Seed Effect: South Sudan

South Sudan - Seed Effect Sign

South Sudan - Seed Effect Sign

After literally years of wanting and trying to visit the Seed Effect team on the ground in South Sudan we finally made it! (If you don’t know Seed Effect the micro-finance ministry in South Sudan you might want to read: What is Seed Effect, Our South Sudan Visa Journey and South Sudan Here We Come). We new about micro-finance but we were ready to see it in action. We met up with Drew Mosier, Seed Effects Dallas based state-side Executive Director in Entebbe, Uganda and headed to a little air stripe between Entebbe and Kampala. After an interesting “baggage screening” (unpack everything) we meet our pilot, Dallas, and the 4 of us climbed into the only 4 seats on the plane! I got to play co-pilot. We taxied down the dirt runway and we were up, up, up and away for our two-hour flight to Arua, Uganda.

Kajjansi Airport Uganda

Co-Pilot Rick

We arrived in Aura just in time to find out that we were going to have a two, no maybe three… no, no, make that a four-hour layover while our next (and bigger) plane went and dropped off some other people that were headed to a different part of South Sudan before coming back to take us to Kajo Keji (KK), and the Seed Effect headquarters. We briefly entertained the idea of walking into town but the security guy with the gun at the gate to airport didn’t think it was a good idea to leave the airport grounds and suggested we enjoy the “canteen” on the airport grounds (we didn’t argue it’s one of our travel rules… “Don’t argue with guys with big guns”). We passed the time catching up with Drew, playing dominos, getting a briefing on South Sudan and watching the lizards catch bugs. Before long our plane was back and we were flying the short 45 minutes to KK!

South Sudan - kids at the airport

Our plane landed Kajo Keji International Airport, aka the dirt strip at the edge of town and we were greeted by what seemed like a hundred kids surrounding the plane and greeting us with “Hi-eeeeeee…!” In the middle of them all was Scovia Kiden, the South Sudan Country Director for Seed Effect, with some of the team to greet us and take us to the office. We piled into a Land Cruiser and down the dirt road into town. We arrived at the office and meet the team then it was on the compound where we’d be staying for our time in KK. Compound sounds more exciting that it is, it was the local pastor’s house and everyone seems to call any group of buildings with a wall around it a compound in South Sudan.

South Sudan - Main Street KK

South Sudan - Yes that's a snow suit

The pastor’s compound had one of the few water wells in the area so there were always kids running in and out all day every day with jugs of all kinds to fill up and carry home. We took our turn playing “water pump” a few times over the course of the next few days and the kids seems to like it when we pumped as the jugs seemed to multiple very quickly when I was pumping water… or maybe I’m just a lot slower at it than they are.

South Sudan - Water Pumping

South Sudan - Kids Playing

The next few days were a whirlwind of meeting with the team, with clients, hearing stories of life change, training, learning and encouragement; and a lot of getting used to the speed of life in rural Africa. One of the first things we learned was “gayla-tot” which is what all the kids yelled at us if they weren’t yelling “Hi-eeeeeee…” it loosely, and affectionately, translates to “white person.” We got a lot of that; driving down the road, walking through the market pretty much everywhere. Kids would run out to the road and wave at us as we drove by yelling “Gayla-tot. Gayla-tot.” Then we would wave and they would yell “Hi-eeeeee!”

South Sudan - Hi

We visited a bunch of the markets around KK and met a number of Seed Effect clients. Some were on their ninth or tenth loan cycle while others were just starting their first or second loan cycle with Seed Effect. They all had amazing stories full of suffering and hardship but full of hope and optimism as well. They want to see their country healed. We heard stories of fleeing the violence and instability of a civil war and ongoing conflicts, of families being lost in refugee camps and stories of uncertainty. But we also heard stories of healing, of kids that can now go to school, of communities being stabilized, and stories of life change. Part of Liz and I’s goal for our time in South Sudan was to document some of the stories of Seed Effect clients and share them with the world. We’ve got number we plan to share of the next few months on Seed Effect’s blog so stay tuned.

South Sudan - Fish sales South Sudan - market South Sudan - Seed Effect client South Sudan - Market

The Seed Effect team had asked if we could lead some team training on a number of topics. Liz saw a perfect opportunity to work Brinker’s and “big rocks” analogy into her training class on “Goals and Priorities” and of course there were plenty of rocks to work with. And what team training would be complete without a seminar on “Feedback is Priceless?” She did a wonderful job and had the team totally engaged. She can now add internationally known development speaker to her already overflowing résumé.

South Sudan - teaching South Sudan - teaching

I was volun-told that I would be preaching on Sunday, which was nice of Drew to tell me in advance because he said on his first trip he only found out that the American visitors were always expected to “Give the Word” when they called him up to preach so I was extremely thankful for the day or so I was able to prepare in advance as well as for Join the Journey and their daily devotions to inspire me to speak on Abraham and Isaac from Genesis 22… luckily for y’all the mango tree the church meet under didn’t have any recording equipment so we won’t be posting my “sermon” here.

South Sudan - preaching

Over and over throughout our time in Kajo Keji I was constantly reminded of 1 Peter 3:15 “…always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…” It seemed as if the Seed Effect team always had the gospel on the tip of their tongue, the Word of God seasoned all of their conversations; it was truly encouraging, and more than a little convicting.

South Sudan - Seed Effect team

The second leg of our trip was a scouting expedition to Yei, which is one of the towns Seed Effect is considering for it’s third branch in South Sudan. Yei is considered by many the most stable part of South Sudan and it shows, people and groups are flocking to Yei, it’s main market was HUGE! We met with a number of groups and individuals that are based in Yei to get an idea if Seed Effect would be a good fit for the community. And three flights and another four-hour layover at the “canteen” in Arua later we were back at the airstrip outside Entebbe hugging Drew bye and jumping in a car to Kampala.

South Sudan - Seed Effect

Liz and I talk a lot about expectation these days, as we travel always wondering what the next village/country/place to sleep will be like and South Sudan was everything I expected and at the same time nothing like I expected. There were no bullets whizzing overhead but we heard stories from other parts of the country where the bullets still regularly fly. There is practically no infrastructure, no paved roads, electricity in most places is own your own with solar panels and generators and the water is pumped by hand from a well. The people are warm and inviting and proud of what they are doing. Clients view Seed Effect as a company they are choosing to give their business to, but also as part of their family. Maybe I just didn’t know what to expect but I was totally blown away.

God is working in South Sudan and he is using Seed Effect.

South Sudan - Seed Effect Team


South Sudan Here We Come!!

Seed Effect client

I’m sitting here at the Doha Airport, and can’t believe are less than 12 hours away from starting our time in South Sudan with Seed Effect (more on what Seed Effect is about)! We’ll be flying into Entebbe, Uganda, then taking a small bush plane to the rural town where Seed Effect is based. It’s been a challenging journey just to get visas and be allowed into the country, and God has used that process to remind us that He is in control and we just need to trust him. (more on that in a another post) We’re excited to have more detail around what we’ll be doing and we’re eagerly preparing!

In reality, we are not going to be there to hand out loans, or build a storefront for a new business. It’s important that the clients are being served by other South Sudanese, locals who are there invested in their daily lives. So we’ll take more of a behind the scenes role. A big part of it is for us to get to see how God is using Seed Effect and the microfinance loans to change lives, families and communities – that leads to the first thing we’ll be doing – Curating stories of individuals, families and communities that have been transformed by God through Seed Effect. Rick will do some photography and design, I’ll do some writing and content generation. What we create will be used for the website, social media, etc to raise awareness, engagement and support.

While we are there we are also going to be teaching staff training seminars to the Seed Effect staff. We’ve been asked to do seminars on time management and goal setting, attitude towards work, humility, and team building and team work.

So I’m working on a couple powerpoint presentations (déjà vu!) I’m thinking of using the Big Rocks demonstration to talk about goals and time management.

And our third area of focus will be creating a database system for clients success metrics and then analyzing the trends and making them meaningful results and insights. Basically this will allow Seed Effect to quantify the impact of the work they are doing, which allows them to apply for grants and expand their work. We plan to get an understanding for the current survey system and what the team there is working with in terms of technology, reliable internet access, etc and it will most likely be some ongoing work for us for the months following.

In reality, this is God’s trip and we may end up doing something completely different! We are excited to be part of whatever God has for us.

We aren’t sure what the internet situation will be there, so we may not be back online until after January 15, when we plan to be back in Uganda and headed toward Tanzania. But we would love to have you praying for us while we are there.

We need your prayers for us that we are completely trusting of God in all of this trip and running toward Him. Pray that God is preparing our hearts for it, humbling us, drawing us closer to him. Pray for us to recognize spiritual warfare that may be happening and be strong in it – if Satan can’t keep you away from where God wants you, he’ll try to make you ineffective, distracted or demotivated when you’re there. Pray that God is preparing the hearts of those we’ll meet in South Sudan. Pray for us as we start preparing the content we’ll be presenting there. That we take the opportunities God gives us to bring him glory through this process – whether that’s in the plan we think we have, or different circumstances God gives us. Pray that we have open hearts to hear what God wants for us. Pray that any logistics challenges of getting to and around South Sudan are just preparing us even more to be there and trust God, to know it’s him that got us there and is doing the work there.


What is Seed Effect?

Seed Effect

Seed Effect is a Christ-centered nonprofit microfinance organization. The mission is to plant the seeds that overcome poverty by providing access to microloans, education, and spiritual discipleship in marginalized communities. It starts with a life, impacts a family and transforms a community. Here’s a great video from Seed Effect:

Why not just give these folks some food or something?

Yep – Food, water, healthcare, and education are mere luxuries for millions in South Sudan. But when you ask the materially poor what they believe poverty really is, the answer might surprise you. They won’t always tell you that it’s a lack of things, but more often they’ll say that it’s a lack of dignity, security, opportunity, and hope. They say it is loneliness, pain, bondage, and powerlessness. Seed Effect exists because people lack access to the hand-up, the tool, the opportunity that could change the cycle of poverty in their families for generations to come.

Microfinance is a tool that can enable the poor to break the cycle of poverty by providing small loans and savings services to support income-generating businesses. With repayment of each loan, the money is reinvested as loans to other entrepreneurs, thereby multiplying the impact of each donation.

Ok, so what does that actually look like?

Here’s an example, a woman may have a business selling hand-sewn dresses in the market. While she’s very hard-working, she is only able to complete a new dress every few days. However, by providing her with a microloan to purchase a sewing machine, she is able to make more dresses, grow her business and better provide for her family.

As Milton Friedman, the 1976 noble peace prize winner, put it “the poor stay poor, not because they are lazy, but because they have no access to capital.”

Our South Sudan Visa Journey

God has really used the process of getting our South Sudan visas to remind us that He is in control and we just need to trust Him. It’s kind of a funny story now, but in the moment we were stressed, which just showed us that we weren’t fully trusting God with it.

To say it mildly, we have hit a few obstacles to getting our visa to get into the country. We couldn’t do it before we left on our trip because you have to get it within three months of when you’ll be there. So we were planning to get the visa in Bangkok or Uganda where they have South Sudan embassies. This hasn’t worked out for us. We could not get in touch with the embassies in Bangkok or Uganda. So we tried the embassy in Germany, but they will only issue visas for German residents. We then realized this may be the case in Uganda as well (but they have not answered their phone ever, in the weeks we’ve been calling). The folks in South Sudan also do not answer. And we have not been able to successfully communicate with the embassy in Kenya either. We were calculating if it was even possible to overnight our passports to Washington D.C., get them to expedite the processing (from 2 weeks to 1 week) and have them shipped back to us in Germany – all with the holidays and before we flew out. After calculating it every way we could think of, it just wasn’t going to work.

We were getting rather concerned at this point. We were really stressing out, and had to stop and remind ourselves that this is God’s trip and if He wants us there He’ll make a way.

The day before Christmas we learned that there is an embassy in Brussels (where we already happened to be going for NYE). And they actually answered their phones and said they issue visas to non-residents of Belgium. But timing was tough… it’s typically a 5 day process… with the holidays, they were closed Christmas through the 29th, and then may be closed for the new year and we needed to fly out on Jan 6. We completed their online application, only to learn a couple hours later that it no longer works. We must go in person and it takes 2-3 days.

We went early for NYE and dropped off our passports. They agreed to try to expedite our processing to make our flight, but no promises. We already had our flight purchased at this point so we were committed. We had friends praying for us though, and felt much calmer knowing God had it in control.

We planned to return on January 5th to pick up our visas and passports, less than 24 hours before our flight. We arrived at the South Sudan embassy with big smiles, knowing whatever the outcome, it was God’s doing. And we were met by very friendly staff who told us happy New Year and handed us our passports with the visas in them! We were beyond excited! What a great journey to begin our journey to South Sudan.

A Very Bavarian Birthday

Neuschwanstein Castle - Germany

Well I’m 31 now. I’m into my 30’s officially. To be honest, I’m not feeling super great about it. I liked being 30 and wasn’t totally ready for that to be over. But oh well, no real choice about it, so I figured we should get on with the celebrating!

We debated on where to go for a while – a birthday in Paris would be so romantic, a birthday skiing in the Alps would be so exciting, or maybe Amsterdam? But turns out that Europe is stinkin’ expensive!! Just the train ticket to Paris is $350 Euros! And that’s before you get a hotel. And I’m quite certain that if I was in Paris for my birthday there is no hope of me stopping myself from going out to incredible meals, eating my weight in cheese and pastries and drinking ridiculous wine – that is to say it would have gotten really expensive really fast. Same goes for skiing (plus, the snow reports say there’s not any good snow yet).

So we decided to go to one of the “must see” sights in Germany – the Neuschwanstein Castle. It’s this gorgeous castle set up on a rugged mountain surrounded by gorges, and it’s right on the border of Austria in the beginning of the Alps. It was the inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle, you can really see the similarities.

Neuschwanstein Castle - Germany So that was the plan, but of course plans go awry! Its supposed to be a four hour drive to the castle, so we left early in the morning with plans to make to the castle, then spend the night in the hour-away mountain town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Oh important tidbit, while we didn’t get a white Christmas, we got a white day after Christmas… and every day since then! So there’s a good amount of snow already, and as we’re leaving it starts coming heavily down again. So our four hour drive turned into eight+ hours to get to the castle. We arrive there and park, but can’t see the castle because of the snow coming down. We go to buy tickets to go up, and learn that we got there 10 minutes AFTER the ticket office closed. So no princess castle for Lizzy on her birthday.

Snow Driving - Germany

Knowing it’s taken twice as long to drive as we had planned, we decide to leave for our hotel immediately since it’s going to take a couple hours and make the most of it. The drive was absolutely gorgeous and took us through Austria for the majority of the time. The snow was really fluffy and I just couldn’t help myself, when we got stuck in traffic I jumped out and made snow angels!

Snow drive to Neuschwanstein Castle - Germany

Snow drive to Neuschwanstein Castle - Germany The hotel was great and we quickly headed into town to grab dinner and figure out where to celebrate. We walked a couple blocks and found the “Grill und Wein” restaurant we were hoping for, and then found it was closed for the holidays, as were most of the other nice places in town. So what did we do??? Exactly what you do anywhere in the world when you’re celebration plans don’t work out… you find the Irish Pub! And there was one just down the street. After a birthday pint of Bavarian brew there, we went to grab pizza for dinner, promising our new Irish pub friends to be back shortly.

Birthday Bavarian style

After our quick dinner we returned to a big welcome from the Irish pub. Seriously, how is it that every Irish pub in the world consistently delivers a guaranteed good night?! We made lots of friends there and closed the place down at about 4:00 AM!

Birthday party

The next morning we were up early and ready to see this castle! We made it back to the castle and this time were able to get tickets AND we could see the castle from a distance. It definitely lived up to the hype!!

Neuschwanstein Castle - Germany It’s a 40 minute walk up the hill, which was like walking in a winter wonderland.

Neuschwanstein Castle - Germany

We took the required tour to see the inside and it was equally as impressive. Both Rick and I agreed that of all of the famous, historical buildings we’ve seen on this trip and others, this was our favorite! It’s beautifully made inside, and intricate and in great condition. Sorry, no photos allowed inside so I don’t have any share 🙁

Neuschwanstein Castle - Germany

King Ludwig II who built it was considered insane. I can see why from even just the exterior design, it’s so different from other castles. It took 23 years to build. The king moved in before it was completed… and good thing because he only got to live in it for one year before he died. King Ludwig was a recluse and built it for complete seclusion, the plan was for the castle to be “sacred and out of reach” from people… and only six weeks after he died the castle was opened to the public. It’s in the top three most visited places in Germany. Guess that didn’t work out so well for him!

It was pretty awesome to see. I’m really glad we visited while we were in Germany.

Neuschwanstein Castle - GermanySnow Flake

But I have to admit the 18+ hours of driving was kind of a beat down so it was really great to get lots of emails and Facebook comments from everyone back home! Thanks for making me feel special on my birthday! Cheers!Birthday Bavarian style