A New Way to Serve Globally…by Staying Local

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For many people who attend Willow, God has planted a passion for helping church partners in Africa and Latin America. The passion might center around a particular profession, such as education, medicine, or finance, or it might be to provide clean water and nutritious food. And for others it might be as simple as a desire to learn about another culture or country around the world. In any case, the traditional way to feed these passions was to go on a global mission trip. But what if a mission trip is not currently an option? Is there a way to feed these global passions locally? The answer is now “yes” with the creation of Community Development Advocates (CDA) Teams.

CDA Team Launch
In March 2013, Willow held its first CDA Team meeting. Approximately 150 people gathered to listen to a presentation on global issues and stories of experiences from several Willow Creek serving team members followed by breaking down into individual groups. The groups were divided into six categories or “care themes,” which included economic development, health/nutrition, water, capacity development (micro-enterprise), spiritual development, and education. Each group was led by a person who has knowledge of the partners and their needs. The same format was used for a second CDA Team meeting in June 2013.

The value of CDA teams is looking at “the big picture from home,” says Willow staff member Scott Pederson. Dividing the groups by interest allows like-minded people to sit together and brainstorm. After hearing the common struggles faced by global partners, the group talks through innovative solutions and best practices for change.

After only two meetings, the local CDA Teams have already made a global impact. In one instance, a medical team that has served in Latin America began using Skype to train church partners in how to use an ultrasound machine. This has worked so well, the team is working toward expanding this idea to other types of training. In another instance, a group of teachers who served in Zambia is exploring the use of email and Skype to counsel and train school teachers there. “There’s no bad idea,” says Scott. “The Global Ministries team is excited about the potential engagement this unlocks between Willow attenders and our global partners.

The next time the CDA Teams gather is at the C&J Volunteer Rally on September 14, during the Global breakout session. Visit the C&J webpage to learn more about the rally and to sign up.

Breaking the Cycle One Loan at a Time

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Peggy

In 2010, Willow Creek began a microfinance program with a Kitchen Garden Loan Program intended to move from food donations and toward self-sustainability. The program, funded by Willow Creek members, concentrates on providing loans to individuals who are HIV positive, individuals who are responsible for caring for someone who is HIV positive, or caring for orphans.

The money is sent to loan groups in the Willow’s global partner churches, and a loan officer from the local church monitors the funds. The church is then responsible for choosing the loan recipients.

“The loans are a way to give a person or family the chance to get out of the cycle of poverty and begin to better their circumstances,” said Scott Pederson, a staff member with Willow’s global ministry. “One other big element is the issue of dignity—when a person has the opportunity to provide for her/his family, it builds their dignity and is a new way of building hope.”

One of its recipients is a 51-year-old woman named Peggie Chipulu, living in Samfya, Zambia, a small town in the province of Luapula. In 2003, her husband died from complications of HIV/AIDS. Peggie was later diagnosed as HIV positive, and antiretroviral medication and hospital bills left her bankrupt.

In 2009, one of Willow’s local church partners in Samfya had chosen Peggie to receive a loan through the microloan program. The loan money was used to help her start a garden, which in turn produced 250 Zambian Kwacha (ZK) —the equivalent of $48. She was able to pay back her first loan and qualify for a second loan of 600ZK ($115), which she used for farming. She was able to produce 25 bags of crops and by selling 20 of those bags, she raised 1,300ZK ($250). By investing this money in a clothing business, she was able to own and operate her own store. Because of the microloan program, Peggy is able to provide financial support for three orphans and make improvements to her home.

Despite her illness, she has remained active in her church, serving as a deaconess and in the choir.

“I never lost hope; I trusted God to heal me,” said Peggy. “HIV is not a death sentence; it is a disease like asthma and diabetes. Treating it is a matter of knowing what to do or not to and adhering to that.”

For many, the microloan program is the only opportunity for financial independence because the individuals have little to no collateral and many of the countries do not have loan providers.

“When we see the successful results and the stories of how a family went from extreme poverty to the ability to provide for their own, and their new pride in doing so, it is a wonderful thing,” said Scott.

 

The Power of an Hour: A Child’s Life and Beyond

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Kids Hope USA is a national organization that partners with local churches that in turn, partner with local elementary schools. Tapping into an ever-expanding network of school/church partnerships, Kid Hope USA pairs adult mentors with students who are struggling. By spending just one hour per week reading, talking, playing, and listening to a child at school during the child’s lunch period, a volunteer mentor can help him feel loved and valued. That can contribute to helping a child learn, grow, and succeed.

One of the reasons the Kids Hope USA program is so effective is their ability to get into schools where these children can be reached. Principals and teachers have witnessed firsthand the effectiveness of the program mentors in improving the lives of at-risk children. While the scope of the program remains focused on the one hour that takes place at school, there are opportunities for children to invite their families to Kids Hope-sponsored events and the chance of continued summer contact through the use of permission slips sent home to the parents. If the mentor’s relationship with the student grows beyond the jurisdiction of the school, then the child and the entire family can be invited to church events.

Willow Creek South Barrington sponsors 11 schools and mentors 55-60 children. The 2013 school year will be the fourth year in which church volunteers have participated, and in each school, the church partners with a director who also serves as a mentor. Full training and support is provided. Mentors are also associated with a prayer partner who prays for the success of the relationship.

Kellye Fabian, program manager for the Kids Hope ministry at Willow Creek, under the umbrella of The Care Center, says the need for volunteers is tremendous, particularly for male volunteers. The program’s relationship with the schools is also an effective way to let the students’ families know about the Willow Creek Care Center, where they are able to find help with other life struggles.

Kellye’s passion for the program is clear as she tells story after story about how God orchestrates mentorships to lift not only individual children but, in some cases, their entire family. “There is so much God timing around this ministry,” says Kellye as she speaks of entire families who were touched first by Kids Hope, then by Willow’s church and Care Center.

Dana Wells, a volunteer who is a Kids Hope director for two schools, spoke of children barely able to smile, or talk above a whisper who are learning to trust a mentor who returns week after week to teach them about the power of choice and the importance of having dreams, goals, and ambitions. It’s “planting good seeds,” says Dana.

As the Kids Hope ministry prepares for the upcoming school year, they will launch volunteer training events beginning in August. If you have one hour per week to give of yourself and you want to make sure that hour counts, consider the impact of becoming a Kids Hope mentor. Volunteers can be paired with a student at a school near their home or place of work.

The kickoff and invitational for the upcoming school year will be held from 9-11 a.m. on August 17 in room B100. Refreshments will be provided. Email Kellye Fabian for more information or by visit the Kids Hope USA website.

 

Gift-in-Kind Grand Slam

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This past Friday the Dreamweaver/G4G organization had a collection at the Schaumburg Boomers Baseball Game for our partners in the Dominican Republic. Over 1000 pieces (bats, balls, helmets, catchers gear, cleats, uniforms and assorted sports equipment) were collected. It was a fun night of baseball, fireworks and a G4G flash mob that entertained the crowd at the 7th inning stretch. Thank you so much for giving the youth groups in the DR so much Blessing.

Some incredible news…this week GIK history will be made. Thanks to Lowery/McDonnell Company we will have FOUR containers packed with valuable educational furniture. Over 1400 student desks and chairs, dozens of file cabinets, tables and teachers desks will be sent to the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Costa Rica. They (L/M) will pack the containers for us in Oak Park at the Lincoln, Hatch and Mann Schools. The DR and ES containers will launch this week, while the CR container will sit in a holding pattern for a few weeks, while kitchen equipment our partners requested is procured and inserted into the load. This incredible opportunity will help dozens of Latin American Schools improve classroom conditions for years to come.

What a great way to close out the first half of this year with seven containers to four country partners. We sent seven containers all of last year. Only God can create such opportunity!

-Frank Davis

Gift-in-Kind Ministry Coordinator

Royal Family Kids Camp Is a Royal Success

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Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”

This year’s seventh annual camp was a huge success that transformed volunteers and campers alike.   Royal Family Kids Camp (RFKC) is a Willow Creek ministry partner directed by Barton and Karen Francour.  The Francours, after raising four children of their own, recognized a need and decided to foster an additional 16 children over the course of thirteen years.  After experiencing a powerful week of wilderness camping at Camp Paradise (Willow Creek’s camp in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula), and knowing the need to support children in the foster care system, Bart and Karen joined forces with RFKC to provide those children with a meaningful camp experience.

RFKC is a national organization that helps bring Christ-centered joy and healing to children who have been physically, emotionally, and mentally neglected.  The statistical evidence of children who live in abusive homes and end up as adults who face a life-long battle of low self-esteem, hopelessness, homelessness, anger, addictions, and criminal behavior is staggering.   RFKC helps to spare these at-risk children by providing hurting kids a safe place to discover they are precious treasures in God’s sight and are welcomed into God’s family.

June marks the seventh year of providing local foster kids from Cook and Lake Counties the gift of an adventure-filled week of God’s love, joy, healing, and family-style structure.  This year, 92 campers, ages seven to twelve years, along with approximately 80 volunteers completed camp.  Dozens of Willow Creek members made the week of camp possible by volunteering as leaders.  They were trained to be the campers’ aunts, uncles, and grandparents.  When campers arrived at the Lake Geneva camp on Monday they were greeted with high-fives, hugs, and personalized signs, and were plugged into their family units.RFKCFinalGroupPhoto

Royal Plan
The campers took a guided walk through Jeremiah 29:11.   The camp was “under construction” as God’s blueprints for their lives were revealed over the course of five days.  Each day campers learned how to build a good spiritual foundation for their lives by making wise choices.  Choices like prayer, trusting God, and following the Bible were all part of God’s blueprint for each camper. Building a firm foundation in Christ was the goal.

The volunteer’s blueprint was to build up each camper, affirming them and helping restore their self-esteem.  Leaders are charged with providing the children with a supportive, emotional and physically safe environment.  The low camper-to-counselor ratio helps provide the foster children with a ready ears and open hearts at all times.

Lessons of God’s love were also coupled with fun! A typical day at camp is jam packed with excitement, adventure, and activity. Every day is entirely structured and starts around 7 a. m.  with calisthenics and the breakfast club.  Morning and afternoon chapel time is integrated into the day as well as campfires, crafts, and woodworking.  Campers go boating, swimming, and experience family style dinners and tea parties decked with fine china and tablecloths.  Brave campers even partake in an early morning polar bear swim.  On Wednesday, every camper’s birthday is celebrated.  The camp has a huge birthday party extravaganza and each child receives an age and gender appropriate birthday box with special gifts just for them inside.DSC_4667
Royal Gifts
The ultimate goal of RFKC is that each camper would discover their worth in Christ.  At camp they are taught they belong and are invited to join God’s Royal Family as His children.  Volunteers instill and plant seeds of salvation, hope, and love into the hearts of these campers.  They work to reinforce the fact that the campers are cherished children of God.

To continue the camp experience and remind campers of all they learn at camp, campers are given gifts and tools to refresh them when things get tough at home—gifts like a play-away with all the music from camp, a photo memory book, and a Bible.  At the end of the week, one child shared that “Monday was their favorite day at camp…because I wait all year to come here.”

Campers are encouraged to return to camp each year until they age out of the program.  Many campers return years later, ready to volunteer with younger children who need attention, love, and support from someone who intimately understands their situation.

Because of the Francours and dozens of other Willow Creek volunteers who have heeded the calling to make camp their summer mission, many children have been able to feel the healing and lasting power of God’s love year after year.

For more information about Royal Family Kids Camp and how you can volunteer in the future, email Camp Directors Bart and Karen Francour.

No Containing the Container Goal

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GIK

Gifts-in-Kind (GIK) is a volunteer-run ministry that collects high-value goods and materials for Willow’s global church partners around the world. Last year, seven 40-foot containers transported more than 42 tons of items specifically requested by local partners. This year, the goal was to match last year’s achievement. And incredibly, this goal is just days from being met. As of the end of June 2013, seven containers will have been filled and ready for delivery to Bolivia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, and El Salvador.

The most recently packed container contains Montessori school supplies, 150 student chairs, computer tables, file cabinets, medical supplies, two pianos, 10 wheelchairs, 15 walkers, and a whole host of sports equipment, including basketballs, baseballs, soccer balls, cleats, and uniforms. Twenty-five percent of this container contains brand new supplies. But none of these items are random. Rather, they are all items requested by Willow’s church partners as part of their ministry vision.

The Key to GIK
Willow member and volunteer Frank Davis explains how GIK works. “The local partner is the change-maker who knows what is needed in the areas of medicine, education, and the church. They are the ones with the vision for growth and development.” Davis says, “the key to this is not about the stuff, it’s about having a relationship with the partner first.” Then God directs everything else into place.

Miraculous Supply of Supplies
An example of things falling into place is this year’s Celebration of Hope lobby experience, where GIK had a booth. A husband and wife stopped by to ask questions about the GIK ministry. It turns out that the couple owns a leading manufacturing company of school and office furniture. In addition to offering brand new equipment, this company donated a large amount of supplies from three schools in Oak Park. Amazingly, they are all supplies that Willow’s partners have requested. It’s no accident. “That’s just how it works,” Davis says. “I have story after story of unbelievable connections, where a container is filled with exactly the right supplies at exactly the right time.”

Frank says the common sentiment of all volunteers is that they are pleased and honored to be a part of a GIK container. Volunteers looking to help pack containers or provide supplies may email gik@willowcreek.org for more information. Needed materials include (new or gently used) personal computer/laptops, backpacks, school supplies, gym equipment, sound equipment, medical supplies, commercial kitchens, and agricultural/construction tools.

Get Ready. Get Set. Go!

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Picture Willow’s South Barrington and Huntley campuses, not with parking lots and entrances and exits, but with a 5K running course complete with water stations, mile markers, and excited participants and spectators. This was the scene on April 20, the day of Willow’s second 5K Run for Shoes. With rocking music, Paul Jansen Van Rensburg manning the microphone, and plenty of adrenalin pumping, the chilly the 5K launched the 2013 Celebration of Hope initiative. And weather did nothing to damper the spirits of the 4,100 people who ran and walked the 5K at South Barrington and Huntley’s campuses.

“It was my first 5K ever,” said one runner, whose two children and husband waited at the finish line to cheer her on. “Now I can cross it off my bucket list,” she joked. Another runner said she was inspired by the two people running ahead of her, a father and 10-year-old son, who held hands during the entire race. “They were fast, too!” she said. Yet another runner laughed about bringing in “the caboose of the race” with other lollygaggers like himself.

Regardless of pace, all ages ran, walked, or rolled over the finish line as smiling faces, including the four-legged variety, applauded their efforts. The real satisfaction? Knowing that they helped put shoes on the feet of children in Latin America and Africa.

Family Seed Packs
Last year, Willow volunteers filled 500,000 family seed packs for local church partners in Zimbabwe. The success of 2012 inspired a goal of 3/4 of a million family seed packs this year. Not only was this goal met, it was exceeded: 19,079 volunteers filled 778,750 garden packs. This enabled Willow to send seeds, not only to Zimbabwe, but also to Zambia, El Salvador, and the Dominican Republic.

How?

During one section community serve in particular, a first-time Willow volunteer finished his two-hour session and wanted to do more, so he stayed for the next two-hour serve. Another seed packing veteran not only trained to help lead a session, he shared tips with the leaders of the next session for efficient packing. Other volunteers wore their 5K Run for Shoes t-shirts as a fun way to show their commitment to Celebration of Hope (COH) during the seed-packing event.

The Lobby Experience

As in past years, the lobby was transformed into a live exhibit of projects that need funding at Willow’s 234 church partners around the world. Before and after services, the lobby was full of people viewing a large array of projects aimed at improving water, education, health, nutrition, economic development, and spiritual support. Donations are still coming in.

COH changes the hearts of people, both here at Willow and in churches across the globe. A new couple to Willow describes their first COH this way: “Living a suburban American life, it’s easy to feel distant or disconnected from the suffering and hardships of people in other parts of the world. COH gave our family a chance to see God working in communities and hearts around the globe.”

It’s Not Over Yet
For those looking for ways to continue the work of COH throughout the year, Willow Creek’s Global Ministry has put together a new opportunity to learn and get involved with specific global issues. You are invited to join staff and other volunteers who are investing in the on-going work of our global church partners by attending a global gathering on June 25, 6-8 p.m.

Participants will have the opportunity to connect with others who are interested in using their professional or technical skills to make a difference globally. Groups are being built around the areas of agriculture, business development, education, health/nutrition/wellness, spiritual development, and water/engineering. Register today!

Open Doors

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On June 3, the Care Center opened the doors to the new 60,000-square foot building that not only provides ample space for existing ministries to serve the needs of the community, but three brand new ministries as well—a dental and vision clinic, a children’s clothing store, and the Care Team, a team created to assist guests in navigating all available resources both at the Care Center and in the community.

The health clinic was designed to help the under-resourced receive adequate dental and eye care services. Each guest is required to undergo an eligibility screening, which includes review of their income and age, as well as verification that they earn at or below 150 percent of the poverty level and have no insurance. Under this program, each guest is able to receive dental and eye care for a minimal fee for up to a year, at which point they can reapply.

“Our guests, and the struggles they face with health challenges, were the inspiration to launch health services as part of our Care Center,” said Dave Cimo, Health Services Program Manager. “We learned so much as we spoke with our guests and learned of their challenges.”

According to a survey conducted by Willow Creek and given to Care Center guests in 2011, “42% did not see a doctor when they thought they should; 60% had not seen a dentist or had their eyes examined in the past two years; and more than 75% had no dental or eye care insurance.” After further investigation, Willow staff members discovered that there were not many dental and eye clinics available to serve under-resourced and uninsured individuals.

The new health services space features four dental rooms manned by volunteer dentists, dental assistants, and hygienists, and allows patients to receive a full exam, cleaning, and basic reconstructive work (fillings). The health services space also features a two-room eye clinic where full eye exams will be given and an area where patients can be fitted for glasses. Each dental and eye visit costs $20; frames will start at $25.

Further exploration of guest needs led to the creation of a children’s clothing store. For people struggling financially, buying new clothes is difficult, especially when continually having to purchase clothes for children who grow every year. Because of the new clothing store, parents and guardians will be able to visit the store twice a year, after passing an eligibility screening, to find new and gently used clothing for their children. At each visit, parents will select several clothing items for each child and will pay a flat fee of $5 per child.

Clothing donations are still needed to keep the store fully stocked. Donations can be brought to the new Care Center during regular hours of operation, or can be dropped off in the outdoor bins at any time. The bins are currently located between the D and F entrances of the church. All pajamas, undergarments, and socks must be new and all shoes must have laces intact.

The key to these two services and the implementation of holistic care and support for guests who often deal with numerous challenges, from feeding their family to unemployment, is the Care Team.

“The Care Team was created to provide a tangible expression of care and compassion for both those outside and inside the walls of Willow Creek Community Church,” said Thelma Talamantes, Care Team Program Manger.

The Care Team is available to meet with any guest during the Care Center’s open hours and only on the first and third Sunday of every month. If a guest requires additional support, a Care Pastor meets with them to ensure his or her spiritual needs are met.

“The ministry streamlines the process for anyone needing assistance in our church or community,” said Thelma. “There is a clear front door for help and one team involved in assessing people’s needs and connecting them to resources and ongoing care.”

While the Care Center was established to serve the needs of the community, it was also created to represent Jesus’ love and compassion towards all His children.

“I often read our Compassion and Justice mission statement that reads ‘Fighting poverty and injustice so that lives are transformed and Jesus is known,’ ” said Dave. “Our hope is that our Care Center will indeed be used to transform lives with the ultimate goal of Jesus being known.”

The Care Center depends on dedicated staff and volunteers, and volunteers are still needed to serve in each ministry area. Visit the Care Center website to learn more and sign up to volunteer. If you have additional questions, simply email carecenter@willowcreek.org for more information.

Under One Roof

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In June of 2012, work on the new 60,000-square-foot Care Center on the South Barrington campus began. One year later, with help from Willow staff and volunteers and generous financial support from the Willow congregants, the new Care Center will officially open on June 3.

“Our team can barely wait to swing open the doors to our guests,” said Josie Guth, the Care Center Director. “It has been three years since we first announced the move back onto campus. The time has allowed us to plan and complete the new Care Center, and now we are almost ready.”

Plans to move the Care Center were met with much excitement, sparking a wave of anticipation throughout the Willow community. From a spiritual viewpoint, moving the Care Center next to the church means that people who are seeking services from the center will be introduced to the church. Additionally, constructing a new building has allowed the Care Center team to add services that include healthcare and a children’s clothing store, as well as expand existing services.

“As you can imagine, there are so many details to cover in a project this big,” said Josie. The staff team has been working around the clock to ensure the new Care Center is properly equipped and the volunteers are ready for the grand opening.

“We have been training our volunteers in many new processes. We are building a new database that will be rolled out in the next few weeks; the construction team is putting the final touches on the building; and we are planning an engaging tour experience for the congregation to see the space,” said Josie. “It is a huge team effort.”

Beginning in May, Willow attenders will be offered the opportunity to tour the new Care Center facility. Those who are involved in section communities are encouraged to sign up for a tour with their section leader. All other attenders are welcome to sign up for a tour and take a sneak peak of the new facility before the doors open to guests on June 3.

“We are anticipating lots of new energy all around campus,” said Josie. “We can’t wait for our guests to experience the new building and most importantly our church community. We are also thrilled that many new Willow attenders will have an increased opportunity to serve.”

Although Care Center guests have always be invited and welcome to attend Willow, and thousands of Willow attenders have spent time serving Care Center guests, most attenders and guests have never crossed paths.  The new facility enables them to be under the same roof for the first time. “The Care Center staff is eagerly looking forward to the opportunities we have to learn from one another and do life together at a greater level,” says Josie.

A Novel Idea: Sending Books to Samfya

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The third time was a charm for Lisa Backus, teacher and Willow North Shore member. After participating in three mission trips to Samfya, where she worked with teachers in the classrooms, Lisa vowed to do something about the lack of books. As a teacher, Lisa could not imagine trying to teach a subject without reading materials. Yet, that was the situation in Samfya, where children struggled to learn English without any reading books to practice with and without a story time when the teacher read to them. After her third trip, Lisa resolved to help by sending the schools a box of children’s books.

An Unexpected Chapter
Back home, Lisa acted on her resolve but was shocked to find out how costly it would be to ship a box of books all the way to Samfya. Trying to avoid expensive shipping costs, Lisa searched the web for a way to purchase the books in Africa. She found them, but unfortunately, they proved too expensive as well. So Lisa came up with another plan.  The high school where she taught equipped students with newer editions of math books and would be getting rid of the used ones. Feeling strongly that the books should be donated as opposed to discarded, Lisa and fellow Willow Creek member and teacher Diane Riendeau discovered an organization called Books for Africa.

Books for Africa operates warehouses in Minneapolis and Atlanta for general book donations. Because one of Lisa’s daughters happens to live in Minnesota, her daughter drove the math books to the warehouse site. In a “light bulb moment,” Lisa thought to ask Books for Africa if they were capable of sending particular books, such as children’s reading books, to a particular location. “That’s exactly what they do,” Lisa said, only on a grander scale than what she originally envisioned.

The Plot Thickens to 22,000 Books 
Books for Africa ships and organizes donated books in large containers at the shipper’s expense. After working out the details, Lisa emailed Willow’s local partner in Samfya to ask if the schools could use 22,000 books. Willow’s partner said “Yes!” and Lisa took on the task of raising $16,000 to ship the container.

Even though she had always avoided fundraising, Lisa became a “Container Captain,” and contacted everyone she knew who might be interested in helping. She raised $10,000 leaving her with a $6,000 shortfall. Then through God’s perfect timing, she was invited to join Celebration of Hope’s lobby exhibitions in 2012; the remaining money was raised through Celebration of Hope funds.

The final hurdle was making sure Books for Africa had enough books in stock, because the organization had filled a significant number of orders prior to Lisa raising the $16,000 for her container shipment. Once again, everything worked out. Lisa got the call that with an eleventh hour donation, Books for Africa received enough books to guarantee the 22,000 book shipment—enough to supply 12 schools in Samfya with an entire library of books.

Looking back, Lisa says, “It’s almost surreal. With each stumbling block, I didn’t know how to move forward.”  But God did. “God blows my mind,” she says. “I set out to send one box of books to Samfya; God sent 22,000 books.”