Mission: To serve, learn and lead

Father and son make meaningful connections in eastern Africa – and with one another

Thrivent member Brian Brooks and his son traveled to Africa through Pipeline Worldwide

It was a different kind of father-and-son trip. In January 2017, Brian Brooks, a Thrivent Financial representative based in Scottsdale, Arizona, and his 16-year-old son Nolan traveled for two weeks through Uganda and Rwanda. The mission trip, sponsored by Phoenix-based Pipeline Worldwide, gave them a chance to see firsthand what strengthening communities looks like. It also deepened their relationship.

Serving a mission or two

Brian joined Pipeline Worldwide's board in July 2016. He was attracted to the nonprofit's twofold mission: providing clean drinking water to impoverished areas of eastern Africa and working with other organizations to create sustainable change in the region. He'd also known Jamie Nollette, Pipeline Worldwide's executive director and a Thrivent member, for several years.

"For many organizations, board members are asked to share their expertise and leverage their relationships and resources," Nollette says. "Those services are critical, but we take it a step further. We want our board members to have a personal experience with our mission. This way they can lead with understanding and conviction."

Seeing – and doing – good work

The Brooks family had funded a computer lab for a Christian grade school in a village outside of Kampala, the Ugandan capital. Part of their commitment was to see the project completed. Brian and Nolan put their technological skills to work and helped set up the lab for the students.

The rest of their travels involved visiting partner organizations to better understand the communities they serve. "One partner is Bless A Child Foundation. We were really moved by their mission of helping kids in Uganda get treatment for cancer," Brian says. "The system is very corrupt and many kids that need help can't get it."

"We saw a 'softer' side of each other that we normally don't show. Our relationship grew. That was truly the best part." - Nolan Brooks

Brian and Nolan spent a day playing with and reading to the kids. They also listened to caregiver stories about how Bless a Child helps bear the cost of kids' cancer treatment, easing the financial burden for families and ensuring children receive their treatments. They left with a deep understanding of the organization's continued need for funding.

One of the most meaningful moments for the Brookses came when they visited with Christian Action for Reconciliation and Social Assistance (CARSA), an organization that promotes peace and unity in Rwanda, which was torn apart by civil war.

Though the war ended in the mid-1990s, much psychological damage remains as it does with all brutality. Brian and Nolan heard a Rwandan man tell of killing his best friend, who belonged to a different tribe. As part of the reconciliation process, the man now co-owns a cow with his friend's widow – a cow that CARSA purchased.

Traveling far, getting closer

The mission trip reinforced a number of bonds. "We saw a 'softer' side of each other that we normally don't show," Nolan says. "Our relationship grew. That was truly the best part."

Brian says seeing how Nolan interacted with people and hearing him talk about his feelings provided many moments of paternal pride.

The journey abroad also resulted in a new outlook for Brian – one that allows him to focus on the things that are most important in life. "We went in with a mindset of, 'Oh, these people have it so bad,'" he recalls. "But when I came home, I felt that in many ways, they have it better than we do. They don't have all the technology, all the distractions and all the things we have to keep us busy – things we think are really important," Brian says. "They have relationships."

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