NEW YORK - Scott Kwak of New Jersey began his career dabbling in everything from teaching English in South Korea to working in publishing, and eventually became a successful businessman in his own right, developing and heading his own e-commerce company. But in the summer of 2007, everything changed when the market crashed and forced him to close down the company he had devoted himself to for years. He was left in a state of loss and disillusion.
"As my company plummeted, my wealth with God plummeted," Kwak told The Christian Post in a recent interview. "I lost my desire to go on, I didn't care about life as a whole."
Feeling down and out, the 32-year-old decided on a whim to attend a speaking engagement featuring Loren Cunningham of the global Christian group Youth With A Mission (YWAM). Cunningham's revolutionary vision of youth missions sparked something in Kwak, and for the first time he paused and asked himself, "What am I doing here?"
Being a member of a New Jersey worship community, Metro Community Church, Kwak determined that a good first step forward into his new life would be to volunteer his time with a Metro Community Church partner and 501(c)(3) organization known as Zimele, a Zulu word meaning "to stand on one's own feet."
Zimele is a nonprofit organization working with rural South African women to create sustainable community-owned development. The homegrown, grassroots approach of Zimele was as an anomaly to Kwak, who initially was skeptical of the community-owned development model. He asked himself why church members were supporting savings programs, as opposed to addressing immediate concerns such as hunger or helping orphans.
"Sadly, I myself was once a skeptic – I didn't get why Metro was involved with Zimele," he said.
However, Kwak's skepticism changed when he made his first visit to South Africa with the organization in February of 2011, seeing with his own eyes the power and impact that Zimele was making in the impoverished rural communities of South Africa through mircobanks, microbusinesses, and community mentoring.
Seemingly with a stroke of luck and a strong business background behind him, shortly after his fist volunteer trip, Kwak was offered to become Zimele USA's Executive Director.
Despite his reservations about transitioning out of the safety net of the corporate world, Kwak dove-in head first into the challenging world of the global nonprofit, where raising funds for grassroots development projects headed by women in the wealthiest country in Africa is a daunting, but ultimately rewarding task.
"Every day is a challenge. We've been really relying on God every month to provide and I have miracle upon miracle of stories where God has provided for us," Kwak shared. "With this position, I am able to see God in the midst of everything."
Zimele's unique self-help group model includes a cluster level, which brings together leaders from the Zimele community who work to tackle the issues most relevant to the community, including developing innovative solutions to breaking the cycle of poverty and battling HIV/AIDS.
Zimele is currently working to build a federation of its working groups in each cluster to "bring power back to the people."
When asked what he most appreciated about his unexpected career transition working with Zimele, Kwak shared insight that was both personal and inspiring.
Kwak said, "Every time I step foot in the community it's not our staff that's leading us, it's the women of the community that show us what they have been able to build and accomplish, and when you look into their eyes you see that dignity is restored.
"When you see somebody has dignity in their eyes and their hopes and dreams have been restored, that's one of the most beautiful things you can see. On top of that, when you see that they have hope in Christ and their spiritual life is being enriched, that's just an amazing experience. "
Despite his joy at his newfound position and restored faith in the love of God, Kwak knows as well as anyone that sometimes in life one must surrender to God in order to be set back onto his or her own path.
"If you would have asked me one year ago I would have said 'No way,'" he said of his career transition. "It's been a blessing and a miracle, really. I've been humbled every step of the way."