Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to celebrate HOPE’s 15th anniversary in Ukraine. It was a period of rejoicing. But I was amazed to look back and see the significant issues HOPE Ukraine overcame during its first year.
It all started in 1997 when a homebuilder and a chiropractor joined forces to start a microfinance institution in Ukraine.
They were an unlikely pair for such an endeavor – and it almost sounds like the start of a joke.
But feeling led, Jeff Rutt, CEO of Keystone Custom Homes, commissioned Paul Marty and his wife, Cindy, to serve in Ukraine. It was early fall when Paul and Cindy arrived. By Thanksgiving, the honeymoon phase was over.
“It became evident that we were out of our league,” said Jeff.
Here are a few of the challenges they faced:
- No one had done legal microfinance in Ukraine. Legal counsel tried to convince Paul that starting a microfinance institution was impossible: No precedent was laid out for giving loans outside a bank. So HOPE couldn’t be formally registered.
- Leadership wasn’t buying in. Jeff’s newly formed nonprofit board wasn’t sold on their mission: “We needed to convince the board that microfinance is what we wanted to do,” said Rutt. “It would be like having a homebuilding company that didn’t want to build houses.”
- Corruption. In a post-Soviet state, business and corruption were closely interwoven, and advisors said no one would repay loans.
- Business and the Bible? “If everything else failed, we thought the church would be behind us,” said Paul. But across Ukraine and in the U.S., churches wanted nothing to do with microfinance. In their minds, business and the church didn’t mesh.
- No community credibility. Even if they did eventually register, where would they find clients?
For Paul, Cindy, Jeff and his wife, Sue, the circumstances were so bleak they could only turn to God. Amid the numerous challenges, the Marty’s adopted a motto: “Just pray anyway.”
And God answered. Finally, one lawyer decided to take on their case. September 1998 they were able to register.
But they didn’t have any families to serve.
And then an opportunity “dropped from the sky,” said Paul. A local radio station began blitzing the local airways with a feature on HOPE, giving them instant standing in the community.
Suddenly, their office phone was ringing nonstop. No longer did they have problems finding clients. Rather they needed to screen the individuals wanting to join HOPE!
HOPE’s first year was a journey of committing plans to the Lord and then witnessing God’s faithfulness.
In their darkest times, Paul and Cindy said supporters kept sharing with them the same verse, one they held onto as God’s word for them: “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it (1 Thessalonians 5:24).
This gave them the courage to continue pursuing the mission. I’m so thankful they never gave up.
After I began hearing again about HOPE’s founding, my appreciation and respect only increased for the humble tenacity of Paul, Cindy, Jeff, and Sue. They obediently followed God’s call to walk alongside those in financial and spiritual poverty in Ukraine.
And I’m even more grateful that “the one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.”
To learn more about HOPE Ukraine, go here.
To see more about the children’s ministry birthed out of (and continued to be supported by) HOPE Ukraine, see Tomorrow Clubs.