Thursday, December 31, 2009

December Vacation

Les/Todd: December tends to be a very crazy month for us. Most nonprofits experience a lot of extra activity in December tied to additional donations and winding down the year - PEER Servants is no exception. The holidays also bring additional activities. In the midst of all this, we try to make December a month where we can catch up on some much-needed rest and relaxation. As much as we love working with PEER Servants, it can be a 24/7 job for much of the year.

That's where our good friends, Dave and Terry Monaghan come in! Thay have a nice house right on the Indian River Lagoon on Hutchinson Island in Florida. They are away for much of December, so last year and this they made their place available to us. What a blessing. What do we do? Nothing!!! Watching the sun set is about as much activity as either of us care to take part in. It's a great place to get away to, and we really thank Dave and Terry for their generosity and thoughtfulness.

This December had an added attraction in that we had visitors from South Africa! Moss Mphaga is the Board Chairman of Aloga Financial Services, our microfinace partner located in Pretoria. He and his wife, Lindi, and children Khutli (age 7) and Titi (age 6) met us in Florida on December 11 and then followed us to Boston and stayed through December 26. We had a wonderful visit with them, complete with some days at one of my favorite places in the world, Walt Disney World!

So, while this December was just as crazy as Decembers typically are, it was a joy-filled month that we will cherish for some time to come.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Inspiration from the Philippines

Todd: At PEER Servants, one of our most distinctive core values is what we call "The Reign of Reciprocity". It puts into practice the belief that God has created us to be a blessing to each other. That is true whether one is materially rich or materially poor. Time and time again we have experienced ways God has prepared our brothers and sisters in Christ from around the world to enrich and strengthen us. That is true for Les and me, and it is true for a growing number of those associated with PEER Servants.

That was particularly true in my November 2009 trip to the Philippines and our microfinance partner, The Center for Community Transformation (CCT). CCT has over 100,000 community partners, including these four weavers (upper right), whom they serve with loans, savings programs, insurance, weekly fellowship groups (including Bible studies), and so much more. They run the microfinance activity so well that the profits generated can provide funding for ministry to streetdwellers (lower left) and children of the microfinance clients. They excel at meeting both the physical and spiritual needs of the very materially poor in the Philippines and doing so in a manner that the materially poor come to discover all that God made them to be. It is really inspiring to be around the CCT team!

Joining me on this trip were David Ryder, our PEER Servants Board Chairman (upper left), and Heather and Jeff Takle (sitting second and third from the right in the lower right picture). It was the first trip to one of our microfinance partners for Dave and he returned very impressed with the work of CCT and committed to Christian microfinance as a means to empower the materially poor. Heather and Jeff worked closely with the CCT staff in gaining exposure and completing research enabling them to prepare some case studies on CCT. These case studies will be used by other indigenous Christian MFIs around the world as they map out their own paths to becoming high-impact organizations.

We thank God for CCT and the other microfinance organizations around the world whom God is using to not only strengthen the materially poor, but those of us in PEER Servants as well.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

2009 Walk for Economic Empowerment

Leslie/Todd: Our big fundraising event each year to raise loan capital for PEER Servants' microfinance partners is our Walk for Economic Empowerment. It started back in 2006. This year we took some steps to grow the event by inviting World Relief and HOPE International - two excellent Christian organizations active in microfinance, and expanding the sites from beyond Boston to DC/Baltimore, Charlotte, and Columbus. The event raised over $87,000 for the materially poor -- around $44,000 of that for PEER Servants. But it also gave us the opportunity as followers of Jesus to show to our friends, family, and general community that we, too, really cared about the materially poor. It gave us the opportunity to work together with other organizations that, while each may have different strategies, we share the common goal of desiring to see the materially poor empowered in the name of Jesus. And it gave us an opportunity for a great time!

This collage provides a peek at each of the four sites. Our hope and prayer is that God will continue to build this event for His glory and the empowerment of the materially poor.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

17 Wonderful Days in Africa

Todd: Were you looking for us from August 21 through September 6? If so, you would have found us in Africa - Uganda, Zambia, and South Africa. And you would have found us tremendously blessed by our African brothers and sisters in Christ. Yes - the material needs are great, but the social and spiritual wealth is remarkable and much of what we long to see within the North American church.

Most of our trip we were in Uganda. We were joined by very dedicated PEER Servants volunteer, Richard Kinyua (seated center in this picture), and worked with CAFECC, our microfinance partner in Arua in the northwest corner of Uganda, very close to the border with the DRC and Sudan. We provided consulting in the area of making process improvements and better managing risk to the CAFECC management and staff. Richard worked with the CAFECC staff to introduce a new loan administration software package that will enable them to process their loans much more efficiently. In addition, we met with the CAFECC board to hear from them what they see their next steps and challenges being on their path to establishing a sustainable, transformational Christian microfinance institution. We were very impressed with the CAFECC board -- they are willing to face some pretty major challenges squarely in the eye and take the steps needed to overcome them. We are confident they will succeed.

While in Uganda, CAFECC carried on a lot of their regular daily activities. This included making loans to each of ten women (pictured, right) who had formed a group. They have quite a range of businesses -- from running a small convenience store to raising chickens and more. Lord willing, it will enable them to send their young babies to school when the time comes. We also attended the group meeting of another group of ten or so women who were already repaying their loan. They had 100% repayment rate. And, another group of women, most of whom were Muslim, came to the meeting as well expressing their interest in receiving a loan. The needs and opportunities are great - join us in praying that CAFECC will be able to effectively reach them.

Given the frequency with which we travel to Africa, we have developed some very close relationships with our African brothers and sisters. One such close sister in Christ is Nora, pictured here with Leslie. Nora is a Sudanese refugee living in Uganda. I think just from the picture you can tell what a warm and loving person she is. She has every reason to be otherwise -- her life and that of her family devastated by war, not having sufficient financial income to give her children an education, her husband having to live hours away to get a job, and her health deteriorating with a heart condition that needs medical attention but she can't afford it. That is the reality of life for someone living on $2 or less a day. And almost 1/2 of our world lives just like that. WWJD? What a wonderful question. Our hope and prayer is that close friends like Nora will keep us and you asking that question until we get closer to having and living out the right answers.

From Uganda we traveled to Zambia - to Lusaka, the capital. There we met Canga Kamwambe, another very dedicated PEER Servants volunteer, who happened to be in Lusaka for the wedding of one of her cousins. Canga is originally from Malawi. (Richard, who we were with in Uganda, is originally from Kenya. Many of our PEER Servants volunteers are originally from other countries and are very strategic in establishing close partnerships with indigenous organizations.) Our focus was providing business plan and financial modeling consulting to our newest microfinance partner, CEMFIN. The CEMFIN board and management (including Chairman of the Board, Buta Gondwe, center, and Managing Director, Alick Kalonga, right) are preparing their application to the Bank of Zambia to become a formal microfinance institution. They will then set out on joining the Holy Spirit in providing a means to transformation for the materially poor that crowd the Lusaka slums. They will be walking where Jesus would walk and we can't wait to see the transformed lives that result!

Our final stop was South Africa -- what has long been one of my favorite countries to visit. Our stay was short -- just over 30 hours, but within that time we had an opportunity to meet with key board members of Aloga Financial Services, our South African microfinance partner, and hear from them their vision for the next 5 years. God has blessed this organization with a very capable board and dedicated management. As a result, Aloga can "boast" more recent Lydia Award winners than any of our other microfinance partners. They are doing a commendable job of not just keeping the poor poor, which microfinance sometimes does, but identifying those among their clients who can really bring transformation to their communities and focusing their resources on them. We stayed in the home of board chairman, Moss Mphaga and his beautiful family. Moss, Lindi, Khutli, and Titi (pictured here) are very dear friends to us. Moss has become a leading advocate (lawyer) in South Africa -- yet, you'll find him serving his church, helping Aloga expand its reach, and tending to the needs of his distant family members. As a 15-year old young man, he was shot by the security forces within apartheid South Africa -- Jesus has redeemed him, allowed him to forgive, and become a very powerful agent of transformation in his country. We are inspired to be around him on every visit to South Africa.

Passing through South Africa on the way to Uganda on the front end of the trip, we also were blessed to overnight with Jesse and Vicki Ratichek. Jesse is the PEER Servants Africa Regional Management Consultant. They just moved to South Africa in July for a 2-3 year consultancy with Aloga. They have settled in well - have a really nice apartment and are already driving on the correct side of the road! More impressively, Jesse has already started to make a significant contribution at Aloga. Jesse and Vicki are an extremely impressive couple grounded in their faith, competent in what they do, and eager to serve humbly and in a manner that honors Jesus. We are really proud to have them representing PEER Servants in Africa.

Thanks for your prayers during this trip. YOU are a very critical member of each trip we make -- thank you. And if you ever want to join us on one of these trips, just say the word and get ready to be tremendously blessed!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Celebrating our 2009 Lydia Award Winners

Todd: You can't help but notice throughout the Bible, especially the Old Testament, that when God did something great, the people celebrated! We love to celebrate as well in PEER Servants, especially when we see the transformed lives that God is raising up from among the entrepreneurial clients of our microfinance partners.

Every year, we give out what we call "Lydia Awards" within PEER Servants to recognize the very top micro-entrepreneurs. Lydia was a businesswoman mentioned in Acts 16 who supported Paul and his missionary companions as they traveled through her part of Greece. In fact, Bible scholars credit Lydia with being one of the most important people in supporting the growth of the church into Europe. How did she do it? Through her business - selling purple dye and cloth, which was very lucrative at the time.

What we did this year for the first time is expand the process for determining our Lydia Award winners to include both online voting (did you vote? -- if not, make certain to do so next year) and a Lydia Award Celebration evening. We have a group of 5 dedicated volunteers who reviewed all of the nominees and selected 3 semi-finalists (pictured here) -- Victor, a cement block manufacturer and pastor from Moldova; Kikielomo, a chicken breeder and wholesaler from Nigeria; and, Rasanayagam, a chicken breeder and retailer from South Asia. All three semifinalists were really amazing -- Kikielomo subsidizes education for 150 school children through her business, and Rasanayagam has overcome his physical disability (he has one arm) to establish one of the most innovative and profitable chicken businesses in the region. Selecting a first, second, and third place from among these semifinalists wasn't easy. In fact, when all of the votes were tallied, Victor (Moldova) received 14% of the vote, and Kikielomo (Nigeria) and Rasanayagam (South Asia) both had 43% of the vote! Kikielomo received just a vote or two more than Rasanayagam, so she was the very deserving 2009 Lydia Award winner.

Our Lydia Award Celebration was one of our best nights of the year within PEER Servants. 40+ people gathered in the home of one of our donors to celebrate transformation. Cuisine from Moldova, Nigeria, and South Asia -- the countries/regions of our three semifinalists - was served, special music provided, and an opportunity given to praise God for what He had done in our midst. The excitement of such a close vote only added to making it a very special evening.

We wish all clients who are served by our microfinance partners could witness the kind of transformation in their lives that these Lydia Award semifinalists have - unfortunately, that is not the case. But these Lydia Award semifinalists do represent thousands who experience some element of economic, social, and spiritual transformation because of your willingness to support them through your financial and prayerful partnership. Thank you!

Friday, July 31, 2009

2009 Training Camp

Todd: July is the month of our annual Training Camp. It's a weekend dedicated to microfinance training, spiritual challenge, learning to become more cross-culturally effective, and good ol' fellowship! This year 25+ gathered at Gordon College on July 24-26 for Training Camp. Our theme for the Camp was "to the ends of the earth" and it was a refreshing time to step back, assess what it is going to take to reach the ends of the earth with the love of Christ, and become better equipped to do so. Highlights of the weekend include the following:
  • Pastor Gideon Achi from Nigeria kicked us off by challenging us in whether we are really committed to follow Christ or too comfortable in enjoying a lavish, by the world's standards, lifestyle.
  • Scott Sterner got rave reviews for his Christian Micro-Enterprise Development 101 lecture.
  • We looked at a case study of one of the most effective Christian MFIs, the Center for Community Transformation in the Philippines, and what we can learn from them in establishing Christ-centered microfinance programs.
  • Abraham Thon, originally from the Sudan, and Leslie Engelsen guided us through a discussion on cross-cultural effectiveness after watching the excellent movie "God Grew Tired of Us".
  • Val Boudreau led us through an assessment of our priorities in life and whether we are really living our lives by them.
  • Dave Leach hosted his ever-popular annual game of Microfinance Jeopardy!
  • We played games from Mexico and Nigeria and had a blast!
It was a weekend of transformation - in our own lives, and eventually the lives we hope to touch through Christian microfinance and the ministry of PEER Servants. Thanks for your support to make it possible!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Five Years (and Counting) Since John Hancock

Todd: June 11, 2009 marked the fifth anniversary of my leaving John Hancock and focusing full-time on PEER Servants responsibilities. It has been a very full and fun five years! The occasion offers an opportunity to reflect back on God's faithfulness and some highlights while looking ahead to where we go from here.

I still get asked if I miss the corporate world. As much as I enjoyed it, the answer is definitely no! I have not for even a second questioned my decision to transition to focusing full-time on empowering the materially poor and doing so in a manner that strengthens the materially rich spiritually and socially. God's timing was perfect.

Since leaving John Hancock, we have been able to grow PEER Servants by adding more volunteers, full-time staff, and committed board members. We have trained our volunteers to better serve our microfinance partners. We have helped more of our microfinance partners become sustainable, thereby enabling them to cover their own expenses of operations, and transformational, being a means through which economic, social, and spiritual transformation can be experienced by a growing number of the materially poor. We have gathered all of our microfinance partners in South Africa (2004) and Peru (2007) for powerful times of training and encouragement. The Walk for Economic Empowerment started in 2006 and has been held annually ever since, raising loan capital for thousands to be blessed. There are many times we wished we could have accomplished more, but we rest in what God has achieved through us and wrestle with new ways we can approach this high calling to more effectively extend His Kingdom.

As excited as we have been with these past five years, we see them just as a springboard for the years to come. This year, our Walk for Economic Empowerment will expand from being just a PEER Servants walk in Boston to a walk representing three organizations involved in Christian microfinance (World Relief, Hope International, and PEER Servants) in four locations (DC/Baltimore, Charlotte, and Columbus (OH), in addition to Boston). Next year we will bring all of our microfinance partners to Boston for Reciprocity 2010 - what could become our largest sponsored event yet! Our goal is to focus on those microfinance partners that have proven their ability to offer sustainable transformation to the materially poor.

I thank God for the 20 years at John Hancock. The income from John Hancock is what provided the savings Les and I have been able to live on these past five wonderful years of ministry. Now we will transition to raising our personal financial support through PEER Servants. Our salary will be a small sliver of what it had been at John Hancock. The same faithful God that has led us this far will certainly meet all of our needs. If you would like to be part of our financial support team, we'd love to hear from you!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Taking a Break

Leslie/Todd: Life rarely slows down for us, and we love it! With the combination of overseeing a growing ministry, running the "Hotel E" (what our friends call our home given the number and frequency of our house guests), and investing in a number of people's lives, we don't get many opportunities to take a break. We thank God that the last week of May offered such an opportunity!

We had the pleasure of taking Todd's parents to southeastern Michigan for the wedding of one their 20+ grandchildren (our nephew). As this picture attests, on the way we made a stop at Niagara Falls. From the wedding we went to Newaygo, Michigan to visit with former next-door-neighbors, Lin and Jack Titus, and their beautiful family. It was a very special trip and one we will long cherish.

We have been tremendously blessed to have been raised by godly Christian parents. Les's parents are also committed followers of Christ. Seeing their examples made it very easy for us to understand the blessings of following Jesus. They are just one of countless ways we are blessed by God. It brings us great joy when we can be the means through which we can pass their blessings on to others.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Microfinance, Missions, Materialism, and Microinsurance

Leslie/Todd: April was a month of speaking engagements! We thank God for the opportunities to be involved in the following…
  • Perspectives Course: Speaking at North Shore Community Baptist Church in Beverly, MA and Park Street Church in Boston, MA on Christian Community Development within the course “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement.”

  • Microfinance and Missions: Speaking at South Baptist Church in Laconia, NH on “Microfinance and Missions” as part of their annual Missions Conference.

  • Materialism Sunday School Class: Speaking on two consecutive Sundays at Grace Chapel in Lexington, MA on “Materialism: Rich and Poor” as part of the “World-Sized Issues: Living Christianly” series.

  • Gordon College: Speaking at Gordon College in Wenham, MA for two classes - “Global Issues for the Global Church” and “World Religions.”

  • Microinsurance: Speaking at the Hope International Directors Retreat in Lancaster, PA on “Microinsurance”.

In all of these but the Microinsurance talk, we tag team in the speaking. We enjoy working together to present the material but know how we present - in this case as a mixed race couple — will be more memorable than what we present for the average person in the audience. Our hope and prayer is that will stick with the listener and the Holy Spirit will encourage them to apply it in some way to their own lives long after they have forgotten anything we said.
Preparing for and delivering these different talks in addition to our regular hectic PEER Servants schedules led to a very demanding but rewarding April. We had to be dependent on the Holy Spirit to speak through us, and our hope and prayer is that is what He did.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Reciprocity 2010

Leslie: If you want to make someone in PEER Servants smile, just say, “Kopano” or “Ricchari.” Those are two of our favorite words because they remind us of special gatherings we’ve truly enjoyed with our microfinance partners from all around the world.

In 2004 we gathered in South Africa at a conference we called Kopano (which means unity in a couple of the South African languages). It was a beautiful time of celebrating our oneness in Christ as we taught and learned from each other on how to build micro-finance programs that can have a greater impact for Christ in our world.

In 2007 we gathered in Peru at a conference called Ricchari (which means Awakening in the Quechua language). At that conference we were challenged to awaken to God’s vision for economic empowerment as a means of encouraging spiritual and material transformation in our world.

2010 is right around the corner and the PEER Servants microfinance partners and volunteer partners are already buzzing about Reciprocity, which is the name of the third triennial conference which will be held in the New England area in the summer of 2010. This theme comes from one of the core values of PEER Servants which is “The Reign of Reciprocity.” God has opened our eyes to the fact that He has created us for each other. He has gifted our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world in ways which can strengthen us in our commitment to serve Him; likewise, He has gifted us in different but complementary ways which can strengthen them in their commitment to serve Him. As we all bring to the table those gifts that God has given us, we all go from the table enriched to better accomplish the reason for which we were all created – to glorify Him and enjoy His presence forever!

I am serving as the Reciprocity 2010 conference planning coordinator. There are a host of volunteers that will be working together to make this conference a reality in such areas as helping our partners get visas and plane tickets, arranging for host families, securing a conference venue, inviting speakers, preparing for workshops, seminars, recreation, outreach and worship, organizing technical support, funding, translation, publications, and more.

One of the key speakers for the Reciprocity 2010 conference is a pastor from Nairobi Kenya named Oscar Muriu. God has given him deep insights into how we as a global family can draw from each others strengths to serve Christ more effectively and respond to the unique challenges facing our generation. We will also have workshops led by our microfinance partner in the Philippines as they share lessons learned in running one of the most spiritually, economically and socially transformational micro-finance programs we have ever seen.
At some point during the conference, we are envisioning a special event where people from the greater Boston area will gather to hear our partners share their experiences of following Christ in very challenging circumstances. When PEER Servants volunteers visit our microfinance partners they always come back home amazed by such things as the perseverance and hope of our brothers and sisters from areas affected by civil war such as southern Sudan and south Asia, the joy of the Lord and strong community that we see in our brothers and sisters from the Philippines and Brazil, the eagerness to forgive that we observe in South Africa, and the boldness and generosity of the Nigerians in evangelism and world missions despite economic limitations. The church here in the US has much to receive.
Pray with us that God will use Reciprocity 2010 to equip and empower our micro-finance partners, volunteer partners and all others who participate in the conference to appreciate all that He has invested in each of us to serve one another. Hebrews 10:24 tells us to think of ways to motivate one other to acts of love and good works. I believe there will be a lot of this at Reciprocity 2010 and that as a result we will all see Christ more clearly and serve Him for effectively.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Strategic Times in South Africa

Todd: PEER Servants’ biggest initiative in 2009 is called our “Strategic Training Initiative” (STI). We are working closely with our MP in the Philippines, The Center for Community Transformation, to tell their story and incorporate appropriate training of how they grew to become one of the largest indigenous, autonomous Christian MFIs in the world. Phase 1 of STI was for a team of three CCT staff to visit Aloga Financial Services, PEER Servants’ South African MP, and Good Seed Enterprise Development, PEER Servants’ Nigerian MP, in February 2009. I joined PEER Servants volunteers Joseph Tucker Edmonds (STI Team Leader), Jesse Ratichek, and Patrice Gopo in South Africa; Jesse continued on to Nigeria with the CCT team. The weeks in South Africa and Nigeria were used by God to inspire both MFIs to all they could become in extending God’s Kingdom and to better understand some of the next steps they need to take to become high impact organizations like CCT.

While in South Africa, Aloga Financial Services celebrated their most recent Lydia Award winner, Lilly Storom (next to me). Lilly, an Aloga client, owns and manages an amazing daycare in Mamelodi that provides almost 90 3-6 year olds with a great education. As the children hear that Jesus loves them, their lives and those of their family members are being transformed. Aloga has had many successful clients — joining Lilly at her celebration were 2004 Lydia Award winner Flydah Mdhluli (middle in picture), and 2007 Lydia Award winner, Claudie Mashiane (to the right). Matsha Makena (far right), Aloga Managing Director, was praised by all three award recipients for the level of service his staff and he offer to them. (The Lydia Award is given annually by PEER Servants to recognize the top 2-3 of the thousands of entrepreneurs who receive loans from PEER Servants’ MPs. It is named after Lydia, the entrepreneur selling purple cloth/dye in Acts 16, who supported St. Paul and his missionary companions as they traveled through the area.)

It wasn’t all work and no play while in South Africa (although I am known to keep a pretty tight and demanding schedule for PEER Servants volunteers on these trips!). The entire team took a day retreat to visit the Pilanesberg Game Reserve and saw God’s amazing creatures — a charging bull elephant, a family of rhinos, a pride of twelve playful lions, and this beautiful herd of more than a dozen giraffes. We had been praying that since this may be the only time our brother and sisters from the Philippines would be able to see African game in person, that God would lead the animals to show up. As is so often the case, God answered our prayers in ways that exceeded what we could think or imagine!, God answered our prayers in ways that exceeded what we could think or imagine!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Closer to Launch in Zambia

Todd: We are closer to launch of CEMFIN, an indigenous, autonomous Zambian MFI and PEER Servants’ newest microfinance partner. The CEMFIN board and management met with PEER Servants’ Team Zambia February 7-13, 2009 for a week of training, further preparing the MFI submission for the Bank of Zambia, and planning the remaining steps to the first loans being made later in 2009.

My role in this trip was twofold — helping CEMFIN progress on their path to launch, but also “training the trainers” as the four PEER Servants volunteers (Jim Martin, Ken Lloyd, Dick Wilson, and Bob Roth) who are part of “Team Zambia” gain expertise in providing microfinance training. Jim , Ken, Dick, and Bob are part of a larger group of Charlotte, NC-based Christ followers who have formed a very strong PEER Servants team to serve and support CEMFIN.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Angola Microfinance Consulting in Alberta

Todd: Meet Avelino and Madalena Rafael (left in picture) from Lubango, Angola. That’s what I did, in of all places Edmonton, Alberta and in of all times balmy January! Joining the gathering was Edmonton-based PEER Servants volunteer, Marculey Sanon (right in picture). The four met for three days to discuss steps Avelino needed to take to establish his dream - a sustainable, transformative microfinance organization to empower the materially poor of southern Angola and give them a fresh sense of hope that Jesus loves them and is mindful of them.
Avelino and I have been trying to meet for the past couple years — I had trouble getting an Angolan visa, and Avelino and Madalena were coming to Alberta to be in a wedding. So rather than meeting in the tropical warmth of southern Angola, God opened the door for the two of them to meet in the frigid tundra of Alberta. The time together may prove very valuable as Avelino establishes Jubilee Microfinance in the months ahead. If PEER Servants can recruit a group of volunteers to serve and support Jubilee, a formal partnership may develop between the two organizations. PEER Servants is very impressed with Jubilee and the team Avelino has gathered on his board and management in Lubango — it is very typical of the promising indigenous, autonomous microfinance institutions with which PEER Servants partners.
Avelino and I are both looking forward to future times of consultation as Jubilee gets established. But the next meeting will, Lord willing, be in the warmth of Angola.