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 endpoverty.org, 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!