“I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I’ll listen. When you come looking for me, you’ll find me.”
“The poor you will always have with you.” As a young girl, Jessica Jackley’s heart was troubled when she read those words in her Bible. At first, she was terrified by the thought of poor people following her around her entire life asking her for something. But then she read Jesus’ words in Matthew 25: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of Mine, you did for Me,” and her attitude towards the poor began to change.
Growing up in Pittsburgh, Jessica had a variety of experiences that ignited a passion in her for the poor. At church, she heard numerous missionaries from around the world speak about people overseas living in desperate conditions. She gave money every month to help sponsor and feed a child in a third world country, and when she was a senior in high school, Jessica chose to spend her spring break on a mission trip in Haiti. Seeing kids her own age spending their entire day working—just so they could eat—left a lasting imprint on her heart that she couldn’t forget.
A few weeks after she returned from Haiti, she was getting ready for her senior prom and was struck with the sudden thought: “Although it feels like those kids in Haiti are a world away, they’re really not. They’re only a plane ride away. They aren’t unreachable. I’m going to do something with my life to help them.”
Figuring that the best way to make a difference in places such as Haiti was to get involved in government, Jessica went on to attend Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, where she majored in philosophy and political science. All the while, she continued to pursue her passion of helping those in need by interning at World Vision. During her junior year, she enrolled in a study abroad program called “Semester at Sea” and spent three months circling the globe on a ship and visiting various countries. Then, when she was a senior, Jessica attended the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. where she met Matt Flannery, a student from Stanford University in California. The two immediately hit it off and soon began a long-distance relationship.
Shortly after graduating, Jessica moved to California and got a job at Stanford Business School while Matt worked on his Master’s degree. They joined a 13-week pre-engagement class at their church and met with other couples to talk about important life issues such as faith, family and finances. One week, about midway through the course, the group members began discussing their long-term career goals. Matt started off: “I want to live in the Bay Area and work at a high-tech startup in Silicon Valley.” Jessica then followed him by saying, “Well, I want to live in Africa and work in finance to help the poor.” Suddenly, it was very awkward. There was sort of a deafening silence in the room, because everybody—including Matt and Jessica—realized they had a problem they needed to work out.
A year later, Matt and Jessica got married in spite of this issue, rationalizing that somehow the situation would eventually work itself out. Six months into their marriage, Jessica was offered the opportunity to pursue her dream job and spend half a year providing business training, funding and mentoring to farmers in rural areas of East Africa. She accepted the offer and headed to Africa while Matt stayed behind in the San Francisco Bay Area and focused on his new job at TiVo, Inc.
While Jessica was in Africa, Matt took several weeks off to visit her. During that trip, the couple prayed and decided to combine their individual passions and form Kiva.org—a microfinancing website that allows an individual from anywhere in the world to directly lend small amounts of money to an entrepreneur in a third world country who would not otherwise be able to receive any funds. This in turn helps the poor who receive the loan to improve life for themselves, their families and, ultimately, their communities.
At first, Matt and Jessica viewed their website as nothing more than a hobby—a little side project—their friends and family could get involved in. But word about Kiva spread like wildfire. Soon their site was averaging over a million hits per day, and Matt decided to quit his job at TiVo to focus on Kiva full-time.
What started off as a simple desire to follow Jesus’ call to help those in desperate need eventually evolved into a little side hobby website and has now turned into a massive international non-profit organization that’s been featured on The Today Show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, CNN, FOX News, TIME Magazine and The Wall Street Journal. Today, Kiva helps the poor all over the world by distributing over $100,000 in loans every 24 hours! More than 500,000 individuals from 182 different countries have loaned almost $100 million dollars to 228,000 entrepreneurs in approximately 50 countries. What’s even more astounding is that Kiva’s current repayment rate for their loans is 98.5%!
From the time Jessica was a little girl, God placed a dream deep within her heart to help the poor. He knew all along the twists and turns her life would take. God doesn’t do anything by chance or coincidence. He brings specific people and experiences into our lives that shape us for His purposes. Jessica’s life is a beautiful example of how God orders our steps to accomplish His purpose … to advance His kingdom. Because of her passionate, unwavering desire to follow and surrender to God’s leading, He orchestrated the events and opportunities of her life that step by step, bit by bit, led her to where she is now—a young woman pursuing her dream of making a huge difference in the world by offering hope to the hopeless.
God wants to use you … to send you. Don’t think you’re too young or too old for Him to use you. Regardless of your age, His plans for you are so much greater than you could ever imagine. What stirs your heart? What burning passion has God given you? Don’t grow weary and give up. The dreams He has placed in your heart He will accomplish—in wonderful, creative, unexpected ways—if you choose to seek Him, trust Him and obey Him. Ask yourself today: “Am I willing to be open to God’s will for my life?”