Monday, 16 September 2019

Andrew Green's Ruja: Giving people the chance to dream

July/ August 2019

 


 

 

By Gaye Bunderson

Andrew Green of Boise, left, sits with Robert Tumwesigye of Uganda. Robert is holding a little girl that he and his wife Millie took into their home to save her from a life of child labor. (Photo by DJ Ramirez) 

 

Dreams spur the goals, wishes and hopes humans have for their lives. When people are not able to dream, they miss out on a vision-filled future. Andrew Green wanted to help people dream, to allow them to explore what might be possible for them during their days on Earth. To that end, he started a nonprofit he named Ruja, which means “to dream” in the language of Uganda. 

Andrew's work history includes times as a youth pastor and as a teacher at a Christian school. But while he was involved in full-time ministry, he says now that back in those days, “I was not following Jesus.” 

It was an inspired reading of Isaiah 58 one day that awakened him to what he needed to do. Verses like the one below moved him. 

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them?” — Isaiah 58:6 

“That motivated me to take a leap outside of my bubble,” he said. 

He admits he didn't entirely know what he was doing; it was all something of a blind jump into action, but with a deep sense that he would serve the poor and oppressed, as he had read in the Word. He had been reading other books, like “Love Does” by Bob Goff, and there were mentions of Uganda in the books. He made the decision to do something for Uganda and started a fundraiser to help raise money for a trip there. 

“It was a crazy experience,” he said. 

He needed money for an airplane ticket to Africa in the amount of $1,000, but his fundraising efforts fell short. Getting creative, he decided to try busking on a street corner in downtown Boise. In typical busker fashion, he opened his guitar case, took out the instrument, and left the case open for people to throw in money as he sang and strummed. He'd barely begun when a man on a bike rode up to him and started a conversation. He asked Andrew why he was standing on the corner trying to raise money and what his goals were; Andrew explained his plans were to help people. The man said, “Follow me to my office.” 

The man's name was Joe Kosakowski, founder and CEO of Quest Groups and himself a Christian. Andrew's busking endeavor was over almost as soon as it had begun. “Joe wrote me a check for a thousand dollars,” Andrew said. The encounter not only sealed Andrew's plans for a trip to Uganda, it altered how he experienced God in his life. “That forever changed the way I viewed how God works,” he said. 

It wasn't just a check; it was three things in all: money, a miracle, and a message that God was with him. “A lot of people — friends and family — were telling me not to go, for safety and other reasons, but that meeting with Joe was a sign,” Andrew said. 

In 2013, with the help of some acquaintances from Youth with a Mission, Andrew flew to Uganda in eastern Africa. He worked with children with AIDS. “I was changing diapers and feeding babies,” he said. 

He admits now he really had no clue what he would experience in Uganda, nor how he would ultimately formulate his plans to help people there. For his first two weeks in the country, he continued helping kids with AIDS. Following that, he stayed at the home of a Ugandan couple, Robert and Milly Tumwesigye. “They were living by faith that I needed to see,” Andrew said. 

In their 20s at the time, Robert and Milly were demonstrating a faith that Andrew just had to witness for himself. They had sacrificed paying jobs and were living fully dependent on God, certain that's what He wanted them to do. They had moved to Fort Portal, Uganda and taken in two kids who had been victims of child labor. Unbelievably, the children's ages were 5 and 2. The 5-year-old had been made to carry water all day, while the 2-year-old's tiny stomach was bloated for lack of food. Robert and Milly never wavered in their faith in God, that He would provide for them and the children. 

“I was overwhelmed by that,” Andrew said. “Robert and Milly did not have enough money to pay their own rent, but they took the children into their home, taking care of them and loving them. It was so moving to see this — their hospitality in the midst of their poverty. It was really beautiful.” 

Following that, Andrew returned to the U.S., to the land of plenty. He was changed when he came home. “I was very, very cynical. You talk about culture shock going to Uganda — I was in reverse culture shock coming back here,” he said. 

He'd seen kids that were going to die of malaria because they couldn't afford the $8 medication they needed to save their lives. Because of this, he admits he felt “bitterness” when he returned home and saw people who really had no idea how great their lives actually were, how genuinely small their problems compared to what he'd seen in Uganda. “It took me about a year to work through it,” he said. 

He launched Ruja in 2014. In the beginnings of Ruja (now a 501(c)(3) nonprofit), he struggled to pay the bills, to keep the lights on. “Money was tight,” he said. But he continued to experience more miracles like they one he'd had busking. “Things like that have happened repeatedly since then.” 

At one point, Andrew got out a 1950s Singer sewing machine that he had put in his closet; he'd bought it at an estate sale, intending to re-sell it and make some money. But instead, he decided he'd teach himself to sew — he'd use the old Singer to sew backpacks to sell. He'd returned from Africa with a sugar bag that had a lion on it. The bag was not made of burlap, but the material was strong enough to make a useful backpack out of. 

His plan was to live simply and start his backpack business. “I'd make money as I figured out my life. A couple of weeks later, God kind of switched on the lights for me and said, 'Why don't you use this (the backpack project) to make money for the people you've just seen?'” 

Andrew hurled himself into sewing. “The first backpack I made was horrible, but I thought it was cool. I wore it everywhere,” he said. 

To expand the business, he went to local coffee roasters, such as Dawson Taylor and the Roastere', and got burlap sacks; the local businessmen were willing to give him the sacks, as they were just going to discard them otherwise. He started selling his backpacks online and at The District Coffee House in Boise. 

He called Robert and Milly by phone and told them, “'I love what you're doing and feel God wants me to be a part of it.' I wanted to help with the vision and the resources, so they could take more kids into their home.” 

It has been a perfect partnership. There are now 10 children in Robert and Milly's house. “We create an environment that's like family,” Andrew said. 

The kids they take in are dealing with many things, including having missed many years of school. One young woman, now a midwife, had been 17 when Robert and Milly took her in; she had been living on the streets alone, and to survive she had turned to prostitution. Another girl had failed the 7th grade twice. The school had written her off. Robert and Milly, with help from Ruja, took her in and put her in another school, where she became an exemplary student. She's preparing to be a lawyer. “She's well on her way to proving all doubters wrong,” Andrew said. 

A young boy of 13 wants to be a doctor and has set his sights on building two hospitals — one in a thriving metropolitan area and another in a poor rural site, with the thriving hospital helping support the poorer one. “He's just 13,” said Andrew. “When I was 13, I was playing video games!” 

The children dream. Now, with the help of Ruja, they are working to achieve their dreams. He stresses that when he seeks donations to help them, he doesn't do it through pity. “We don't want to tug on heartstrings with sad stories, and guilt people into giving. We want to inspire people to see what's possible, because each of these kids is created in the image of God and has the ability to ideate, create and dream,” he said. “Many people think people in Africa are always going to be poor, they're always going to need help.” 

But they have dreams, he insists, dreams that are squelched and stolen by poverty. 

“Poverty deprives them of dreams. It keeps people locked into survival and putting food on the table,” he said. 

Poverty deprives them of the freedom and ability to think forward, he explained, to see themselves in the future, doing something meaningful, because they're trapped in the day-to-day struggle of just barely getting by. “When these people receive help, it loosens the bonds of poverty. The brain re-wires itself, allowing it to think about the future.” 

They are now free to think about saving money, planting crops, setting goals — and having dreams. 

“We renew them and remove that yoke of poverty and fill that space with love and a new vision of who they are and who they can become,” Andrew said. “All of that is biblical; all of that is rooted in the idea that all people are created in God's image. God loves these kids.” 

Andrew, who is now 31, was raised in a Christian home in Florida and went to Maranatha Baptist University in Wisconsin. He married a dietitian late in 2018 and said of his new marriage, “I'm a rookie.” 

He quit the backpack sewing business years ago and now does all his fundraising through Ruja, while working different jobs to make money to support himself and make a home for him and his bride. He visits Africa twice a year and sends funds to Robert and Milly regularly. “We are committed to seeing these kids dream big, and to seeing the Kingdom of God take root in Africa.” 

Dreams matter so much to him — the dreams of children and adults in the challenging environment that is Uganda. He himself is a big dreamer. “My wife has to pull the reins back every once in a while,” he said, laughing and feeling like a man whose dreams are succeeding, and will only get bigger. 

For more information, go to ruja.org. The nonprofit is also currently doing more work beyond just caring for kids. It is now involved in starting up community development initiatives around agriculture and education. 

Oh Fudge: Cups of cocoa, spoonfuls of faith

May/ June 2019

 


 

 



Young married couple, Courtney and Adam, work seven days a week at their Oh Fudge kiosk in Boise Towne Square Mall. Along with a sample of fudge, they hand out slips of paper inviting people to get to know not just them but the God they serve. (Courtesy photo)  Publisher's Note: Since the original printing of this article both Adam and Courtney have encountered some health issues have forced the to replace their manned kiosk at The Boise Towne Square with an informational kiosk with information on ordering their wonderful fudge. We love them both, and ask you join us in prayer for only the best for them as they continue to serve The Lord in all they do. 

 

By Gaye Bunderson 

 

Many Americans possess a notorious love of shopping. As eager members of a consumer society, they shop for all kinds of things — shoes, books, appliances, and more. Now, there's a place where they might stop to shop for a little dose of faith and a moment of prayer. Surprisingly, that place is right in the center of the valley's busiest shopping hub. 

Adam and Courtney Shumate opened Oh Fudge Bakery in the Boise Towne Square Mall on August 18, 2018. Courtney brings baking skills to the enterprise, while Adam contributes a knack for business and marketing. They both bring a commitment to spreading the Gospel message, even it it's right in the middle of a bustling mall. 

Adam, 31, met and married Courtney, 23, three years ago in Kerrville, Texas. Adam worked at Schreiner University in Kerrville and Courtney was a student there, majoring in physical therapy. Courtney was born and raised in San Antonio; Adam grew up in Boise. When she was just 10, Courtney's grandmother Helene taught her how to whip up peanut butter and chocolate. Ten years later at age 20, Courtney revisited the recipes without Helene's supervision. 

“It was the first time I'd made peanut butter and chocolate without Grandma,” she said. 

Adam encouraged her to display her creation on Facebook, and it was a hit. 

“A lot of people in Kerrville were interested,” he said. 

Courtney's Facebook page lit up with requests from people who wanted all kinds of specialty fudges to give as gifts for Valentine's Day. They wanted a kind of personal fudge with a twist that made the confection unique for the gift giver, as well as for the gift getter. Courtney was open to making any kind of fudge the buyers wanted, responding to requests by saying, “If you're willing to taste it, I'm willing to make it.” 

And make it she did. Her sweet treats were cooked up in the confines of the couple's 700-square-foot, 1-bedroom Kerrville apartment. At the end of a day of fudge-making, Courtney said she and Adam sat down on the couch and discussed the possibility of starting a business around her fudge treats. They even came up with the name: Oh Fudge Bakery. In 2016, Courtney got a food handler's license in accordance with a Texas “cottage law” for businesses that are operated out of a residence; she worked with the health department there and created a label for her Oh Fudge products. 

The couple was making money and giving back at the same time, even starting a Caring for Kerrville auction for three people in need that Courtney met while selling her goods at a farmers market. Courtney went from business to business in Kerrville, seeking items to auction off. A live Facebook auction raised $1,300 dollars in three hours, she said. The money was split three ways for the three people who needed it. 

The couple eventually returned to Adam's roots in the Treasure Valley, moving to Boise during Christmas of 2017. They thought they were leaving the fudge business behind. Both of them got other jobs, but they seemed to have a call on their lives for (of all things, perhaps) making and selling fudge. Adam launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a revived Oh Fudge Bakery. 

“There were goals and incentive-based options for funding,” he said. For instance, if a person donated $120 to help re-start Oh Fudge, Courtney would create and name a fudge just for that person. People seemed to love it, and the couple got responses from all over the world, from Portugal to South Korea, they said. 

They were careful to be upfront and open about everything they did; people could follow them on Facebook or Kickstarter and see the making of the fudge and monitor Adam and Courtney's progress toward re-opening the fudge company. The duo set a goal to raise $3,500 and ended up with $6,500. 

“I did it all on here,” Adam said, holding up his smartphone. 

It wasn't long before they were opening up their Oh Fudge kiosk at Boise Towne Square Mall. Adam was very mindful of the kiosk's location. It is near two famous, popular confection sellers. “It's a spot for anyone who likes candy,” Adam said. 

Oh Fudge is an uncommon business for the mall. Boise-based in every way, the product isn't shipped in from out of state. “I'm the only one who brings it from home,” Courtney said. She and Adam took a step up from their modest 1-bedroom apartment in Kerrville and now own a townhouse in Boise, where they've converted the garage into Courtney's commercial kitchen. The couple works hard, putting in 12-hour days six days a week, with an 8-hour day on Sunday. Courtney has to bake the fudge when she's not at the kiosk, so sometimes she bakes at night; at other times, she leaves Adam to watch the kiosk while she bakes during the day. 

But the kiosk is a source of fellowship and friendship for them. They enjoy their customers very much. “We try to tell them our story and connect with them,” Adam said. The fudge entrepreneurs hand out samples to passers-by at the kiosk. If people stop to try the fudge and are willing to listen for a minute, they're given brief information about Oh Fudge's offerings and are handed a business card and a slip of paper with a message that reads, in part: 

“Come join Oh Fudge Bakery in our walk with Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. We choose to use our business to the best of our abilities to share God's message of peace. … If you're in need of a friend, prayer, or simply someone to talk with, don't hesitate to swing on by and see us.” 

Courtney said, “What really motivates us is we wanted to have a Christian business.” 

Adam said, “We felt this business was a vehicle to spread Christ's message. We felt He's on our side here.” 

They're making connections. “We work every day. We don't get out much,” Courtney said. The kiosk is not just business, it's social. 

Their fudge is a hit, and they've sold lots of it. “We pay $1,700 a month for the space in the mall and $1,500 a month for our home, and we make it work selling $5 bags of fudge,” Adam said. 

The $5 bag is their minimum sale item, with prices reaching $40 for a larger amount of fudge that may be a special request from the purchaser (a watermelon fudge, for instance). 

Even though the business is working for them, they stress they're not motivated by the possibility of making lots of money; and they're very aware that what they do is the exception rather than the rule at the mall. Pointing to the kiosk, Adam said, “This is material, a conductor for us to reach out. The kiosk amplifies our work, but it's just a shell. What matters is the people stopping here and walking past us — I always see the people.” 

“I'm no miracle worker,” Courtney said, “but I know what I can do.” For her, that's caring about and praying for the people who visit the kiosk. “I may be shaking, but I'll do it if they ask,” she said. “I've got to keep my confidence.” 

Adam said, “I've learned how to accept rejection.” He explained he stands at the kiosk and asks people if they want a fudge sample. Some will say no and some will just ignore him. He's undaunted, and he likes the kiosk just the way it is, where it is. He likes that it's outside in the corridor where people pass by it, as opposed to a store that people walk into with a deliberate purpose to buy a specific thing. 

“There's a uniqueness to the kiosk; it catches people off guard,” he said. When they pass by, they originally had no intention of tasting or purchasing fudge; they're just passing by on their way to somewhere else. “This is an interaction outside of their normal plans,” he said. 

He also likes that he and Courtney are self-employed. “If we need a half hour with a customer, we take a half hour, and nobody micromanages what we talk about.” 

One of their most recent interactions was when a man with a health issue came up to the kiosk and was trembling. He needed something to drink, so Courtney got him a Mountain Dew and asked if she might pray for him. He was willing, so they prayed in the open at the kiosk and eventually the man stopped trembling and began to feel better. 

“I love helping people. It's not just fudge,” Courtney said. 

The tables are sometimes turned when people come up to the kiosk and ask if they may pray for Adam and Courtney. The couple has made a number of significant contacts that way. 

It should be noted that no one is forced to participate in prayer at Oh Fudge. It's optional, and no one is made to feel uncomfortable. Anyone may take a fudge sample, or make a fudge purchase, and be on their happy way. Adam and Courtney make everyone comfortable and are friendly with all. 

Still, they won't compromise on the primary purpose for why they operate Oh Fudge and have such a visible spot in the mall. “If our message creates an issue, we'll move the kiosk somewhere else,” Adam said. They won't change the way they operate. “For us, it's not just the fudge. This is something we feel compelled to do.” 

The fudge is fun and delicious, but it's a conduit, a means to get a message out to anyone who might be interested in hearing it. 

For more information, go to Oh Fudge Bakery on Facebook. 

Jordan Hodges: A lesson in not giving up on anybody

Mar/Apr 2019


 

 

 

Jordan Hodges and his wife Amanda once walked together on the wilder side of life but now pastor as a team and are raising two little boys. (Photo by Jasmine Vandeventer) 

By Gaye Bunderson 

God is not an umpire, standing behind home plate calling ball and strikes. He has no “three strikes, you're out” policy. If He had, Jordan Hodges could have been easily tossed from the game forever. But Jordan's story is a testament to why God doesn't hold to a three-strikes rule when it comes to the creatures He loves. 

Jordan describes himself as a man who gives 100 percent to whatever he does. Thankfully that energy is now channeled into serving God, but it wasn't always so. Jordan once served the gods of methamphetamine. 

Jordan's parents divorced when he was 13; and while he said he doesn't hold his parents accountable for what happened next in his life, he concedes he may have suffered in part from a “father wound.” Whatever drove him, it was a deep cut. 

“I don't blame my father for the divorce, but it was a breaking point. That was the beginning of me spiraling out of control,” he said. 

He consumed drugs and sold them, even on his high school campus — “I had a $200 a day drug habit, and I had to sell drugs to make money.” He dropped out of school at age 17 — “I was in a full-time free fall, selling drugs and partying.” 

His wild life caught up with him when he sold drugs to a confidential informant working in tandem with law enforcement officers. He'd sold the CI an ounce of meth. It was that .0625 pound of illegal substance that sent Jordan into a string of incarcerations that included a 6-month prison rider in Cottonwood and time behind bars at both Ada and Canyon county jails. 

In 2005, he ended up in the Ada jail after entering a house in Meridian that was not actually where he lived. “I was high as a kite and messed up and it was the middle of the night. By the time I was arrested, I was a monster, and my body was breaking down.” 

He was 19. After that arrest, he was put in detox in a medical security unit. He was getting help for his addiction and at the same time opening up to spiritual wholeness. He was visited by Rick Rigenhagen, a man who ran a motorcycle ministry called Soul Zone. “I was saved in the visitors' area of the county jail through glass.” 

Unfortunately, that wasn't the end of his journey through the shadowy side of life, but it was the start of something that would culminate in the bright light of salvation, including freedom from addiction and a monster's existence. 

He'd surrendered to Jesus, and while he was technically saved, after he got out of jail he started peddling and using drugs again — “I went back to what I knew.” 

Part of the problem, he said, was the lack of support in the faith community and a lack of youthful friends he could partner with in spiritual growth. He had friends in the drug community, and he returned to them. But God was relentless in his pursuit. 

His grandparents invited Jordan to attend their church — Nampa First Assembly, pastored by Barry Osteen. Rick Rigenhagen attended the church also. 

Once again, Jordan opened up to the Lord. Once again, something inside him fought back. He was caught in the middle of a battle for his soul, at one point trashing Pastor Barry's office. Rick and the pastor fought with him, praying intensely that Jordan would win. Jordan felt victorious enough to run to the police and confess he was wanted on warrants — he wanted to walk the straight path of a law-abiding citizen. The officers were more than happy to take him to jail. 

Now comes one of the most pivotal meetings of Jordan's life. Enter Monty Sears, who had just been named senior pastor of Christian Faith Center in Nampa. Jordan's mother had asked Monty to visit her son in jail; he did, and the two men connected. Monty has said that the Lord spoke to him about Jordan. “Keep him close to your heart,” He said. “He's going to play a big part in what I'm going to do in the valley.” 

After his release, Jordan worked at CFC, licking envelopes and whatever else was needed. There are two scriptures that help explain what happened next to the 20-year-old young man around this time. They are Luke 11:24-25 and Matthew 12:43-45 — Jordan's spiritual house was clean but empty. For the second time, he returned to his old lifestyle; but as it is explained in the two scriptures mentioned, this time it was war, and a dark war at that. 

“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.” — Matthew 12:43 

“That happened to me,” Jordan said. 

He admits he was struggling hard to get back on his feet and leave his old life behind for good. While on a meth high with the woman who is now his wife, Amanda, he saw disturbing images from the demonic world, and God's voice came through with a warning: “Jordan, this is where you're choosing to be.” 

The warning was clear: Get. Off. Drugs. The Lord's final caveat was: “If you ever go back to drugs, you'll die.” 

If Jordan's life were a movie, this would be the “fast forward to 2019 scene.” Both Jordan and Amanda are drug-free. Over the intervening years, they've worked at Christian Faith Center in many capacities, from greeters to ushers to janitors. Jordan is now lead pastor*, while Amanda teaches in the church and oversees ministry to women and CFC's annual women’s conference. “She leads by my side,” Jordan said. The couple has two sons. 

“This is a journey that has been 12 years in the making,” Jordan said. “This is the only church I've ever known. Monty and his wife Kelli are spiritual parents to me.” 

The church now has multiple campuses, and thousands have been saved, according to Jordan. “You don't reach the people you want. You reach the people who resonate with what and who you are — a person with a lot of broken places. Eighty percent of the growth at the church has been people with broken backgrounds giving their lives to the Lord. 

“Some people's view of Christianity is pretty sterile, but Jesus was attracted to the broken people. A ministry to the broken reflects the heart of Jesus,” he said. 

His own past helps him relate to others' trials. “I like to say, 'The black sheep makes the best shepherd.' We've led thousands of people to Christ through a broken-up kid.” 

He describes himself now as down-to-earth and able to connect with all sort of folks. “As a young leader, people want to know you have something to say. I've lived some life; it's not theoretical. My story has given me credibility. You can impress people with your gifts, but you really impact people with your scars.” 

What about the people who knew him years ago as the spiky-haired drug dealer, almost always on a substance high? 

“In the beginning, there were people who heard of my new life and said, 'No way.' But after 10 years pass and you're still following the Lord, they start to think, 'Okay, maybe this is real after all.'” 

Some have told Jordan they wish they had a story like his. His response to that is an unequivocal, “Oh no, you don't.” 

“The only thing good about my story,” he said, “is God.” 

*Jordan is lead pastor over all the Christian Faith Center campuses, including the new Boise campus, which opened February 3 at 5823 W. Franklin St. He will be preaching at the Boise campus primarily but will also be preaching on occasion at the Nampa campus as well. His wife, Amanda, will lead the Boise congregation alongside him. For more information, go to jordanhodges.com or experiencecfc.com. 

 

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