“we become witnesses to transformed lives” ; A 3-part series

Part 3

…I understand what it means to have everything taken away, what it means to be displaced.  I haven’t had to live through a genocide, but our family did have a tragic turn of events.

August 27, 1966—-I was nine years old, my father moved us away from everything familiar to a small northern community where life was cold and harsh. Prior to the move my father sold everything we owned and squeezed what possessions he could into a small U-Haul trailer. Not only had we lost everything that had been part of our family –friends, pets and even our furniture. My mother, brothers and I literally moved from a comfortable life to the place of having nothing to eat. Upon arriving in this new community, my father announced that he would not be living with us, he had another house and person that he had chosen to live with. With that, he left us with a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken, with some tomato soup, a loaf of bread and some milk. So began a decade of poverty and hopelessness.

Without the kindness of a few people in this new place, including a landlord who helped us with food, and made sure that we had a place to live even though we couldn’t pay the rent, and who helped my mother find a retail job, we might not have survived. My mother had very little education; but she was able to afford to put food on the table and to care for her children. I grew up very fast – I had to. I had to help my mother raise my brothers.

My mother’s dreams were simple – that her children would finish school and that they would not end up in jail. She deeply wanted us to have chance, a better life than she had.

As a young girl, I was a dreamer. I believed if I wished or dreamed long enough or hard enough things would come true.  It seemed fitting that the first song that I danced to with my new husband was the Everley Brothers, “All I have to do is dream.”  But it wasn’t long before the wish and the dreams were shattered. The dream died.  The marriage crumbled.

From 1966 until 1978 life took many twists and turns, countless wishes and dreams were dashed.  In the fall of 1978 a friend introduced both my husband and I to Jesus. And for the first time, wishes and dreams were replaced with faith and hope.

Everything started to make sense.  A verse from the bible became our guidepost.

“Here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”

The world was turned right-side up.

My life has turned out the way I had hoped it would. That young bride is still married to her “Dream.” We have raised our family and had not only survived some difficult seasons, we have matured and grown and our life has purpose.

For years we were caring for others through relief and development agencies and the local church. We knew that we had been blessed to be a blessing.

But that was greatly enlarged when we were introduced to Opportunity International.

This work that I do everyday alongside some of the most amazing supporters who make it possible, makes our entire families life make sense.

My life story connects me in some strange way to Beata’s story and every Opportunity International client. And at the same time I am very connected to the story of our supporters because of the generosity of others extended to our family in difficult times. My husband is my biggest cheerleader and supporter because he has met our clients and is witness to the wonder of it all. My mother…well she is a prayer warrior for our clients and colleagues and somehow this work blesses her life beyond measure.

I know that my calling is to be a matchmaker and to live life generously. My husband and I are connectors. We are called to be change agent for others.

I know that my experiences of being displaced, abandoned, living in poverty were not in vain. I understand deeply what it means to be given a chance.

I also know that my life has exceeded anything I could have wished or dreamed for…a wonderful marriage,  real family, amazing friends, a great education and more than enough material needs and wants.

“I have learned to give not because I have much, but because I know exactly how it feels to have nothing.”

Blessed to be a blessing.

This is the stuff of transformation.

***

I am so thankful to Doris for sharing her encouraging and inspiring story. Working with Doris and her organisation reminds me of CS Lewis’ words from Mere Christianity: “Now the whole offer which Christianity makes is this: that we can, if we let God have His way, come to share in the life of Christ. Christ is the Son of God. ….He came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has — by what I call “good infection.” Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else.”  A Christian then, being a transformed person through the love of Christ, lives a life full of loving relationships.

“we become witnesses to transformed lives” ; A 3-part series

imagePart 2

…..And together we become witnesses to transformed lives

Real life transformation in the lives of women like Beata.

Beata is a genocide survivor from Rwanda. Her husband and three of her children were killed in the 1994 genocide, and Beata and three other children were left for dead. But they didn’t die. They survived.  For a long time, Beata was confined to bed with her injuries. For seven years she lived in a fog. She calls it the years of the living dead.  She was depressed and her life seemed meaningless. Everything except for the fact that she still had children that needed her to live.  In 2001 a friend introduced her to Opportunity International Rwanda. Beata makes the comment, “It wasn’t just the fact that Opportunity gave me a loan because they saw my talent as a craftswoman. Opportunity became my family. They helped me start over. They gave me hope. They didn’t deny me a loan even though I was confined to my bed. It’s a miracle.”

Her first loan was $35 just enough for her to build a business making colorful beads out of paper and other crafts.  Since receiving that first loan in 2001, Beata has remained a faithful client and has grown her business significantly. In 2012 she received a loan for $4000!

Beata is committed to helping others in her community and is finding the path to hope and prosperity. When I met Beata in 2012, two of her children had finished college and the third had one more year to go.

While she still suffers with post-traumatic stress syndrome, Beata is full of hope.

Her response to the horrors of the Rwandan genocide makes her one of my Opportunity heroes. Beata’s life is a shining example of so many of the women and men that I have met over the years in Latin America and Africa.

And together they all make my life make sense.

When I was a young child, I prayed what I thought was a prayer…

“I wish I may, I wish I might, Have the wish I wish tonight.” The wish: a secure happy family; enough food to eat; a home we can call our own; a reason to keep on living. ”

I understand what it means to have everything taken away, what it means to be displaced.  I haven’t had to live through a genocide, but our family did have a tragic turn of events….

part 3 next week

“we become witnesses to transformed lives” ; A 3-part series

Over the next three posts, I will introduce Doris Olafsen through her personal story of transformation.

Doris is Vice President of Opportunity International (OI) Canada, a microfinance organization dedicated to transforming the lives of the poor.

We have known Doris since 2006 when we traveled with her to Peru as part of a due diligence trip of her organization, Opportunity International Canada, and where we wholeheartedly committed our company to their microfinance work with the poor.

As Vice President of OI, she is our liaison to the work of Opportunity and has accompanied us a number of times to Colombia where she not only managed our desire as a company to directly fund various pilot projects with Opportunity into fruition, but was essential to their growth and development through her remarkable working relationships with implementing individuals in Colombia and Canada. Her relationships extend much beyond that what one would normally expect from a person working in development with a relatively large organization, as she is well known in our Calgary offices with not only executive ans ownership but with regular staff members as she makes it a priority to visit and foster relationships. A significant number of staff have become personal supporters of OI over the years. Fostering relationships and making friends is how Doris works, within her organization and with donors across Canada.

Here is Part 1 of Doris’ transformation journey, in her own words.

*****

How does one live the best version of themselves?

For me it has been helping others find their way out of difficult places and spaces. In May 2005 the chance to do this for countless families around the world became my reality. I joined the team of Opportunity International.

On an Opportunity International Insight Trip to Colombia in 2005 my husband made a comment that continues to inspire me about this work we do.   He said, “This is what Jesus would do. He would see the woman baking bread over an open fire and would say, Let’s buy her an oven so she can bake more bread. And then he would come alongside her and bake bread with her.”

This is transformation. Helping people live up to and live out their God-given potential.

Everything that our family has been through from the time we were children prepared us to be agents for change for others.

This is transformation.

In the name of Jesus, this is that cold cup of water. This is what Opportunity International is all about.

Over the last nine years our family has walked alongside and prayed for many families in a number of countries. We have  witnessed firsthand what happens when ‘dreams’ become reality.

Opportunity International is a banker to the poor. The work we do is called microfinance but in reality we are the hands and feet of Jesus. We come alongside some of the most creative, tenacious survivors on the planet. People who are figuring out how to provide for their families in some of the most precarious places. Their entrepreneurial ability and God given skill and talent is their collateral. This is what Opportunity International invests that first small loan in.  We believe in them. And then we mentor and equip them to become the best version of themselves.

And together we become witnesses to transformed lives.

****

Part 2 will be posted next week.