When Lota and I walked into Arusha Community Church for the first time on September 3, 2017, I had no idea what it might mean.  For me, or anyone else.

Linda Jacobsen, the lay leader in charge of that morning’s service, called upon me to stand and introduce myself.  Several others introduced themselves before I did.  Lota and I couldn’t quite manage the duck and slump, before a bunch of eyeballs wandered over to where we sat.  Lota went first, did commendably well.  Cool, calm, collected.  A bad example to follow, ‘cuz I was sure my performance wouldn’t quite measure up.  Nevertheless, I stood, waited for something to happen that might rescue me from the shame of the pregnant pause that ensued.  Nobody came to the rescue.  So, I broke silence.  No, not wind.  I actually said something.

I turned to face the majority of the congregation, told them from where I came, and audaciously explained that I arrived of my own volition to help one or more Personals achieve a greater level of self-sufficiency.  I came to help put together business plans with those who wanted a chance to succeed in an economic environment that stood as a challenge, if not a monster of a wall to overcome.  Nobody laughed.  A few smiles ensued.  And only then did another visitor stand to allow my retreat into ignominy.  A chair never felt so welcoming as to cushion my slump back into non-recognition.

Eric and I pretty much cemented our partnership this past week.  We have become very good, maybe best friends.  We effectively concluded the formation of our partnership, waiting only on the legal submissions and approvals, and technical details of formalization.  But, we met that Sunday for the first time.

Eric sat in the audience.  His ears must have perked up at the suggestion that I might have come to offer some help in achieving successful entrepreneurship.  After the service, he caught me on the way out the back door.  Together with two or three others, immediately engaged Lota and me in conversation.  We discussed their ambitions toward greater levels of self-sufficiency in their chosen professional directions.

Eric carries his thirty-something age as an athlete might carry a healthy physique.  From what I’ve surmised, the physique of his ethical character outshines the rest of him.  Elizabeth accompanies Eric as his truest supporter.  Together, they enjoy the upbringing of two children, almost as cute as my own grandchildren, but a couple years older.

Eric carries all the credentials, as well as personal character and drive, to succeed.  Unfortunately, the economic environment in which he grew up, became schooled, and apprenticed, does not afford opportunity towards self-sufficiency like that in the United States.  Blessed with talent, strengthened through hard work, and resilienced by a craving to match or surpass the success of others, he represents the embodiment of the All American, or should I say, the All African entrepreneur.  He will succeed.  He only needs a chance.

Over the course of our getting to know each other, he and I have shared a few common dreams.  He had never heard of the movie, “Pay it Forward”, so I told him that he needed to find and watch it.  I only mentioned it because he expressed the desire to mimic what I was trying to do.  He wants to not only succeed in self-sufficiency; he wants to enable others in the same or similar way.  He wrote me this past week in one of our many exchanges that he felt driven to “pay it forward”, if possible, even as partners in future endeavors.  Frankly, I can’t think of anyone with whom I would rather partner in paying it forward, than Eric.  He sports a wonderful Christian demeanor.  He will make his Maker proud over a lifetime.

* * * * *

My “Crazy Idea” of a Tanzanian adventure into helping aspiring Christian entrepreneurs just might stand out as one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.  When people ask me how my trip turned out, I can say at this point that I’ve completed Phase One.  A lot of work.  A humbling experience.  And, as I continue to help harness Personal talents through the completion and polishing of credible business plans, the joy and excitement that I receive surpasses anything physically satisfying that could otherwise take its place.

The stupidly obvious fact is; God gave me a full ten talents.  He blessed me with opportunities that most can hardly imagine.  Is it arrogant to state the obvious?  I arrived on this earth in the heart of the United States.  . . . at a time that hardly compares to anything in history.  . . . into a Christian family and to parents who liberally sacrificed to give me every opportunity to succeed.  . . . through an education progression that enabled me to become a licensed CPA.  . . . through employers who taught me business, professionalism, and character habits that carried me through hard times and the glorious.  . . . through a period of entrepreneurship into semi-retirement as an independent accountant and mentor to others.  He gave me a reasonably high level of intelligence, an ability to communicate well both in writing and orally.  He gave me a wife and children, all of whom I remain unabashedly proud.  I should be able to retire comfortably, even sit back in a rocking chair to watch the grass, and the grandkids grow.

Unfortunately, He also gave me a painfully skinny butt, so that the rocking chair that might have been built just for me remains on the showroom floor, unsold.  I can’t sit still.  I can’t even sit and rock.

Earlier this year, I disagreed with another member of Rockland’s Tanzanian Action Committee.  I said, as I said previously to others, that I thought the mission of that committee should be to help enable Personal discipleship.  A radical idea.  An unconventional thought.  A preposterous proposition.

On the contrary, TAC’s mission involved the administration of funds.  TAC should raise funds through contributions and fund raisers.  TAC should then distribute those funds to worthwhile TZ charities, on behalf of the individuals and congregation who contributed to such worthy causes.  TAC stood, and continues to stand as an administrative arm of the church in collecting and distributing funds for donation to Tanzanian Christian charities.  As a committee, as a representative of the donors who channeled funds to its stewardship, it enables the collective, institutionalized discipleship of congregants.

There remains no argument that discipleship through giving to a worthy cause represents a Christian endeavor.  Furthermore, the administration of such stewardship through a church committee constitutes a worthwhile trusteeship of funds entrusted to its service.  But,  .  .  .  .

There’s a better way!

Just my perspective, of course.  But, Personal discipleship trumps collection plate discipleship by a long shot.  There is no more gratifying, satisfying expression of Christian love than to personally Samaritan the neighbor who finds himself in a pickle.  Worse, who finds himself in a situation of hopelessness.  Whose future might otherwise cement itself into poverty, despair, and propagation of the same.  Personal discipleship rewards the Samaritan with a greater level of joy and satisfaction than a new car, or a European river cruise could ever do.

And, when a person gets to a point in life where a rocking chair beckons him, and he still has the wherewithal to leverage God-given talents to the good of those around him (and even in Tanzania), then it behooves me to ask, “What better use of his talents might there actually be?”

Personal discipleship trumps discipleship-by-proxy.  Furthermore, the ability to become friends with, and co-disciple with, those who might find themselves in less fortunate circumstances, returns a level of joy that is almost impossible to put into words.  And when someone tells me that God must be working through me, I find myself almost speechless.  I am not that great a Christian!  I am an ordinary guy.  I just got handed ten talents to someone else’s one and I hardly know how to invest them.  But, I’m arrogant enough to recognize that I’ve got them.  I even know, pretty much, what they are.  I’ve made my living with those talents.  I’ll betcha I can leverage them for the good of others, too.  I just might be able to “pay it forward”, and in the process, start a progression of pay-it-forwards.

There remain many ways in which to serve as Christ’s disciples.  Generally, the best and most effective ways involve using the talents that God gave us, the ones that we have decided at some point back, to hone and use to advance our self-interests.  The ones that we, in fact, did leverage to raise a family, or to otherwise get us to where we sit right now.

* * * * *

I just email Matilda.  I asked her if she remained interested in finishing her Greenhouse business plan.  She responded,

“I am glad to hear from you and yes im still very interested to partner with you into build another green house.  .  .  .  I am ready to develop a business plan and by the end of next week 15th january it will be complete.  .  .  .  im ready anytime.”

Another incredibly Christian woman who I met through Pastor Abel’s assembling of about 80 or so attendees to a business plan seminar held in his church sanctuary.  I randomly picked Matilda to use as a demonstration case for building a business plan.  We even completed a rudimentary projection of income and expense associated with an expanded greenhouse green pepper farming business.

She’s no random woman, though.  She typifies the kind of Christian that Pastor Abel and others shepherd with inspired faith, and hope that God will provide.  It excites me to consider helping propel a second person into a higher level of self-sufficiency, if I can.  I remain humbled by the grace and the talents God gave me.  To leverage it into Personal discipleship makes me wonder, even in retrospect, can I really make a difference?  Just one person?  Even me?

* * * * *

I’ve communicated to my clientele the results of my Tanzanian trip, this past summer.  This experience pretty much redefines me in the eyes of those who thought they knew me fairly well.  A traditional, non-descript wannabe Christian accountant who took on the mantle of a crazy guy, audacious and arrogant enough to independently travel to Tanzania to engage in personal discipleship!

One by one, individuals from Rockland discuss with me the partnership opportunities that I know lay in front of me.  One fella asked me this morning what it would take to invest in a TZ partnership, because the thought of a big investment seemed to give him pause.  I told him that I thought as little as ten thousand bucks would dramatically change one or more lives.  “Is that all?” he responded.

Another fella concluded our conversation with the parting words, “Let’s have lunch!”  I suspect that his invitation constituted more than just a polite pat on the back.

Others, without a doubt, will be watching to see how it goes.  But as I mentioned above, I couldn’t be prouder of my new partnership with Eric.  I can’t wait to get a greenhouse business plan to the point of a credible investment opportunity.  Poultry growers, a law school student cupcake maker who needs an oven and baking utensils, a banana and avocado peddler who needs a refrigerator and bigger inventory, a computer teacher who wants to start his own IT vocational school, and many more, are just yearning for a chance.  Financial capital remains in short supply; human capital remains relatively untapped; a chance to succeed in business remains an elusive dream.  Maybe, just maybe, God can make a difference through yours truly.  Maybe, a dramatic one.  Or, two.  Or, many more!

Institutional discipleship is good.  Many times, it’s the only practical means to leveraging one’s talents.

In my opinion, though, Personal discipleship leaves the former in the dust.  The joy of individually partnering with, and helping others towards increased levels of self-sufficiency surpasses just about all other sources of joy.  Even better than helping (through arm chair coaching) the Broncos claim another Super Bowl championship!

* * * * *

In retrospect, I still have no idea how much it means that some crazy, otherwise ordinary guy, traveled to Tanzania this past summer to start something truly crazy.  Was it simply a matter of joining a church service for the first time?

Pardon my arrogance.

Maybe, just maybe, trying to put talents to work for more than just personal gain might just make a difference in one or more lives.  Maybe, risking embarrassment because a crazy idea might not work out, might actually work out.  And maybe, just maybe, others might find interest in personally investing in Tanzanian entrepreneurial endeavors.  Endeavors of untapped, under-utilized human talent.  Endeavors for whom investments might make dreams become real, whose elusiveness roots from the conviction that reasonable opportunity has always been impossible.

More than “perhaps”, I think that individualized discipleship just about beats all!

But, what’s next?

John

1/7/2018