This story really starts in 2003. My business failed during the downturn from 9/11. I was neck-deep in personally guaranteed debt. I was working out of my home office, trying to cobble together an income. I was broke, and getting broker. That’s when I learned about a group of kids in rural Uganda whose school – constructed out of cow dung, mud, and sticks – would disintegrate every time it rained. The kids needed a permanent classroom.
I remember my quiet time that morning. I was having a conversation with God. You may know what I’m talking about. The kind of conversation that was more of a negotiation, than a real conversation.
I was explaining to God that once I got my business back on track... Paid off all the mind-numbing debt... Got my kids back in private school… And basically righted the ship, I would go over there and build those kids a brick classroom.
After I made my case, somehow it was made clear to me that I had it backward. I was to serve Him and His children first, and the rest of that stuff…? Well, it was secondary.
I’m pretty handy and building a brick building didn’t scare me. But in rural Uganda?
Fast forward… It took about 18 months to raise the money from my not-so-wealthy network. In 2005, I cashed in about a million frequent flyer miles and my family of five went to Uganda to ‘save the day’ for about 90 kids.
About three days into that trip, I was sitting with Erika (my soul mate of 26+ years) explaining that our efforts here were of no moment. We were but a tiny drop in a really big bucket. That was the first time that I started thinking about this thing called poverty. I’d heard, as most of us have, about all the aid being poured into poor countries and about the corruption that prevented that aid from reaching the people that needed it the most. I also heard about missions and mission trips trying to help. But that’s what my family was… We were our own little mission trip, and if everyone else was doing what we were doing, it was of no moment.
There had to be a better way.
Fast forward… Nine months later, Lanny Donoho and I founded The 410 Bridge on this idea that we could mobilize and unify the Body of Christ to move the needle in poor communities in East Africa.
Do the math, and you’ll see that we just celebrated our 10th anniversary. Hard to believe…
So why a blog and why start it now?
I don’t claim to be a great writer. I tell folks that God has blessed me with a limited vocabulary. I’m fairly direct and blunt. Most people say they that they want me to be direct, until I actually am. That’s when I can see them scratching their heads and saying, “Wow. That dude runs a ministry?”
Yeah, I do. And it’s awesome.
I’m passionate about helping people (especially the poor) realize that they can thrive. I’m also passionate about changing the paradigm of how the well-intentioned West is engages the poor. My hope is that this will be a space where I can share what I’m learning in a casual and straight-forward environment.
For the past few years, I’ve seen that our model of Christ-centered, community-initiated development was working. We’ve watched as entire communities in East Africa are realizing that their poverty problem isn’t defined by what they have, or don’t have. We say it this way, “We don’t define poverty as solely a material problem. It’s a worldview problem.”
And by a worldview problem, I mean… the framework or lens in which they view the world. Their perspective of the problem and how their role resolving it. Do they see their circumstances through the lens of God being angry with them or their ancestors…? Or perhaps through the lens of tribalism, clannism, or being the victim of tribal violence. To me, their worldview – changing their perspective of their role in solving their own problems is the key to breaking the cycle.
But… When will we know? I mean, when will we really know, that an entire community has broken the cycle of poverty. For The 410 Bridge, the answer to that question is when a community tells us that they don’t need our help anymore.
That’s crazy talk, isn’t it?
When has an entire community ever told a charity that they don’t want or need their help anymore?
That happened to us last year in small community of about 5,000 people in Kenya called Kwambekenya. The leaders came to us and literally said, “We thank God for a successful partnership with The 410 Bridge. We’d like to joyfully and thankfully release you to help our neighboring communities.”
Since our exit, the community is working toward their vision for the future. They are sustaining their water, health, and economic programs. Their churches are unified and the voice for the development effort. It’s a beautiful thing to see.
Kwambekenya is the first of several communities that we expect to exit within the next 2-3 years. They are the poster child of what’s possible and I felt like it was time for me to share what we’re learning.
Thanks for reading… I hope you’ll stick around.
Kurt Kandler is the founder and Executive Director of The 410 Bridge. He is passionate not only about breaking the cycle of poverty in communities where The 410 Bridge works, but but also for changing the paradigm of mission for the Western church and how it engages the poor.