written by: Elaine Tomski
“What are you going to be when you grow up?” Tim Troyer’s father asked him this question when Tim was barely four years old.
Without hesitation, Tim answered, “I’m gonna be a blacksmith.”
Tim’s dad did not expect a young boy living in the Philippines to know anything about blacksmithing, but curious to discover Tim’s thoughts, he asked, “What does a blacksmith do?”
Tim’s answer: “Well, he puts something metal in a fire and makes it hot. Then he hits it with a hammer and makes something.”
Last month, we discovered that Tim was raised in a missionary family and founded The Reckoning International and Forest of Hope. He serves with many others to help people make a life and a living. Tim is always open to opportunities to share God’s love. He even pastored in the Sugarcreek, Ohio, area for nineteen years. Still, the desire to be a blacksmith, which God placed in Tim’s little-boy heart, never went away. Like his mother, he enjoys making things with his hands. So, one day, grown-up Tim decided to make a knife.
“I never intended to be a knifemaker. I just wanted to make one knife for myself.” Then, Tim needed to make another knife to correct the flaws in his first one. “Number two was better, but I wanted to try again for a good result.” While making the third knife, Tim began receiving requests from other people to make knives for them. Tim said, “Sure! That’s how I became a knifemaker. And, lo and behold, I ended up being a blacksmith!”
WHAT IS IN YOUR HAND?
Tim thought it odd for a pastor to make knives, but remembers, “After I started, and got better at it, I became really fascinated with it!” One day, Tim was driving alone in his car and thinking about how much he loved his weird hobby. Then he spoke out loud, “Lord, I want you to know, if there’s anything I can do with knifemaking to bless your heart or further your purposes, I put it on the altar. Take it.” Immediately, Tim felt silly for saying such a thing to the Creator of the Universe. After all, Tim was just an amateur knifemaker. “Then,” says Tim, “I didn’t hear a voice, but I received a clear message to my heart, saying, That’s precious to me. You’re offering me your heart and your passion. Never discount that.”
Then, Tim recalled the biblical account of Moses in Exodus 4. “God came to Moses, and Moses felt incapable, like he was not valuable enough to play a part in God’s purposes.” He had many excuses for God. Moses was insecure about his speaking abilities. He thought Pharaoh would not believe him. Moses felt sure Pharaoh would not believe the message was from God.
“And the LORD said unto [Moses], What is that in thine hand? And he said, A rod” (Exodus 4:2).
Tim says, “God used what was in Moses’ hand to accomplish miraculous deeds and free his people from slavery. The stick in Moses’ hand was the same stick used to separate the Red Sea and allow a victorious exodus for the Hebrew people.” Tim realized God could use what was in his hand, too, and remained open to the possibilities.
Now, Tim has been making knives for over twenty years and teaches others how to use their hands to create knives. Jesse Miller, Stelyn Raber, and Jordan Chumney work with Tim at Sugarcreek Forge. Together, they create custom products, collaborate on projects, and teach others how to become knifemakers and great leaders. They offer opportunities and change lives.
In 2014, a possibility became a reality when Tim met a modern-day Moses with the last name Tenywa. Although Tim was reluctant to use the time and energy, a persistent voice helped him see God’s plan. That voice was Melissa Herman.
Melissa has an agricultural degree from Ohio State University and serves as a full-time soil scientist with The Reckoning International. Since 2013, Melissa has been helping people overcome poverty through opportunity by working with farmers in Uganda and Kenya. Tim says, “She does a lot to advance our agri-based projects.”
One day, Tim was weary and ready to leave Uganda after a Forest of Hope visit. He had pushed through jet lag, packed tons of effort into several twelve-hour workdays, and was facing a two-day trip through three airports to get home. Suddenly, ding, a text message came through from Melissa.
“Hey, on your way to the airport, I want you to stop and meet this professor. He’s a great guy I met at Ohio State.”
“I don’t want to meet anybody right now. I’m tired and icky. I don’t think I can even be nice.”
“You’re going to meet him, you’re going to be Christlike, and you’re going to be nice. You can stop and have a cup of coffee with him, and then you can go home.”
Soon, Tim was shaking the hand of Dr. Moses Tenywa, head of the agriculture department for Uganda’s largest university. Dr. Tenywa was a Ugandan native who had gone to Ohio State on a scholarship and returned to his country with a doctorate in agriculture.
While conversing about cows and the professor’s opportunities at Ohio State, Tim also learned Dr. Tenywa had founded a small church in his village and was deeply concerned about the fatherless young men unable to find jobs. Tim reports the unemployment rate in Uganda, for people age thirty and under, is a whopping 63 percent.
Dr. Tenywa gave the young men small jobs such as yard work to do around the church, but they needed real employment. Dr. Tenywa told Tim, “We don’t really make anything in Uganda anymore, but hundreds of years ago we were known as blacksmiths. We want to make knives, but I don’t know anything about making knives. Last week, I prayed, ‘Lord, help me find someone who knows how to make knives.’ ”
Tim was stunned. “I about fell on the floor! It was a really cool, divine appointment. I thought, Look at what God is doing!” And sometimes, God speaks through a persistent woman named Melissa.
Tim explained to Dr. Tenywa that he was a knife maker and knew what the young men needed. Tim said, “I’ll come and teach them.”
Once Tim was back in Ohio, he sent funds and emailed plans for a forge to Dr. Tenywa. Tim told the professor to begin gathering charcoal, a truck’s brake drum, and several other items on a list.
On his next trip to Uganda, Tim brought board members from Forest of Hope to visit Dr. Tenywa so that more preparation and planning could take place. A couple of months later, Tim says, “I returned with some friends who could help me with the teaching.”
The forge is set up in the village of Bamba, located just north of Uganda’s capital, Kampala. Since there is no source for high-carbon steel in Uganda, the knives are made from recycled car parts. “We forge them out of Land Rover leaf springs and coil springs.”
According to the Jake Hoback Knives website, “The forge was started in a wooden shack with a tin roof, an anvil, hand tools, and some fired-up young men. Over the last few years, they have worked really hard to hone their skills and move toward being sustainable as a business.” The forge team outgrew a second workshop and currently operates in a permanent brick open-air building four times larger than their last one. Bamba Forge’s new home includes a secure office, a training room, and a dining room for the guys. In addition to the forge area, a portion of the new building houses a sawmill.
With Bamba Forge now a 501(c)(3) organization, Tim works with Ugandan leaders to provide livelihoods. “We want our relationship with the people of Uganda to help advance their communities and create opportunities for people who would not have hope, otherwise.” Even the employees at the hotel where Tim and his friends stay while in Uganda are more hopeful. When Tim shows them the knives created by the team at Bamba Forge, they proudly inquire, “These were made in Uganda?”
The Bamba Forge team members are gaining knowledge and skill. “But,” says Tim, “for me, it’s more about the people. When we met Sam, he basically had his pants, shirt, and flip-flops.” He slept on a bench and had not worked for several years. Tim told Sam, “God loves you. It’s not God’s will that you feel adrift and have nothing to do. God has a plan. We want to teach you how to make knives.”
It must have been God’s plan, indeed. According to Tim, “Sam took to knife-making as a duck takes to water!” In a short time, Sam moved through the many levels of skill required to be a talented knifemaker. Learn and practice. Learn and practice. Learn and practice. The artistic qualities seemed to come naturally to Sam. Tim says, “It’s like the difference between being a cabinet maker and a woodcarver.” Seeing Sam go from just having clothes on his back to having a small place to live, some animals, and working at the forge confirmed the purpose Tim and his partners held for Bamba Forge. “Sam became really good at it! He is now married and has a child. He’s a skilled man.”
Ivan is not just another guy at the forge. He has a history not one of us would care to claim. Ivan has no idea who his father is. His mother abandoned Ivan when he was only six weeks old, leaving him at her father’s house, never to return. Thankfully, his blind grandfather raised Ivan to the best of his ability, and Dr. Tenywa helped Ivan find his way to Bamba Forge.
One day, while Tim’s knifemaking buddy from Chattanooga, Tennessee, demonstrated knifemaking to Ivan, the young man’s tears dropped onto the blade. Ivan said, “This is the first time anyone has taught me to do anything.”
Ivan’s mentor revealed that his mom also had given him away at birth. The sting of rejection had pierced both of their hearts. After tears came the hugs.
Ivan cried, “I don’t know what to do. I feel like a big kid. I don’t have anyone to show me how to have a family and be responsible.” But now, Ivan is becoming a man with the help of new father figures and his brothers at Bamba Forge.
Martin’s story also holds tragedy. As a young boy, Martin was diagnosed with sickle cell anemia. Martin’s dad determined to provide medical treatment for his son and made the mistake of borrowing money from loan sharks. When Martin’s dad couldn’t pay back the money, the loan sharks came around. Tim says, “They came and beat up Martin’s dad and Martin.” His dad did not survive the beating, so little Martin grew up homeless, eating out of the trash heaps.
Professor Tenywa invited Martin to the Bamba Forge family. Tim says, “Martin was only seventeen or eighteen when we met him. He was quiet, didn’t smile, and had only three years of education. Having adult males around who loved him, little by little brought Martin out of his shell.”
The guys taught him, teased him, and put him into fun-loving headlocks. They made him one of them. In response, Martin gained his true value. Martin said, “I never could say I’m anything. I just felt like a nothing. Now, I’m a knifemaker.”
Along with the anemia, Martin had asthma. Tragically, a couple of years ago, Martin died from an asthma attack. Tim and the guys of Bamba Forge paid for Martin’s funeral and went to his home village to pay their respects. Tim says, “Knowing Martin and watching him grow had a big impact on all of us. Our product isn’t about knives. It’s about transforming lives.”
One of the young men who worked at the forge is the oldest of seven children. When his parents died, he became the father of six siblings at the age of sixteen, working any jobs he could find. Although this young man dreamed of attending college, he sacrificed his dream to care for his family. He even helped one of his siblings gain a scholarship to attend college.
Bamba Forge is a place where boys become men. “We do a lot of work to train and develop good, plain values in our people.” It’s about relationships. By partnering with others to teach values, we give value to life. “The forge guys meet weekly to study values from the book of Proverbs.” They learn forty different principles, all coming directly from God’s true Word. The lessons prove to develop character in the young men who lack such training from a father. The following are a few examples of the Proverbs learned and the values they teach.
Attitude: “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones” (Proverbs 17:22).
Proper Thinking: “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7).
Restraint: “He that keepeth his mouth keepeth his life: but he that openeth wide his lips shall have destruction” (Proverbs 13:3).
Productivity: “Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox” (Proverbs 14:4).
Generosity: “He that giveth unto the poor shall not lack: but he that hideth his eyes shall have many a curse” (Proverbs 28:27).
Criticism: “He that refuseth instruction despiseth his own soul: but he that heareth reproof getteth understanding” (Proverbs 15:32).
In addition to the young men developing individual character as they practice these values, there is also a more vibrant work environment, a brotherhood. “At Bamba Forge, the value is experienced, not just spoken over them,” says Tim. “They love it!”
The goal for Bamba Forge is to become self-supporting. Tim says, “We’re not there yet, but we’re making good progress toward that end. One way to improve business sustainability is to diversify.” In addition to making knives, Bamba Forge has launched a welding operation and added a sawmill in their new workshop. “We bought a sawmill and had it shipped to the forge in Bamba.” The forge guys will cut boards from the trees of Forest of Hope, supporting both ministries.
Tim says, “Widows plant trees to help orphans go to school and orphans cut the trees into lumber to make them more valuable. We can sell the boards for more than we can sell the tree. That’s a value add.”
Tim shared that on their last trip to Uganda, “We were able to meet a guy who owns a tannery. We bought leather to make sheaths for knives. I bring home these knives to sell here.” Bamba Forge will soon have a sales opportunity through www.knivesshipfree.com. “We have a large company that wants to buy our knives and sell them for us. It’s just on the horizon.”
CHANGING A LIFE
“It only takes a little to change a life.” Tim Troyer has witnessed this reality over and over again. Maybe it’s the reason he remains passionate about heeding God’s direction and using what is in his hand. He understands the dignity of loving another human being and connecting them to the Lord. It’s plain and simple. Generosity is shared.
God generously shares His provision with His people. God places what He purposes into our hands, and then asks us to use it for good. It’s true. When we love God, He gives us the purpose, provision, and ability to love others.
So, what is in your hand? Why not use it to change a life?
If you would like to support life change for orphaned and at-risk young men in Uganda, please use the following address:
Tim Troyer // Sugarcreek Forge
P.O. Box 527, Sugarcreek, OH 44681 // (330) 763-4786
Bamba Forge knives can be viewed on the Sugarcreek Forge Facebook page. No access to the internet? No problem. If you want to purchase a knife, simply mail Tim a letter, include your mailing address, and request Bamba Forge knife information. He will gladly mail you a price sheet and ordering information.