By Owen Phelps, Ph.D.

Director, Yeshua Institute

Without the generosity of our benefactors, the Yeshua Catholic International Leaders Institute would not exist.

I shared that reality with several of our benefactors at our first-ever Benefactors Mass & Brunch on Aug. 10 at St. James Parish in Rockford, IL.

How could I be so sure? Because for several years my wife Jane and I ran the Institute as a division of The Durand Corporation, our own for-profit consulting and publishing business. No, we did not expect this new division to make a profit. That wasn’t our intent at all.

Our intent was that the corporation’s other activities would provide the margin needed to help underwrite the operations of the Yeshua Institute. At a very small scale, the arrangement worked just fine and our shareholders were happy with it.

But as our Yeshua Institute ministry expanded, we realized we needed it to operate as a nonprofit that could accept tax-deductible contributions from others who shared our vision for a church consisting of formal leaders and members who lived, loved and led like Jesus in all of their relationships.

An invitation

There was the case of an invitation from the archbishop of Kampala, Uganda, to return and present a Catholic Vision for Leading Like Jesus Encounter for all of his priests. Obviously, an earlier Encounter for selected priests, offered as part of an ecumenical mission, had been successful.

But sometimes success is a cross.

The archbishop made it clear that he would eagerly provide a site for the Encounter, as well the lunch and snacks for participants and transportation for our Facilitators from their hotel to the site. But he was in no position to fund the trip. He couldn’t provide the airline tickets, hotel rooms, meals or materials needed to pull off the event.

By our calculation the cost to send one Facilitator and provide materials would be $6,000. Two Facilitators could go for a total of $10,000. With our focus on domestic, self-supporting programs, we found ourselves without any resources to honor the Ugandan archbishop’s urgent request.

Collection of miracles

At our first-ever Benefactors’ Mass & Brunch, I told our benefactors that the Yeshua Institute’s history is nothing if not a collection of miracles. As I contemplated how to tell the archbishop we couldn’t help him, one of the biggest miracles ever was just over the horizon.

I happened to have a lunch scheduled with our diocese’s Director of Development. When he asked me how things were going with the Institute, I told him about our huge shortfall in trying to serve the Church in Africa. He suggested I send a letter to a wealthy monsignor we both knew who was widely known for supporting programs for priests.

A few days later the monsignor called to tell me he would be happy to underwrite the entire cost of the program.

Later the Development Director told me he thought I scheduled the lunch to get his help to fund the return trip to Uganda. In fact, I had scheduled the lunch simply as an opportunity to socialize – long before the archbishop invited us back to Africa.

Serendipity? Perhaps. But I prefer to consider it Providence. God was looking out for us – and His church in Uganda.

Work comes full circle

At our Benefactors’ Mass & Brunch, the fruits of that donation were on dramatic display.

Javis Mugagga, a young Ugandan layman we had trained to be a Leading Like Jesus Encounter Facilitator, presented a program on the work he and his wife are doing in the wake of our visits to Uganda several years ago.

Today, working closely with the Kampala Archdiocese and seminaries all across Uganda, Javis and his wife Gladys are offering Evangelization, Education and Entrepreneurial programs to high school and college students, seminarians, priests and married couples.

Their work has touched thousands of lives – and because they are working with formal church leaders and leaders-to-be, their ministry is bound to have an impact on Catholics and their churches and schools in Uganda for decades to come.

We’ve produced a short (under five minutes) video commemorating our Benefactors Mass & Brunch. We hope you will take a few minutes and join us in celebrating the wonderful, life-giving and church-building generosity that makes our existence possible.