Wednesday, September 11, 2013

What a Summer!

Leslie/Todd:  As we head into the fall and already start to see the hint of color in the trees, we cannot help but look back and praise God for an amazing Summer of 2013!  We have tried to capture the summer in this 3x3 collage...

Starting upper left...

  • Box 1 - We kicked off the summer with our June 1 Boston Walk for Economic Empowerment.  It was a beautiful day and through it we have already raise over $30,000, 100% of which will go to extend more of the kingdom to the materially poor.  We love days like that!  It was a family affair, and for the third year in a row, our 6-year old grandson Joshua raised over $1,000.  He'd actually still like to get to $1,500+ - click here if you'd like to help him get there!  (Thank you!)
  • Box 2 - Days after the Boston Walk found Todd with a small PEER Servants team in the outskirts of Pretoria, South Africa.  Our primary purpose of this trip as to provide consulting to Aloga, our South African microfinance partner, as they merge with another South African Christian MFI.  The merger has gone well and will allow Aloga to better serve the materially poor, like these clients "The Women of Integrity", a small cooperative of seamstresses Aloga helped form and support so that they could grow more effectively together.
  • Box 3 - From South Africa, Todd headed to Zambia's Western Province to work with CEMFIN, our Zambian microfinance partner.  Joined by a Charlotte-based PEER Servants volunteer, we had very encouraging meetings with CEMFIN that significantly strengthened their board, shown here, and put in place much stronger governance that will allow CEMFIN to grow and serve more of the materially poor.
  • Box 4 - The final stop of the June/July 24-day Africa trip was the very northwestern corner of Uganda - Arua to be exact.  Todd was joined here by 6 other PEER Servants volunteers as they served and were blessed by CAFECC, our Ugandan partner, in many ways.  It's at CAFECC that we have "Group to Group", a program that liaises groups of Uganda microfinance clients with peer groups in the United States to get to know other other better, pray for each other, and even get to meet each other, as happened here.  The Northern Ugandan people are some of the most hospitable on the planet and we learned so much from them of what it means to follow Jesus.
  • Middle Box 5 - A week back in Boston was followed by a 9-day mid-July trip to Sri Lanka for Todd.  Here we focused on risk management training for the staff of YGRO-HEED, our Sri Lankan microfinance partner.  YGRO-HEED has a fantastic, very dedicated staff that has allowed this partner to grow to 5 branches serving over 1,300 clients amidst tsunami, civil war, and more.  It is always a great blessing to be among them.
  • Box 6 - The end of July found the PEER Servants family at the home of our Board Chair, Dave Ryder, and his wife, Betsy, enjoying our Annual Volunteer Appreciation Party.  We had a beautiful day, a great turnout, and a relaxing venue to say "thank you" to these super-inspiring, very dedicated PEER Servants volunteers who are so effectively experiencing and extending more of the kingdom of heaven to earth.
  • Box 7 - Early August found PEER Servants hosting the Annual Lydia Awards Celebration where Richard Candia, pictured here, and served by CAFECC/Uganda, received top honors.  Richard has started a cassava processing business (cassava is a staple food in the area) and, through it, employed over 10 women in his area.  He is now able to significantly increase his support to his church and the local youth program.  Our Lydia Awards Celebration may be our favorite night of the year in PEER Servants - this year's was probably our best event yet!
  • Box 8 - The morning after the Lydia Awards Celebration, Les and Todd were on a 6:30 am flight to Washington, DC to meet with the folks from CCT, our microfinance partner in the Philippines.  We were joined by many other North American organizations also supporting them for an Annual Forum wherein CCT CEO and Founder, Ate Ruth Callanta, gave us an update on where God is leading CCT.  Attending organizations also discussed how we can best collaborate to support CCT in their amazing work that is extending the kingdom to the poorest of the poor in the Philippines.
  • Box 9 - The morning after returning from Washington, DC, Todd headed to Cusco, Peru to work with Australian filmmakers as they created promotional videos for Kallarisunchis, our Peruvian microfinance partner.   Kallarisunchis is expanding beyond Cusco to better serve the rural indigenous populations, so Todd had the advetnure of going to some of the Andean mountain peaks in filming some of the Quechua clients involved in potato and avocado farming.  Australian filmmakers Tim and Kate Robinson volunteered their services and were wonderful to work with.  We can't wait to see the finished product!
While Todd traversed three continents, Les held down the fort at home and in the PEER Servants office.  It was a simply amazing summer as we got to see so much of what God is doing to extend His kingdom through our microfinance partners and their clients.  Thank you for partnering with us to make possible the business of extending a bit more of heaven to earth.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Soaring with the Super Eagles

Leslie/Todd:  We returned a couple weeks back from Nigeria, one of our favorite places to visit!  Our Nigerian brothers and sisters in Christ are nothing short of amazing.  They live in turbulent times with ongoing Muslim-Christian conflict, yet they are so quick to love as Jesus loved and beautifully bold in their Christian witness.  We have so much to learn from them!

Todd with Reverend Panya Baba, the person who introduced Leslie and Todd, and one who has discipled both of them in more of what it means to follow Jesus.  Reverend Baba's wife brought Todd his favorite Nigerian snack.
We were pleased to see a semblance of peace return to Nigeria's Plateau.  In our previous visit, hundreds had been killed just days before our arrival and hundreds more were killed days after our arrival.  We were on a 6 pm to 6 am curfew then.  People were quite tense.  There remain smaller skirmishes to this day where a person or two are killed here or there, but in general, peace has returned for a season on the Plateau.  The peaceful Nigeria we had known for decades was back, and so beautiful.

Except for one night.  You see, if there is one thing than can bring peace to all of Nigeria other than Jesus, it's football, or soccer as we call it in these parts.  And while we were there, a great thing happened.  Nigeria's football team, the Super Eagles, won the Africa Cup of Nations - Africa's football championship.  As the 95th minute of their championship match with Burkina Faso ticked away and the Super Eagles claimed their victory, all of Nigeria broke out in celebration.  We didn't mind saying goodbye to peace for a night.

We need to be praying for our Nigerian microfinance partner.  This trip focused on discussing with them the way forward in the midst of these turbulent times.  Their microfinance program has been hit hard as markets have been burned down and many put out of business.  Management and governance of the program suffers in times like this.  What was once the strongest of our African microfinance partners was really struggling.  They have great resolve to turn things around.  Let's pray that they can do that, because there has never been a time when Nigeria needs a strong Christian microfinance program like now.

Les with members of a fantastic Nigerian organization doing urban ministry.
As you might suspect, in Nigeria Todd is "Mr. Leslie".  Les lived almost 17 years in Nigeria, so our visit was packed with visits from people we love dearly - those whom Les raised as literal babes are now taking their university exams.  Les has maintained ties with an urban ministry in Nigeria and they had some great meetings  while we were there.  We even found time to make some new Nigerian friends, and we can see how God may use their ties to further extend His kingdom from heaven to earth in the years ahead.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

It's More Fun in the Kingdom!

Leslie/Todd:  It's kind of embarrassing to admit, but sometimes we can be so dull!  This seems to be particularly true when it comes to understanding truth from the Scriptures.  Our cultural bias and worldview significantly impacts and limits what we pick up on as key themes or what we dismiss as"surely that can't be!".

That has been the case with us when it comes to "the kingdom".  We certainly were familiar with the term, especially as it is used in the Gospels, but we often relegated it to heaven.  It was just something to come, and if we "believed" in Jesus (where that belief was never associated with works, because we held firmly that salvation is not by works), then someday we could extend our lives from earth to heaven.  Given our conviction, we hoped others would see the light as well and be saved.

As we have re-read the Gospels, we're convinced that is really shortchanging what Jesus meant by the kingdom.  Jesus Himself prayed "your kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven".  I would go so far to suggest that was Jesus' Vision Statement.  Jesus talked about the kingdom being near, within, among, and to come.  So, Jesus seemed to be much more concerned with extending the kingdom of heaven to earth than just extending my life and a few others from earth to heaven.  Certainly extending the kingdom of heaven to earth starts with understanding who the King of the Kingdom is - it's Jesus Himself.  And as Jesus stated to Nicodemus in John 3, we need to be born anew or born again to see and enter the kingdom.  But we need to go much further than that if we are to experience the kingdom and extend it to others.

Imagine just how great the kingdom of heaven must be, and then imagine this King has entrusted you and me to join the Holy Spirit in the work of extending His kingdom to earth.  That's a HUGE calling!  It requires you and me to wake up every day and ask "what can we do to extend the kingdom from heaven to earth today?".  It's such a huge calling that I can now better understand why Jesus instructed us to go make disciples - not just believers.  You see, it's far too tempting for believers to be so focused on just getting to heaven that they really aren't too concerned on how they live their lives up to that time.  Meanwhile, disciples, at least the kind Jesus said He wanted, would appreciate that they have to give up everything, deny themselves, and take up their crosses daily to usher in this kind of kingdom.  They understand Jesus' teachings warning about how greed and money in particular could pose some of the greatest threats to experiencing the kingdom (Jesus said it will be very difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom) and extending that kingdom to others.  They would appreciate how huge the task is, how short their lives are likely to be, and how critical it would be to put their hands to the plow to make way for the kingdom of heaven on earth.  They would be a people set apart, a people who realize their real citizenship is in heaven and they are here as ambassadors. They would also appreciate how focusing one's life on such may someday lead to hearing "well done" from the King of this kingdom.

Who, in addition to the Holy Spirit, has God used to open our eyes to the Scripture's teaching on the kingdom?  The staff, board, and clients of our microfinance partners from around the world. Inspired by an excellent ad campaign from the Philippines Tourism Board entitled "It's More Fun in the Philippines" (click here for their < 3 minute video, but be forewarned that you will want to hop on the next plane to Manila!), we have adopted a 2013 theme in PEER Servants of "It's More Fun in the Kingdom.  Experience It. Extend It."  You'll be hearing more about it in the months to come.

Imagine YOU can experience the kingdom of heaven on earth.  Something tells me once you experience something like that, you will be most eager to extend it to others.  As Jesus prayed, may it be so.

A final note since it has been 6+ months since our last entry - the latter half of 2012 was fantastic!  We were with teams in Moldova, Zambia, and the Philippines.  We are witnessing transformation in the lives of thousands of the materially poor and dozens of our volunteers.  We remain in awe of the place God has put us to get to see His Kingdom being extended to earth.