Sowing Empowerment in Sudan

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When Missy Williams and her husband, David, were told repeatedly that their mission to help empower the people of South Sudan was a waste of time and resources, she knew her journey to bring Seed Effect to life would be a difficult one but also incredibly rewarding. Read how Seed Effect has impacted the lives of South Sudan and how Missy balances a career and being a mother to two girls.

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4word: When you and your husband started Seed Effect, you didn't have children yet. Once you became a mom, how did your professional life change?

Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 7.31.39 AMMissy: In a lot of ways, Seed Effect was like our first baby. David and I are so passionate about the cause and have devoted so much of our time to grow and nurture the organization to the place it is today. But, you’re right. When we first launched Seed Effect, we had no kids and life looked a lot different. During the first two and a half years, we traveled frequently to South Sudan. I had more flexibility and time to devote to the ministry – meetings were easier to schedule, executing tasks were, in comparison, effortless, and I had so much brain space to create and dream. Much of that is very different now.

When my oldest was born, I chose to scale back to part-time hours to create more margin. With two kids, my schedule now is more of a flexible 2-3 day workweek with extra hours added in during our busier seasons. I think that each person’s calling and situation is different and there’s not one right answer. This is just what works best for us – both Seed Effect and our family. As a result, I’ve focused on empowering our staff. What started as a U.S. staff of just me in 2009 has grown into a cohesive Seed Effect team built upon our strengths.

4word: Have you found it difficult to juggle time between work and home?

Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 7.30.56 AMMissy: Yes. Initially it was SO hard! I am a driver and I’m used to operating at a high level of productivity. Throwing kids in the mix added a layer of unpredictability that is tough to balance.

But over the years it’s gotten a little easier as my kids have gotten older (the newborn phase is HARD), and I’ve learned to say “no” and to focus a lot on saying “yes” to things that lie within my strengths (StrengthsFinder was super helpful for this). Now I spend my time and energy there while delegating what I can.

At Seed Effect, I prioritize the big picture of program strategy, marketing, and advocacy and hand off as many execution tasks as I can. I do hold the brand and mission tightly but work to empower those I work with to operate well within this arena. As a dreamer and an entrepreneur, I’m not a great manager or executor, so stepping down from the role of Executive Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 7.32.09 AMDirector two years ago really gave me and Seed Effect a lot of freedom. Now, Drew, our ED, can do what he does best in leading the organization, and I can focus on the things that I do best. It’s a win for everyone when we’re operating in our strengths.

At home, I prioritize my time teaching my kids to know Jesus, encouraging their creativity (we do LOTS of art projects) and critical thinking, and developing their character. Since I realize I can’t do everything, I have learned to be okay when my house isn’t clean and when my daughters forget to brush their teeth or when they often look like they’re a walking garage sale!

During busier seasons, I can be tempted to buy into the mom guilt and the “shoulds.” However, I try to remind myself that God is so much bigger than me!  I try to remember that He doesn’t need me, but can use me if I’m available when it comes to Seed Effect and that it really is a great thing for my kids to see me serving and loving others. And then when it comes to being a mom, I try to remember that because of the way my work/home life is structured, when a season feels tough or busy, there’s a season right behind it where we can catch up, breathe, renew, and reset.  

4word: "Simplify" is the word you've chosen to focus on this year. What has the act of simplifying looked like for you, both at home and at Seed Effect?

Missy: Every year as a family, we pray and ask the Lord to reveal a theme or a word to us for the year. Last year, mine was discipline and David’s was intentional. This year we both ended up with the word “simplify!”

Here is what that has looked like for me this year:

4word: You and your husband started Seed Effect after a mission trip to South Sudan. What was it like to build this organization from scratch? Were there any bumps along the way?

Missy and the Women who Asked for the Sewing MachineMissy: I would say that starting a Christ-centered bank to the poor in rural South Sudan has been one of the hardest things we’ve ever done! South Sudan is underdeveloped, impoverished, and now in the midst of renewed conflict. Less than 1% of the population has access to banking services and statistically, a woman is more likely to die in childbirth than to graduate from the second grade. Basic infrastructure – roads, electricity, running water, and a functional government - are lacking and this has created many roadblocks along the way.

When we first launched, we had to install satellite Internet service and power at our building, and, initially, finding and training qualified staff was a struggle. But we’ve learned to work through many struggles and trust God’s timing and provision. It’s been an incredible lesson in perseverance, prioritizing relationships, and surrender.

Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 7.33.12 AMTruth be told, working in South Sudan, ranked the most fragile country in the world, has been so challenging. It takes more time and resources to build a microloan and savings program in an environment like South Sudan’s. But we feel called to bring stability to unstable environments through empowering them to know Jesus and fight poverty, and we have seen God transform lives as a result. Since launching in 2009, Seed Effect has empowered over 2,000 entrepreneurs in three communities in South Sudan with over $1.3 million loaned and maintained a 99% repayment rate.

The passage that reminds me daily that it’s all Him is Ephesians 2:8-10:  “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

4word:  Why work in South Sudan? What about these people speaks to you?

Missy: The simple answer is that God called us to South Sudan during our first mission trip in 2007. There’s a video on our website where I talk about the exact moment that He laid the vision on our hearts. Now, almost 10 years later, this beautiful country feels like a home away from home, and the resilience of the South Sudanese people never ceases to inspire me.

Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 7.33.03 AMI think the long answer is a little more complicated. We’ve sat through some uncomfortable donor meetings where we’ve actually been told before that it’s irresponsible to work in South Sudan because it requires more time and resources to empower people in South Sudan than to serve those in West Dallas. But at Seed Effect, we believe that all of us are created with inherent worth and dignity. While South Sudan is a hard place to work - where the average person is just trying to survive and live their life amidst conflict, corruption, and lack of infrastructure - we believe that they too have a right to know Jesus and to thrive and we’re committed to serving in the hard places.

I think that God called Seed Effect to South Sudan because there’s so much need and so few organizations that want to serve there.  (There are less than a dozen microfinance organizations in South Sudan – an area the size of Texas - compared to hundreds in neighboring countries.)

4word: One of your goals for Seed Effect is to empower rather than to create dependency. How do you do this?

Missy and David in South Sudan 2010Missy: Empowerment is the basis for everything we do at Seed Effect, from the way we mentor our South Sudanese staff to the way we serve our clients with access to microloans, savings, education, and discipleship. In fact, empowerment is written into our core values both directly and indirectly.

Seed Effect is committed to building into our local staff and empowering them to do their job well. In fact, almost seven years later, there are currently no Americans on the ground in South Sudan with Seed Effect. This is intentional so that the South Sudanese can be the ones to lead the work and directly serve their people.

And when it comes to our work to empower our clients – 70% of which are women - we provide a hand-up and not a hand-out and we are constantly working to make ourselves unnecessary. From providing small business loans to help our clients build a sustainable business that can bring hope and dignity as they provide for their family, to providing savings services, education, and discipleship, we’re always working hard to empower them to know Jesus, fight poverty, and truthfully, to no longer need us.

4word: Do you have any success stories of people you've been able to help?

MIssy: Oh yes, hundreds! There are currently around twenty on our website and I add more weekly. But one of my favorites is Beatrice (we just wrapped up a video telling her story!).

After her parents died in the war, Beatrice was orphaned and alone. With no education, she got married, hoping that a husband would solve her problems. But his drinking turned into abuse. When he threw her out of the house, she was again alone and left to care for their three children.

Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 7.32.53 AMWith the help of a friend, she started a business but she could never earn enough to provide for her children. And so she came to Seed Effect.

Beatrice, along with the other members of her loan group, received access to a microloan and savings, education, and the Gospel. She invested this microloan and worked hard to grow her small business, earning enough to provide food, shelter, and school fees for her family.

Through the discipleship of the Seed Effect staff, she gave her life to Christ and began to grow in the word of God. And after learning about forgiveness, Beatrice chose to forgive her husband.

God used Seed Effect to restore her hope and dignity. Her business is growing. Her family has been reunited. And she has become a leader, encouraging and strengthening other women in the community.

Beatrice is empowered. And, as she repays her loans, the funds are reinvested in a new entrepreneur like Beatrice. It starts with a life, impacts a family and transforms a community.

She says, “I thank God for Seed Effect! For standing with me during my difficult moments when my husband abandoned me and I had nothing to eat, nowhere to stay and even no hope to live; the microloan and spiritual support kept me strong and I thank God for answering my prayers; now I am growing in my knowledge of Him and am reconciled with my husband.”

You can watch Beatrice’s video here.

Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 7.32.21 AM4word: How can our readers support Seed Effect and its mission?

Missy: We need partners and advocates to help us empower our clients!  Here are five ways to get involved:

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Has God burdened you to pursue something that seems way out of reach? Are you hearing lots of opposition from others, rather than encouragement? Learn from Missy and David’s inspiring journey to bring Seed Effect to life, and go out and see your dream come to life.

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Missy Williams and her husband David co-founded Seed Effect in 2009 after their first mission trip to South Sudan. When the Williams visited South Sudan on a mission trip in 2007, they were moved by the resilience of the people of South Sudan. Because of the great need for both economic empowerment and Jesus, they co-founded Seed Effect, disbursing the first microloans to 19 entrepreneurs in 2009.

Missy served as the Executive Director until February 2014, when she stepped back from the day-to-day operations to give more attention to her growing family of two young daughters.  She now serves as the Chairman of the Seed Effect Board and continues to provide strategic planning, vision casting, fundraising, marketing and development, event planning, and advocacy for Seed Effect.

Missy received her B.B.A. in Finance from the University of Texas at Austin where she also received a minor in Art History.  Prior to founding Seed Effect, Missy went back to school to study Interior Design and subsequently worked with a successful high-end interior designer while also operating her own interior design firm in Dallas. As a mom and an entrepreneur herself, Missy connected deeply with the hard-working moms she met and loves being able to bring Jesus and economic empowerment to the people of South Sudan through Seed Effect.