Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Business, Widows, and King Joseph

So, it's winter in Zambia (yes Africa has winter!). The sun is still strong and the days warm up, but by night we huddle around fires with hot tea and try to burrow under wool blankets and sleeping bags in our tents to stay warm. It's great!

May brought two worthwhile stories to share. One is about business. The other is about King Joseph.

Throw a bunch of stuff at the wall and see what sticks
I've jumped head first into starting a small scale farmers cooperative (Lubemba.com). My time in Africa has shown me that long lasting impact comes from local ownership of projects and ideas. The most practical outlet I see for that is in small entrepreneurial initiatives utilizing local resources and local talent. There are a thousand problems and mistakes you'll make but in the end you just have to 'throw something at the wall and see what sticks'.
In our case we started working with vegetable producers because farming is the primary (read only) source of enterprise in rural Africa. Two weeks ago we had a success story.
We drove out for our weekly vegetable pickup from our farmers. As the morning wore on with weighing and writing receipts and negotiations I noticed a quiet woman waiting patiently with her produce. After her veg was weighed she came up to me with her receipt in hand for payment. It wasn't a large amount but it was something. I asked her to sign her copy of the receipt but she just stared back at me. The guy next to her told me that she could not read or write. So she just signed an X on the line. Then it hit me. Here was an illiterate woman coming by herself to sell her produce. That day all of the farmers were male except for her. It turns out that she was a widow and had children to support. So here was a woman who had little or no means of supporting herself or her family but found an opportunity with this cooperative!
It was a highlight. We've worked hand in hand with our Zambian farmers and management staff to create something that is giving previously non existent opportunities to rural villagers. We haven't relied on handouts, but through persistent collaboration have started a momentum for something that will last far longer than we'll be around.
And working in this cooperative is an open door into these farmers lives. They've never had anyone come out and take such vested interest in the things that are so close to their survival. Through these relationships (it's all about relationship everywhere, not just Africa) we've been able to share practical farming knowledge and impress on them that spiritual enrichment is infinitely more important than enriching their bank account. We share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with them and pray for them and their families.
I came to Africa for this reason. There is nothing more exciting than working with people from another culture and language to create positive lasting change.

Wisdom from Abe

The last two weeks of May I taught a course on Christian character development to our AMT class. My favorite verse we looked at in the course was from the story of Joseph in Genesis 45:7-8: And God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.
In this scene, Joseph is speaking to his brothers who have traveled from their homeland because of a great famine. His brothers sold him into slavery 13 years prior. In that time Joseph endured incredible misery as a slave and prisoner but ultimately rose to the highest position in Egypt, the most powerful empire on earth at that time. His brothers are literally kneeling before him in a position of great weakness and vulnerability.
But what did Joseph do? Did he use his great power and authority to take vengeance? Just the opposite. He acknowledges God's gracious and loving hand on his life. Even through such great trials he knew God was with him for a specific purpose. So, he uses his authority to help them and then rebuilds the severed relationship in the family.
This is what Jesus did! He had all the power and authority in the universe but used that position to serve and love others instead of demanding what was rightfully his. The Kingdom of Heaven is upside down and reverse like that. It says that the greater the level of influence and authority the greater the responsibility to serve and sacrifice.
Abraham Lincoln said that most men can endure adversity but if you want to see his character give him power. Jesus set the example for us all to follow.