by Katie Pearn
When Jim Frantz, founder of Investing Hope Foundation, first visited Colombia in 1986, he could never have guessed the adventure God had planned for him there, or the real dangers where he would need faith in the face of fear.
As a student at the University of Minnesota, he was originally going to work with children, and then was given the opportunity to evaluate a microfinance start-up in Columbia. As only God can do, those two spheres – children and microfinance, would be woven together in the calling He had on Frantz’s life.
“In 1986, Colombia was still a pretty stable place,” says Frantz. “In the 80s cocaine took off and became a lucrative business for many people, and after the assassination of a young, dynamic liberal candidate [Luis Carlos Garan], things really started to go downhill.”
Jim married his wife, Diana, a Colombian, in 1988 and they moved to the country in 1995, just before tensions really began to heighten. With a complex history of violence amid political and religious divisions dating back to 1948, the conditions were ripe for a war to be waged by 36,000 guerrillas. “Essentially there were three groups fighting: we had the military chasing the guerrillas on the left unsuccessfully, so a para-military group formed on the right,” explains Frantz. “So you had people on the extreme rebel right, and guerrillas on the extreme left fighting each other, and civilians were caught in the middle.”
Frantz remembers reading an article shortly after moving to Colombia saying the CIA reported that if the Colombian government didn’t do anything different, within three years they would lose the battle to the guerrillas. This notion was mocked by the general public. It only took six months for the country to completely deteriorate. Six million people have been displaced, murdered or kidnapped between 1995-2010.
“There were mass kidnappings, donkey bombs, where people would slap the donkeys and they would run into town with bombs that would detonate,” recalls Frantz. “Children on bikes were given packages that would be detonated. Panic erupted in the whole country.”
Frantz and his wife had no idea how bad things really were until 1999, when tragedy would strike too close to ignore. “I was on my way to work and saw an explosion. I knew it was close to where my father and sister-in-law worked,” he recounts. “Within the hour we realized my sister-in-law’s car had been hit by the bombing.” Frantz continues between tears. “We had to tell her three children that their mother was never coming home. She was my wife’s only sibling and a very close friend.”
Remarkably, even through the tragedy, Frantz believes God used it to allow them to feel something more for the country and while people kept telling them they should leave, they both sensed that they were supposed to stay. In faith, he submitted a concept paper to the US Agency of International Development outlining his ideas for microfinance for people who had been displaced.
It wouldn’t take long for God to show his favour upon them for their faithfulness. In fact five minutes after the decision was made to stay, Frantz received a fax out of the blue indicating they had been awarded 2 million dollars by the US Government to work with displaced people in microfinance. “I think God honours you when you listen to Him and when your heart is making decisions in the right place.” While things have not always been easy or smooth, God has always been faithful. After an unexpected departure from Opportunity International, Jim and Diana spent months in prayer and reflection, and felt called to apply their 20 plus years of experience to those living in poor conditions who are not being reached by banks and microfinance organizations due to their age, gender, geography or poverty.
In 2014, they founded Investing Hope (formerly Foundation Plan B) to be more agile and quick in response to those in need. Today, Investing Hope helps 1,500 low-income youth and 500 adults in poor communities increase their financial awareness, promote a culture of savings and wise money management and encourage entrepreneurship as a way of increasing income.
“We know that in Colombia, if you don’t have money you don’t have power, and over 26,000 children are abused,” says Frantz. “We work with second graders, teaching them God has a plan and a future for them, because if we wait until they are teenagers it’s almost too late. If we can plant it in a little girl’s mind that she is special, God loves her, and help her have a savings account she can feel proud of, maybe she won’t have to be in a situation where she needs to make bad choices to get by.”
For more information on Investing Hope, visit www.investinghopefoundation.org