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An unlikely blend of skills and passions

“Wow, those two majors really don’t make sense together!”

That’s the response Mikhal Szabo came to expect whenever she told new acquaintances she was double majoring in accounting and French. Her interest in languages, culture, anthropology, and international studies didn’t seem to mesh with the risk-averse accountant stereotype, but she followed her passions anyway.

As she went on to earn her MBA in international economic development after a few years in private accounting, Mikhal learned about microfinance and, ultimately, about HOPE International. She was impressed both by HOPE’s holistic approach to poverty alleviation and their openness to learning. As part of her graduate work, she served as a finance intern with HOPE in the French-speaking Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Suddenly, Mikhal’s seemingly unlikely double majors made sense. A lot of sense. In fact, her rare blend of language, finance, and intercultural skills was exactly what HOPE needed.

After spending six months serving HOPE in Kinshasa, DRC—Africa’s third largest city—she joined the flagship staff of HOPE’s newest microfinance program in the neighboring Republic of Congo. Serving for a year as finance manager of HOPE Congo, she relied daily on her skills in French, cross-cultural communication, accounting, and management.

Upon returning to the U.S., Mikhal worked for PwC in public accounting while she earned her CPA and got married. After two years, Mikhal and her husband Scott began seeking God’s next step for them in ministry. Their search led them to Lancaster, PA, where Scott agreed to pastor a church, and Mikhal rejoined HOPE as a senior international accountant at HOPE’s main office.

Reflecting on the twists and turns of her career journey after five years on HOPE’s staff, Mikhal says, “I continue to learn about God’s faithfulness. It is amazing to think through the prayers He answered and the unexpected ways He has worked, pulling us through difficult situations.”

HOPE’s staff, too, feel grateful for Mikhal’s service. “It’s not easy to find job candidates with Mikhal’s skill set, maturity, and servant-like attitude. Our HR team regularly prays that God would send us more people like her,” says Rachel Weaver, senior recruitment and retention specialist.

More than just a job

Mikhal’s career at HOPE has transcended the traditional professional experience. Equipped with HOPE’s perspective on charity and development, she now helps her church think through the impact of their missions efforts, and she and Scott continually aim to serve their neighbors well.

HOPE’s flexible and part-time working arrangements have allowed Mikhal to continue working while spending time with her son and daughter. Her HOPE experiences even help shape her parenting approach. “I want [my children] to be well educated about various cultures and the hard realities many people face around the world,” she says. “I want to raise them to be adventurous, flexible, inquisitive, and loving, all in a way that honors their individual passions.”

Mikhal desires to hear and obey God’s will at an even deeper level. “I want to see people thriving in close relationships with the Lord. I dream of a community working together to show love to one another and their neighbors in both tangible and intangible ways.”

Does this sound like someone you know?

If you or someone you know has a similarly unconventional skill set and feel drawn to HOPE’s holistic mission and encouraging work environment, check out our job posting for a senior international accountant.

Around the world, HOPE-network clients are accessing financial services to grow their businesses. Join us in celebrating the ways these hardworking men and women are using their gifts, abilities, and creativity to support their families and impact their communities.
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By Blake Mankin, Houston Regional Representative

Since becoming a fundraiser for HOPE International nearly a year ago, I’ve learned that a core component of our fundraising philosophy is prioritizing relationships over transactions. The essence of this value is investing in people out of genuine love for them, not based on what they can do for us. And you don’t have to be a fundraiser or HOPE donor to have this Christ-like, missional ethic in your life.

Simply defined, a missional relationship is a partnership of equals—individuals teaming up to make an impact in the world as they spur each other on to be more like Christ. With this shared goal, our posture is one of invitation to those around us, offering each person the opportunity to dive deeper into who God is calling them to be.

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For 51 weeks of the year, the front lobby of Willowdale Chapel’s Kennett Square campus is an airy space with cozy chairs and a café. But one Sunday each December, the room transforms into the HOPE Market—a vibrant, bustling marketplace operated by the church’s youngest entrepreneurs.

The wooden tables where people usually chat over coffee instead display greeting cards and candles, wooden clocks and mini-marshmallow shooters, all handcrafted by the children at Willowdale. With each sale, the kids work toward paying back the small loan they received from the church to make their item. Once that’s done, they give their profits to HOPE International. Last year, all their work totaled up to being a significant gift of $5,000.

“Part of our church’s vision is to love the world that Jesus is working to restore, and we wanted our youth to really learn what that means and to be a part of it,” says Jodi Byrne, who serves as a children’s ministry pastor at Willowdale Chapel, a church network in southeastern Pennsylvania that partners with HOPE.

The kids are invited to explore the role they play in that restoration during the three months leading up to the HOPE Market.

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by Christine Baingana, CEO of Urwego Bank

As the CEO of Urwego Bank, the largest microfinance institution in the HOPE network—and in the country of Rwanda—Christine Baingana shares what she’s learning about leadership while leading a team of over 300 staff.

I first learned of HOPE International after reconnecting with Peter Greer, HOPE’s president and CEO, while I was in graduate school. I had met Peter in the early 2000s while I was working for a large commercial bank in my home country of Rwanda and he was serving as the managing director of Urwego Bank. As we reconnected, Peter shared about the work he was doing through HOPE International—and asked if I wanted to join him.

In 2010, I joined the HOPE International team as the savings and credit association (SCA) specialist, later going on to serve as the Africa SCA regional director. When HOPE became a majority stakeholder in Urwego Bank in 2016, I was asked to step into the role of CEO. Having been on the board for several years, I knew that this would be a challenging time to lead the organization. I felt unqualified to lead such a large team through such a major transition.

But as I sought counsel from others, they reminded me to think of those Urwego could serve, men and women who have not had many of the privileges and advantages that I have. As I took my eyes off of myself and focused on them, I chose to say yes to this opportunity. It’s exciting to know we are changing lives for the Kingdom, that men and women who come to Urwego for a small loan, or to find a safe place to save, will have the opportunity to overcome poverty and experience a closer relationship with the Lord and their community members.

Here are five of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned on this leadership journey:

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As part of our commitment to personal and corporate discipleship, staff members of HOPE International engage each month with a “Faith in Practice” theme. Our goal is to grow in the knowledge of that spiritual theme and live it out in our day-to-day lives. Recently, we studied our call to take Christ’s posture of hospitality in order to serve His people around the world.

By Dan Williams, Director of Spiritual Integration

I still remember the dread I felt at age 12 on my first day at a new school after my family had moved from North Carolina to Virginia. And I also remember the safety and relief I felt when Stash, a boy that would soon become my closest friend, invited me to join his friends at the lunch table.

I remember my fear of being taken advantage of by predatory market vendors when I first moved to Niger. And I also remember how Pastor Djibo would come by and offer to go with me to the market to make sure I got fair prices.

In my current work at HOPE, I am blessed with the opportunity to travel. Whether I’m driving from my home in Durham, NC, to HOPE’s office in Lancaster, PA, or flying to visit HOPE-network programs around the world, I’m regularly overwhelmed by the hospitality I experience. I can tell you every person who ever came to greet me at the airport instead of letting me take a taxi, every meal that I’ve had in someone else’s home while traveling, every couple that slept in their children’s room so that they could offer their guest the most comfortable bed, and every person who enthusiastically took me to all the touristy things in their city when they surely had something more important to do. Continue Reading…