Why I Serve

I went to a great “story swap” last night, where I and other non-profit professionals heard and shared our personal stories about what drives us to work for social change. The exchange of such inspiring stories left me yearning for more time to contemplate my motivations, core goals, and professional “origin story.”

So until I have more time to reflect (during my family’s backpack trip in the Sierra Nevada mountains next month!), I’ll take just a bit of time and space now to share some thoughts on why I serve, based on five points from the volunteers at ServiceSpace.org:

1. Serve to discover abundance: the radical shift from me to we

Serving with people all across the globe opens my eyes to the great abundance of our world. There are people out there that have so many diverse experiences and unique stories. I’ve always loved to travel and see and experience new places; wanting to explore that abundance held in the world inspires my correspondence and world service today.

Happily serving the world: Jack, Canaan, & Tanya

Happily serving the world: Jack, Canaan, & Tanya

2. Serve to express gratitude

I am so grateful that I understand technology and actually enjoy figuring technology things out. Because I am grateful for this talent and I want to put it to good use, tinkering with Spirit in Action’s website is a natural outpouring of gratitude. When I was a child my dad always told me to say thank you “loud enough so that they can hear you.” Now when I think of that reminder, it’s not just about speaking louder – it’s also about letting my actions, as well as my words, show my community that I recognize what I’ve been given and I’m giving back what I have to share.

3. Serve to transform yourself

When I worked at an insurance company I put in my hours each day and when I got home I rested. Working for Spirit in Action pushes me each day. I believe in our work and our programs, and I honor our partners, and so it’s not just enough to skate by in my work. I feel the need to constantly be learning new things, better ways to do things, to communicate, and to relate in the world. It’s only because I care about those I am serving that I push to transform myself.

4. Serve to honor our profound interconnection

Each small act of service is an unending ripple that synergizes with countless others.
Paying it forward, Sharing the Gift – these are such simple and inspiring practices. That ripple keeps going and it becomes larger than I can know or understand. Being a part of the unending ripple of goodness and caring is why I serve. When I serve my friends by playing with their fun, energetic toddlers, I am honoring interconnectedness in the larger human family – across familial and generational lines.

 5. Serve to align with a natural unfolding

This phrase so clear brings to mind the first line of “God Calling…” by Del Anderson, “By My grace, you have the privilege to be used as My yeast, My salt, to be My quickening Spirit manifested . . . now.” For me, seizing this privilege to be God’s yeast in the world is part of the natural unfolding of expanding compassion in the world. As Martin Luther King, Jr. often quoted “”The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice” and serving for me is reaching up and grabbing that arc and bending justice a bit closer to the now.

 *What inspires you to serve others? Please share in the comments section!

Edidiong’s Coconuts: Business Profile

About 90 percent of rural Nigerians rely on farming for their livelihood. So it is devastating for a family to have to mortgage their land – their source of food and income. Four years ago, Edidiong James Akpan (pictured below) and his family had to mortgage their land in order to buy food and meet their basic needs. Edidiong (22 years old), his sisters Nkereke (20) and Ufante (14), and his parents live together in the rural village of Mbiaso in southern Nigeria, which lacks electricity, running water, decent roads.

Edidiong prepares coconuts for sale.

Edidiong and his sisters go house to house to buy coconuts for resale.

Without the family land, Edidiong was anxious to start the business in order to get enough money to buy their farm back in time for them to cultivate the land during the next farming season. Ofonime Nkoko, SIA Small Business Fund Coordinator in Nigeria, met Edidiong at the local CFO International camp in Nigeria and he assessed that Edidiong’s family would be eligible for a SBF grant since, without a job and land to grow food, they were among the poorest of the poor in their village.

A Business is Born

In December 2011, Ofonime invited Edidiong, Nkereke, and Ufante, to attend a Spirit in Action SBF business training session. After the training they received their initial $100 grant and started a new business, Edidiong’s Coconuts.

Edidiong and his two sisters go from house to house to buy coconuts from the families. They then put them in bags and bring them to market. Each week Edidiong travels over 50 miles down dusty, pot-holed roads to sell their coconuts for a premium at the large Ariaria Market in Aba, Nigeria.

Reporting Success

The initial grant helped the group buy their first coconuts and pay for Edidiong’s trip to market. After three months in business, Edidiong’s Coconuts earned $72 in net profit and they were able to buy more tools and save for future growth. But even more thrilling, the family has been able to redeem the land that was mortgaged years ago! With their land back, Edidiong, Nkereke, Ufante, and their parents will be able to plant food to keep the family fed throughout the year.

“I prayed and waited and finally I kick started my dream business,” shares Edidiong, thrilled at their success. “Paramount is that we have our land back. We can eat fine, and I am sure in four years I will return back to school [university]. Thank you Spirit in Action. Thank you all. God bless you all.”

Indeed, thank you to all those who support the Spirit in Action Small Business Fund!

Opportunities in the midst of poverty

“My Joy is to see the SIA family grow and work as a team. We finished [the retreat] with a theme A healthy team grows and that’s all I see with SIA every day,” shared an inspired Dennis Kiprop, SIA Small Business Fund Coordinator in Kenya. His enthusiasm for growing, changing, and learning perfectly captures the mood at our Coordinators Conference in Kenya last summer, where we gathered eight of our local micro-grant coordinators from six different countries to discuss our grant-making process.

Spirit in Action local Small Business Fund (SBF) Coordinators are the leaders who guide new grant groups through the steps of starting a business, including initial training sessions and on-going support throughout the yearlong grant process. This conference – funded by our donors! – was an extremely valuable gathering of those who intimately know and understand the context of the work of Spirit in Action in their community.

And they all had so much to share and learn from each other.

Shared Challenges

Coordinators from Malawi, Nigeria, Kenya, & Uganda gathered to discuss SIA programs.

Coordinators from Malawi, Nigeria, Kenya, & Uganda gathered to discuss SIA programs.

One experience that resonated with all the leaders was the difficulty of choosing groups to receive grants. Our SBF guidelines, based on training materials created by Trickle Up, call for the Coordinators to serve the poorest families in the community as determined through a Poverty Assessment tool and poverty indicators specific to their communities.

But targeting the very poorest has challenges too. Canaan Gondwe, SBF Coordinator in Malawi, targeted the poorest of the poor in his community for the first SBF Malawi grants in 2004 and ended up disappointed with the progress made by those groups. “I noticed that there were people who were indeed poor and needed encouragement but weren’t the absolute poorest in the community.” Several other Coordinators nodded their heads in agreement.

Recognizing Opportunities

Tanya listens to the coordinators' experiences

Tanya listens to the coordinators' experiences in Kenya

Since this fruitful discussion last summer, Kiprop, Gondwe, Board Member Boyd Cothran, and I have been working together to create an Opportunity Assessment, which will be used in conjunction with the Poverty Assessment to identify and exploit the unique opportunities held by grantee groups.

Family members with skills that are not being used, access to local resources, and Sharing the Gift grant recipients ready to expand their project are just some of the opportunity indicators we hope to have all Coordinators evaluate when deciding where to award SIA SBF grants.

In addition, we believe that Coordinators can help groups recognize and unlock their unique opportunities; encouraging people to embrace an opportunity mindset. To that end, Gondwe put together these suggestions:

  • Help the group see the skills they already possess
  • Encourage them to use their time and energy productively
  • Train group in decision-making and prioritizing
  • Form groups of several households to encourage social sharing and peer support
  • Share spiritual nourishment to help them see the good God has in store for them
Coordinators play like a team too.

Coordinators play like a team too.

We’re not at the end of this process yet and the Opportunity Assessment is still a work in progress. Coming back to Kiprop’s theme, a healthy team grows, we celebrate that the Coordinators and I are still building on our discussions from last summer. We push each other to grow as leaders and collaborate to continually evaluate and improve our Small Business Fund program.

Read more on the Small Business Fund program and FAQs about the program.

On Fear – From Del’s Journal

Del Anderson, SIA’s founder, wrote this meditation on the topic of fear in his journal on March 13th, 1999, at the age of 92. For me, Del’s ornate, rich use of language forces me to slow down and read each sentence, soaking up the message in the ruminations.

We are greater than we know. As we keep on keeping on, with God-awareness, and conscious choice and actions, we open out a way for the inner splendor within us to come forth in clarity and focus.

What is reality and truth? What am I really afraid of? If I can name my fears, it releases some of the unknowable aspects.

It may be that as we more fully release any concern of how we are remembered and focus more on the now each day, and how fully we are fulfilling God’s purpose day by day, this may allow us to more fully direct the how, when, and where we make our transition.

This process requires us to focus more on our own being (in the silence) and be directed to more fulfilling and purposeful inner God-guidance in our doing.

I believe each of us need to be careful we don’t allow our life to use escapism by seeking constant diversion from awareness of our feeling of insecurity and fears.

God is the solution, and has the answers to all our fears, and insecurities. God has given us the power to choose, the choices are ours.

The way out of fear and insecurity is IN. “The kingdom of God is within us.” “Christ in you the hope of glory.” The peace of God and the truth-reality of life is within us; we open ourselves to rescue in the secret peace of the most high.

As we, “seek first the Kingdom of God” within us all else – all good – will be added unto us. Our awareness, conscious choices and directed actions, determines who get our attention, and to whom we serve.

The practice of presence of God, is our ultimate goal. Let us focus, experience, and discipline ourselves on fulfilling this goal. It is simple, but not easy. We have many distractions. Our part is to keep on keeping on until we catch on, until our transcended self takes control.

We are not here to let insecurity and fears direct our lives. We are created in the image and likeness of God, for the purpose of nurturing our souls and fulfilling the purposes of God, to express and manifest God, make God visible here on earth as it is in heaven (the invisible).

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