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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Filtering by Tag: Rwanda

Fear not.

jenmichel@me.com

On Saturday night, forty-five minutes before we were supposed to board our flight home from Kigali, an airline agent ushered us from the boarding area. "You'll need to follow me," he said in the same broken English he'd used hours earlier when guaranteeing us seats on the standby tickets he issued. I had trusted this as standard procedure for the Kigali airport. Perhaps every passenger was assigned her seat at the gate? But that was unfortunately naive. Several hours later, we discovered that KLM had overbooked our flight (as I've learned since that they routinely do), and Audrey and I were randomly bumped.

When it is 10pm, when you and your fourteen-year-old daughter are left stranded in Africa without anyone to contact, you will find reason for panicking, especially when you don't consider first the possibility of praying.

"I paid for these tickets, and we are going to board that plane," I said defiantly, assuming my most American I-won't-be-pushed-around face.

Once I could finally be convinced to leave the boarding area (by armed security guards), I stood at passport control, refusing to let them cancel our stamps. "You're getting us out of this country tonight on the tickets we've bought," I demanded.

The minutes ticked by. The gate eventually closed. When the plane was minutes from taking off and it became undeniably apparent that we were not leaving Kigali on KLM, I finally conceded and followed an airline agent, Audrey trailing silently in my fuming wake.

In her office, the KLM manager began her routine apologies.

"We can get you out of Kigali on Kenyan airways at 4 a.m.," she began, describing the multiple connections we would need to make in order to return to Toronto.

"No, that's not going to work," I said flatly.

"Well, you can take tomorrow's KLM flight out of Kigali at the same time, and we'll put you two up in a hotel close to the airport," she offered.

"No, that's not going to work either," I declared. "You'll have to take us back to the hotel where we stayed this week, you'll need to pay for our transport to and from the hotel, and you'll of course cover our meals tomorrow."

At midnight, those were the terms to which we finally agreed.

Once we had finally settled into our hotel room at 1am, I turned the situation over in my mind, wishing I'd handled myself more calmly, especially with Audrey at my side. What had made me so afraid?

The truth was: I'd felt so alone, so vulnerable. Of all the passengers to bump from the plane, they'd chosen a woman and a child, who were two continents away from home.

But were we as alone as I'd felt? Were we as vulnerable as I'd feared? And why couldn't I have been more mindful of God and his presence with us in those anxious moments when I'd failed to reach anyone by phone?

Those were the questions that kept me lying awake, my heart racing. And as I prayed through those fears and anxieties, I suddenly remembered the verse we had studied together with a HOPE savings group the day before:

"Fear not, daughter of Zion: behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey's colt," (John 12:15).

John cites this prophecy from Zephaniah as he describes Jesus making his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

Fear not.

A day earlier, in a small, remote village north of Kigali, our group from the States had attended a meeting of one of HOPE's saving and credit groups. For three years, these nearly 30 Rwandan women and men had been meeting together, learning not only about the value of saving money, but also about the grace of Jesus Christ. Every week, they've come together to contribute a small amount of savings (for some, a little less than $1/week), to borrow from the group's collective savings (as means for improving their businesses), and to hear the word of God.

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On the day of our visit, they began the meeting by opening the Scriptures together and asking these simple questions of John 12:12-16: What do we learn about God? What do we learn about humanity? What must we obey? What truth can we share with others?

When the text had been read aloud several times, the large group was broken up into three smaller groups. An older, thin Rwandan woman with a scarf tied around her head took charge of the eight of us seated on two wooden benches. She read the questions from her small notebook and recorded our answers as we shared.

What do we learn about God? He has sent Jesus, his Son, who is also a king.

What do we learn about humanity? We are slow to learn. We often fail to remember the promises of God.

What must we obey? We should not fear. God is always faithful to his word.

What truth can we share with others? We will share his promises with our husbands, our children, our neighbors. The discussion lasted a mere ten minutes, and while it wasn't tremendously earth-shattering at the time, it was apparently just the lesson I would need little more than twenty-four hours when lying anxiously awake in a Kigali hotel.

Fear not.

In the short week in the Rwanda, my sisters taught me something about fear—and about faith. I suppose of all the terrors a woman might face, they have experienced some of the worst. For those who survived the 1994 genocide, many lost their husbands and children to brutal violence. Some were raped. Others were left for dead.

And yet they continued to gather together and remind each other about God's faithfulness.

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War exposes the vulnerability of women. Even this morning, reading from Judges 5, I was reminded of the cruelties to which women are subjected in war. When Jael had driven a tent peg through Sisera's temple, Sisera's mother wondered at his delay. She consoled herself with this terrible thought: "Have they not found and divided the spoil? A womb or two for every man."

In war, women are no longer women. They are wombs: to impregnate, to disease, to splice open and kill.

This is the reality that Rwandan women know firsthand, and yet their faith has survived those terrors.

Fear not.

They tell me this as we read the Scriptures in the church they have built by their offerings (contributions made possible by their collective savings) and their hands.

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IMG_0454 See Jesus.

They remind me that there is nothing to fear, not even death itself, when we see the king who is coming.

God is faithful. I am grateful for the time Audrey and I spent in Rwanda last week, learning about God's work through HOPE International. And I am even grateful for having been delayed twenty-four hours and being reminded that God is always in control.

"Fear not, daughter of Zion: behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey's colt," John 12:15.

Help me to thank God.

jenmichel@me.com

Below, I've transcribed an interview with Beatha, a middle-aged woman, who lives in Kigali. Beatha is a client of HOPE International's micro-finance partner, Urwego Opportunity Bank. Although Beathe's story of struggle in the wake of the genocide is heart-wrenching, today, Beatha is a successful businesswoman. She praises God for his help. * * * * *

I was once a woman who was happily married, but I became a widow because of the history of this country.

In 1994, the plan to finish off the Tutsis arrived. The genocide took place when I was 28 and had five children. My whole family was killed. The family I had married into was killed except for a very few, who fled outside Rwanda. Among my five children, two died during the genocide. My husband also died. Three survived because we had separated them and sent them to different places. They were still children when we sent them away; the oldest was seven years old.

It's not an easy story to tell. When I think back, I don't think humans did those things. They were animal acts.

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When they came to kill us at our house, I had my youngest child, who was one year old, on my back. Traditionally, we carry our children on our back. I had the other one by the hand. When the first man shot my husband, I grabbed him. Then I was young, and I was very strong. I held him very tight. My baby was also very tight on me. I could feel it. But I had to let go of the smaller child whose hand I was holding.

They came and started stabbing me with spears in my back. Some of the spears were going through my child into me. I was losing blood, losing strength, and I had to let go of the man who had shot my husband. I, too, was shot and fell down with the baby still on my back. The baby had already died.

I can't tell you as I wish to tell you, but I do know that when God doesn't want you to leave your body, you will not leave your body.

The baby on my back was dead. The other child was also shot and killed. A friend who had been visiting our family was killed right there. But I was still alive and stayed in that house for four days. The dead body of my child was still on my back. In those four days, I survived from the blood of those who were killed around me. It pooled on the cement. Because my left hand had been shot, I used my right hand to grab the blood and eat it. I wasn't hungry but I was very thirsty, and that was the nearest thing I could help myself with.

The dogs came and started eating dead people around me. Dogs were eating my baby on my back and licking my wounds. They ate his cheeks. Because his body was still covered with clothing, they couldn't eat it, and when they sensed that I was still breathing, the dogs left me alone. The only thing I could do was to shake my legs.

I lived among the dead for those days.

How I was taken out of that situation is a long story and a scary one, but eventually the rebels, who were fighting the government at that time, came. First they removed the dead body from my back, which had already decomposed. They took whatever was left under the clothing. But because I thought they were the killers, I called out, "You did not finish me. Please come and finish me."

I was taken from there. I became deaf. I couldn't hear. For over a year, I couldn't stand on my legs. I lived among the soldiers who were taking care of my wounds. And it wasn't just me. We were many wounded there. Truthfully, it wasn't human beings who helped us at the time. It was God. Even when I look back, I see it as impossible.

When God wants to heal, he heals.

Because the killers had destroyed my home, the army had to find a house to put me in. But even when my hearing came back, I did not desire to live. I wondered why I was left.

My children and I were finally reunited. When I saw them, it became a battle within me. I couldn't provide for my children. I couldn't lift myself up. And they were so young. In truth, they survived by eating from the garbage.

But I praise God that we have passed that stage.

I learned of UOB (Urwego Opportunity Bank) from women that used to visit me in my neighborhood. One woman came and told me, "We know you used to be a warrior woman. You have these kids, and there is an organization that is coming. They are loaning money - 15,000 (Rwandan) francs. Although the woman didn't really believe that I could produce this amount, she forced me to take it. Even if I couldn't pay it back, she would pay it on my behalf. She said, "I knew you before these problems. You are capable. Even if your body suffers, your mind does not."

But I had wounds in my back, my sides, my bottom. Sitting was a challenge, even leaning back was difficult. They would have to seat me and surround me with pillows. The baby decomposing on my back had really affected me. But I had to ask: what could I do with this money? My hands were capable, although my back and sides were a challenge.

I saw yarn in my house. I started to wonder what I could do with that yarn. So I started to make something like this bag. It took a very long time. I also made small wallets. Then I had to educate my two older kids so that they could assist. I told them, "This is what God has put in my heart. I believe ahead of you. You are going to survive."

God blessed my hands, even in that condition. I started looking and wondering what else I could do. I wondered if I could create something to be worn. After primary school, I had gone to vocational training. They encouraged us to know how to create jobs for ourselves. I learned sewing clothes. I also learned how to create things. I began sewing clothes.

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I made more things. I knew I did not have the capacity to buy materials, so I looked around me and asked myself: what could I create from what I see?

There are many, many different things that I know how to create now. By doing these things, I was able to pay the 15,000 back to UOB. But truthfully it was from God because the woman who told me about the loan also helped me get my goods to the market. Because of my wounds, I could not do it. She would take something that I had finished and sell it on my behalf. She would tell others, "You have to buy this to help a woman feed her children."

I paid back the loan in 4 months. Then I was encouraged to take another loan. From there, I took 20,000. To me that was a lot of money. Although I was sick at the time, my group trusted me. Our group was 40 members. I became their treasurer.

By using UOB's money, I have come to see God.

At that time, my kids were no longer street kids. They were fed. I felt my own dignity by working with UOB. I became an example to the point that UOB's leaders wanted to know me. That's how I gained confidence, and my wounds were getting healed. God continued to work with me, and he truthfully showed me who I was. Today, I take individual loans, and I have never defaulted.

I really want to inform you that I am a warrior woman - some are surviving on the jobs that I have provided for them. Today I have a home. I have a place.

Help me to thank God.

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(Beatha's initial loan of 15,000 Rwandan francs is equivalent to $20 American dollars.)

We have so many dreams.

jenmichel@me.com

UOB As one aspect of their ministry in Rwanda, HOPE International partners with Urwego Opportunity Bank to make available financial services to the poor. Urwego provides small group loans to people who lack collateral and would never be able to secure a traditional loan from a commercial bank.

Women with sacks on head

Sitting at town center

Group loans are given after a group has formed (a group averages 20-30 people) and members have completed one module of the 52-week biblically-based training in holistic self-improvement. The loans are guaranteed by group members: if a client defaults on her portion, the group members are responsible to pay on her behalf. This means that groups form very intentionally, and members earn the trust of other members by their proven character in the community.

In the training that HOPE provides, clients not only learn how to manage personal and business finances, but they also learn basic health and hygiene principles as well as principles for social cooperation. Because HOPE understands that material poverty is only one part of the poverty equation, they address other aspects of poverty with their clients: spiritual, physical, emotional, social, psychological.

group meeting

Yesterday, we had the opportunity to meet one of the groups to which Urwego (and by extension, HOPE) began lending several years ago. Following the traditional 5-W format of group meetings (Welcome, Worship, Word, Work, Wrap-up), the group warmly welcomed us as their visitors, asking for introductions. The women in our group were greeted more enthusiastically than the men, and the clients clucked with extra delight to learn that there were families represented in our group: me and Audrey (mother and daughter), Isaac and Carolyn (husband and wife), and Carolyn's parents (John and Jeannie). After these opening introductions, the women sang as a part of the worship segment of the morning's meeting, and this might have been my favorite part!

(I had hoped to upload a video, but I'm having trouble. I need my oldest son, Nathan, who is my IT support!)

A man then stood, reading and commenting from Psalm 126:

Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever.

Lean and proud in a yellowed button down shirt, a sport coat slung over his bony shoulders, this man proclaimed to a group of women, many of whom survived the horrors of the genocide, that we have stability in Christ.

To trust in God is to never be moved.

Then the women began rising to their feet, one by one, each giving testimony to God's work through the loans they had received through Urwego.

group

I have been in this group for six years. I have two children. My first loan was $68. I improved my retail business and also bought 2 sheep. With further help from Urwego, I now employ two people on my farm and have built a house for my family.

small house

I have been in this group for four years. I have a business selling drinks. I was able to construct a house for my family and buy a small plot of land with my first loan from Urwego. Now I have a phone and sleep on a mattress. I have three children. They are named "gift from God," "I will be helped by God," and "God helps." We love God, and we love to pray.

I have been in this group for two years. With my first loan of $275, I bought harvested crops and sold them for a profit in the market. I was then able to buy a cow, and the cow fertilizes the field we now own. Our family has electricity. I am grateful to God. I have learned how to pray.

I have eight children. The loans I have received from Urwego have helped me pay the school fees for my children. My oldest child is now in university. My house has cement, and we all go to church.

Isaac Ezell, the HOPE representative with whom we are traveling this week, asked through our translator what hopes and dreams these women had for their future.

I want my children to complete their education. I want medical insurance for my family. I hope we can buy a small truck to help transport our goods to the market. I would like to buy a motorbike. We have so many dreams.

As we ended the group meeting with prayer, asking how we might pray for the group, one woman stood up, admitting honestly that she has lost her will to pray. Pray that I will want to pray again.

I thought of her this morning when I opened to this Scripture:

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him?

Matthew 6:7-11

Yes, somehow Lord, teach us each to believe:

That when your child asks for bread, you do not give a stone.

Land of a Thousand Hills

jenmichel@me.com

I am grateful to be traveling with a team in Rwanda this week in partnership with HOPE International, a Christ-centered microenterprise development ministry. On Tuesday morning, our team briefed with Isaac Ezell, one of HOPE's US regional representatives, Dave Wasik, HOPE's Vice President of Operations, and Erisa Mutabazi, Country Director for HOPE Rwanda.

[embed]https://youtu.be/vZlhYZgVMjk[/embed]

(Watch Erisa's video, What's In Your Hands?)

We learned more about the specifics of their Rwanda program. As we are making visits today and tomorrow to HOPE clients, I'll look forward to sharing more with you here about the direct impact HOPE is making on the ground through their savings and credit associations.

After our breakfast briefing on Tuesday, we visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial, built at the site of the mass grave of 250,000 victims of the genocide.

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At the memorial, I learned not only how actively Rwandans want to remember the genocide (every April 7th, there is a national commemoration) as a way both to honor the victims as well as to prevent further violence in the future.

Particularly striking is the emphasis on Rwandan national identity: we are not Hutu. We are not Tutsi. We are Rwandans. We are a single people with a single language.

Our visit to the genocide memorial began with a short film narrated by several survivors. Most described losing many, if not all, of their family members.

"It is home here," one man described of the memorial. "I feel whole."

It is impossible for me to imagine living with the memories of the national three-month massacre that tore virtually every family apart, killing a million people and orphaning more than 300,000 children.

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In one small room of the memorial, painted a bright orange, giant black and white portraits of children smiled cheerfully. Beneath each photograph was a small description of the child: name, age, favorite food, and name of favorite playmate. At the bottom of the description, it was indicated how each child died.

Hacked by machete in mother's arms.

To have lived that horror, to have survived it, and then to purpose to rebuild ravaged trust: I don't know that any of us would feel up to that task. But this is Rwanda's story. It is also its great courage.

Driving north from Kigali on Tuesday afternoon toward the Virunga mountains (for our gorilla trek on Wednesday), I saw the agricultural ingenuity of the people of this small, densely populated country. Rwanda has been called land a thousand hills, and the scenery is stunning. The cascading hills are sown with mounded rows of millet and beans, potatoes and carrots, protected from erosion by hand-dug drainage holes and ditches. 90% of Rwandans survive by subsistence agriculture.

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When we entered a village yesterday, hundreds of children swarmed our vehicle.

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"Hello," some of them greeted us.

"How are you?" others asked.

I saw an English primer under the arm of one child.

There's no more time this morning to write as our group leaves soon for a full-day of visits. But I'm glad to have at least given you this small glimpse: of the land of a thousand hills.

Good News for the Poor

jenmichel@me.com

With the exception of the pair of shoes I left behind in the mudroom (and four blocks from the house, turned around to retrieve), my daughter, Audrey, and I made it to the airport without event. Although I don't exactly know what the days ahead will be like, I do hope to write here as often as I can, sharing with you our experiences in Rwanda with HOPE International In my morning reading, I read Psalm 146:

Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever, who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry.

The LORD sets the prisoners free; The LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous.

The LORD watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

This psalm reminds me of God's particular favor for the world's most vulnerable, the very kind of people with whom HOPE International works. It also points forward to the very first sermon Jesus preached in the Nazareth synagogue, when he unrolled the scroll of Isaiah:

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

"Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing," Jesus announced (Luke 4:21).

This gospel of good news for the poor and the oppressed, for the hungry and the blind, was preached infrequently in my church growing up. A version of the good news was preached, to be sure. But it looked less like social activism and more like walking down an aisle, repenting of sin, and declaring the intention to follow Jesus and be baptized. (At a recent visit to my parent's home church, when the invitation stretched six anxious repetitions of, "People Need the Lord," I remembered the prayers I'd uttered as a young person for the sinners in our midst.)

Please don't misunderstand: I still believe that the gospel has everything to do with sin and salvation, and I'm grateful to have been raised in our church that preached both of these faithfully. Yet it wasn't until Wheaton College when I learned that the gospel was a full-bodied hope, that it had everything to do with putting to the world to rights, that it was good news for the poor in spirit and the poor. At Wheaton, I began to see passages like Psalm 146 and Isaiah 61 and Luke 4 differently - and see the kingdom of God differently.

I began to read the Bible differently.

And isn't that always the challenge before us: to read the Bible as it is meant to be read and to see and worship God as he has revealed himself? In his book, Eat This Book, Eugene Peterson calls this kind of earnest Bible reading the "forbidding discipline of spiritual reading."

"Forbidding because it requires that we read with our entire life, not just employing the synapses in our brain. Forbidding because of the endless dodges we devise in avoiding the risk of faith in God. Forbidding because of our restless inventiveness in using whatever knowledge of 'spirituality' we acquire to set ourselves up as gods. Forbidding because when we have learned to read and comprehend the words on the page, we find that we have hardly begun." It is the kind of reading which receives "the words in such a way that they become interior to our lives, the rhythms and images becoming practices of prayer, acts of obedience, ways of love," (Eat This Book, p. 10).

To read the Bible is to confront, at every turn, God's pledge of loyalty to the poor, the marginalized, and the mistreated. If we wished we could maintain a safe distance from suffering, if we had hoped that faith would ensure our comfort and convenience, the Bible warns that this is no option. We follow the Christ who braved the terrors of this world at great cost to himself. Our God became poor (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:9).

And we are his hands and feet.

The work of HOPE International, working through local churches to provide small business loans, biblically based business training, and savings services, is an expression of God's heart for the poor, especially poor women, who suffer particular vulnerability.

banker to the poorThese women, whom micro-credit helps, are described by Muhammed Yunus in his book, Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty. Yunus founded the world's first bank to the poor, Grameen, in Bangladesh and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his work.

Yunus relays this as a story of the typical Grameen borrower, who asks for her first loan of twenty-five dollars.

"She struggles with the fear of failure, the fear of the unknown. The morning she is to receive her loan, she almost quits. Twenty-five dollars is simply too much responsibility for her. How will she ever be able to repay it? No woman in her extended family has ever had so much money . . .

When she finally receives the twenty-five dollars, she is trembling. The money burns her fingers. Tears roll down her face. She has never seen so much money in her life. She never imagined it in her hands. She carries the bills as she would a delicate bird or a rabbit, until someone adviser her to put the money away in a safe place lest it be stolen . . .

All her life she has been told that she is no good, that she brings only misery to her family, and that they cannot afford to pay her dowry. Many times she hears her mother or her father tell her she should have been killed at birth, aborted, or starved. To her family she has been nothing but another mouth to feed, another dowry to pay. But today, for the first time in her life, an institution has trusted her with a great sum of money. She promises that she will never let down the institution or herself. She will struggle to make sure that every penny is paid back."

The beauty of most microfinance institutions, including HOPE International, is the high repayment rate. At HOPE International, 98% of loans are repaid.

I'm looking forward to learning more about HOPE's work in Rwanda (and around the world) in the week ahead. I'm also looking forward to meeting the many women and men who, with the help of a small business loan, are feeding their families, paying school fees, and saving for the future - all in the context of hope through Jesus Christ.

Read more about HOPE's program in Rwanda here. Find a copy of HOPE President Peter Greer's book, The Poor Will Be Glad, here. And stay tuned for more Rwanda updates from me this week.

Helping without Hurting (And Marie Jeanne's story)

jenmichel@me.com

when helping hurtsSeveral years ago, a couple from our church hosted a study on the book, When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself. This book is a must-read for every North American Christian for several different reasons. First, as Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert write at the very beginning of the book, North American Christians are not doing enough. "We attend our kids' soccer games, pursue our careers, and take beach vacations while 40% of the world's inhabitants struggle just to eat every day." This is not easy to hear, especially because so many of us already bear implicit guilt about our wealth. It is also difficult to hear because of the regular overwhelm we experience in the face of global poverty. Can we do anything to make a meaningful difference?

But Jesus has called his church to love and serve the poor. There are not exceptions to this, and we, the North American church, vastly rich and resourced, cannot ignore our responsibilities of stewardship. If much has been given to us, much will be required (cf. Luke 12:48). A second reason for reading When Helping Hurts is to educate our efforts. As Corbett and Fikkert explain, when we try to help, we often do more harm than good. We are largely ignorant about poverty, failing to appreciate its complexity. We create dependence on Western money and outside intervention, rather than foster initiative and self-reliance. And we ignore the shame that the world's poor feel, doing too little to affirm their God-given dignity.

We need to do more. We need to do it better. And we can - by God's great grace given to his people. Here are just a few of the principles Corbett and Fikkert lay out in their book.

1. First, we must consider the local assets of poor communities as we commit to helping. "A significant part of working in poor communities involves discovering and appreciating what God has been doing there for a long time," the authors write. There are resources present in every community, and they must be appraised, valued, and put to work. This tempers our efforts with necessary humility and even awe.

2. Second, we must understand that poverty is greater than material lack. "Research from around the world has found that shame—a "poverty of being"—is a major part of the brokenness that low-income people experience in their relationship with themselves. Instead of seeing themselves as being created in the image of God, low-income people often feel they are inferior to others. This can paralyze the poor from taking initiative and from seizing opportunities that improve their situation, thereby locking them into material poverty . . . According to Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, it is this lack of freedom to be able to make meaningful choices—to have an ability to affect one's situation—that is the distinguishing feature of poverty." Investing capital in a poor community does not alleviate shame. Money alone can't "fix" what is broken.

3. Third, the best development efforts are those that create opportunities for work. "God, who is a worker, ordained work so that humans could worship Him through their work." In Genesis 1 and 2, we see work, not as curse, but as gift. Fostering opportunities for people to work and became financially self-sustaining not only makes provision for their physical needs but rescues them from their sense of shame and inferiority.

These are three reasons that I love what HOPE International is doing in Rwanda and other places around the world. Operating in 16 countries, HOPE functions as a network of microfinance institutions, which make small loans and provide basic business training and savings services to the world's most vulnerable poor (women, ethnic minorities, and victims of war and corruption). Their programs boast a repayment rate of over 96%. As HOPE describes, "Contrary to a handout, micro finance offers a hand-up. It demands ownership and active participation from the beneficiaries of the intervention. Microloan recipients can take pride in knowing that their own hard work has made the difference between poverty and provision."

Today, I'd love for you to read the story of Marie Jeanne, one of Hope's clients in Rwanda.

Marie Jeanne with coffee 2

The bumpy, narrow road to Murehe Parish in eastern Rwanda is flanked by fragrant groves of flowering coffee trees. Coffee beans sun-dry on blankets in the front yards of mud-brick homes. These groves aren’t large enterprises but rather small, homegrown opportunities for those with a bit of land and a talent for farming.

For Marie Jeanne Mukagwiza and the fellow members of her HOPE International savings group, in partnership with the Anglican Church, coffee farming has opened many doors. Before forming the group in 2002, Marie Jeanne says she saved her money under her mattress or stored it in a cow’s horn—and while she explains that each group member had her own way of saving, she suspects most had no extra money to save. In fact, most members of the group initially balked at the idea of pooling their savings to grow a usable base of capital. “They said that no one in this community is rich enough to save,” Marie Jeanne recalls. As they received training, however, participants began to shift their focus from what they lack to what they have. A savings group coordinator explains, “God is asking, ‘What do you have?’ You have hands, you have knowledge, and you have your group. This is a strength when you work together.”

Looking at what they had, the 21 members of the group that calls itself “People Seeking God” found that they were all farming independently. The church offered an unused parcel of land, and as the group’s savings grew, they were able to purchase coffee trees. They’ve now planted 300 trees and recently bought a second parcel of land, on which they plan to plant 1,000 trees. As their income has increased, their savings have also grown, from 8 cents a month to $1.83 per month.

In addition to the jointly owned coffee plantation, many group members have sent children to school, acquired assets, or even purchased homes. Marie Jeanne has six children, and she’s proud to say that all of them are in school. “We started small,” she says proudly, “but today we are very grateful.”

Is there value in short-term missions?

jenmichel@me.com

Audrey, my oldest daughter, and I leave for Rwanda in less than one week, and I hope to be writing about that trip on the blog to promote the good work God is doing in Africa (and many other parts of the world) through the microenterprise efforts of Hope International. As we prepare to go (and I write in preparation), it's also an opportunity for me to consider why I value short-term missions, despite its many hazards. CL24_07

My husband, Ryan, and I have traveled twice to Africa. The first time, we traveled as a team of five students from Wheaton College to Mali for eight weeks, where we lived and worked with a Ghanaian couple. I use the word "work" in the loosest sense: we passed many of our daytime hours languidly under large shade trees, wondering why our young, eager bodies couldn't be put to more productive work. Though we hauled water, helped prepare food, and occasionally accompanied Dr. Solomon on his medical visits into the village, we spent the days rather uselessly, bewildered (and often frustrated) by our inactivity. At night, however, we piled into the Land Rover and bumped our way to remote villages. In the light of the headlights, we sang "Yesu Nana" and swatted large, hard-shelled insects. We prayed zealously while the Jesus film played and hoped for one or two converts when Dr. Solomon thundered an invitation after it finished. Once, when the rains abruptly swept in and the roads turned to muddy rivers, we presumed on African hospitality and slept three girls to a mosquito net, while the men spooned on the dirt floor.

Hundreds of mosquito bites later, we all got malaria.

The second time Ryan and I went to Africa, we were the parents of three small children. (I spent the first couple of nights lying awake in my bed, tearfully missing them.) This trip, sponsored by our local church, was considerably more "productive," if I could be so American as to use that word. Our team consisted mostly of medical professionals, and we arrived in Benin with suitcases full of pain relievers, antibiotics, and anti-diarrheal medication. Each morning, we traveled to a local church, which hosted a day clinic. People streamed in, complaining of stomach pain, toothaches, and "malaria" to a local church member, who translated their symptoms to me in French. I relayed, in English, the self-diagnosis to one of our medical practitioners. During our ten days in Benin, we contributed more concrete help, and we did it under the auspices of the local church. This felt like a better way to do short-term missions.

I know the hazards of short-terms missions. It's expensive, first of all. The argument can certainly be made that money is better spent directly helping people rather than funding a kind of philanthropic tourism. I confess I have some of those same fears about the trip I'm taking with Audrey. I also know that short-terms missions can often be perceived as a kind of colonialist endeavor: white, Western people galloping in on their white gospel horses. Yes, we contribute more harm than help when we create dependence rather than foster sustainability. This is a real danger to short-term missions. There's also the issue of taxing the hosting missionaries, who must interrupt their work to play tour guide to a bunch of eager-beaver, inflexible Westerners. I see these hazards. I understand these cautions.

But Ryan and I have still committed to taking each one of our children individually into another part of the world to see how God is at work. Audrey, 14, is the first to go. (I hope I'll get some of her own words on the blog during our trip - she's a fantastic writer and a keen observer.) What we want and pray for her is that God will increase her capacity for loving the world as he does.

"Jeremiah, what do you see?" God asks the prophet, conscripting him into missionary service (v. 11). And maybe all ministry, all prophetic witness begins, not with saying, but with seeing. And maybe seeing the world is one way to begin to loving it. We can't know what God intends to do in our daughter's heart because of one short week in Africa. Maybe Audrey will someday return, giving her life to work there. Maybe she'll never return but will pray and actively send others. Maybe spending time with business owners who've stretched a relatively small supply of American dollars (the average loan given by Urwego Opportunity Bank is $297) to feed, house, and cloth their family will birth generosity in her own heart. Whatever happens, I think she'll find the world changed.

Audrey, what do you see?