Archives For Republic of Congo

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.

Gisele

As a young girl, Gisele spent countless hours in her mother’s tailor shop. Eager to imitate her mother’s skill, Gisele would cut up fabrics and design models of her own. With help from her father, Gisele later enrolled in sewing school and eventually opened a tailoring business in Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo. Despite her beautifully elaborate designs, Gisele’s profits weren’t enough to support her family, and she often had to use her business capital for their expenses, jeopardizing her business and stymying progress.

Seeking to diversify her business, Gisele received and repaid seven loans from HOPE Congo over the course of five years to expand her tailoring business by purchasing fabrics, sewing materials, and an electric sewing machine. Ever the entrepreneur, Gisele also used loans to expand into a new business selling smoked fish; small cakes; and foufou, a cassava-based Congolese dish.

Now, she is able to provide for her family using only the profits of her businesses. Reflecting on the impact of her relationship with HOPE Congo, Gisele says:

HOPE is the one who came to give me wings so that I can fly.

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“I train lots of people, freely, without asking any money,” Moise said, proudly smiling. “What I have, I give.”

Sitting on white plastic chairs at Moise’s home in the Republic of Congo, I looked out at the fields of newly sprouted cabbages as I mulled over Moise’s words. The grey sky overhead mirrored the heaviness of the conversation as Moise described his considerable challenges—his wife’s deteriorating health, the immense cost of her treatment, losing his loan repayment when a fellow group member left it behind in a taxi. And after this string of hardships, he was still willing to give of his time to train farmers in his community?

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by Lori Oberholtzer, Field Communications Manager

Communication Fellows

One year, one camera, and one fiery passion. That’s all it took for Mara, Drake, and Joanne to say “YES!”

At HOPE, we want to capture stories of Christ’s transformative love from the field and share those stories with you. Enter Mara, Drake, and Joanne, HOPE’s first three field communications fellows! Their mission (which they chose to accept) is to listen to, document, and share the stories of the clients we serve—so others can hear about the life-changing, transformative power of Christ-centered microenterprise development.

Before sharing the stories they’ve collected, we want to introduce our fellows. (Fellow is just a fancy word for long-term volunteer.)

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Ghislaine

by Mara Seibert, HOPE fellow in the Republic of Congo, reposted from www.maraseibert.com

This Mother’s Day, HOPE is honoring the creativity, dedication, and love of the women we serve as they work to provide for their families. Join us in honoring the many roles mothers like Ghislaine play through our “We Heart Moms” campaign.

7 a.m. Early enough that clouds still cover the sky and the air is cool. Children in blue and white uniforms walk to school, and Brazzaville is waking up. Breakfast in Brazzaville depends on where you live. Some people prefer bread and eggs, others substitute manioc for the bread, and then you have one of the most bizarrely cross-cultural meals I have witnessed: spaghetti with beans and mayonnaise. Some of my colleagues eat it for breakfast, and the bite I had was surprisingly good.

One of my favorite Congolese breakfast items would have to be beignets—essentially a Congolese doughnut, sweet and fried in oil. Here, beignets and riz-au-lait (sweet rice in milk) are made by Congolese mamas all around Brazzaville early in the morning, and on this particular morning I was finally going to try some of Mama Ghislaine’s beignets.

Ghislaine holding beignets

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Paniel Community Bank

by Mara Seibert, reposted from www.maraseibert.com

HOPE recently welcomed three communications fellows, who’ve traveled to the field for a year to report how God is moving in those programs. In this blog post, Mara Seibert, serving in the Republic of Congo, shares her first experience witnessing a community bank meeting.

Makélékélé. The trick is learning to spell it first. The pronunciation just rolls off your tongue … mah-kel-eh-kel-eh. The next trick is getting a taxi to take you there. We took a green taxi to get there, Précy and I. Not that there is anything special about a green taxi in Brazzaville—all of the taxis are a vibrant shade of forest green, populating the streets like a metal forest. Winding through the streets of Brazzaville from HOPE Congo’s office to the neighborhood of Makélékélé is not an easy trek for taxis because of Marché Total: an enormous sprawling market with an ever-present traffic jam going through the middle of it.

As we drove, Précy kept up a running commentary about city life, how most of the population uses the green-painted public transportation: taxis, buses (vans painted green), and even bigger vehicles. Buses are cheaper than taxis but also more crowded. For Précy, they have their own appeal: “Buses are my favorite means of transport. You hear a lot of things. Lies, truths, news …” Taxis squeeze by each other in seemingly incomprehensible patterns with millimeters to spare that left me holding my breath—that would also be because of the wafting aroma of petrol. Finally we arrive near the church of Makélékélé and walk past small stands and businesses selling anything and everything from wine to used clothing, backpacks to hot food, and walk into the group meeting.

Counting a repayment

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