Thursday, December 1, 2011

Fall 2011 Travel

Todd:  I love my job!  And one of the things I love most about it is being able to travel around the world and witness not only thousands of microfinance clients being able to provide for their families, churches, and communities, but the indigenous Christian microfinance organizations serving them becoming stronger and more effective as well.  To top it all off, I get to see how God is using these very individuals and institutions we try to serve to transform us, and no one more than me.

This fall has been one of much travel for me.  Given Reciprocity 2011 (our global microfinance conference held in the Boston area in July/August 2011), I had not traveled at all in 2011.  The spring was let loose in October, and over a 6-week period, I was in Haiti, South Africa, Zambia, Tanzania, Uganda, and the Philippines!

PEER Servants Team Haiti volunteer, Frislain Isidor, and fiance, Martine
The Haiti trip was focused on strengthening our partnership with ACLAM/Haiti as they considered steps they could take to be even more effective at helping Haitians help themselves.  There may be nowhere in the world where this is needed most, given both the earthquake and the dependencies that many well-meaning North Americans have inadvertently created among the Haitian people.  It was a short trip - just three days, but a very important one as we laid the groundwork to prepare a five-year strategic plan that would capture ACLAM's vision for the future.  Joining me on the trip was PEER Servants Team Haiti volunteer Elie Lafortune, one of our most dedicated and insightful volunteers on issues pertaining to his native Haiti.  We will be returning in January 2012 to co-host a Strategic Planning Staff Retreat for the 35+ ACLAM staff.  I am really looking forward to that time together!  One of the trip highlights was the amazing hospitality I received from Frislain Isidor (pictured, right), a PEER Servants Team Haiti member.  I was so blessed to stay in his home and get to meet his fiance, Martine, and be blessed by her amazing hospitality as well.  They will be married in Port-au-Prince on December 17 and God will certainly use their marriage in exciting ways for extending His kingdom.

CAFECC/Uganda  and PEER Servants Teams

I returned from Haiti in time for our PEER Servants Annual Board Meeting and then off on a 17-day trip to four counties in Africa - South Africa, Zambia, Tanzania, and Uganda.  There were four other PEER Servants volunteers joining various parts of the trip - Dave and Sue Leach, Richard Kinyua, and Jake Mahon.  South Africa was a short but good stop as we worked with reps from Aloga, our South African microfinance partner, as they prepared to head to the Philippines (more in the next paragraph on that).  We also saw PEER Servants employees Jesse and Vicki Ratichek for the last time in South Africa as they wind down their 2.5 years there and return back to the States in December.  Then on to Lusaka, Zambia where we took an 8-hour bus ride to Mongu, in Zambia's Western province, and saw elephants and lions on the way!  This is where CEMFIN, our Zambian microfinance partner, will launch their program next year.  It was my first time to Mongu (CEMFIN had been focusing on Lusaka up until now), and it looks like a great place for a Christian microfinance program.  We were encouraged by our time there.  The three days in Tanzania were to meet folks from Self-Reliance International, a Tanzanian microfinance organization.  They had joined us at Reciprocity 2011 given our ties with Bob Quinn (now PEER Servants Team Uganda member) who has been supporting SRI's work in Tanzania for a few years.  We really enjoyed the time with the SRI foks and will see how God leads regarding the future of partnership.  Finally, back through Nairobi to Entebbe and eventually Arua, home of CAFECC, our Ugandan microfinance partner.  We had a very encouraging time with them (pictured above) as they take more steps to become sustainable and transformational.  We also left Jake Mahon (left in picture) there as he started a 7-month internship with CAFECC.   Our last evening was having a wonderful dinner with Patrick Obiga, CAFECC Executive Director, and his fiance on the shores of Lake Victoria.  Then it was back home through Amsterdam and a couple days to unpack and pack before heading out once more.

Participating in the CCT training on Vision and Leadership
The Philippines trip was focused on providing training to three of the key board members from Aloga/South Africa in effective leadership and governance.  The board, management, and staff of The Center for Community Transformation, CCT (our microfinance partner in the Philippines) were our professors!  They did a fantastic job, and all of us, including the South Africans, left Filipino shores that much more encouraged and equipped to be leaders and effectively govern our respective organizations.  Visiting CCT is always a very inspirational experience.  Just when you think you've seen all one organization could do in extending the kingdom of heaven to earth, you see something that you couldn't have imagined ever seeing.  On this trip, it was attending a mass wedding of 21 couples who had been streetdwellers just months before.  Imagine - now they had jobs, their own place to live, awareness that they were loved by God, a commitment to follow Jesus, and a beautiful wedding with a reception that could match any wedding I have ever attended.  As I sat there, I couldn't help but think "this is the kingdom!".  The evil one thought he had all of these 42 people being married firmly in his grip to steal, kill, and destroy -- now they were experiencing life the way God intended, and much more of the kingdom of heaven right here on earth.  What made this trip even more special was it was the first since Nigeria in February 2010 that Les had been able to join me.  We were also blessed to have two reps from our good friends at Nairobi Chapel in Kenya join us as well.  CCT is one of the leading Christian microfinance programs in the world.  We'll be making two trips each year there (April 2012 and November 2012 are next up), and would love for you to join us on one of them.

It was a super special fall, with lots of frequent flier miles, and lots of frequent reminders of what a great God we serve and what an amazing kingdom He wants us to experience.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Walking Again

Leslie/Todd: Our Walk for Economic Empowerment is our largest annual fundraising event to empower the materially poor. This year we have four plus venues - Charleston, Columbus, Boston, and Chicago. The "plus" - right where you are! This option allows folks to walk when and where is most convenient for them with online fundraising support from us and even a Walk T-Shirt! Given the October 1 Chicago Walk, we had more walkers this year than any previous year. We're not yet breaking funds raised records (the 2009 Walk raised $90,000 for all organizations and the 2008 Walk raised $55,000 for PEER Servants). Our prolonged bad economy with its current bleak outlook is filtering down to limiting what funds can be raised to empower the materially poor.

The Walk accomplishes far more than just raising funds to empower the materially poor. It is our annual reminder to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and His great concern for the materially poor. We cannot escape the fact that His concern for them far exceeds ours, nor can we escape the fact that He, time and time again, encourages us to live in a way that we will be dependent on Him so that, even when rich (which is what the vast majority of us in North America are by the world's and Jesus' standards), we will be very generous to the materially poor. We set high goals for what we hope to raise through the Walk and we don't always reach them. The real lesson we learn in those times is our God takes great joy in taking what we can give or raise and multiplying it many times over so that at the end of the day we and others are not impressed with what we have done, but with what He has done. And He has done far more than we can think or imagine to provide for the materially poor.

So, it's been a very blessed Walk season. Not just in the number of walkers we have seen, but in how we have caught a wider angle on what God is doing in us, through us, and often despite us to preach good news to the poor and release the oppressed.

Friday, August 5, 2011

What A Conference!

Leslie/Todd: We had been preparing for years, literally, for Reciprocity 2011. We only have these global microfinance conferences every 3-4 years, and this was the first we held in North America. We wanted our guests to experience "heavenly hospitality" while being encouraged spiritually and learning a lot about how they could empower the materially poor more effectively. With such extremely high expectations, it would have been easy to come away from the event slightly disappointed.

Such was not the case with Reciprocity 2011! As high as our expectations were, they were exceeded with the event! What made it so special?
  • Great preaching. While all speakers were excellent, Reverend Oscar Muriu from Nairobi Chapel in Kenya was exceptional. He spoke on unity, the body, mustard seed faith, sin (when's the last time you heard a message on sin?!), partnership, simply following Jesus, and coming off of the mountaintop into the valley. All were powerful and provided what conference attendees needed most -- being refreshed in their commitment to follow Jesus and encourage others doing the same.
  • Great teaching. The highlight here were the intensive seminars at the end of the conference, led by Professor Ron Chua from the Asian Institute of Management. All of our microfinance partners identified steps they can take to better achieve their vision/mission of empowering the materially poor.
  • Fantastic fellowship. Imagine gathering with 140 brothers and sisters in Christ from around the world 15+ countries) with a conference theme from Romans 1:12 that is focused on encouraging one another. We had a preview of heaven just in being together and remaining focused on Jesus.
  • Wonderful worship. Our conference band was excellent - well-prepared, extremely gifted, and very sensitive to God's Spirit, but what made Reciprocity 2011 worship that much more special was how well the band integrated worship leaders from around the world. We were thus also led by Africans, Asians, Latins, etc. singing their own music, not just singing ours, and gained new experiences in worshiping God.
  • Sufficient free and fun time. Reciprocity 2011 was not a conference where we ran from one session to the next. We intentionally created plenty of free and fun time for folks to interact with each other. One of the highlights was a phenomenal Kopano World Cup of Soccer (which we hold at every global microfinance conference) in which Team Eurasia finally edged out Team Africa after three overtime penalty kick sessions! And who kicked the winning goal for Team Eurasia? Duza Baba, a Nigerian! Now THAT's reciprocity!
The REAL highlight of the time together was God choosing to visit us with His Spirit. He seems to choose to do that when brothers and sisters in Christ gather from around the world seeking to extend His Kingdom. We thank God for blessing us with an amazing summer.

The next time we'll do this, Lord willing, will be 2015 in the Philippines with the central theme being "celebration". This will be a celebration of Old Testament proportions as we rejoice in how God has moved in our midst to transform the materially poor and non-poor! Stay tuned for more details as the year approaches - we'd love for you to join us in the celebration as well!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Celebrating Our Volunteers

Leslie/Todd: Once a year, we take time out to say "thank you" to our volunteers. They really are an amazing bunch of people. Susan Tavilla and Sandy Smith host and go "over the top" in making our volunteers feel special. Saturday, July 2 was the big day this year. Click here to see some of the pictures from the event.

We recently calculated that PEER Servants volunteers have given approximately 100,000 hours of their time in service to the materially poor and donated and/or raised $2.5 million. Perhaps now you understand a bit better why we celebrate them and thank God for them as much as we do!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Meet the 2011 Lydia Award Semifinalists

Leslie/Todd: One of our personally favorite PEER Servants events of the year is the Annual Lydia Awards Celebration. It focuses on the stories of transformation of the entrepreneurs served by our microfinance partners. We are always challenged and enriched by the Lydia Award nominees and the passion they have for pursuing what God has called them to. Yet again, God is using them as an example to us. If they can pursue the passion they sense God has given them and do so from a much more financially precarious position than you or we may be in, then how much more we should be willing to do the same. If we're not, perhaps we're letting our riches or something else hold us back from experiencing all that God wants for us.

We just announced the three 2011 Lydia Awards semifinalists. You can read their full stories on our website and vote for your pick for the 2011 Lydia Award winner. This is our more personal take on their passion.

Sara, from South Africa, has a passion for children. She started a creche back in 2006 in a "building" from some loose materials she could find. It wasn't pretty, but it allowed her to open her doors to 15 children. In stepped our South African microfinance partner, Aloga, and a few loans later, Sara has a 6-room brick building employing five others and taking care of almost 100 children. Is she in it for just the money? Consider this - she actually doesn't take fees from parents who lose their jobs, and she'll take their kids to church (when her creche is otherwise closed) if the parents have to work on their day of worship. That's passion!

Florence, from Uganda, has a passion for helping those with overwhelming obstacles. She knows something about that herself -- widowed with five children in northern Uganda and a physical disability. But Florence is a woman of prayer, and she knows that with God living through her, she is more than a conqueror. She's established a very successful secondhand clothing retail/wholesale business that offers her customers affordable clothing, has enabled her to employ two others, and gives her profits that she uses to bless orphans with HIV/AIDS. She even plays the drum in worship -- Florence definitely marches to the beat of a different drummer!

Juana, from Peru, has a passion for family. She's done everything she could to keep hers together after her husband abandoned her with three children. With the help of Kallarisunchis, our Peruvian microfinance partner, she started a hardware business. Now, a few loans later, she has three small businesses. Juana very intentionally established three businesses so that each child could inherit a business. She is teaching them how to do business well while using the proceeds from the business to support her local church. Juana loves business, but even that falls short of her passion for family!

We have the great privilege of being able to pursue the passion God has placed on our hearts to establish an organization, PEER Servants, with a vision to enable tens of thousands of the materially poor and non-poor to experience economic, social, and spiritual transformation. We've given up some things to do it, but received so much more in return.

What's your God-given passion? What steps are you taking to pursue it?

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Great CCT Donors Forum

Leslie/Todd: If you have followed PEER Servants much, you know that The Center for Community Transformation (CCT) is one of our most transformative microfinance partners. They serve over 130,000 of the materially poor in the Philippines and do it with the gospel being front and center. We are really honored to partner with them.

In May, we were able to host the second annual CCT Donors Forum. Ruth Callanta, Founder and CEO, joined us along with two senior staff -- Froilan Parado (who heads up their External Relations office) and Pastor Jun Gonzaga (who heads up their spiritual development efforts). In addition to CCT and many folks associated with PEER Servants, representatives from, Five Talents, and HOPE International joined us as well. It was a fantastic opportunity to hear the current very inspiring vision of CCT and to discuss further how we could work together to support them in their vision.

This gathering should be a sign more and more of things to come. The church in the developing world is taking the lead. God's Spirit is moving mightily among them, not only in their growth (which is much more sizable than we see in the North American church), but in their depth of commitment to follow Jesus at any cost. They will then invite us to partner with them in areas wherein we can strengthen them and be strengthened by them. Certainly our material wealth is one thing we can bring to a partnership; our effectiveness at planning and thinking strategically may be another. What can we receive from the partnership? Mentors to help us make Jesus, not material well-being, security or stability, the central focus of our lives. We like to sing about giving our all to Jesus, but how many of us are really living that out? (As Dr.Erwin Lutzer of The Moody Church in Chicago points out - "oh the lies we often sing about behind the hymnal"!) God is raising up our materially poor brothers and sisters from around the world to help us see the true path of following Jesus. Certainly we have seen that path more clearly through our partners at CCT. May we take on the humble mantle of a servant as we see the footsteps of Christ and seek the power of the Holy Spirit to have the courage to walk in them.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Music to our Ears

Leslie/Todd: What was the highlight of April 2011? The inaugural Concert for Economic Empowerment. April 2 was the night. We had a wonderful evening of worshipful music by a great band (thank you Rich and Sue Musacchio for pulling all of that together) and a group of 100+ that lifted their praises to God while donating almost $10,000 to empower the materially poor. It was an evening rich in blessing, and one we will build on in the future. Music is one more means through which we can communicate God's concern for the materially poor. In future concerts, we plan to have bands/musicians representative of many more places in our world, so that the Concert for Economic Empowerment will allow all who attend to come to a greater appreciation of how God is worshiped around the world. Stay tuned - we think this event could become one of significant impact in the years ahead!

April had another highlight as well - a Uganda Dinner/Movie Night hosted by one of our Team Ugandan volunteers. 20+ folks gathered in their home for delicious African cuisine, watched an inspiring Ugandan movie ("War Cry"), and donated $1,140 towards the costs of our CAFECC/Uganda reps coming to Reciprocity 2011.

While both of these events raised funds, neither of them were fundraising events, per se. They were events wherein we could realize our PEER Servants' vision of witnessing economic, social, and spiritual transformation among the materially poor and non-poor. The Concert allowed attendees to understand more about how concerned God is for the materially poor and worship Him for His great love. The Uganda Dinner/Movie Night sent many home from a real fun evening having had authentic African cuisine for the first time and understanding a bit more of northern Uganda. The funds raised at the events put us a bit closer to carrying out our mission, but the transformation effected at the events puts us a lot closer to carrying out our mission.

Bigger Steps for the 2011 Walk

Leslie/Todd: If you have followed us throughout the years, you may recall that we have our Walk for Economic Empowerment in the fall. So why are we talking about it already? The Walk is growing, and it's not just a fall event anymore!

This year the Walk for Economic Empowerment will take place in 4+ locations -- Boston (September 17), Charleston (April 16), Chicago (October 1), and Columbus (May 21). What's up with the "+"? Because that's where you can have your own small Walk right where you are! Gather a few friends, family, church members, or whoever, choose your course, and have a funfilling day empowering the materially poor in the name of Jesus. You can easily create your team, prepare your own Walk webpage, and quickly contact your friends encouraging them to support you. Check out our "Walk Where You Are" webpage, the bigger Walk website, and the Walk video below.

If you can't walk but would like to support Todd is his Walk, contribute via his giving page. All of Todd's funds will be used as matching funds to what other volunteers or our microfinance partners raise, so you'll be doubling the impact. And 100% of what is raised goes directly to one of our microfinance partners to enable them to grow their microfinance program.

We're excited that there are 6 other Christian international development agencies taking part in the 2011 Walk. Check out the Walk website for full details.

Won't YOU join us in this year's Walk?!

Namaste, India!

Leslie/Todd: We were very excited that the PEER Servants board approved the Christian Service Society (CSS) of Kolkata, India as our 10th microfinance partner. As Todd noted in the October 2010 post, CSS, is an impressive organization. Under the humble and very effective leadership of Executive Director Himadri Munshi, it serves 10,000+ of the materially poor in the outskirts of Kolkata with loans that start smaller than $25. It has a very dedicated staff and high quality clients that faithfully repay their loans, allowing CSS to not only be sustainable, but actually generate a surplus. The surplus is invested in two children's homes -- one housing 25 boys at risk and the other 50 girls at risk. The love of Christ is witnessed very clearly through their work.

What does PEER Servants hope to be able to bring to CSS? First, insight that will help them more effectively tell their impressive story to the outside world and attract greater resources so that they can realize their vision to serve 25,000+ clients. Second, technical consultancy services that can help them operate more efficiently. Third, access to a network of other indigenous Christian MFIs from which they can learn and contribute to the learning of others. Our ultimate desire is that through this partnership, CSS will be able to more effectively communicate the love of Christ to the people of West Bengal, and PEER Servants volunteers will be able to more effectively communicate that same love of Christ to their North American neighbors.

2011 Reciprocity Movie Festival

Leslie/Todd: One of our favorite events of the PEER Servants year is the annual Reciprocity Movie Festival. Our volunteers can nominate movies they feel best capture PEER Servants' core value of "the reign of reciprocity". We vote to select three finalist movies, watch them and then select the Reciprocity Movie of the Year. We do this the Friday/Saturday of every Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Weekend. And the 2011 Reciprocity Movie of the Year is...

"God Grew Tired of Us". Check out this movie if you haven't already. It follows the lives of three inspiring Sudanese young men from the United Nations camp in northern Kenya to new homes in the United States. It shows them struggling with the adjustment to this new culture while capturing many of the strengths they had from their culture that they found amiss in their new world. One comes away from this film with a greater appreciation for the strong community, relationships, and values that the southern Sudanese people have. You appreciate their perseverance, their hard work, and their sacrificial attitudes. The movie helps the audience see southern Sudan as the beautiful place that it was before the attack from the north, and the beautiful place that it has become again with peace restored and new hope for the future. In a year where the world is preparing to invite South Sudan as its newest nation, it was only appropriate that "God Grew Tired of Us" should be PEER Servants' 2011 Reciprocity Movie of the Year!

All's Well That Ends Well

Leslie/Todd: 2010 started out pretty rough -- earthquake in Haiti, Muslim/Christian conflict in Nigeria, and floods in Peru. Yet, by year's end, 2010 had turned into a very rewarding year at PEER Servants. That's what we celebrated December 4th at what many considered our best Annual Meeting in PEER Servants in recent years.

We don't meet for large group training meetings as often as we used to in PEER Servants (we do it more now in monthly small group meetings that are focused on specific microfinance partner needs), so perhaps part of the reason we enjoyed the time as much as we did is it was just a time to be together again. There is a pretty strong sense of family within PEER Servants -- the "foundation of fellowship" that is our core value exists within PEER Servants as well as with our microfinance partners. We love to serve, but we also love to play, and we love to dream. 2010 was a year that had all three. And that's what we came together to celebrate at the Annual Meeting.

We celebrated the volunteers that went over and above what anyone would expect in their 2010 service -- Sandy Smith and her dedication to raising tens of thousands of dollars, Dave Leach and his hopping all over the planet to bolster the IT capacities of indigenous Christian MFIs, and Carol Mostrom and her focused, long-term dedication to serving the materially poor of Peru. We celebrated the progress made by many of our microfinance partners on their path to becoming sustainable, transformational MFIs. We celebrated the close walks we had with those microfinance partners in 2010 -- visiting all of our partners with active microfinance programs. We celebrated how our lives had been changed through the impact of our partners and how we could understand more of what it means to follow Jesus given the lessons of 2010.

But we also played! While PEER Servants is family, it is also a group of fierce competitors, and rarely does that come through more clearly than in a heated round of Microfinance Jeopardy. Dave Leach is Alex Trebek and he brought a little of his techno-love to the 2010 Annual Meeting game by having automated clickers replace the need to put unbiased Todd is the hot seat of determining which team responded first. We also maintained our longstanding tradition of the Virtuous Woman Award (I won't even try to explain that in this blog!), with Amy Heimberger taking home the coveted prize.

And we dreamed. That has been true since the early days in PEER Servants and we have never stopped dreaming. We started dreaming at the Annual Meeting of just how fantastic Reciprocity 2011, our July/August global microfinance conference, was going to be. The Les-led Planning Committee painted a picture of what lies ahead, the Reciprocity 2011 worship band gave us a preview of what worship would be like, and the Reciprocity 2011 co-emcee, the incomparable Elie Lafortune, kept us in stitches from the first bite of breakfast (delicious South Asian fare by Reciprocity 2011 co-emcee Sheba Telore) to the closing amen.

It was a great way to close out the year. Serving, playing, dreaming, and all contributing to our becoming more like Jesus. Isn't that what the Kingdom is all about?

...South Asia (SL), and the Philippines

Todd: The first day of November brought me from Kolkata through Chennai to Colombo to meet with our microfinance partner in SL. This is a partner that has been through thick and then -- tsunami, civil war, and now a really difficult environment where the government can make it very challenging to run a sustainable microfinance program. The 25+-year civil war ended recently, so there is a more relaxed mood within this beautiful, beautiful country. The long-term outlook is bright on many fronts. Our microfinance partner has overcome many of these challenges to be able to offer services to almost 1,000 clients in 4 branches around the country. They have a fantastic very dedicated staff who always inspire me to see more of the path of following Jesus and encourage and pray for me along that path.

Dave Leach, PEER Servants volunteer extraordinaire, joined me in Colombo. With the war now over, the organization could host its first countrywide staff training retreat. We had the privilege of being able to be a part of it. Our training focus was helping them see how they gather and share information and helping them find ways, ultimately culminating with better use of automation, that they could share that information more efficently and effectively so that the MFI could serve more of the materially poor. We were able to visit their Madampe branch and meet some impressive microentrepreneurs, like Ranjani -- a woman manufacturing and distributing spices. What started as something small selling to neighbors now has Ranjani distributing her product to 50 shops and 200 individual clients in 7 villages. Through her business proceeds, Ranjani was able to pay for their first paved road in her village! I stayed on a day after Dave's departure to meet with the organization's board, encourage them in what they have achieved already, and challenge them to reach 100% operational sustainability so that they can grow to empower more of the materially poor of this nation.

The trip back to Boston brought me back through Dubai where I was able to have a great layover visit with the Gimba family - close friends of ours now living in the United Arab Emirates but having been with us in Boston for many years just prior to that. Dubai is this amazing oasis in the desert. Home to the tallest building in the world, the largest mall, and the largest outdoor water show, it really is something else. May many there come to know Jesus in a way that allows them to enjoy this great adventure of following Him.

Five days after stepping foot in Boston, it was off to the Philippines with a team of 9 PEER Servants volunteers. Most of the team was on their first PEER Servants trip, focused on preparing a case study on some aspect of The Center for Community Transformation (CCT), our Filipino partner. I was especially pleased that my sister, Patrice, joined me on this trip - she was a great addition to the team. She and her husband, Dave, have been long-term supporters of PEER Servants and are very encouraging to Les and me. The one member of the team who had a different focus was none other than Dave Leach - the same Dave Leach who had been with me in Colombo just days earlier! Dave has been working with CCT over the past couple years to identify ways they could make better use of automation to make the operation more efficient. CCT is by far our biggest microfinance partner - serving over 100,000 of the materially poor in the Philippines. Bringing in some IT solutions to such a large organization won't be easy. If anyone is up to the consulting challenge - it's Dave!

If you see a picture of the CCT team next to the word "hospitality" in your dictionary, don't be surprised! We were just overwhelmed by the warmth and sincerity of the Filipino CCT hospitality. The only thing that impressed us more on the trip was their work -- not only in microfinance, but beyond it in empowering streetdwellers, creating places where they experience life the way God wants them to experience it. There were former streetdweller children getting a great boarding school education; former streetdweller teens learning vocations, and former streetdweller adults living sustainably by farming and building their own houses. There is no organization we have seen that empowers the materially poor as effectively as CCT. The long trip back from the Philippines to Boston gave us time to reflect on what an amazing team they are and thank God for them.

As great as this fall of travel was, it was awfully nice to get back on North American soil for more than just time to pack and unpack! It was a very inspiring season in which God provided glimpses of what He was doing through these microfinance partners around the world.

Moldova, India...

Todd: October starts travel season for me! Often through at least the middle part of the year, the fall looks like a heavy travel season. In most years, one or two of the trips get postponed and a reasonable travel schedule results. Not so in 2010! Over a 6 week period, I'll be in Moldova, India, SL, and the Philippines. And betwixt those trips is our Annual Board Meeting!

Now that we're to the end of October, I can write from South Asia and look back at wonderful trips to Moldova and India.

A team of eight PEER Servants volunteers were part of the Moldova trip. They included our board chair, Dave Ryder, his wife, Betsy, and three of our Team Moldova members -- Gary Nielsen (his wife, Peggy), Scott Purcell (his wife, Jill), and Leanne Horgan. We were blessed with great hospitality by Ghena and Alina Russ in Moldova. Ghena is the very capable and visionary Executive Director of Invest Credit, our Moldovan microfinance partner. What a privilege it's been to see Invest Credit mature from the day they opened their doors more than 10 years ago to become one of the leading Moldovan microfinance institutions. We have seen God raise up Ghena to position this organization such that it can really bless the nation, and especially the Christians, of Moldova. You have probably heard me tell the story of Vasile the sausage maker or Victor the construction worker/pastor -- there are now hundreds of businesses established through Invest Credit that are providing for Moldovan families, churches, and communities.

This trip was an exposure trip for new PEER Servants volunteers to see Moldova and Invest Credit for the first time, a relationship-building trip for the staff at Invest Credit to get to know the volunteers serving them at PEER Servants, and a strategic planning trip to discuss the bright future of Invest Credit. It was very successful on all three fronts and we look forward to increasing our support of Invest Credit. One highlight of the trip was being able to step into their new mobile office. The Invest Credit team turned a used van into a "branch for the rural poor" complete with computer, printer, internet access, and even a sofa to sit on! The mobile office will go from village to village once a week and offer microfinance services to those who would otherwise not have access given the high cost of establishing a bricks and mortar branch. This is just one example of the bright ideas Ghena and his team have come up with as a means of empowering the materially poor of Moldova in the name of Jesus.

Less than a week after flying west over the Atlantic returning from Moldova, I was flying back east over the Atlantic through Amsterdam and Dubai en route to Kolkata, India. This was an exploratory trip to meet the staff and board of Christian Service Society (CSS), a new prospective microfinance partner. CSS serves 10,000+ of the materially poor in the outskirts of Kolkata. They start with a loan of less than $25. I was extremely impressed with the vision, dedication, and effectiveness of CSS Executive Director Himadri Munshi and his team. CSS represents the "new" potential microfinance partner for PEER Servants. Historically, our partner has been more like an Invest Credit - an indigenous, Christian organization that is a micofinance start-up. The global microfinance landscape has now changed - many parts of the world have a sufficient number of MFIs already. What they need is for the MFIs that are there to be sustainable and capable of offering expended services. So, our new partner focus will transition from start ups to existing indigenous Christian MFIs that show promise of being able to have significantly more impact with the value added by a PEER Servants partnership. This trip suggests CSS is such an organization. I'll bring them before our Board of Directors for vote as a new microfinance partner in January.

Something to Cheer About!

Leslie/Todd: Our annual Walk for Economic Empowerment turned 5 years old in 2010. What started as a dream of one of our volunteers has now raised around $250,000 for the materially poor. We really think that's something to cheer about!

The 2010 Walk took place in Boston, Baltimore, and Tulsa with World Relief, HOPE International, and Rebuild Africa joining in. PEER Servants raised almost $30,000 - actually a little down compared to the last three years. We know God will multiply it many times over, so what's another multiple or two to Him? The purpose of the Walk is not just to raise funds -- it's to communicate to the greater community that Jesus and those who follow Him love the materially poor and are committed to supporting effective means of empowering them.

We already have the 2011 Boston Walk on the calendar for September 17, 2011 at Lake Quannapowitt in Wakefield, MA and are pursuing steps that will allow this to become a means through which $50,000+ can be raised. May it become so for God's glory!