Friday, April 20, 2012

Yes You Can -- Ricky's Building Project

Ricky Johnston is always thinking. While he was a student (he has a masters and a PhD in economics) he made time to read material unrelated to his studies, things like theology, philosophy, sociology, classic literature, and fairy tales.  "Things that make me better understand people, make me question the meaning of life and what I do, and things that make me dream. Training and education go beyond schooling; the real learning occurs when we teach ourselves." Then he adds, "Learn everything you can from everyone you can."

It was great and imaginative writers like C.S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, Tolkien, G.K. Chesterton, and George MacDonald who influenced him. It's people he has known, like Earl Palmer (former pastor of Seattle's University Presbyterian Church) and Skip Li, a prominent Seattle attorney, and his wife Cyd, and everyday folks in Ricky's life who have left their mark on him.

That includes his parents, Don and Denise Johnston. They began to pass on stories about Sister Connection that they had heard from Randy and Alice Matthewson, friends from church. As missionaries in Central Africa, they have spent a lot of time in Burundi, and would talk about the widows there whose lives were being blessed by the support of Sister Connection. The opportunity to build a house for a widow really struck a chord with Ricky.

It got him thinking. His employer, Microsoft, matches the charitable donations its employees make to a number of non-profits. He wondered if Sister Connection was on Microsoft's approved list.

Indeed, it was! Any gift he would make to Sister Connection would be matched by Microsoft!

So Ricky started channeling funds through Microsoft for the purchase of homes for widows in Burundi through Sister Connection. And Microsoft has matched each dollar. In the past year-and-a-half, Ricky and Microsoft have provided houses for 28 widows in Burundi!

 Ricky calls it "a buy one, get one free arrangement!"

I asked Ricky if he's always been interested in missions and development work. He told me he used to be interested in money and himself, but now he's primarily interested in helping people live better lives. "Sometimes it's helping people with material needs. Sometimes it's encouraging people to give up the material 'needs' they think they have."

Ricky loves the outdoors, both the mountains and the water. He hikes in the Cascades every other weekend and loves to hang out with his parents when he can, enjoying the natural beauty of the Northwest.

But what he really loves is surfing. Having grown up in southern California, he could hit the waves early in the morning, surf all day, and stay in the water till his parents dragged him home. And he still surfs every chance he gets.

That's not so often now as he works long hours at Microsoft. One of these days, when he has some time, he'd like to go to Burundi to meet some of the widows he's been able to provide a home for.

Actually his long-term interest is to do economic development somewhere in the world, to use his background in economics to make life better for people. He's not sure when or where that might be.

"But I hope the place I end up has waves."

* * * * * * * * 

The widows' homes built by Sister Connection are scattered across the nation of Burundi, where thousands of women were widowed during the ethnic wars that took a million lives. One home costs $600 to build, and SC hires local builders, who use local building materials, providing not only security and status for the widow and her children but stimulus to the local economy as well. Sister Connection provides further support for the women through monthly sponsorship (US $30) to cover basic needs. Job training, an annual retreat for spiritual enrichment and fellowship, and other provisions for these widowed sisters of Burundi are all designed to lead to their self-sufficiency.

You can be a part of this remarkable ministry. Do you work for a company that will match your gifts?Do you want to support a widow? Do you want to build a house for a widow? One more thing -- the Spring 2012 Sister Connection Newsletter just came out, telling how you can help send a widow or a child to camp. Today would be a wonderful day to make an investment in the life of a sister in Burundi.

(Yes You Can is a monthly feature that tells the story of someone who has had a dream, followed their dream, and made a difference in their world because of it.)

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