I can’t find the quote…but I heard somewhere once that the people who make it and survive, in non-profits especially, are not the ones that are the most talented or successful…
They’re just the ones that don’t quit.
They’re the ones who keep going in the face of failure, danger, delay, discouragement, challenges…you name it.
As we celebrate our 8th birthday as Canopy Life International, I’m flooded with memories of the last 8 years…The mountain tops and the valleys…
And while there were tons of incredible mountain top moments, we’ve had our fair share of challenging valleys. Times when we could have easily called it quits ( and honestly, I’m not sure anyone would have blamed us) …
BUT we persisted and God provided.
“We spend too much time celebrating Start ups and not enough time celebrating ‘keep goings’.” ~ Josh Reid Jones
So! While this may be a rather unconventional way to celebrate Canopy Life’s 8th year around the sun, we want to celebrate persistence and trusting that God had and has a plan for us every time He lovingly whispers…”I know you’re tired, but you must keep going.”
Here are 8 times we could’ve quit, but didn’t. An 8th birthday celebration!
1.Hostility in our neighborhood
In 2017, we experienced hostility in the neighborhood where we were renting our school facility. They tried to shut us down for a variety of reasons. It was extremely discouraging and honestly scary at some points. We needed to move and uproot Canopy Life, leaving us with no home and no where to pursue our vision. Some days….most days…we thought Canopy Life would have to close its doors for good. We found a school that chose to accept all 24 of our students with only a few weeks notice. They partnered with us, allowing our teachers to work at their school, during the duration of what turned out to be an 18 month period of finding, buying, and building a safe place to grow.
2. It wasn’t what we were hoping for…
The same “partner” school who had opened their doors to us when we needed it, turned out to rely heavily on domination and corporal punishment as a way of teaching their students. They were so distraught at the love and friendliness our teachers showed our students when we arrived, that they tried to stop us from treating the students with dignity. LITERALLY CRAZY. At this point we were thinking, what next? How much more of this continuous valley could we walk through. But…we persisted and God provided. We advocated for our students against abusive teachers, and by the time we left 18 months later, our teachers (not on payroll but teaching) were the oldest staff in the building and new teachers were learning the power of student dignity in the classroom.
3. The whirlwind of finding property to buy in Kenya
Finding land to relocate and start over in the suburbs of Nairobi is not as easy as it sounds, that is….if you thought it sounded easy! When property after property fell through for a variety of reasons, we hit a point where we could have thrown in the towel…we literally didn’t have a physical space to be a school anymore, but we persisted. God finally found us a home in Koma Hill – 30 minutes from the future ‘digital city’ and close enough to Nairobi to access great teachers and staff. On top of that, while it is a growing suburb of the nation’s capital, it is still ruggedly beautiful with the Mua Hills laying to our south and a clear view of every sunset.
4. We could have quit during the building process, but didn’t…
There were numerous times that cultural barriers, lack of experience, and communication challenges caused issues that felt “quit worthy”. These occurred often around the construction of our campus. When I visited the construction site in June of 2018, I didn’t realize that the home design plans we had been given for the project were not to scale. The builders we were working with had planned a living area that could barely hold a couch and a few chairs (for 24 kids and additional staff), while the drawings depicted it differently. We pivoted and changed the floor plan just days before they started on the second floor. After which it would have been impossible to make the necessary changes. We also learned some valuable lessons.
5. Waiting on power…
When it took local power over 2 years to connect our campus to the grid…yes you read that correctly…2 years. Guess what? We persisted. God provided funds for a generator.
6.Then, our neighbor cut off water to our property in Kenya.
Our new neighbor in Koma Hill intended to pressure us for more money by cutting off water to our property and school. We PERSISTED, and God provided through insanely generous people like you who helped us raise 20K in a single day to put in our own well.
7. Again, we could’ve quit during the pandemic in 2020, but didn’t.
At this point, we were finally getting to a place where we found some stability. We had some confidence with what our next year would look like and the year after that.
The pandemic left 17 million kids in Kenya out of school. Our kids were remanded to their villages by the Ministry of Education. We had to persist and we had to do it quickly…
We sent tablets and tubs of classwork to the villages. This was only days before Nairobi was put on total lockdown from the rest of the country. While the majority of Kenya was out of school for most of 2020, our students continued to engage and connect via digital means and studios in their villages.
Again and again, the funds necessary to continue moving forward seemed too big of a step. Each year – without fail, the Lord has blown us away with His provision. Sometimes through matching donors, sometimes through huge checks we didn’t know were coming. Other times through the consistent and loving faithfulness of our sponsors and core donors.
8. Waiting on vision to grow
Personally, for me, the hardest challenge is the sheer length of time that it takes for a vision to grow. I have wanted to quit the most when I was getting impatient or when I perceived pressure from others to be more than we were in the season. But, God has always provided the patience and strength to move forward at His pace because You cannot rush the slow work of God.
AND, this list does not include the MILLIONS of times that I, personally, wanted to quit because I didn’t feel equipped or prepared for the next steps required as a leader:
- trying to understand our Form 990 or read my first P&L,
- understanding the differing perspectives on budgeting or planning,
- making that first big ask to a donor,
- trying to take a faith-filled call of obedience from God and explain it to people who would never have taken the first step to begin with because they didn’t understand it,
- feeling like a failure in meetings,
- accidentally throwing away our first 6 figure check (in front of the donor – **Insert face palm emoji here**).
- Or the first time we had to let someone go or ask a student to leave the program.
What is the way forward?
Through all these challenges and some more we didn’t mention, God would show us how to move forward. He would show us how to do our best to look like Him in the midst of very challenging and discouraging circumstances. He would gently whisper “keep going” when we thought the doors were closing for good.
“The most useful form of patience is persistence. Patience implies waiting for things to improve on their own. Persistence implies keeping your head down and continuing to work when things take longer than you expect.” ~ James clear
As we celebrate our 8th birthday, we celebrate the persistence and prayers it took for us to get here. We continue on as long as God sees it through. And even as we celebrate persistence, we know that it is also from God. The spiritual fruit of Faithfulness is something that God gives us and equips us with as we follow Him, so even that is a celebration of His faithfulness, not our own merit.
We know the challenges won’t stop, but we will continue to move forward towards a vision of wholeness for these students and a vision of abundance for the people of Kenya. We keep moving in faith. And with the hope and strength that God provides, we will persist.