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!