Jeffrey

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Day in Kigali in 2010...

[Kristin serving the food...... Crowded but cozy, perhaps too cozy......... Domino game we played]

In the morning, most of Korean Christians living in Kigali gathered together to worship God. It was a gathering of almost 60 people, including a dozen children. Most of them were KOICA members, but there were also a good number of missionary families.

In the afternoon, we invited Shalom Bible Study (SBS) members, prospective members and a couple of missionary families for a fellowship. We talked, giggled, ate and played games.

Three of SBS members will be leaving early January. But we will have two members newly joining and two more are interested. We are blessed with the opportunity to study God's word together to grow in Christ to spiritual maturity. A new missionary has joined our SBS also. I am certain God is working secretly to bless us more through this fellowship.

Merry Christmas to you all!

"Glory to God in the highest and peace to men who have received His favor." - Jeffrey

Friday, December 24, 2010

On top of Mt. Karisimbi (4,508 meter high)

On December 23rd and 24th, I hiked the tallest mountain in Rwanda. It is called Karisimbi at 4,508 m in height. It is one of five mountains (Muhabura, Sabyinyo, Gahinga and Bisoke) that comprise Virunga National Park, bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo. This area is where mountain gorillas are inhabitating.

[We were in high spirit before we began our journey. With the guide (Vincent) and porters]

On the first day, we left Kigali around 6AM for Ruhengeri, the capital city of Musanze District in the north. From there, we drove a little further to the Kinigi Center where you register the trip. We were a party of five: myself, Yurim (a Shalom Bible Study group member), Bohye (a Korean missionary), two young Rwandans (George and Omar) with whom the missionary is collaborating her ministry. For us, one guide and four porters were hired. Also, there were 6 soldiers who traveled all the way up to the summit and down back to the starting point to protect us from possible annimal attack, like mountain buffaloes. A $200 fee was not that expensive considering all the benefits associated with our trip.

[At the base camp after the first day hike]

We left the starting point at 10:30AM and we hiked until 2:30PM. It was a 4-hour hike. The first-day hike was through a rain forest. It was all wet and muddy. We had to wear rubber-made rain boots. Uncomfortable for the hiking, but there was no choice. Even soldiers were wearing the same rain boots. We hiked 1,200 meters in height from 2,500 m to 3,700 m. Tiring, but we were able to sustain it.

We stayed at the base camp that had only a roof cover and a wooden floor without any walls. We slept in the tents though. We arrived at the camp the mid afternoon, but we could not proceed. We had to be acclimatized to the altitude. I crawled into a tiny tent around 7PM and I rested. I had to preserve my energy. All night, there were all kinds of noises, but my intentional resting helped.

On the second day (December 24th), we woke up at 5AM and began the summit hike at 6AM with the guide and only one porter. We left all our luggage at the base camp. The summit hike was for 800 meters. Our goal was to reach the summit in 3-4 hours.

[Mt. Mekenro located in DR Congo]

We first had to go through another rain forest of a little more steep hills than the one we passed through the first day. We became more used to the hike, but it was still challenging to us. After the rain forest, we had to cross a jungle without any pathways. It was the toughest segment for me. We somehow had to manage to cross and hike up the jungle, following the guide and porter.

[This is part of the jungle we had to pass through.]

After the jungle came a steep hill with an almost 75 degree. It was more or less crawling and scrambling for us. It was above the tree line so there were no longer big trees, but only bushes and grasses. The mountain wind was blowing from our left to right. It was so strong carrying the mist of the clouds. Our left sides were all freezing. We had to hike the hill for almost an hour. It was a really challenging segment. Yurim gave up at this point because she could not handle the breathing. We could not continue more than 15 steps at a time. Each time we had to stop and control our breathing before we took the next steps. Bohye also felt like giving up at this segment, but she moved on and in fact reached the summit the earliest of us all. Hooray!!!

[Bohye was agonizing the hike in the jungle.]

All of sudden we started seeing black rocks that turned from magma when the mountain was a still active volcano. It was clear that we were getting close to the summit. The soldiers were way ahead of us, despite the rifles and machine guns they carried. They were encouraging us, saying that we were almost there. We made the final push little by little, but steadily.

At last, we reached the summit. Hallelujah!!!

We could not see anything, though, because we were in the clouds. But we were thrilled enough to be able to stand on top of the mountain Karisimbi or Rwanda. Yahoo!!!

[On top of Mr. Karisimbi]

We hugged the soldiers who traveled all the way up for us and also prayed for them as well as for the nation Rwanda. There was nothing other than a tower and it was extremely cold with a strong wind. So after taking a few photos, we had to depart the summit to get back down to the base camp.

The guide, Vincent, could not make it to the top, either. He said his lung could not sustain the height. So Deo, one of the porters, was with us all the way up along with the soldiers. He not only hiked with us but also carried a hot water container and other stuff for us. He never went out of breath and was helping the hike team members. It was amazing to us all.

The process of coming back down was also challenging primarily because of the steep hill and the jungle. But we had the excitement of the summit climb that kept us walking. It took us 2 hour 45 minutes to get back to the base camp. It was 12:45PM. We had to pack up and leave the base camp by no later than 1:30PM.

The final walk took us another 2 hour 45 minutes. It was not as difficult as the climb, but it was still not easy because our legs were aching and moreover it started hailing/raining after one hour of hike. The wet and muddy pathway became even wetter and muddier. Yikes!!!

[Bohye, George and me together at the summit. Omar later reached the top after Yurim gave up 200 meters before the summit.]

Instead of buying one, I borrowed a pair of rain boots and it was a mistake. They were apparently too old to be used for the hike. They did not have any traction and I kept slipping. After surviving 20-30 times of near slipping, I finally slipped and fell down in the muddy water. Ooooops and oooouch!!! I got all wet and dirty... Yikes.... But we had to move on.

By the time we arrived at the starting point, we were all exhausted and barely dragging our legs to the vehicle. It was 4:30PM and all in all it was 10 hours and 30 minutes since we began the day's hike at 6:00AM. The hike alone was approximately 9 hours and 30 minutes. It looked like a miracle that we were still in one piece.

[On the way down. Yurim with soldiers]

We thanked the Lord for His grace upon our journey. We thanked Him because it did not rain while we were hiking up. It would have been almost impossible to hike up with the rain boots that did not have any traction. We thanked Him also that no one was injured. We also thanked Him that most of us made it to the summit and that we even saw the snow at the summit. His creation was indeed marvelous all the way up and down. Praise the Creator God!!! - Jeffrey

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

"Borrowed Talents" at UOB

UOB currently has four borrowed talents. They volunteering their talent and time for UOB. In appreciation, I took them out to dinner at Papyrus tonight (December 21st). Papyrus is a good restaurant for its pasta and pizza. It is one of the popular hang-out places.

[Left to Right: Michelle, Adam, TJ and Austin]

I am truly grateful for them. They all are experienced in their fields and they have come to Rwanda to help us with their expertise. They are called "borrowed talents" because they are not getting paid for what they do. They are not only filling the gap of technical competence at UOB with their expertise but also they are helping build up the capacity of UOB staff.

Austin is a financial analyst from the U.S. He worked for a few banks, had his own business and interned at BRAC in Bangladesh, a well-known MFI. He is also an avid traveler. He has visited more than 60 countries so far. He is helping us develop a number of profitability analysis models. He originally came to UOB as a Kiva fellow and he has decided to come back to work more in Rwanda. Austin has been a tremendous asset to UOB.

Michelle is a Kiva fellow. Kiva is a website platform that provides individual lenders around the world with information about micro borrowers in developing countries. Their loans are channeled to the micro borrowers through implementing partners like UOB. (UOB can raise up to $100,000 a month through this platform) Michelle, an Australian, has come to Rwanda to help UOB and another MFI in implementing various projects. She is particularly good at project management and Access database development.

Adam is Michelle's life partner. He is an IT specialist. He is helping us develop a new product called "Open Sky" and test other new products. He is also helping us in documenting various IT procedures. He is also the coach for Rwanda's national cricket team. They work for a year or so and travel through volunteering. He and Michelle ride a motorcycle and they seem to enjoy their lives very much.

Teresa (TJ) is an IT specialist from Canada. She has also come to Rwanda to help us with IT projects. She has been preparing internal Service Level Agreement (SLA) and project management worksheets. She also is an avid traveler. She has been living overseas for a number of years. She bought a motorcycle for her transportation in Rwanda. She is one of rare female motorcycle riders in Kigali.

I am privileged to work with my Rwandan staff at UOB. Many are sharp, hard-working and dependable, but some still need more capacity building. There is some gap in their technical competence. These borrowed talents come into this space, filling the gap. They are truly blessing to us at UOB as well as in Rwanda. - Jeffrey

Saturday, December 18, 2010

E-Wallet Strategies for the Rural Poor...

Usually, people think of technology for the advanced countries and for the rich. Not really.

At UOB, we are going to deploy high-tech solutions to expand the outreach of financial services to the rural poor. We call them "e-wallet strategies."

E-wallet strategies will include five components:

1. Debit cards: These cards are not mag striped cards. They are chip and PIN cards. Surely they are expensive. But Rwandan government is subsidizing them for the 2011-12 period. A golden window of opportunity. We are going to deploy a significant number of cards. This would enhance the self esteem of the rural poor tremendously because there are only 2,000 or so card holders in Rwanda at present.

2. ATMs: ATMs are not new, but they are new to the rural poor. RSwitch is expected to be fully functional in different capacity from January 2011. This EFT platform will expand significantly.

3. POS (Point of Sale) banking: Again, POS is not new, but its usage will be more than making payment for the purchase of goods and services. It will be an effective tool to facilitate cash access in remote area.

4. Mobile (cellphone) banking: This is more common in certain African countries than in the U.S. You can send money, buy airtime, make payment for utility and make payment for loans via cell phone. It is getting rapidly spread.

5. Agent network: This is the network of agents working on behalf of banks. This type of banking is called "branchless or agent banking." It is another creative way of expanding the cash access points in the rural areas.

It is a lot easier to be said than done.

There are numerous challenges to overcome until these strategies are effectively implemented. Thus, I need to go to the Lord on my knees, seeking His wisdom and grace on these strategies. Oh Lord, may we seek your guidance... - Jeffrey

Friday, December 17, 2010

Silent Night, Holy Night

I am tagging on Billy Graham's blog on the topic of "Silent Night, Holy Night."

Is it possible in this contemporary world?

Do you know how the hymn "Silent Night, Holy Night" was composed?

How should we celebrate the Night silent and holy in this "not so silent night, unholy night?"

I hope this will be a blessing to you and me in this Christmas season. - Jeffrey

BGEA: Silent Night, Holy Night

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Korean NGOs for International Development...

Korea was in ruins after the 3-year long Korean War. The war went into a cease fire in 1953 and it still so remains.

North and South Korean nations have since gone in totally different directions. S. Korea has taken the route of a democratic and capitalist society while N. Korea has decided to be a communist country. Their choices after almost 60 years have produced the results in sharp contrast.

S. Korea has become one of the top 10 economic powers of the world while N. Korea remains one of the poorest countries in the world with millions of people still dying of hunger every year.

S. Korea has turned into a "giving nation" from a "receiving nation" over the past one half a century.

S. Korea is now boosting her efforts in sharing her resources with the less fortunate nations in the world. These efforts take the form of "International Development" and/or "International Cooperation."

On Thursday, December 16th, I met 7 Koreans who are involved in "International Development" from Korea. They are part of Korean NGOs, so to speak. I was encouraged by the fact that S. Korea now has 77 NGOs that are focusing on international development.

What an encouraging news and a positive sign towards Korea's evolution into a giving nation. May Korea become a generous and effective giving nation! - Jeffrey

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Kigali Tower... New Skyline...

Kigali is located on several hills and valleys. In fact, the entire Rwanda is on the hills. That is why Rwanda's nick name is "The land of thousand hills." To be exact, there are 999 hills in Rwanda.

Kigali has not had high rises. So its sky line is pretty much the same as the hill line. But it is changing.

A new office tower has been erected, called "Kigali Towner." It is a 22-story building, but because it has been built on a hill top, its priminence is apparent from all over the city of Kigali. It greets you from a distance when you are heading from the airport to the city center. As you get into the city center, you will find it right in front of you as you drive up the last hill to the city center's roundabout.

This silver-colored oval-shaped glass building not only stands out in the city, but also symbolizes the bright future of Kigali, where Rwanda will be known for its amazing economic development on top of the incredible unity and reconciliation that they have achieved in only a couple of decades after the horrible genocide in 1994. I am excited to see the future of Rwanda in advance and I am extremently grateful for His grace over Rwanda. - Jeffrey

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Loan Guarantee Agreement with BDF Signed...

BDF stands for BRD Development Fund. BRD stands for Rwanda Development Bank in French. BDF has been recently established as a subsidary of BRD to provide banks and MFI (microfinance institutions) with guarantee on agriclural loans and SME loans. BDF has taken over existing agricultural guarantee facility (AGF) and women guarantee facility (WGF) from the central bank.

On Friday, December 10th, UOB was the first one that signed the agreement with BDF.

[Shaking hands with Prosper, CEO of BDF]

Under this program, banks and MFIs may receive loan guarantee up to 50% of the exposed losses. Since the guarantee covers the risks inherent to agricultural loans and SME loans that are of high risk, this program will be beneficial to the lending institutions that are making loans to these sectors.

At UOB, this program will add strength to its pool of risk mitigating programs, including USAID's DCA guarantee program on agricultural loans and Kiva loans up to $1,200 per loan.

Oh Lord, may this program be effectivcely used to expand our micro credit program to the farmers and small businesses in Rwanda... - Jeffrey

Friday, December 10, 2010

Gathering of Christians in Kigali Financial Sector...

On Friday, December 10th, more than 200 Christians in Kigali's financial sector had a gathering in thanksgiving to the Lord who has been gracious in 2010. They called the gathering "Christian Financial Forum."
[Pastor Antoine, my pastor, and Governor Francois, my governor]

The central bank governor Francois Kanimba was the guest of honor and Pastor Antoine delivered the message. Also in attendance were acting senior director of financial stability, Joy, director of bank supervision, Francoise, and the chief economist at the central bank. I was the only non-Rwandan and non-African, but I was glad to be part of the event.

The governor said, "I am encouraged by the fact that there are so many Christians in the financial sector." He did not anticipate this big number of financial professionals gathering in the name of the Lord and praising His name, he added. He shared his own experiences in God's providence and guidance during his 10 years as the central bank governor. He said he would come next time not as the guest of honor but as a member, drawing a big applause.

Pastor Antoine delivered a message based on the life of Joseph. He described five reasons for Joseph's success:

1. He knew God and revered Him
2. He walked in integrity, always conscious of God's eyes
3. He gave glory to God in everything
4. He was innovative and professionally excellent
5. He was gracious, particularly to his brothers who tried to kill him

Pastor Antoine challenged and encouraged all participants to be like Joseph wherever we are and work. It was inspirational.

As part of the program, 16 UOB Gospel Singers praised the Lord. They are a jewel for not only UOB but also Kigali's financial services industry.

I was asked to pray for the financial sector. "Oh Lord, bless the financial sector and every Christian in the sector to walk in integrity, to be exemplary, to be professionally excellent and to be living witnesses of the gospel of love and hope..." Amen! - Jeffrey

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Young Kingdom Entrepreneurs in Kigali...

Regent Univeristy is a leading Christian school in the U.S. It established Center for Entrepreurship in Kigali, Rwanda in 2010. It offers a 16-week training program to Christian entrepreurs and its first cohort of 34 students graduated on Thursday, December 9th.
As part of the graduation program, all students presented their business plans. The Director, John Mulford, selected 6 finalists out of 34 and held a competition in public. A panel of 5 judges was formed and I was one of them. Other judges included a financial analyst from U.K., Rector for School of Finance and Banking, a U.S. business professor now living in Kigali providing business consulting for small medium enterprises and a U.S. business lawyer now working for Ministry of Justice.

To my pleasant surprise, all 6 finalists gave an impressive presentation. The areas of interest were diverse. They were:

A rapid test service for health clinics and hospitals,
A comprehenstive health clinic,
A coffee vending machine business,
A premium SMS text messaging services,
A software engineering company, and
A Christian K-12 private school taught in English

Their presentation time was limited to 15 minutes and everyone finished it in time. Every presenter had to respond to questions from the panel. We unanimously selected two winners who have received:

1. 6 months of in-kind service on accounting and management
2. 6-months of in-kind service on legal services
3. Interest-free loan for 3 years (RWF6 million or $12,000 for the first and RWF3 million or $6,000 for the second place)

I was greatly encouraged by their passion, their ideas and their implementation plans. I found great hope in them for the future of Rwanda since trained entrepreneurs are rare in Rwanda. May the good Lord continue to bless them with His divine wisdom! - Jeffrey

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Blessings through Friends and BAM...

This past week, I have been blessed and encouraged greatly by the visits of three friends who all teach or practice the relatively new Christian mission approach of "Business As Mission" or "BAM."

First, it was Dr. Caleb Kim who visited from Nairobi, Kenya. He is a missionary from S. Korea, teaching at Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology, African International University. He is a scholar in Anthropology and an ordained minister. He has been living and ministering in Africa for the past 20 plus years, through field ministry and teaching. He is also teaching at the Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California. His heart for Africa and compassion for African people are enormous. He is a good friend, a brother in Christ and a member of Integral Mission Alliance together. Business As Mission or "BAM" is among many topics we share our views on together as the necessary approach that we need to advance His Kingdom on earth, particularly in the unreached world. Oh what a blessing it was to share God's vision together and to encourage each other! [Picture taken at my home in Kacyiru]

Second, it was Dr. Daniel Kang who visited from S. California via Nairobi, Kenya and Bujumbura, Burundi. He is an engineer, an entrepreneur and a faithful Christian. He is also a missionary visiting mission fields and empowering Christian businessmen/women by teaching them about Kingdom Business principles. We share a common interest in promoting God's Kingdom through "Business As Mission" or "BAM." I met him in Los Angeles about 25 years ago. I have not seen him since and I have seen him again this time through his visit that was made through another Korean missionary based in Kenya. How wonderful and marvelous His providence was! What seems to be a coincidence is never coincident in God's eyes and plans. I was greatly encouraged by his visit (together with another Korean American missionary based in Kenya and his student) and by the sharing of common interest in BAM for His Kingdom. [Picture: Daniel, me and Missionary Park at my office]

Third, it was Tom Phillips who visited from Memphis, Tennessee. He is a businessman, running a conveyor business. But he is an extremely generous philanthropist and a wonderfully good steward of many resources that God has entrusted with him. He is giving more than 50% of his business profit every year. Giving brings him great joy to his heart and he is constantly looking for opportunities to give for His Kingdom. He has started two "Businesses As Mission" in Rwanda. One is a chicken farm through which he will be able to supply 2,500 eggs a day, creating many micro businesses. The other is a hydro power plant to supply electricity from three sites. Through these businesses he is planning to help increase employment, improve their living standard and empower and support other ministries by issuing them special class stocks (revenue shares) that benefit from the business profit without controlling interest. He is a dear Christian brother to me and a good friend of mine. Through the fellowship, although short, we were mutually encouraged by what God is doing through our lives. [Picture of Tom at his office taken in May 2009 in front of the bulletin board that shows his ministries.]

Oh, Lord, thank you so much for their visits! May your blessings continue to flow into their hearts and lives so that they may become even greater blessings to many more!!! - Jeffrey