Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Happy 4th Birthday Nuru International!

Four years ago, there was a small group of us who had a big idea. It was about ending extreme poverty. We had come from various careers and walks of life because we believed that global extreme poverty is the greatest humanitarian crisis of our generation, and that future generations would judge us based on what we did or did not do about this issue. We joined together, friends linked with a common vision, a vision that was birthed into reality by Jake Harriman and John Hancox. A vision that is now reality, a reality that has brought thousands of people around the world together to make lasting change in ending extreme poverty.

Four years ago we took this big idea to Kuria West, a district in the Nyanza province of Kenya, and one of the poorest communities in the country. We began by listening as farmers told us about chronic hunger in their families because they couldn’t produce enough food to eat. They told us of their own lack of ability to budget and save, and of the challenges of trying to pay school fees or just surviving as they and their family had sickness as a regular part of their lives as a result of malnutrition, unclean water, and malaria among other challenges.

Since that time Nuru has been able to help literally thousands of people in Kuria West to begin charting a new future. Children are able to go to school, families can produce more than enough food to eat, people are able to save, budget, and even purchase life saving tools like malaria nets, water purification technology, and soap. Lives are being saved, and a new pathway and future is being created for this community.

But that is just part of the story. There are incredible leaders who are emerging in the community in Kenya who are helping Nuru’s programs expand, and who will one day take these programs to new districts in Kenya. There are revenue generating activities that are taking place that will make this endeavor financially sustainable in the long term as well.

And all of this is because a number of people from around the world have chosen to be part of this vision. From Alaska to Switzerland and from Kenya to Australia. Individuals are choosing not to accept the way things are but are instead working to chart a different future. A future where people have clean water to drink, food to eat, improved health, savings, and improved education. People are choosing to be light and hope.

Here in the US, churches, students, individuals, corporations, and more are choosing to be light and hope. They are choosing action over apathy, and they are part of changing thousands of lives.

Just last month, my wife and I traveled to Kuria and heard people tell their stories. We saw the results of an amazing maize harvest, and we met children who will grow up not knowing the desperation of extreme poverty. They will not know hunger. They will have a life filled with even greater opportunities than their parents could have previously imagined. 

I’m in awe of what has been accomplished in the last four years, and I’m excited to celebrate a big idea becoming reality, together with you, one community at a time. I can’t wait to see what the future has for the people of Kuria West, Kenya and beyond. May we never grow weary of doing good, and helping our global neighbors take steps to improve their lives forever. And may we each be part of bringing lasting change to this world. 

"Nefarious: Merchant of Souls" Tour Screening at Chestnut Ridge Church

Last night Jamie and I were invited to watch a documentary called Nefarious at Chestnut Ridge Church in Morgantown. We were unsure whether we would go as we were both pretty tired and we are both a fairly well informed on the subject. Jamie and I have both served with ministries in the Red LightDistrict in Amsterdam, and we even went into a facility in the states to try to gather evidence of a suspected illegal operation. We keep our eyes peeled any time we travel for signs of potential trafficking or slaving operations existing even here in the US.  We also have a good friend who is legal counsel for the Freedom Center in Cincinnati,OH and a few friends at International Justice Mission.

 As the start time approached, we decided to go to watch the documentary because we knew from the trailer that it talked about Amsterdam’s Red Light District, and because we like to show support for initiatives to raise awareness of the issue of human trafficking. As I mentioned, the film was being shown at Chestnut Ridge Church, so we had a bit of a drive to get there (30 minutes), but the trip was definitely worth it.

I was really impressed that the church was choosing to get involved in modern day abolition activities, and the organizer, Karen Haring, had told me that she was trying to take steps to get more involved personally in issues like this. We saw a number of friends in attendance at the event, including another couple with whom I had traveled to Amsterdam for a short-term service/mission trip in 2005. So the event also served as a reunion of sorts.

As far as the film is concerned, it is fairly graphic in its portrayal of sex slavery, sex trafficking, and prostitution, and is filled with heartbreaking statistics and stories, but in the end shares hope and some success stories. Benjamin Nolot, the founder of a group called Exodus Cry which was started by members of the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, created the film, and it documents four years of his travels to learn more about and bring awareness to this multi-billion dollar industry that is destroying millions of lives.

My own journey with Nuru has been launched because I see extreme poverty as a strong catalyst for trafficking in some parts of the world. Desperate people do some pretty horrific things in an effort to survive sometimes. It’s also true that wicked people do some very wicked things in the name of greed or lust. The world needs more passionate, results-oriented activists working to break the bonds of injustuce in our world.

Whether or not the film comes your way, I highly recommend that you learn more about modern day slavery and human trafficking. GaryHaugen, the founder of International Justice Mission has written a couple of great books on the issue that document what people can do about it Good NewsAbout Injustice and Just Courage). Another great book is called, Not ForSale by David Batstone.  Get informed and get involved.

This world needs more people who are willing to move past talking about issues to start taking tangible action to make it a better place. Will you take a step?

Monday, September 24, 2012

Dad and His iMac and iPhone

Well, this weekend found me linking up with my dad to help him take a big step forward into the world of mac. Three years ago, he had started using an iPhone 3GS. The reason for his leap into the world of iPhones was simple. He had calculated the cost for his landline phone and long distance to be similar to the cost of an iphone with a data plan. He was able to move his phone number across to the iPhone, and, he was able to enjoy the benefits of nationwide calling, web browsing, mapping directions, watching videos, Facebooking, and so much more. He absolutely loved making the switch. Also, because everyone in our family is an AT&T customer, he has been able to keep his minutes of usage very low on his account, and often has minutes rollover to the next month.

He had been considering a new phone for most of the year and when the iPhone 5 came out, he decided to make his move. He and I visited an Apple Store near Pittsburgh, PA, and he was able to walk out the door with a new phone. Even better, he was able to move all of his files, photos, calendars, and apps on his phone to iCloud. So when he turned on his new iPhone, everything that was on his old iPhone was there--including his wallpaper.The people at the Apple Store were incredibly friendly and enthusiastic, and were also very patient with my dad as they walked him through some of the initial aspects of set-up that were continued and built upon when we arrived at home.

In addition to purchasing his iPhone, he took the plunge and grabbed up an iMac as well. The last computer he purchased was back in 2000, and it had died and gotten resurrected at least three times. I spent a good chunk of the weekend helping him get set up, and moving photos and music to his new computer, but I think he is pretty well set now.  Any calendar appointment, email, note, contact, or reminder that he sets up on his phone immediately syncs with his desktop, so he is able to easily see birthdays, dr. appointments, and more on his computer. Furthermore, we went out and bought him a back-up hard drive, so he can use time capsule to back-up his computer. That's a new and needed concept for my dad (and for anyone really). 

Last night, as a result of his new acquisitions, we were able to play around a bit and talk on FaceTime using both his phone and his computer. There is a lot for him to learn and explore on his new pieces of technology, but my dad is already learning some cool tricks, and really enjoying his purchases. I even found him a free app that allows a person to learn how to type, one step at a time.

I'm excited for my dad to be able to explore more on his tools, and I think my dad is pretty excited about exploring as well. It may seem a bit strange, but it was really enjoyable to be able to help my dad get set up on all of this new technology, and I'm glad I could serve him in this way. He has done so much for so many people throughout his life, including me, that it was just great to help him get set up. I really hope he can get as much use out of these tools as he did his previous phone and computer.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Being Nuru: A Visit To "The Well" at Ashland University

It was about this time last September that I received the call. Zach Hefner, a student at Ashland University called me to see about how his campus, and more specifically, his church could get involved with Nuru. He told me about how active students were on his campus, and how he had been following Nuru’s work more or less since we started in 2008. He was interested in seeing his campus have the ability to drill a well, or buy some goats, or something of the sort.

I let him know that Nuru doesn’t do any of those things. We don’t drill wells (although we have in the past), and we don’t do anything that could resemble a handout. I also let him know that I was incredibly excited to talk to him, and I was even more excited about the fact that he and his friends had decided to take action toward ending global extreme poverty. I could guarantee to Zach that whatever funds he was able to raise on campus, Nuru would do its best to leverage them for the greatest impact in ending extreme poverty for the people of Kuria West, Kenya.

So many people have the greatest of intentions, but they stop short of taking action, and what the world needs is people who take action, folks who choose to make a difference with their limited time and resources on this earth. Zach is one of those types of people, and thankfully there are more people like him.  I am filled with joy that every day, I have the opportunity to meet and interact with passionate difference makers like Zach.

After my own life was awakened to the issue of global extreme poverty in an English class in 2005, my life has been on a different trajectory. I believe that global extreme poverty is the greatest humanitarian crisis of our generation, and I believe further that future generations of humanity will judge us based on what we did or did not do to bring an end to global extreme poverty. As a result, I am passionate about seeing others get involved, and taking action, people like Zach.

A few months after my initial call with Zach, I made my way to Ashland University, and met one of Zach’s campus leaders, a guy named NateBebout. Nate and I were able to have lunch together, and we talked at length about seeing people get connected with issues and even discovering their own callings as a result. Nate is a solid leader, and honestly, he is a true gift to the students at Ashland.

At Ashland Uniersity, students had raised over $2000 for Nuru through giving a little bit each week. As I shared with members of their campus ministry in April, I couldn’t help but think about the future. You see, the students here had taken a big step from good intentions to action, and had started down a path of being engaged in ending global extreme poverty together with Nuru.

I’m excited for the future because of leaders like Nate who will be able to work with even more students in the future, and provide them opportunities to care and take action to end extreme poverty in our lifetime.

If you are reading this blog, maybe it can be an encouragement to you to take action as well. When Zach started talking about Nuru on his campus, he was the only person there who knew about Nuru. Maybe you can lead the charge in your workplace, on your campus, or in your faith community to be Nuru, and invite others to join us in this work.

May today be a day for you to be Nuru, and to move good intentions into conversation and action toward making a difference in this world.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Last Hunger Season by Roger Thurow

Earlier this summer, I was able to acquire a copy  of Roger Thurow’s new book, The Last Hunger Season. The book chronicles one year in the lives of four families who are working with an organization called One Acre Fund (OAF) to improve their livelihood as small shareholder farmers.

My initial interest in the book was because One Acre Fund is an incredible thought partner for Nuru International, and our CEO, Jake Harriman, did a summer internship with OAF in 2007 in order to learn more about their model first-hand. If you have not heard of One Acre Fund, I strongly recommend you look into their work to improve the lives of farmers in Kenya, Rwanda, and Burundi.

But now for more about the book. Thurow starts off by explaining what is meant by a “hunger season” or “wanjala” in Kiswahili as this is a foreign concept to people who have never set foot outside the United States. In the West, we have access to food year round. For people in the US, it is hard to fathom that anyone on the planet would ever run out of food, or that food prices could double and triple during those times of year when there is a shortage. Even more difficult for our minds to imagine is that people grow most of their own food. While we know that farms exist, most people here buy their food in a supermarket.

Thurow does a masterful job of allowing the reader to enter into daily life for people in remote rural Kenya who are living in extreme poverty.  Unless one has witnessed it firsthand, it is hard to imagine whole communities who lack access to electricity or running water. It’s hard to imagine healthcare that is "distant and meager at best." Beyond this, Thurow helps readers get a better understanding of what access to high quality seed and fertilizer and improved planting techniques can do for these agrarian communities.

Too often, in the West we have been given distorted images of people living in extreme poverty. Too often, our global neighbors are portrayed as helpless and unable to fend for themselves. The truth of the matter is that our global neighbors are incredibly resourceful, but they have largely lacked access to tools and knowledge that could mean massive improvements to their livelihood.  Too often, these people are portrayed in a way in which we do not see their full humanity, their brilliance, or the daily choices they are compelled to make. Roger Thurow helps us to get a more accurate image of who these people are and what their dreams are, both for themselves and for their children. During each chapter, he allows us to walk through the lives of four One Acre farmers, and experience the challenges they bravely face during the course of a year. I believe that through Thurow's detailed chronicling of one year in the lives of the families of Leonida, Rasoa, Zipporah, and Francis, we have been given a true treasure. 

Through the innovative work of organizations like One Acre Fund and Nuru International, literally thousands of families are taking the first steps toward lifting themselves out of extreme poverty and dealing with chronic hunger. In the book, one gets a vivid image of the challenges that a family might face in a year, challenges like paying school fees and paying back agricultural loans. Thurow reminds us of challenges like insuring that a family has enough food to eat through the wanjala, or even challenges like dealing with health emergencies like malaria. 

Beyond his detailed description of one year in the life of four farmers, Thurow offers a primer to the history of sustainable agriculture and international development from Norman Borlaug's work in India and Pakistan in the 60s and 70s to renewal efforts being led by groups like Bread for the World, One Acre Fund, Nuru, and many others in this generation. Throughout the book, he also details the work of advocacy groups like ONE (an advocacy organization started by Bono, the lead singer of the band U2) and even the work of the Obama administration's Feed The Future initiative and agencies like USAID to bolster food security and production. He even quotes US Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack's reminder that, "just one lifetime ago the United States was a country of subsistence farmers...there are no better innovators than those who farm the land." Thurow allows us to not only read about the lives of farmers, but his book is filled with opportunities to learn more about the history of sustainable agricultural development, as well as learn how others, like former representative Tony Hall and Christian writer Jim Wallis, have taken tangible action steps to speak and take action about the unnecessary injustice of chronic hunger.

I really loved the book for a number of reasons, and I believe the book is a must-read for anybody interested in sustainable agriculture as well as how our global neighbors who are suffering in extreme poverty may be able to chart a better future for themselves. If you take the time to read the stories of one year in the life of the families of Leonida, Rasoa, Zipporah, and Francis, I hope you will be able to move past the statistics you may have heard, and come to the conclusion that there is hope, and that we stand on the threshold of an amazing opportunity to work together toward helping farmers like the ones mentioned above provide a better future for their families. Thank you Roger Thurow for your engaging and inspiring work open our eyes to parts of our world from which so many in the West have been insulated.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

L' Shana Tova 5773!

Tonight at sunset, Rosh Hashanah begins. Rosh Hashanah is also called Jewish New Year, it is on this night that Jewish people celebrate the creation of the world from Adam's perspective. According to the Jewish calendar, this is year number 5773.

Tonight marks the commemoration of the evening and morning that were the first day, when the Creator of the universe breathed into dust and formed man.

And over the next ten days, the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur mark a time of repentance, and is also called the "Days of Awe." During this time, one celebrates the creation of the universe, but also is mindful of the need for self-examination. One also blows the shofar or rams horn as a reminder that God is the King of the universe. 

It's a customary greeting on Rosh Hashanah to say "Shana Tova!" or "A Good Year!" Or even, L'shana tovah tikatevu vetechatemu which means "May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for a good year!"

I don't know if you have ever considered this ancient tradition, but as the time approaches tonight, I plan to take time to reflect on the good world that has been created, and the pollution of shalom that has taken place since that time, and even my own part in that pollution. And then, I want to pray that God would allow me with his help and empowerment to be an instrument in bringing healing and beauty where there is now brokenness and suffering. May we all be instruments of healing, beauty, and peace where there is now brokenness and suffering.

And, L'shana tova tikatevu vetechatemu le'altar lechayim tovim ul'shalom! May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year immediately, for a good life and for peace!"