I wish you could have been sitting beside me last month during a meeting I attended in Uganda with our program directors from Sudan, South Sudan, Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.
Here we were – under one roof, on plastic chairs, opening our sessions together in songs like "Amazing Grace", and sharing stories about the challenges of serving some of the poorest families in the world.
Five Talents has been working in risky, war-torn, and rural areas for more than 12 years. We are experts in the area of setting up savings groups, distributing loan capital, and equipping women and men who run survival businesses for long-term success.
But during this meeting, the realities of what we are up against hit home again and again.
Francine, the representative from Burundi, where the per capita income is $89, talked about the challenge of teaching women to count for the first time. Without imparting a basic level of financial literacy, we have no hope of empowering these adult women to use effectively the gifts and resources God has given them. For those women, it truly all begins with 1, 2, 3.
Harun, our program manager in South Sudan, talked about the difficulty of helping group members overcome the country's poisonous history of civil war and tribal violence. All of the education in the world can do little to trigger change without accompanying it with messages about the importance of hope and reconciliation.
I remember one moment when Harun was talking about our work in a particularly rural community. Five Talents is the only organization in the area and, as a result, the women and men are looking to us for help. He said, "If we don't do [the work of setting up savings groups and helping survival business owners set up sustainable enterprises], then it doesn't get done."
Other challenges mentioned by program leaders were more typical of all microfinance programs -- things like the handling and safeguarding of cash, avoiding over-indebtedness, and meeting community demand while not over-extending the program.
But in the midst of these reports, something remarkable happened.
When each program manager shared a challenge, another person from another country rose and responded by sharing his or her own best practice. We had Ugandans solving problems from Kenya, and Burundians suggesting to the Tanzanians a new way of approaching the challenges they face. Indeed it was, as the author of Proverbs 27:17 put it, "iron sharpening iron."
Every single person walked out of the sessions sharper and full of more wisdom as a result of all of the learning that was taking place.
Listening to our colleagues discuss those realities over those few days, I was reminded of the risks and rewards of what we do and where we work. I thought back to the Parable of the Five Talents, in Matthew 25, where the servant who took a risk to double his talents was rewarded and told, "Well done, now be my partner" (The Message version).
Being a partner is a serious proposition. I thought again about the rewards and how worthy they were: giving women a way to contribute to their family's prosperity, teaching a savings group how to balance a simple budget, empowering a survival business owner to invest and then steward a new round of profits.
These are rewards that will give back to those women for generations to come.
In fact, they trickle down into the extended family unit, to children, uncles and aunts, sisters and brothers. And these rewards make all of the challenges that we face worth the trouble -- and worth your continued investment in our mission.
Thank you for investing in the lives and hearts of the micro-entrepreneurs of this world. You are the catalyst for the change taking place half a world away. Great things are indeed happening.