Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Story of Florida's Transformation...

Mukantabana Florida at her business place in Nyabugogo.

Florida Mukantabana is exemplary of the verse “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required...(Luke 12:48)”

Although Florida is a widow with two children, she believes that, because of her thriving business, it is her responsibility to serve those less fortunate around her.

Ten years ago Florida joined UOB and received a loan of $43. She has a wholesale produce business where she sells in-demand products such as cabbages, oranges, and citrons. Throughout the years, as her business has grown, she has increased her loan size to more than $800.

As a result of Florida’s success she is able to provide food for her family, pay school fees, and cover medical bills. Her profits have also allowed her to repair her home’s iron sheets that had been torn off. And whenever one of her family members is in need she graciously provides for them.

Florida is a part of a Community Banking Group that is trained with UOB’s Holistic Life Improvement (HLI) modules. The lessons from the modules have helped her business thrive, particularly lessons about customer care and saving for the future.

The HLI modules have encouraged Florida to depend upon the Lord with every detail of her life and business. It could be very dangerous to work at her shop because her shop is close to a busy road. So, she knows it’s the Lord who protects and keeps her safe everyday!

Florida has become a leader among her colleagues, and she sets an example by freely giving to her church, and by loving and serving her neighbors and those who have experienced great turmoil in life.

What an example Florida is to all of us who have experienced God’s goodness! Let us remember her story the next time God provides an opportunity for us to minister to those in need. “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required...(Luke 12:48)”

Monday, July 25, 2011

How a Coffee Business Brews Reconciliation in Rwanda

Christianity Today included an article about a coffee business that is brewing reconciliation in Rwanda. It is an alternative capitalism that is a Kingdom Business or Business As Mission (BAM).

An industrial psychologist, Jonathan Golden was successful in his business. But he wanted to do more meaningful work. He was challenged by a Rwandan bishop and started buying coffee from Rwanda and started supplying coffee to churches in the U.S.

Jonathan added a catch phrase of "DrinkCoffeeDoGood" to his NGO activity.

He paid more than the fair trade price to the coffee farmers in Rwanda and Haiti. Through this coffee business he has witnessed reconciliation between two people groups in Rwanda and he has also had opportunities to witness Jesus Christ through good work that he was doing.

He has a dream to expand this coffee business to help advance His Kingdom even further.

May this short article bless and challenge you to get out of the comfort zone and to think out of the box to help those in need, as mandated by Jesus Christ! - Jeffrey

For more information, please check out the following website.

To learn more about the company, please check out their website as follows:

Friday, July 22, 2011

July 22nd, Friday... Shalom Bible Study Multiplies

When God created the universe, he ordered Adam to multiply and fill the earth. To fill the earth, the number had to increase but not all could live together. They had to scatter. When his people refused to scatter, God intervened and scattered his people by force.

Church is the body of Christ and the collective body of believers. The universal church, as a whole, is one but comprises a multitude of local churches. Originally and idealistically, church is an organism, not an organization. It is a dynamic and living body. Thus, it is natural for a living cell to grow and multiply.

Shalom Bible Study (SBS) is a bible study group of believers. It has been dynamic and growing in number. Since we are meeting at home, too large a group presents a few challenges.

1. Some people hide behind the number and choose to remain silent at the meeting, be absent from the study meeting or come unprepared for the study meeting. The split will make the bible study more intimate and beneficial.
2. Others who may be interested in joining the bible study choose not to come because the group is too large. The split will create a room for others to join.
3. Leaders may not be able to care for the members as closely as when the group is smaller. The split will allow the leaders to pay attention and provide care that the members deserve.

Thus, SBS has decided to split it into two groups. I will continue to lead a group and Pastor and Missionary Hwang will lead the other group. We announced it today and appointed a coordinator for each group. We decided to leave the decision of which group to join entirely up to the members. We also agreed to gather together once in a while to confirm the oneness or unity. Also, each group leader agreed to cover the other group if one has to travel or miss the study meeting.

Christ declared that he and the Father were one. He prayed that his disciples became one as he and the Father were one. Oneness is unity and the center of the relational gospel. But oneness does not have be always physically one, in our case one group. Oneness may exist even when one is split into two or more. It is called "unity in diversity." It is not easy but it is possible particularly when we put our trust in him.

God himself exists as the triune God: one God in three persons as the Godhead. It is trinity or three in one.

We have chosen to pursue this "unity in diversity" or two groups in one.

All members have accepted it graciously. Praise the Lord! I pray that this may become a model in the society where getting big is the dominant norm even in the Christian world.

Oh Lord, may you walk with us in this journey together so that all of us may experience your presence and power, while we pursue unity in diversity through the split of the Shalom Bible Study. May you be honored and glorified! - Jeffrey

Monday, July 18, 2011

July 18th, Monday...USAID Meeting.

I was called to a meeting with Special Advisor to US AID Administrator, Dr. Maura O'Neil. Her business card also showed "Chief Innovation Officer." I liked the title. The purpose was to discuss how to facilitate women entrepreneurship in Rwanda. I realized that I was the only man among seven invitees.

I suppose I was invited to bring a financial perspective to the topic as the head of a bank of which 90% of its clients are women.

Among many, I appreciated meeting two ladies who were exemplary women entrepreneurs in Rwanda and whom I wanted to get connected with.

One was Immy who currently owns and manages Karisimbi Coffee. She now owns two coffee washing stations and exports all fully washed coffee. She studied business for her bachelor's and master's degree. She was quite an intellectual woman. A Korean coffee company has been looking for a reliable Rwandan coffee supplier. We agreed to follow up.

The other was Zalfut who started a college that is now educating 2,200 students on nothing but tourism. The school name is Rwanda Tourism University College, aptly. UOB is now introducing a series of EduFinance loans for students and RTUC would be a wonderful test school. We agreed to follow up.

It is encouraging to see that Rwanda is promoting gender equality not just verbally but also practically. May the women potential and power be fully developed and blossomed! - Jeffrey

Saturday, July 16, 2011

July 16th, Saturday... Mt. Jali Again

[Jihye Moon, Missionary Bohye Kim and Hyeyoung Choi... me with the Kigali City in the background on the way down]

Mt. Jali is the tallest mountain in Kigali with its height at 1,866 meter from the sea level. We started our hike from 1,300 meter high.

For the second time, I climbed Mt. Jali today with three ladies. When I climbed it for the first time, I suffered greatly because the initial ascent was so steep that I could not keep up with the group at all.

This time, it was still hard to climb it for the first 30 minutes, but I felt a lot easier and more comfortable even with the initial ascent than before.

This is the sixth week in a row that I have been hiking at least once a week for longer than 4 hours. We have decided to climb it again next Saturday.

All these are part of the preparation for the "Hike Kilimanjaro 2011!" scheduled for August 28th. There are a little more than 40 days left before the D-day. I am planning to go for a 10-hour day hike to prepare better for the fifth day of the Mt. Kilimanjaro hike which requires a 13-15 hour hike including the summit attempt.

After the hike, I took shower and had a bowl of tempura udon that Kristin cooked. Fatigue made me fall asleep and it was the sweetest 2-hour nap that I had ever had in recent years. Thank you, Lord! - Jeffrey

Thursday, July 14, 2011

July 14th, Thursday... UOB ATMs Now Connected

UOB has pledged to roll out its 2-year e-Wallet strategies over 2011 and 2012. Its e-Wallet strategies has five components: Debit card, ATMs, POS devices, mobile banking and agency banking.

Today, two of these five components have been implemented, at least partially. The launch has been extremely quietly fast compared to the way all other commercial banks have been doing. It would not have been made possible without God's special grace and UOB IT team's dedication. Praise the Lord!

UOB has designed its first debit card and named it UOB Grace Card. It was named so in hopes that all users may experience God's grace. It is a smart card with a chip in it. It has been distributed to UOB senior leadership for testing. It will then be distributed to all UOB staff and eventually to clients over time.

UOB has received three ATMs and has been testing them for some time. It needs to be connected to the national payment switch, called RSwitch operated by SIMTEL, to be inter-operative with other bank ATMs. But RSwitch has experienced quite a number of issues in implementing the inter-operative connectivity among all financial institutions. After a long hassle, however, UOB ATMs have gone live today! Praise the Lord!

Thus, UOB has become the first and only micro finance bank in Rwanda that has its ATMs that are connected to the RSwitch.

Debit cards are still a symbol of wealth and status in Rwanda. Now we are planning to distribute these cards to the poor. I trust these cards will boost the dignity of the poor tremendously. Also, they may access the cash more easily and conveniently through ATMs, in addition to physical access to branches or cash distribution by UOB lending staff.

Now we will be working on developing mobile and agency banking solutions to make the cash access by rural clients really easy and convenient. We plan to test the mobile banking solution in September and begin the first batch of agents by December 2011.

May we continue to receive your favor, Lord! - Jeffrey

Monday, July 11, 2011

July 11th, Monday --- Rwamagana Rice Farmers

In Rwanda, approximately 90% of its population is related to agriculture, directly or indirectly. Agriculture is essential to Rwandans. Rwanda's traditional main staple has been cassava, beans and bananas. Rice has become one of the government's strategic crops and its consumption has been on the rise. Currently, Rwanda is importing 90% of its rice needs in the country, primarily from Tanzania.

Thus, UOB has pledged to provide agricultural finance and rural savings for rice and maize (another crop of growing demand) farmers. For the past year or so, we have tried to make agricultural finance for rice and maize farmers without much success. The low success rate was partly because the Rwandan government's last minute breach of its covenants and intervention that did not require an agricultural finance.

It happened again a few weeks ago with the rice farmers in Rwamagana.

So I decided to make a trip myself to meet with the leadership of TWIBUMBE, a union of 11 rice cooperatives governing approximately 2,200 rice farmers. TWIBUMBE means "united." The primary purpose of the meeting was to see how we can begin the initial relationship.

Initially the meeting was going well, but we realized we came to impasse at a point because the union leadership was unwilling to agree on what is a common practice in banking: directing the sales proceeds to the bank for the purpose of controlling the funds flow. We already made a few concessions during the meeting, but we could not make concession on this issue.

After 3 hours of frustrating meeting, we had to leave the meeting with the union chairman's promise to deliberate the issue at its board meeting in the afternoon. We felt disappointed, but we could not concede on all issues.

Agricultural finance is of high risk without collateral and adequate compensation or risk mitigation, at least in Rwanda. That is why all commercial banks are shy away from agricultural finance. We made a pledge to agricultural finance based on the mandate to serve the under-served, but we could not compromise too much on the principle of stewardship.

On the way back, we prayed together for God's intervention so that the leadership may have clarity in their thinking. We have seen and heard so many stories where the cooperative and/or union leadership has caused many harms to the members (farmers) because of their irrational decision. We had many farmers at stake.

At 7:40PM, I received a phone call from Agricultural Finance Officer, Jean de Dieu, that the union chairman called and informed him that the union board has accepted our condition. I praised the Lord with much delight in my heart! "Glory be to God!"

We are now working on providing agricultural financing for 1,200 farmers through 9 cooperatives. We pray that this will pave the way for the farmers to access more financial and educational resources going forward.

We are also talking with another rice cooperative in Kamonyi that has approximately 1,000 farmers.

Agricultural finance is clearly an un-walked path for me and UOB so we are putting our feet into the water in great faith like the Israelite priests did when they were crossing the Jordan River into the promised land. May the good Lord walk with us in this journey! - Jeffrey

Sunday, July 10, 2011

July 10th, Sunday... Perfecting Holiness (I)

In Rwanda, a Korean church is under establishment.

It is a humble beginning at present since 30 or so Koreans are now gathering every Sunday to worship in Korean language. But a Korean language worship began about a year ago when Koreans in Rwanda started meeting on last Sunday of each month to worship and fellowship together. This monthly gathering has now turned to a weekly regular worship.

Several missionaries have agreed to take turn in sharing the message and I am one of them. On Sunday, July 10th, it was my turn to preach.

I shared the message, titled "Perfect Holiness", based on 2 Corinthians 7:1. I had to split the message into two parts: an overview and pragmatic sanctification. I will cover the second part next time.

Here is the summary of today's message delivered in Korean:

History is His story: His story of love for the humans. His story is well reflected in His Word: The Bible. The story comprises four parts: creation, corruption, Christ/cross and completion.

At creation, all things were perfect, sinless and holy. It was Shalom.

This Shalom was broken and lost when sin entered into human life. Human became corrupt.

God so loved the humans that He sent His one and only begotten Son, Jesus, to become sin and die on the cross on behalf of all humans. God showed the Way to salvation and to restored relationship with Him, the taste of Shalom again, but only partially.

God promised that He will complete His grand salvation work on The Day of the Lord, the day He returns as promised. There will be Shalom again.

Until then, we are called to the ministry of reconciliation. We are commissioned. This commission requires us to share the good news of Jesus with all nations whether we are in season or out of season. Internally, it also requires us to cleanse everything that contaminates our body and spirit, perfecting holiness, as a member of God's holy family.

How do we cleanse ourselves?

First, by repentance. We cannot be cleansed without confessing our sins and asking for forgiveness. It is the promise. (1 John 1:9)

Second, by practicing godliness. Practicing godliness is beneficial to us since it has the promise for this life and the life to come. (1 Timothy 4:7,8) It requires us to surrender ourselves to the authority and power of the Holy Spirit, day by day and moment by moment in our lives.

Perfect is too noble to follow, but it is a command since the Bible says, "Be perfect as the Father in Heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:48) Holiness is too divine to imitate, but it is also a command since the Bible says, "Be holy as God is holy." (1 Peter 1:15,16) Combining these two commands looks impossible to digest. Nonetheless, it is a command and a few scriptures present some hopes.

Hebrews 12:22-24 says, "But you have come to.... to God, the judge of all, to the spirits of all righteous men made perfect, to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant... " There will be righteous men made perfect. It sheds a ray of hope to what appears to be a hopeless command.

Also, Philippians 1:6 says, "... he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." What a promise it is!

I concluded the message by quoting Apostle Paul's prayer for the Thessalonian saints: "May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Thessalonians 5:23)

Indeed it is my prayer for me as well as all my brothers and sisters in Christ. "Amen!" - Jeffrey

Saturday, July 9, 2011

July 9th, Saturday... UOB Day

We hold UOB Day twice a year on the second Saturdays of January and July. On UOB Day, all UOB staff gather together to praise our God, pray to Him, listen to His word and share how He is working through UOB.

The theme for 2011 is "Shalom", the peace of God. From January UOB Day, we have been talking about "Shalom" several times through Gary Scheer, a 30+ year missionary to Rwanda from the U.S. Indeed we all Christians are commissioned to be involved in this ministry of reconciliation of all things to the creator God.

UOB is considered a BAM, Business As Mission. Its motive, vision, mission and core values clearly reflect it. UOB is in this divine reconciliation ministry through Christian micro finance. Christian micro finance is not only a means to help Rwandans transform economically, socially and spiritually. It is also the object for God's Shalom. Micro finance itself needs to be reconciled to God, meaning restored completely to "Shalom."

Thus, UOB's management theme was chosen to be "S.H.A.L.O.M." It stands for:

* Scale up!
* Harmonize!
* Achieve!
* Launch!
* Optimize!
* Maximize and Minimize!

Under this theme, God has been so gracious to UOB in 2011. We have experienced His grace in so many areas. So we honored Him and praised Him wholeheartedly together. We also prayed for His grace during the second half of 2011. We watched a "God Provides" DVD produced by Crown Ministries on the theme of "Widow and Oil" where God indeed blessed and provided for a widow ample oil through a miracle performed by Elisha. We also shared how God has been gracious by sharing the progress that UOB has made this year. We also pledged to continue to put our trust in the Lord, not leaning on our own understanding.

It is a great blessing and privilege to work with God's people in this reconciliation ministry at UOB. Thank you, Lord! - Jeffrey

Monday, July 4, 2011

6 Hour Hike...

Today was the fourth day of weekend hiking that I started four weeks ago.

It is a hiking around the Kigali City, but hold your hurried assumption that it must be an easy city walk. Kigali City is built upon hills so the city itself has many hills and small mountains. Wandering around the city is in itself a hiking. There is a reason for calling Rwanda "a land of thousand hills."

[This is a common scene of Kigali City that is built upon hills]

Four weeks ago, I hiked 3 hours 40 minutes. The next week, 4 hours 10 minutes and the following 5 hours 10 minutes. Today, I was able to extend the hiking time to 6 hours. I did not measure the distance, but it would have been a good 15 mile distance. The hike included seven hills that I had to climb. Some continued an uphill climb for more than 40 minutes. So it is not a small hill.

Kristin normally walks with me for the first hour and goes back home. I continue waling and hiking by myself until my course is done.

Now I have only 50 some days left before the Mt. Kilimanjaro Hike scheduled for August 28th. I am planning to continue hiking at least once a week for at least 5 hours until the departure time.

Next time, I plan to climb Mt. Kigali and Mt. Jale, one at a time, plus some extended walking in the Kigali City. I trust this exercise will be helpful when the time comes. - Jeffrey

July 4th, Monday - Liberation Day in Rwanda

Fourth of July is Independence Day in the U.S. It is now celebrating the 235th anniversary.

Closer to home, it is Liberation Day in Rwanda.

Liberation Day is to commemorate the ending of the 1994 Genocide that lasted 100 days. This year was the 17th anniversary since it was ended. 17 years seems long, but it is far too short for so many people to erase the horrible memory. So in the memories of many people, the despicable tragedy remains fresh no matter how hard they try to forget. It is just too hard to do it.

Nonetheless, Rwandans have a strong resolve not to repeat the same tragedy. So people remind themselves and each other of a short phrase: "Never again, never!" Indeed, such a tragedy should never be repeated not only in Rwanda, but any where in the world. Never should it occur again in the human history.

Rwandans have made a remarkable achievement in reconciling two mutually disliking clans over the past 17 years. How can a 17-year long effort completely heal the deep wounds that have been made over many decades, but the progress appears apparent and impressive.

Rwanda has also seen tremendous progress in economic development over the same period. Economic development covers a broad spectrum, including health, education, agriculture, infra structure, environment attractive to foreign investors, governance, ICT.

Moreover, the government has made conscious efforts to fighting chronic poverty and corruption. President and his cabinet members seem determined and hopeful to see the country's remarkable transformation within their generation. It is considered likely as long as they stay on course at least for the next few decades.

On the other hand, some international media are making a sensational report on human rights issues in Rwanda. I do not know the details of what is happening in the whole country and I am inclined to agree that there may be some concerns about human rights issues. But as a former S. Korean citizen who lived under serious human rights challenges in the 1960's and 1970's in S. Korea, I am not convinced of this argument. Some also argue that President Kagame is a new dictator, but I am not sure he is indeed such a bad dictator. I would agree that he is a pretty demanding boss, but the country's remarkable progress may not have been made possible without his demanding attribute.

Overall, I would argue that we should learn to see the overall balanced score of the country's performance, without being skewed too much with biased opinion on soar spots. However you cut it, Rwanda is progressing remarkably well and fast to become Africa's sterling exemplary country, like Asia's four tiger countries in the 1990's: S. Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore.

I pray sincerely on every Liberation Day that Rwanda is liberated forever not only from the haunt of the tragic genocide but also from other challenges that have held back Rwanda and many other African countries. That is liberation from malaria, HIV/AIDS, chronic poverty, corruption, tribal strife and dependence on foreign aid. May it become a reality in Rwanda sooner rather than later, oh Lord! - Jeffrey

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Akagera National Park in Rwanda...

[Top to Bottom, Left to Right: 1) Akagera Lodge from swimming pool, 2) Swimming pool and Lake Ihema from Akagera Lodge, 3) The largest floating island covered with 4) papyrus trees like this, 5) A couple of fishermen putting their nets, 6) Birds nesting at a bird sanctuary island, 7) A bird resting from diving to catch fish and 8) A beautiful sunset scenery]

On July 1st and 2nd, Kristin and I made a quick trip to Akagera National Park, Rwanda's only gaming park located at the eastern end of Rwanda bordering Tanzania. Missionary Bohye Kim and Pastor Younghee Seo from S. Korea traveled with us.

It is approximately 2,500 square kilometers big, one ninth of Serengeti National Park in Tanzania and five times larger than Ngorongoro Crater National Park in Tanzania. It has several lakes inside the park, including Lake Ihema, the second largest in Rwanda, after Lake Kivu.

It was a short trip, but we drove around the southern part of the park to watch some animals and in the afternoon we took the boat riding to see some crocodiles, birds and hipos. The lake was so tranquil as the surface was so smooth like a glass. At one point, Roger, the boatman, turned off the boat engine. It was so quiet, free of any noises but chirping sounds of birds. It was heavenly.

We had the privilege of the company of Bryan Havemann, the park manager, for our boating trip. He explained that Akagera has tremendous potential as a game park. It does not have too many animals at present, but it used to have over 300 lions and quite a few black rhinos, thus having all big fives. (lion, rhino, leopard, elephant and buffalo) But now, the park does not have lions and black rhinos. They were all killed during the war by soldiers and by poachers over time. Bryan explained, however, that the park has more than 110 elephants and many other animals and that the park has started fencing up the park to bring back lions and black rhinos within a year. Also, the park is well known for 500 species of birds that it has.

The absolute number of animals needs to increase, he admitted, to be considered one of better game parks in Africa, but many actions are currently under way and he is optimistic about the progress to be made to be recognized as a good game park within several years. He used to be a senior ranger at the Kruger National Park in South Africa and has accepted the offer to run the Akagera National Park in hopes of being part of the remarkably fast transforming Rwandan economy and tourism, like many others who share the sentiment.

Not too many game parks have lakes that Akagera has. Lake Ihema, located inside the park, has 35 species of fish. With ample algae, fish have plenty of food. Inside the lake, there are many crocodiles some of which are as long as the boat we were riding, approximately 4-foot long. Also there are a few floating islands that are covered with papyrus trees. We took a boat to see the islands and we found them amazing. The largest one was 100 meter wide and 200 meter long. I did not dare to step on it but I heard that its floor is soft and cushy. It floats within the lake as the wind blows.

Also we saw a bird sanctuary where komorans, herons, and other birds were nesting. Both crocodiles and these birds would not be around without ample fish around them.

We were lucky to capture the sunset scenery on our cameras. It was spectacular.

It was a short trip, but greatly rewarding and relaxing. - Jeffrey