Saturday, August 27, 2011

D-1 for Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro...

We are a group of five who are all in the fifties of age. One is from S. Korea, two are from New York and two are from Rwanda. We all arrived safely yesterday.

We have been planning and dreaming to climb the tallest mountain in Africa: Mt. Kilimanjaro. This roof of Africa is 5,895 m high and is the tallest as a stand-alone mountain in the world.

Today, we registered with the tour company and had a briefing with the guide and the assistant guide. The guide's name is Jimmy and his assistant is Johnson. Jimmy said that he has reached the summit more than 100 times. He gave us trust we need in our guide. He is 38 years old with two daughters.

There are six routes to climb the mountain but only two are available to amateurs. One is Marangu Route and the other is Machame Route. They have nicknames of "Coca Cola Route" and "Whisky Route", respectively. We came to Moshi Town with an understanding that we would be climb the Machame Route, but on the way from the airport we were informed that we would instead climb the Marangu Route. It was a pleasant surprise because we wanted to take on the Marangu Route initially but we were told that we were too late to reserve for the Marangu Route because only Marangu Route has the huts where you can sleep. On the Machame Route all hikers have to sleep at the tents.

At any rate, we all are nervous about the climb, but we are also excited about this opportunity of life time to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.

We will meet at 8AM for a worship and will depart at 9AM.

I hope to write an update after a successful attempt to reach the summit, Uhuru Peak. There we hope to pray for the continent. May God's mercy be with us. - Jeffrey

Friday, August 19, 2011

August 19th, Friday...BNR Meeting on E-Payment...

Rwanda is a small country. But it has a big dream and ambition in implementing E-Payment systems. It has launched the Automatic Transfer Services, including RTGS (Real Time Gross Settlement) and ACH (Automated Clearing House), and recently CDS (Central Depository Securities). There are some glitches and hick-ups but it is moving along. Sooner or later, all the issues will be resolved and they will work smoothly, I trust.

On Thursday, August 18th, bank CEOs and MDs in Rwanda met with the BNR Governor, together with the SIMTEL CEO. SIMTEL runs Rwanda's national payment switch, called RSwitch. The meeting was focused on ATMs, POS and international credit and debit cards.

In Rwanda, the reality of E-Payment is pretty bad. Many ATMs are down and international cards are not accepted at most of the ATMs. Thus, international tourists and visitors end up suffering from this situation. Obviously the story reached the country's President and
members of parliament. The pressure is on and the central bank Governor is putting his hands on several issues directly to improve the situation.

UOB has also introduced ATMs and is getting ready to roll out the chip and PIN proprietary debit cards. We call them UOB Grace Cards. But in light of the prolonging down time for ATMs, we are hesitant in rolling them out. It was agreed that SIMTEL would send out the ATM up-time report on a daily basis. SIMTEL will also provide the BNR with the plan to strengthen the POS accessibility. We will see.

Soon, however, I trust that ATMs will have more up-times than now. Also, most of ATMs in Rwanda will accept international credit/debit cards for cash withdrawal. The number of merchants that accept international card will increase based on enhanced POS availability and accessibility.

More importantly, however, Rwanda will soon see a more innovative mobile banking solution implemented. This will be the first of its kind in the world and UOB will be part of this exciting initiative. When it is fully launched with proper functionality, it will significantly improve the under-served people's access to and inclusion in the financial services. And that is exciting indeed!

I look forward to witnessing this happen soon. May it come true, Lord! - Jeffrey

Thursday, August 18, 2011

D-10, Hike Kilimanjaro 2011! - August 18th, 2011

Today marks D-10 for "Hike Kilimanjaro 2011!"

I set out for this journey about a year ago. It was the step that I was taking to realize the dream that I had when I was seeing the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro that stood out over the white cloud in an airplane that was flying by the tallest mountain in Africa in 2009.

19,340 feet high... or 5,895 meter high...

Africa's roof...

The tallest stand-alone mountain in the world...

The Snow of Kilimanjaro...

The Leopard of Kilimanjaro...

Whatever it may be, it is an exciting dream of one's life time.

Some people call it "Every man's Everest" implying relative ease in climbing the summit. Well... only 40-45% of people who attempt the summit are successful in standing on top of the mountain. So it sounds like the description is downplaying the challenges that people need to overcome to be able to reach the summit.

We started as a group of 10 in August 2010. Quickly a couple dropped out since they changed their travel plan for their 30th anniversary. Out of eight, another dropped out when we had to change the route from the Marangu Route or "Coca Cola Route" to the Machame Route or "Whiskey Route." We now have to stay in the tents throughout the 5 night-6 day journey. Again out of seven, two people had to cancel their trip because of their family emergency. They made all flight reservations and payment for not only Mt. Kilimanjaro Hike but also a safari scheduled after the hike. It was unfortunate. But things like that happen in life.

So we are now a group of five: two from Rwanda, two from New York and one from S. Korea. Four men and one female. All are in their 50's. So we are the "Five of the Fifties."

To prepare for this hike, I have climbed the tallest mountain in Rwanda: Mt. Karisimbi at 4,508 meter high. I trekked 5 days in Colorado mountains. I have hiked for the past two months every weekend for 4-6 hours. I have also spent quite a bit of time strengthening my body fitness during the weekdays.

Whatever worth they may be, now we have left only 10 days before we will start our climbing on August 28th. I cannot deny some nervousness but rising excitements far outweigh the nervousness.

I have a dream... a dream of standing on top of Mt. Kilimanjaro and of praying for Africa and people of Africa... praying for God's special grace upon them so that they may now experience the real freedom that comes only through the faith in Jesus Christ, the Lord of all nations. May this dream come true, Lord. - Jeffrey

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

August 16th, Tuesday... BNR Examination

UOB dates back to 1997 when World Relief Rwanda started Urwego Community Banking, providing micro finance for Rwandan poor as a post-genocide relief work. It became an independent MFI in 2004 and became a licensed bank in 2007 when it merged with Opportunity International's green field bank.

Since it became a bank, BNR (National Bank of Rwanda) has kept postponing its first examination on UOB until July when we suddenly received a team of five (5) bank examiners from the central bank. They stayed at the bank for almost a month to examine the first and largest micro finance bank in Rwanda. Obviously they did not have an established examination procedures on micro finance banks. So it was a learning opportunity for them.

Overall, the examination processes went well.

Today, they wanted to talk to me, asking several questions to which they could not obtain answers from our staff. This meeting went well.

Now we are waiting for the examination report. We are praying that the report on this first ever examination will come out clean and positive. It will be another opportunity to witness how gracious our God is. - Jeffrey

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Rwanda Monetary Police Statement... 1st half 2011

Rwanda's central bank is Rwanda National Bank (BNR). It holds the country's Monetary Police Statement meeting twice a year. Today was the day the BNR held the meeting
to cover the first half of 2011.

The following were the highlights:

1. Rwanda's economy grew 7% for the first six months, a face pace compared to its neighboring countries. The growth resulted from a balanced growths in agriculture, industries and services sectors.

2. While growing fast, Rwanda contained its inflation pretty well at 5.8% during the first six months of 2011, despite the pressure coming from droughts and rising oil prices. Most of its neighboring countries suffered from two-digit inflation rates in the mean time: Uganda at 15.8%, Kenya at 14.5%, Tanzania at 10.9% and Brundi at 8.6%.

3. Exports increased 48% in value and 58% in volume. Coffee, tea and minerals accounted for 72% of the exports. Meanwhile, the growth rate in imports remained at 13% in value and 15% in volume, mostly in capital goods rather than consumer goods. Exports covered only 21% of imports, yet an improvement from the previous year. With the cross border exports included, exports represented 25% of imports. Rwanda's FX reserve was enough to cover the six months worth of imports, another improvement from the previous period.

4. Rwanda's banking industry registered a 12.6% growth in loans for the first six months of 2011 with the deposits at 15.1% during the same period. UOB's growth was at a significantly faster rate with the loans at 51% and the deposits at 26%, respectively.

5. Rwanda's banking industry also saw an improvement in its Non Performing Loans (NPLs) to 9.2% as of June 30th from 12% a year earlier. But UOB's NPL rate was negligible at 0.06%.

6. Rwanda's national debt represented only 26% of its GDP, a healthy level, while the fiscal debt issues plague the U.S. and the EU countries.

Overall, Rwanda's economy remained very healthy with a solid growth in GDP, a good control in inflation, rising exports and contained imports, and a growth in banking lending to the private sector.

But, Rwanda should continue to be vigilant in monitoring and taking proactive actions to prevent the potential adverse impact that may be derived from the rising oil prices, droughts in East Africa, fiscal debt crises in Europe and the U.S. and subsequent turbulence to the global stock market. It is a challenging time to all countries, including Rwanda. So far, nonetheless, Rwanda's economic development has been impressively healthy and sound although the outlook for the next six months to one year remains pretty gloomy. - Jeffrey

Monday, August 8, 2011

How KIVA works... is an internet platform that allows individual lenders around the world to identify and lend their money to micro businesses around the world.

It is a simple illustration but it is easy to understand how it works.

UOB is one of the implementing partners for Kiva and is raising up to $115,000 a month for Rwandan micro businesses. During August and September, UOB is allowed to raise even higher amounts to provide funding for agricultural farmers.

It is a wonderful platform for every man and woman who is interested in lending to micro enterprises around the world to help them alleviate their chronic and extreme poverty.

I suggest you try it out to find out how much intangible but powerful benefit you can provide for them with as little as $25. - Jeffrey

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Perfecting Holiness (2)...

I preached at Korean Church of Rwanda today, August 7th. My message was titled Perfecting Holiness (2) because it was the continuation our my previous sermon based on 2 Corinthians 7:1.

Holiness is a heavy word, but it is God's mandate for His people to be holy as He is. Also we were told to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. Now, perfecting holiness is even heavier word. But the scripture suggests that we pursue perfect holiness by purifying ourselves from everything that contaminates our body and spirit. (2 Corinthians 7:1)

Can we ever achieve it? The scripture says we can, but not on our own strength but on His strength. Hebrews 12:23 implies that there are "perfected spirits of righteousness." That is why Paul was so assured that the good work that the Lord started in us will bring it to completion until the Day of Christ. (Philippians 1:6) Paul himself was looking forward to the "crown of righteousness" that is bestowed upon him as he had fought the good fight, finished the race and kept his faith in his letter to Timothy. (2 Timothy 4:7,8)

How can we achieve this perfect holiness? Only through relentless repentance (1 John 1:9) and training on godlness (1 Timothy 4:7,8)

There are several types of purity.

1. Absolute purity belongs only to God Himself. There could be relative or created purity that existed with humanity before the fall and with the angels part of whom also fell out of the purity.

2. Through Jesus, we have gained access to the purity again. It is called the positional purity that comes from our restored relationship with God. But this purity is a perceived purity, not real purity.

3. Ultimately when Jesus returns to reign and to establish the new heaven and earth, we have been promised to re-gain the purity through a glorified body of Jesus.

4. Until the ultimate purity is fully restored, we are living with our efforts to gain practical purity. This is what 2 Corinthians pertain to.

We talked about what areas we should focus on in purifying ourselves.

1. Behaviors: 1 Peter 1:15 says that we should be holy in our behaviors as the Father who called us is holy. The behaviors that contaminate us include a) the behaviors that hurt others directly (robbery, theft, etc.), b) the behaviors that hurt others indirectly (pollution, tax evasion etc.) and c) the behaviors that contaminate ourselves (drug, smoking, alcohol etc.) Instead, we should focus on behaviors that edify and benefit others, such as charity, relief and development.

2. Words: While the behaviors can be somewhat controlled by our will, our tongue is uncontrollable, the scripture says. (James 3:6-12) The most obvious words that contaminate us are lies since they are in direct contrast to the truth. The second types of words that contaminate us are unwholesome talks. Ephesians 4:29 is suggesting that we should not allow any of these unwholesome talks come out of our mouths. We should also be careful about what we talk about ourselves since God also warned that He will listen to what we say and respond. We are God's precious children and we should not try to downgrade ourselves from this lofty relational position.

3. Minds/Thoughts: If the tongue was uncontrollable, our minds are impossible to control. Tongue may still be put to silence but thoughts will never be silent. Thoughts will determine the behaviors. Behaviors will form habits. Habits will affect character and character will determine the destiny. In our illustration, our destiny is holiness. Our minds contaminate our spirit and body through temptation of our old selves that spring from the sinful nature. That is why the Christianity begins with the spiritual bankruptcy as written in Matthew 5:3, "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." That is why Paul emphasized that transformation begins with the renewing of our minds. (Romans 12:2 and Ephesians 4:22-24) This belongs to the spiritual reformation.

To put this in the right context, we should begin with the confession that we are the sinners and we cannot do anything to save ourselves. We can find this salvation only in Jesus Christ whom God sent to us for redemption. This renewed mind will change and renew the attitudes of our minds. This renewed mind and attitudes will positively affect our behaviors, refraining from the behaviors that contaminate our holiness instead encouraging us to do more good and constructive works. Through repeated good behaviors, we will begin to form godly habits. These godly habits will help form our godly character like that of Jesus. Through this exercise, we will attain God's holiness in our lives gradually but surely. Of course, in between, we should repent whenever we find any guilt in our lives and practice godliness even harder.

Pragmatically how do we know if I am in line with God's will? The scriptures. Hebrews 4:12 says that the scriptures are sharper than any doubled-edged sword and can pierce our souls, bodies, joints and marrows. The scriptures can even know what we are thinking in our minds. We should therefore listen to, read, study, meditate on and memorize the scriptures with diligence. Then we should go to the Lord on our knees repenting, asking for forgiveness and pledging not to repeat the same sins. This process is called "Sanctification" that leads us to God's holiness.

Brothers and sisters, we should focus more on perfecting holiness by purifying ourselves from everything that contaminates our spirits and bodies because it is God's mandate. Eventually and ultimately, we trust that we will be like Christ in His image but only after our tireless efforts, not to gain salvation, but to perfect holiness that we can achieve only through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul was praying for the saints at the Thessalonian church in 1 Thessalonians 5:23. May this prayer be your and my prayer!

"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."

Amen! - Jeffrey

Friday, August 5, 2011

August 5th, Friday...Shalom Bible Study (SBS)

When I first came to Rwanda, I started a bible study with three KOICA volunteers: Jooheum, Jihoon and Sangmin. Later, Junghee joined. With Kristin, we had a wonderful time of blessing through this bible study. We named it Shalom Bible Study or SBS.

After one and half years, they all went back to Korea. But it was a send-off of SBS graduates to live a godly life like light and salt of the world in Korea where materialism and worldly temptation are high. They all are doing well, living a victorious life.

After they left, the SBS members changed quite a bit. All male membership changed to predominantly to predominantly female membership. Yurim joined us while they were still with us. Anna later joined us. Then, Seungback, Eunyoung, Minjung and Isaac came to study the bible together. Even Rev. Myungha Hwang joined the SBS. Also, Hyosu, Saerom, Jihye, Hyeyoung, Minki and Esther followed the suit. The bible study group became too big to meet in our living room and to maintain the intimacy of a small group bible study.

So, we chose to split the SBS into two groups according to the principle of multiplication. The split occurred in July 2011. I continue to lead a group and Rev. Hwang will lead the other group. It was not easy but everyone understood the reasons and accepted it.

Meanwhile, Eunyoung got injured when she slipped around a pool and was taken back to Korea as she was about to return to Korea after a 2 and a half year service. She became the 5th graduate of the SBS. Jaeyoung and Seungback also went back to Korea.

Rev. Hwang took Esther, Yurim, Hyosu and Minki. I took Anna, Jihye, Minjung, Isaac and Hyeyoung. We regained the intimacy in the bible study.

Tonight's SBS was the farewell and send-off for Saerom who returns to Korea around the midnight. It was also the welcome to another missionary family: Dr. Minsu Koh, his wife Aesim and his son Kyungchul. Missionary Koh is a vet doctor and has responded to God's calling for mission and came to Rwanda. The photo above was taken after tonight's bible study.

It is a blessing that the SBS has been growing to split and to send off several graduates.

May God bless and multiply the SBS in Rwanda to be a community for raising Christ's ambassadors of the gospel! May they live a godly life and be a blessing to others! Amen! - Jeffrey

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

BRD Development Fund (BDF) in Rwanda

BRD stands for Rwanda Development Bank in French. It is a government-owned bank focusing on providing long term credits for development projects in Rwanda.

BRD had two subsidiaries, called BRD Development Fund (BDF) and BRD Advisory Services (BAS). BDF was managing several credit guarantee funds while BAS was providing professional advisory services for the investors, businesses and even MFIs.

[Minister of Trade, Francois Kanimba, addressing at the BDF Launch Ceremony]

BRD Board decided to merge BDF and BAS to create a new BDF. The merger took place in March of 2011 and it has since been developing its organizational structure to be on its own. Part of the organizational structure development efforts was forming its own board.

Its first board meeting took place on August 2nd, Tuesday, with its seven board members. I have been honored and privileged to chair the board.

I have a pretty demanding job of running the largest Christian micro finance bank in Rwanda with many projects and programs currently under development. But I have decided to serve the board mainly for two reasons:

1. I have 20 plus years of experience in US SBA guarantee program and I think I can bring some value to the board.

2. I am convinced that a well-run credit guarantee program, like BDF, can help a developing country like Rwanda to boost its economy and businesses to a higher level.

I committed to serving the board for only one year so may God help me in adding value to the board and to the Rwandan economy within the limited time. - Jeffrey

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Saints John Stott and Yong Jo Ha Passed Away

On July 28th, John Stott went to be with the Lord. He was 90 years old. He was a huge pillar in the evangelical world. He wrote 30 plus books and led the evangelicals to stay on course. He was a giant in faith. His writings and teaching were so powerful and influential that many Christians mourn over his death but we know that our sorrow is his joy.

His retirement sermon was on "Christlikeness" and he wrote a book, titled "In His Likeness." He pursued his personal holiness strongly while he was strengthening the Church, the body of Christ.

Doug Birdsall, Executive Chair of the Lausanne Movement said in his fueneral, "John Stott's focus was the cross. The church was his great love. World evangelism was his passion. Scripture was his authority. Heaven was his hope. Now it is his home." It is very well put.

Surprisingly, a few days later, August 1st, Yongjo Ha, a renowned pastor and teacher in S. Korea, also went to be with the Lord. He was still young, relatively to John Stott, but had been struggling with illness. He preached on Sunday, July 31st, and that night he had a stroke and did not wake up from the coma. He established one of the largest churches in the world, a Christian book publishing company and a Christian TV, CGNTV. He supported other Christian schools also. He was also a faith giant and a godly saint. His books and teaching were so inspirational that many people wept and rejoiced with him, including myself.

Loss of two godly saints in a week's time grieves my heart. How can it not?

But, I know that they are with the Lord and they deserve a good rest with the Lord. Because they fought the good fight, finished the race and kept their faiths, like Apostle Paul did. (2 Timothy 4:7,8) May they rest in peace with the Lord! May we continue the race that is still left for us until we will see each other again! - Jefrey

Monday, August 1, 2011

Ministry Updates - July 2011

Dear friends, family and fellow Kingdom workers,

The month of July was a little volatile but we ended up seeing a continued trend of improvements in all aspects of UOB ministry.

The following highlights the ministry updates for July 2011:

1. We provided HLI (Holistic Life Improvement) training for 7,683 clients in June. HLI has 60 biblical solutions to life situations in business management, personal household finance and health management. It is an important mission for us since our objective is to see holistic transformation of the people we serve.
2. We signed an agreement to provide Western Union money transfer services. WU is the largest money transfer service provider in the world. We will also sign up for Money Gram and RIA, the second and third. This is part of the overall FX operations that we are implementing.
3. As of July 31st, UOB's loan portfolio has gained a slight growth to Rwf5.95 Bn or US$9.9 million. Client numbers also continued a growth trend although the growth pace slowed down a bit in July.

4. Meanwhile, PAR (Portfolio At Risk) > 30 days remained strong at well below 1%.

5. We continued to work on designing the EduFinance products for CSL (Career Student Loans) and VSL (Vocational Student Loans). They will be pilot-tested with a few selected schools in September.

6. Under the e-Wallet strategies, we installed three (3) ATMs and they have gone live with RSwitch in July! Praise the Lord! Also, we distributed UOB Grace Cards to our staff for further testing. We also continued our discussion with an e-payment service provider for collaboration. Please stand with us in our endeavor through your prayer.

7. After we launched our first micro insurance product in June, we received three claims in July. One was the death of a client, another was related to the death of a client's spouse and the other was the death of a client's child. After we collected all evidencing documents, we have made payment within 48 hours
It was a record speed to Rwandans who are used to a prolonged proces of months before they get paid.

8. We were successful in disbursing production loans to 650+ rice farmers in Rwamagana after a series of challenges which by God's grace we were able to overcome. We are now working with additional farmers for rice, maize and Irish potatos.

9. Shalom Bible Study (SBS) has grown into two groups as the group was getting too large. If a group is too big, then some people may choose to sideline, we cannot care for them well and the room for others to join is limited. Overall it was a good decision. The other group is being led by a missionary from S. Korae. We praise the Lord for this blessing.

10. The Kininya sewing project that Kristin is handling is progressing well. 20 women are now making sample products.

11. Jeffrey continued serving God's saints through preaching at St. Etiene Cathedral, UOB staff devotion and a Korean church being established.

12.Prayer Requests: Please...

* Pray for the UOB's continuing holistic transformational development through Christian micro finance in Rwanda.
* Pray for the steady implementation of UOB's e-Wallet strategy.
* Pray for a tangible progress in UOB's agricultural lending program. It has stumbled a lot lately without making progress.
* Pray for God's wisdom and guidance in designing effective educational finance products that will benefit many students in Rwanda
* Pray for Joyce who is now in Milan, Italy but will transition to Benetton's young artist developmnt program in Italy.
* Pray for God's wisdom and guidance on a new health clinic project that Kristin is praying about
* Pray for God's peacefulness in the hearts of Kristin's mom during her last days of life on earth

Our son in law James has safely return to the U.S. from Afghanistan. Thank you for your prayer support!

We thank you for standing with us in our ministry.

Joyfully and gratefully in His service,

Jeffrey and Kristin Lee from Kigali, RWANDA,