Who We Are ~ Founders' Story
Rick was born and raised in Allentown, Pennsylvania, but made his way out west alone by the age of 17. He married, had two children and worked in the restaurant industry in Portland, Oregon, for 10 years. Through a series of unexpected events he ended up divorced, without a job, and with no prospects. At that point, he came to faith in Christ and his life moved in a totally new direction. Rick entered the commercial/residential painting industry and eventually owned two businesses: Master’s Choice Painting and Master’s Choice Photography.
In 1991, he took a pivotal trip to Haiti to build a church in the remote village of Chacha. While there, he found a small, sobbing Haitian child all alone on a pathway. As he picked the child up, he heard God speak into his soul that one day he would work with children such as this. His passion for cross-cultural work was ignited in Haiti and he believed that one day he would dive into the deep end by living and working cross-culturally. He planned to wait until his children were grown and then move to some unknown destination (preferably, in the tropics as he hated to be cold). He figured he’d be doing it alone, since what sane woman would want to move to a developing country with him??
Enter Jeri . . . she could hardly wait to move to Africa!
Jeri, who was born and raised in Vancouver, Washington, had dreamed of living in Africa since childhood, but couldn’t see how that would actually happen in her life, especially since she had married and divorced young and had two small sons. She went back to school and worked in the accounting field for more than a decade before seeing a glimmer of hope that her dream of living in Africa might just come true.
In 1991, through a period of deep grief, she became a follower of Jesus. Then, in 1995, she joined a work team and took her first trip to Tanzania, East Africa. She fell in love with Tanzania and hoped to return there to live one day . . . she hoped she wouldn’t be going alone. Over the years, Jeri had prayed that God would bring her a good husband. She had only three criteria that any future husband would have to meet: 1) he had to follow Christ of his own accord – not just in words, but in heart, soul, and deeds; 2) he had to live an authentic life with her, being willing to talk about anything and everything; and 3) he had to be willing to live in Africa. She knew that the first two items on her list would be tough enough to fill, but that the last item would surely mean she’d be single for life!
Enter Rick . . . he met all the criteria and then some!
Rick and Jeri were married in 1995 and by 2000, with all of their kids grown and out of the house, they had moved to Tanzania. They were missionaries to TZ from 2000-2006. Their vision and passion was to share God’s love for people through tangible means – to show that God knows and cares about them and the everyday needs of their lives.
In Tanzania, Rick was the creator and director of Community Development Ministries for the Church of God of Tanzania. In this capacity he developed and managed three projects aimed at enhancing food security, improving health, and increasing economic viability at the family level. These projects included placing dairy camels with the Maasai tribe in northern TZ, creating a dairy goat project at a local school, and training more than 700 people in the cultivation and uses of the multi-faceted moringa tree. His work also included management of the Church of God Bible School, the building of a dormitory and an office building, and preparing and providing projects for work groups from the U.S.
Jeri was the national director of the Children of Promise child sponsorship program in Tanzania from 2001 until 2005. Safina, as the program is called in TZ, grew under her direction from 300 children sponsored to nearly 700 children, with 200 more who had gone through the screening process and were waiting to be sponsored. Jeri worked with 170 Tanzanian volunteer village committee members to ensure the smooth running of the program.
The focus of Safina was to meet the children’s basic needs for education, good nutrition, healthcare, clothing, and spiritual nurture. Her greatest joys in working with Safina were the opening of the program in remote villages, finding innovative solutions for special-needs children, increasing the sponsorship amount for the children to better meet their needs, creating program guidelines and accountability standards, and building a leadership structure to position the program for future growth.
Rick and Jeri came alive as they lived cross-culturally and worked with people to enhance their lives at the most basic level. They found it to be the most significant, and the hardest, work they had ever done.
In addition to their work in TZ, Rick’s experience includes not only business ownership, but also the management of numerous businesses for others, including restaurants, commercial painting, and water jet cutting. Jeri has worked in the accounting field and higher education for more than 20 years and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. They are both experienced in public speaking, teaching, management, networking, and partnership building.
Rick and Jeri returned to the U.S. in 2007 knowing that they couldn’t forget the needs of others around the world. While their work with the child sponsorship program and animal projects was extremely beneficial for the people with whom they worked, it was the moringa tree that truly captured their passion. It was so simple, yet so powerful and every time they presented it in the villages, it seemed to ignite something in people! When they returned to the U.S., Rick and Jeri sought the best way to put their vision into action and Strong Harvest was born.
“Strong Harvest International was born out of that place where our faith, experience, skills, and passion came together to meet a need in the world. It truly is THE work of our lives.”Jeri Kemmer
Rick and Jeri’s goal, and Strong Harvest’s purpose, is to work in the developing world to assist people to meet their basic needs in ways that reveal the love and care of God for each person, that empower and create dignity in the individual, that are attainable and sustainable at the family level, and that will be passed down from generation to generation. In this way, we hope to bring abundant life to all, both spiritually and physically.