Friday, September 23, 2011

Trip to Musanze...

On Friday, September 23rd, I made a trip to Musanze, the north western hub in Rwanda, to visit UOB staff at Musanze Regional Center and to meet the Irish potato farmers. Emmanuel Mugandura traveled with me as an interpreter.

Musanze Regional Center houses Musanze EBU (Entrepreneurial Business Unit), Musanze RSC (Regional Support Center) and Musanze Branch, with a total staff of 21.

Musanze EBU serves over 4,000 clients in six districts: Musanze, Nyabihu, Rubavu, Ngororero, Burera and Gakenke through 11 relational staff while Musanze Branch serves an additional 2,000 clients since it was opened in early 2011.

Our meeting with the staff lasted for about three hours, centering around the bankwide performance update, new products and services under development, listening to their feedback on new products, their opportunities and challenges, and their requests.

After the meeting, we visited Irish potato farmers in Kinigi, a sector in Musanze District. This is where you begin your mountain gorilla trekking. We provided input financing for 47 farmers through KOABIKI cooperative about four months ago and the first cycle is ending soon. I wanted to talk to the cooperative leadership about their experiences on farming this past season and with UOB.

We began the meeting with a thanksgiving prayer to the Lord whom we worship together. I was delighted when Emmanuel, the chairman and president of KOABIKI, suggested that we begin the meeting with a prayer. Several members who attended the meeting as KOABIKI's leadership were all Christians!

This past season, they faced several challenges in growing Irish potatoes. First, they had a drought in early growing season; second, they had unexpected rain that also damaged the crop and third, they had a disease in late growing season that most adversely affected the harvest. Nonetheless, Emmanuel, the cooperative chairman and president, said that he was thankful to God who has kept the damage to the level that most of the cooperative members are able to absorb. The technical adviser to the cooperative said that 70% of the 47 borrowers were able to increase the yields significantly thanks to the input financing provided for them. We praised the Lord!

They made a few requests and we all agreed to expand the relationship. The cooperative has 76 members and this season up to 60 members will apply for the loan.

We are planning to scale up our input financing for Irish potato farmers in the region, including Nyabihu, Burera, Rubavu Districts, in addition to Musanze District. May God continue to be gracious to them in transforming their holistic lives! - Jeffrey

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Young Technocrats in Rwanda...

Rwanda has many young people who were educated in the developed countries and who are now serving the country in government posts. They are young technocrats.

[This photo is of President's Forum with Young African Leaders in the U.S.]

They are smart, reasonable, ambitious, hard working and motivated to help Rwanda transform into a self-sustainable country. They are willing to listen and learn to improve in every aspect. They are anxious to see the jigsaw puzzle pieces come together to draw a complete picture for the government, for the country and for the people of Rwanda.

I had a private meeting with a director general of a government agency along with two senior policy analysts at the President's Office. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss about how to improve certain policy and procedural issues at the subject government agency. (I am afraid that I cannot disclose the agency for privacy and in courtesy.) This particular agency has been enforcing certain regulatory issues but far beyond the extent of rational comprehension from the perspective of an expatriate who is coming from a developed country that has already gone through such a process.

This director general is not an ordinary person. This person is a Harvard Law School graduate and is smart. This person could be proud and possibly conceited. But this person was eager to listen and willing to make changes. Two senior policy analysts also have similar calibers and maintain the same attitude towards changes and learning.

How impressive they are!

This is a huge difference that the Rwandan government has and that most of other developing countries do not have. These young technocrats are the next generation leaders for Rwanda and present a great hope to this rapidly transforming country. With the visionary leader, President Paul Kagame, who leads the country with principles and discipline, these young technocrats can develop the country into an exemplary knowledge-based affluent society which most of African countries only dream of. May this become a reality in Rwanda! - Jeffrey

Friday, September 16, 2011

Trip to Ngoma EBU and Kigali West EBU...

On Friday, September 16, 2011, I traveled to visit Ngoma EBU and Kigali West EBU. This trip was made as part of my annual plan to visit all business units to meet with the staff and clients to assess their needs and to take appropriate actions. Daniel Ryumugabe, Director of Transformation Impact traveled with me as the interpreter.

Ngoma EBU (Entrepreneurial Business Unit) serves three districts in the Eastern Province: Ngoma, Kirehe and part of Kayonza. A total of eight Relationship Staff are now serving over 3,700 clients, some located 78 km away from the EBU office. Ngoma EBU is one of the top performing business units in all aspects: outreach, lending staff productivity, transformation activities, PAR control, recovery etc. It was great joy to talk to the Relationship Staff who are serving the clients with clear mission and right attitude.

I spent good amount of time asking them about the initial 4-week training when they form a new group. During this initial training period, approximately 25% of the interested applicants drop out. But it is a necessary process to screen out those who will not abide by the rules established for the trust group. After the initial training is completed, the EBU Leader makes the final visit and determines if the group is ready to borrow or not. With the leader's approval, the group will receive their first loan in two weeks. Thus, it is taking approximately six weeks from the first contact until the group receives the first loan. It is a long process, but this process has played a significant role in helping develop a healthy habit in honoring the debt obligations and keeping the loan portfolio quality strong historically.

On the way back, we also visited Kigali West in Nyabugogo, Kigali. They had just moved to this new office about two weeks earlier. Kigali West is also one of the top performing business units,
serving a little over 3,700 clients, with seven Relationship Staff. They maintain an excellent teamwork and their productivity is the highest among 11 EBUs. We had a wonderful discussion about the expansion plan for greater outreach in three districts they serve: Gasabo, Nyarugenge and Rulindo. They have a strong motivation to serve the clients well and a good discipline to balance between humble service and stewardship. I love them.

Whenever I visit the field offices, I am tired physically but greatly encouraged and uplifted spiritually. They are the faces of UOB and the ambassadors of the gospel. I am honored to be serving the Lord together with them. - Jeffrey

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

UNCDF Article about UOB Mobile Banking...

UNCDF stands for United Nations Capital Development Fund.

UOB received a $200,000 grant from UNCDF in 2011. This fund will be used to develop mobile banking and agency banking solutions to expand UOB's outreach to the rural poor. It is part of tireless effort to expand the financial inclusion.

In this regard, UNCDF published an article about UOB and its mobile banking development effort recently.

I hope you enjoy reading it. - Jeffrey

Medical and Dental Mission from S. Korea...

[Dental services.............................Medical services................................Patients waiting outside........]

Hearts and Hands International is an NGO in S. Korea. Its focus is to provide medical and dental services for the poor in developing countries in the name of Jesus Christ, reflecting His love.

Hearts and Hands International is in the process of establishing its first overseas office in Rwanda. Dr. Minsu Koh, a veterinarian doctor by profession, represents Hearts and Hands International, but came to Rwanda as a missionary to help establish its first overseas office in Rwanda. His wife Aesim and their son Kyungchul came together.

As part of its initial mission programs, Hears and Hands International has sent a group of medical and dental professionals recently, totaling eight. They included two dentists, one physician, two dental higienists and two assistants. Together with five additional people who are expatriates to Rwanda, they provided medical and dental services in Musanze and Nyaruguru Districts from September 12th to 15th. All in all, they treated approximately 400 patients and provided medicines for a few hundreds of additional people.

Kristin as a registered nurse in the U.S. was one of the Rwandan residents who helped the ministry. And, UOB worked together with Hearts and Hands International in its outreach and ministry to the residents in Nyaruguru.

Hears and Hands International plans to send the health care mission team every six months and UOB plans to continue collaborating with them in their outreach and ministry. Their commitment to serving the poor is in line with UOB's mission and also with what Jesus himself said in response to John Baptist's question if He (Jesus) was the messiah:

Jesus replied, "Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me." (Matthew 11:4-6)

May God bless His people who are doing good works in the name of Jesus and spreading the good news to the poor! - Jeffrey

Sunday, September 11, 2011

God's New Society...(Ephesians 2:11-22)

I was privileged to preach today at Agape Korean Church in Rwanda. Here is the summary of the sermon.

When God created the universe, everything was orderly with perfect harmony. Of course without sin. It was Shalom: Absolutely sinless peace of God. God said that it was good.

When the human accepted sin into them, however, all the order, harmony and peace of God were shattered. Along with them, the relationships with God, others, self and all the creation were also broken. There was no longer Shalom. And the cause of the problem was the sin.

God did not give up on the sinful humanity, however, because He loved the humanity too much, whom He created in His image. He had a way to save them. His way was Jesus Christ. Whoever believes in Him, who died for all humanity bearing all sins, to be the way to salvation may be saved.

The cure for the sin was the cross and Christ's shed blood on behalf of the humanity. It was the innocent life of the Savior but it was the gospel: the good news for us.

The collective body of these believers was called the church. John Stott called the church "God's new society" to the humanity and the community that people labeled "Christianos" or "Christians" because the only common ground for these people was Christ whom they love and serve.

This new society was the only group of people who demonstrated that the irreconcilable relationships may still be mended and healed because the holy and sinless God and the sinful humans were reconciled by the peacemaking Jesus. The Ephesians 2:11-22 describes that the Jews and the gentiles were also reconciled because Jesus, who is the peace, tore down the wall and made them one. What seemed impossible was made possible in God and His grace. Through this community, one may taste a glimpse of restored Shalom again. This Shalom will be fully and completed restored when Jesus returns, we believe.

This new community of God should have three characteristics:

1. The community of faith: The community of these people should have the same confession of faith. It should be in line with the great confession of Peter: "You are the Christ, the son of the living God" who died for us. The scripture guarantees that we will receive the Holy Spirit as the gift when we repent our sins and receive forgiveness. (Acts 2:38) So this community becomes that of the Holy Spirit experiencing God's power and that of the worship to God, that of the prayer and that of the scriptures.

2. The community of love: The community of these people should be of love because God is love. (1 John 4:7,8) He gave us this love as the new command because, when we love each other like Jesus loved us, it evidences that we are His disciples. (John 13:34,35) Love is the essence of Christianity and without it whatever we do is meaningless.

3. The community of mission: The community of these people should be of mission because it is the purpose of His salvation for us. The body of Christ, the new community, is not whole at present. He is crippled because not all members of His body have been added to His body. Thus, mission is necessary to help make the body whole. Until it is completed or made whole, we are only work in process. Mission is for all saints, the whole church.

Lausanne Covenant declares that the Whole Church is responsible for taking the Whole Gospel to the Whole World. The Cape Town Commitment, the third Lausanne Congress held in October 2010 in Cape Town, South Africa, declared that the mission should be integral and the integral mission should include not only the proclamation of the gospel but also the demonstration of the gospel. It is every Christian's mandate to be involved in mission, not just of the pastors, the missionaries, the mission department etc.

May God's new society advance and expand not by force or by words but by the Spirit alone so that the world may know that He lives and saves the poor in spirit. - Jeffrey

September 11... 10th Anniversary...

[On this day of the 10th Anniversary of September 11, I reflect on the unbelievable and unbearable tragedy that took place 10 years ago. It is a clear evidence of the broken relationship that resulted from the sin that came into the humanity. The following is an e-mail message that Sukhee Kang, the Mayor of the City of Irvine California, sent out via an e-mail.]

On the morning of September 11, 2001, our world changed forever when four planes - hijacked by terrorists - crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

In that brief moment, nearly 3,000 innocent people lost their lives. The overwhelming majority of them had no choice in their sacrifice. Since then, thousands of service men and women have made the ultimate sacrifice in the struggle for peace, freedom and finding those responsible. Many joined our military expressly because of 9/11. They serve proudly, courageously and freely to preserve our freedom.

Of all the tragic images of 9/11 - and there were many - the sight of America's first responders going UP the stairs of the Twin Towers as workers and visitors ran DOWN the stairs will remain with me forever. They showed absolute courage and selfless devotion to saving lives.

The American people lost their mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, colleagues and friends, but it did not lose its courage and unity. Ultimately, the attack on our country ten years ago galvanized our nation into action. Last May, we were all reminded of that horrific day in 2001 through a promised kept by
America to find those responsible and bring them to justice with the capture of 9/11 mastermind Osama Bin Laden.

On this day of remembrance, I am asking you to take a little time to reflect on those that we have lost and those who are fighting for our freedoms abroad everyday. We also must remember what our first responders sacrificed on that tragic day. Please take time to remember the power of the human spirit - the acts of bravery and selflessness by the first responders like police officers and firefighters.

Most importantly, remember our promise to never forget both the good and the evil - it will help us to stay aware and vigilant signifying that our nation continues; our nation endures.

Sukhee Kang, Mayor of the City of Irvine, California

May the true peace that may come only from the Prince of Peace be restored in this peace-less world! - Jeffrey

Saturday, September 3, 2011

On Top of Mt. Kilimanjaro...

From August 28th to September 2nd, 2011, five of my friends in their fifties, including myself, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa (5,895 meter high), through the Magangu Route or affectionately called "The Coca Cola Route."

Five friends were Min-young Jung, Jae-sup Choi, Jay Yoon, Bohye Kim and myself.

Before the Climb...

In September 2009, when I was flying from Zanzibar to Nairobi, Kenya, the pilot drew our attention to Mt. Kilimanjaro on our left. Through the window, I saw Mt. Kilimanjaro for the first time which was sticking out through the sea of clouds for the first time. It looked even mysterious.

"Ahh... Kilimanjaro... may I climb this mountain while I am still in Africa..." I murmured. It became a dream and it was two years ago.

In August 2010, I sent out an invitation to my friends to form a group to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. Initially ten people signed up. After two months, two dropped out. Early 2011, another dropped out and two more dropped out in June 2011. Thus, we have become "the Five of the Fifties" since we all were in our fifties.

Two came from New York, one from Korea and two from Rwanda. I knew them all but they did not know each other mostly until we all met in Moshi Town, Tanzania on August 26th. Before they arrived in Moshi Town, all had to exercise and prepare for this climb at their own pace and their own way. Two from New York were most serious. One climbed to the base camp of Mt. Everest and the other trekked to the base camp of Mt. Ana Purna. I did my share of preparation by climbing the tallest mountain in Rwanda, Karisimbi (4,508 meter high); hiked in the Rocky Mountains, Colorado for five days; and hiked various hills and mountains in Rwanda. Others had also prepared for the climb similarly until we all arrived in Moshi Town, Tanzania on 26th.

This hike had been a dream for two years and in the works for the past one year.

The Climb...

Day 1 (August 28th, 2011)

Early in the morning, we gathered in a small dining hall after breakfast for a worship. Brother Min-young Jung shared the message. He is a career missionary who is currently a member of global leadership team for Wycliffe Bible Translators International.

After our own worship service, we were transported from Buffalo Hotel where we stayed to Akaro Tours office first and to Marangu Gate (1,895 m).

After registration, we started hiking a trail that led us to Mandara Hut (2,700 m). We passed through Montana Forest, a rain forest, and a little bit of moorland or heather. It was a blessing that we did not have any rain while passing through the rain forest. It was a short 4-hour walk and we all felt great. Walking through a rain forest without rain is a great experience.

The Mandara Hut comprised A-framed cabins where in total 60 people can sleep. The cabins had solar panels, but due to gloomy days they must have not gathered enough sun lights for the lighting. To our surprise, we received warm water for washing and great meal for dinner.

Day 2 (August 29th, 2011)

Before we took off from Mandara Hut, we posed for a photo. We were still smiling, not knowing what was waiting for us up there. From Mandara Hut, we were still passing through the heathers. On the way, we saw many plants that were unique to Mt. Kilimanjaro. They were beautiful. We were unable to see the peak because of clouds that were covering up the summit.

Our guide, Jimmy, was a veteran climber. He has reached the summit more than 100 times. This 38-year old guide has reminded us a familiar expression in Swahili: "Pole Pole" meaning "slowly slowly." We have heard it numerous times but we were not sure how slow the pace should be. It was Jimmy who set the pace and we had to follow him. At first, the pace was far too slower than we anticipated. But we soon realized that it had to be that way.

After a six-hour hike, we arrived at Horombo Hut (3,700 m) where up to 120 people can sleep. Horombo Hut also includes A-framed cabins but these cabins were larger than those at Mandara Hut. At this height, the clouds were below the camp site. In other words, we were above the sea of clouds. It was enough to amaze us. After a delicious meal, we went to bed pretty early.

Day 3 (August 30th, 2011)

This was the acclimatization day. From Horombo Hut, we set out to climb to Zebra Rocks and Mawenzi Hut (4,200 m) and came back down to Horombo Hut. It is said that people start experiencing altitude sickness from the height of 3,700 m. Thus, we added one additional day to the hike schedule, like many others.

From Mawenzi Hut, we were able to see two peaks: one is Mawenzi Peak at 5,165 m and the other is Kilimanjaro Peak to where we were heading. In distance, we were able to see our target and we all were excited to see the tallest mountain in Africa close by although the way to reach the top looked somewhat overwhelming.

To this point, however, our excitements outweighed the pains and agony that we had to endure.

Day 4 (August 31st, 2011)

Early morning, we set out from Horombo Hut where we stayed for two nights towards Kibo Hut (4,700 m) from where we were trying to hike the summit. On the way, we passed through "No water point." From this point and up, there is no running water. We hiked the alpine area, also called "The Saddle" towards the Kibo Hut. It was called "The Saddle" because we were passing through what looked like a saddle between the Kilimanjaro Peak and another mountain nearby. It was windy and dry. Jimmy's walking pace became even slower than before. We all had to learn to be patient.

Jimmy explained that there are at least three reasons for slow walking. First, it helps with acclimatization. Second, it helps conserve the energy. We realized we did not have to sweat during our hike. Third, it helps get accustomed to the pace of hike when we will attempt to hike the summit. It did not take too long until we witnessed what he meant.

After approximately six-hour hike, we arrived at Kibo Hut that was mainly a stone-built house with several rooms. We were assigned to a room with several bunk beds and two other ladies joined us in our room. Christina was a Belgian young lady traveling alone and Maria was a Dutch lady who came with her friend but the friend chose to stay at Horombo Hut because she felt scared by the steep slope to the top.

We ate the dinner at 5Pm and from 7PM we were encouraged to take a nap until 11PM when we will have to wake up and get ready to climb to the summit. We arranged with five additional porters who will help us individually by carrying the backpack and providing assistance as necessary. My assistant was called Bakal.

Day 5 (September 1st, 2011)

After preparation, we lined up and headed out in one line with the headlamp turned on. We were a party of 12, including the guide and his assistant guide Johnson in addition to five of us and our assistants. It looked like a little fun until we soon realized it was not a joking matter to climb the hills that are covered with screes. It was tough to walk in altitude to begin with and it became worse as we walked along the path covered with screes. It was slippery and required more attention and energy than before. Moreover, we were hiking in the middle of night. We were tired and sleepy.

To keep us from falling into sleep, Johnson led the assistants to sing several songs constantly. Nonetheless, we found ourselves losing our consciousness momentarily several times on the way up. After five hours of hike, slow but gruelingly exhausting, we started seeing the sky behind us changing its color to orange. The sun was getting ready to rise. We were still seeing lines of lights quite significantly above us, indicating that the Gilman's Point was still far away. Some of us started falling behind and losing strength and breath.

Before we reached the Gilman's Point, the sun was rising. Jung and I decided to sit down and see the sunrise. It was beautiful, but more importantly it was a moment of rest that we treasured highly. Catching up with my breath, I was praying that the lights of the gospel may shine Africa like the rising sun.

After the sunrise, we felt it was getting warm pretty fast. But we could not speed up our hike because altitude sickness was kicking in fast. Slowly but at a steady pace we endured the last pitch of the hike to reach the Gilman's Point (5,681 m). Gilman's Point was rather small, disappointingly. Somehow I was expecting a plaza, but it was a small open space with a wooden sign.

This alone was a great feat for us, but we could not settle there and stop there. We took a few photos and wanted to take longer rest than before. But Jimmy was urging us to keep walking. We were told not to rest longer than 5 minutes.

We had to press on towards Uhuru Peak (5,895 m). Jimmy pointed at the Uhuru Peak. It was at the other side of the crater rim. It did not look too far from Gilman's Point. But we soon realized that it was a lot further than it looked and a lot tougher than we hoped. Nonetheless we continued our slow hiking to gain additional 200 or so meters but the distance was far enough to cost us more than two hours.

Two hours of grueling hike hit us with various symptoms of altitude sickness. It included headache, nausea, dizziness, lack of breath, chest pain and vomiting. Moreover, we were physically tired and extremely sleepy. We were walking like dead people, exhaling as much carbon dioxide as possible and inhaling as much oxygen as possible. Several times, our steps were misplaced and our assistants had to hold us up not to fall. We felt like giving up.

But... we were too close to the summit to give in. It was a mental battle and a will fight.

On the way to the Uhuru Peak at the crater rim, we passed through Stella Point that was the gateway to the top for the Machame Route, the other route open to amateurs, and walls of glaciers. Glaciers were a lot more than I expected. But we were told that they were retreating fast from the peak and thus melting also fast. It is anticipated that glaciers will soon melt away.

The Uhuru Peak was like it was moving backward. We had to pass through several moments of reaching the peak, but each time Uhuru Peak was pushed farther away. Eye sights were getting weak and our will was dwindling.

At last, however, the Uhuru Peak came in sight.
We pushed ourselves with the last remaining energy. And we finally reached the peak.


It was 9:01AM on September 1st.

We were at the peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro finally after nine hours of grueling hike. One of us ended up vomiting at the peak. Nonetheless, we all took photos with our best efforts for smiling.

There was no snow or ice at the top. It was rather dry and dusty. But it was cold.

I originally planned to spend time praying for Africa and people of Africa. But we were not allowed this relaxed time. Our body was also not very cooperative. Our prayer time was quick but nonetheless we prayed for God's grace upon the countries and peoples of Africa.

Jimmy was now urging us to walk down, not too fast but as fast as physically possible. Altitude sickness may only be cured when the altitude is brought down. Our body was
heavy and sluggish. We felt like sitting down and even better sleeping, but we were not allowed to do so. After sitting down for a few minutes, we were urged to keep walking.

Coming down through the steep hills from Gilman's Point was another challenge. It was a slope of almost 60 degrees and covered with screes. It was impossible to walk in normal steps. I chose to run and slide down on the screes, as if I was skiing the slope. It was fun to certain extent, but my body was physically weak because of lack of sleep and strength.

We all arrived back at Kibo Hut around noon. We were given two hours of rest. We all fell into sleep immediately, regardless of dust covering our clothes and body.

After a quick meal, we had to continue our hiking down from Kibo Hut to Horombo Hut. It took us another three hours. It was far better than at the top, but it was still a long walk after the grueling hike to the summit.

By the time we arrived at Horombo Hut, we were completely exhausted. But we felt great about being able to reach the summit. I even took a cold shower at Horombo Hut (very chilling) to wash the dust and smell. Overall we hiked more than 15 hours today. After a quick dinner, we felt into a long sleep around 8PM.

Day 6 (September 2nd, 2011)

We woke up around 6AM and prepared for the final day of hike to come back down to the Marangu Gate. It will be another 6 hours of walking. The hike was light and easy after the previous day's exhaustive hike.

Finally we reached the gate and filled out the final registration to receive the certificate for the successful hike to the summit. It was a great feeling for all of us. One of us got injured on the knee because of continued pressure from the long hours of hiking down. Finally she had to be transported via a car through a rescue road when two hours were left before we reached the gate. Previously, she had to receive assistance from Jimmy and Johnson.

On the way to the summit, we saw beautiful plants, rocks, birds, some animals, skies, clouds, sunrises, glaciers etc. Here are some photos.

[We had a total of 18 people who helped us throughout the journey and they were great!]

[We posed for a photo after all having received the certificates of the climb at the Akaro Tours office. It was a great feeling.]

I felt so grateful for the opportunity to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro and equally for the opportunity to fellowship with my friends whom I treasure a lot.

May this joy of climbing the tallest mountain in Africa empower us in a great way throughout our lives! Shalom! - Jeffrey