Sunday, December 14, 2014

Changes, Changes...

This is my last day in Kenya as a resident.  I leave Kenya this afternoon and will return at the end of February.  But when I return, I will return as a guest.

I have lived in Africa since 2005 and this is the first time since then that I am adjusting myself to become a resident of Michigan again.  The times that I have been home since 2005 were either for transition time to a new country or to work from the US while my kids were home in the summer.

So there is some identity shifting that is happening again and most of it is good.  It is right that this happen at this time.  If Church-based Business as Mission is to become a global ministry, the work must be developed in a way that is more global than African.  And at the rate of demand that we are seeing from multiple countries, it is no longer efficient for me to live in a country for two-three years to implement.

But change is always stressful and usually a bit painful.  It is bittersweet.  While I am looking forward to living with my husband and being closer to my children, it means I need to say goodbye to life here.  While I am excited about starting this work in Egypt and Ghana in 2015, I feel like I was just getting to know Kenya.  Relationships are beginning to blossom and that growth will be interrupted.  And the work feels like it is exploding now, with calls and emails from people wanting to know more and have us come to their area.

And so leaving is a bit painful.

But I am sure that leaving is the right thing to do at this time.  It has helped that I have left twice before and have seen the work continue even stronger in my absence, in both Liberia and Ghana.  It helps to know that there are very strong Kenyan men and women who can take this work and carry it further with greater vision and passion than what I bring.  In fact, I had a most amazing meeting on Friday with the Advocacy sub-committee as they argued with passion about keeping this work Church-based, and not focused on growth and numbers.  I actually teared up to hear them make arguments about something I am so passionate about, and to hear them argue with more wisdom than I have!

Two weeks ago we began to do the final surveys for the pilot project, which will be in progress until the end of March.  I also posted two new positions to start April 1st as we transition from a pilot project to a permanent department of the Africa Theological Seminary.  I pray for good leaders to come forward and apply.  And I have to trust that He who began this work before I even conceived of it will be faithful to complete it and carry it on.  I have no doubt that He is in this and will do this.

But I have to admit as well that I leave with some sense of fear. Africa keeps me grounded and keeps me real.  When I live in the US, I tend to forget about real life struggles.  My vision starts to narrow.  For example, this past week I witnessed three accidents.  That alone keeps me praying for traveling mercies every day for myself and loved ones.  And I am so aware of God's protection over me in nine years to not have had an accident (other than bumping a person in Liberia with my side-view mirror which nearly resulted in a riot).  Another example:  This past week, the car I used was being used for surveys, and so I had to go by motorcycle taxi in the rain to a meeting.  As I rode and grumbled in my heart because I was cold and wet, that grumble lasted just an instant before I realized that many more people were walking in the rain because they couldn't afford the motorcycle taxi.  Additionally, daily here we hear news about people being killed because of their faith or dying due to medical issues in which "it becomes too expensive to save" the person (as a pastor wrote me this week about one of our business members who died at a young age).  The US news seems obsessive in what I would call trite stories of celebrities or stories of "national interest."

I will miss that immediate, in-your-face, perspective.

I live so simply here and I fear entering a consumerist society and falling into the trap of what I "need."  For example, for the past couple of months I have only had a toaster oven in my room on which to cook.  I could have gone to buy a hot plate and propane tank but I decided to be content with it and figure out how to cook with a toaster oven (it's actually quite a useful appliance!).  I would never had made that decision if I lived in the US.

And so I worry and fear.  And I feel sadness and grief.  I love Africa.  I love the people, the culture, the roads (yes, the roads!  I love driving in the mud and dodging potholes and donkeys and cows and people and motorcycles!), the animals, the environment.  I will miss monkeys trying to break into the office or my room and the sound of their feet running on the roof.  [I will NOT miss noisy banded crows that I would love to take out with a slingshot.]  I will miss the beautiful nature of this country.  I will miss worship in Swahili.  I will miss how open and accessible life is here.  I love so much and have learned so much.  Africa has truly changed me and I know that I will always be a "third culture" person, not really fitting in either Africa or the US.

But I trust God's leading and guiding.  He has not failed me yet (even though I have disagreed with Him about some paths and have been surprised by Him on other paths) and I believe He has a plan going forward that will not only be good for Discipling Marketplace Leaders, but also good for Renita Reed-Thomson, His American-Kenyan-Ghanaian-Liberian-Canadian daughter.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

An Opportunity to Pray...and to Give....

Last week's picture with Moffat Weru in the center.
I don't think I write posts like this very often.  I usually try to stay away from requesting donations in my blog, keeping the blog more purely a journal.  But I feel compelled about this one.

Moffat Weru, the pastor that I wrote about just last week, suffered a great loss this week.  As I mentioned last week, Pastor Weru is a student at the Africa Theological Seminary and is the pastor of the Faith Tabernacle International Ministries in Kitale.  He is passionate about Church-based Business as Mission and hopes to start a class in his church soon in cooperation with several other churches.  He and his wife own a motorcycle parts shop in Kitale.  It is his business that allows him to go to school at ATS, put food on his table, and (as is the case with most pastors here who are bi-vocational) allows him to be a pastor. 

On Wednesday evening, at 10 pm, he received a call that the two "hotels" very close to his business had caught fire ("hotels" in this case refer to small cookshops).  Apparently one of them had left something burning in the coal pot, which then started the fire.  As he rushed to his business, he found hundreds and hundreds of motorcycle taxis (boda-bodas) jamming the street in front of the fire.  He heard them calling their friends to come to where the fire was.

The two hotels burned to the ground.
He fought his way through the crowd to get to his business.  Upon arriving, he found the iron door had been broken down and the contents of his shop had been moved into the middle of the big crowd.  The large glass cabinet, which held about $5000 worth of small parts had been moved into the middle of the big crowd with the glass had been broken and contents gone, and the large shipment that had not yet been unpacked, was gone.  The people watching this fire said they broke in to help save the contents.  Yet they skipped the other two businesses that were closer to the fire.  Why is that you might ask?  Well, it seems they wanted the parts and saw an opportunity.  As they "helped" to "save" his supplies, they also helped themselves.  As Moffat went to the back of the building, he found that they had also broken into that side of the building to help themselves to the stock in his storeroom.

Pastor Weru's shop is the one in the corner.
But thankfully, Moffat had done everything right.  He had fire and theft insurance AND the businesses there together had hired a security firm (who is covered by their insurance if there is theft on their watch). BUT Moffat's insurance and the security insurance ruled that because of the large crowd and the nature of them breaking in to "save" his things, that this was "terrorism and political violence" and therefore he was not covered.  When he pushed them on this, that the cause of this was the fire, they said that he should not have removed the items from the store (which he didn't).  He should have left it to burn and then they would cover it.  The total loss of goods totaled about $10,000 US - a large amount for any person anywhere to lose, but particularly devastating in Kitale, Kenya.  I didn't ask Moffat if he had taken the new goods on loan, which is typical - I think I was afraid to hear the answer.
Pastor Weru, his wife, and two daughters.

What makes me angry here is that he had done everything right.  He was a hard worker. He had insurance.  He had security.  He was using his business to bless Kitale, not only in the business but also by allowing it to allow him to pastor a church.  He was pursuing his theological education.  He is passionate about business being a good and holy calling.  And the week after being commissioned as a Marketplace Minister, this happens.  And yet, as you can see by the picture of Moffat, his wife, and two beautiful girls, the smile on his face has not left.  He believes that God can bring good from this and will continue to put one foot in front of another.  He will revive his shop and sell to those who stole from him.

If you are interested in helping Moffat recover from this by making a donation, please go to www.icmusa.org and select my name.  In the comment section, please note:  "20065M - Pastor Weru" and I will make sure it gets to him.  Or maybe you would like to pay for his next class at ATS, which is $200; if so, write "20065M - Pastor Weru scholarship."  If instead you would like to give Moffat a loan to help him rebuild his shop, please email me at renitar@icmusa.org.  We offer 5% interest to those who would like to invest money in businesses for a year, so if you invested $1000, at the end of the year we would return your $1000 investment with interest.  Either a gift or a loan would bless him. 

Please pray for him, his family, and his church.  I am thankful for the body of Christ around the world!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Churches Engaged!

These are all the pastors who took their time to be present with us!
New Marketplace Ministers
This past Sunday we had the graduation and commissioning of the third group of Marketplace Ministers from the Kitale Friends Church.  Let me clarify to say the host was the Kitale Friends Church, but there were a total of sixteen churches represented in this group of 36 Marketplace Ministers.  The Friends Church continues to push the Church-based Business as Mission throughout their denomination while at the same having open, welcoming arms to Christian business people of all denominations.  We are learning how to do this ministry with multiple churches, because the goal is not just to graduate and commission Marketplace Ministers, but to have the local churches of the Ministers be the sending church, to give ongoing support, discipleship, encouragement, and accountability.  The Friends Church saw with this third class that there was beginning to be some suspicion creeping in from other churches, who thought that they might be trying to steal their members.  They tried to meet with the pastors, but couldn't get them to turn out.  So they asked the Discipling Marketplace Leaders office to have the meeting.  We called, and eight of the sixteen pastors showed up.  But the room felt quite cold.  However by the end of the meeting, they understood what we are doing and that this is for all churches.  The Holy Spirit moved and by the end they too were excited about this ministry.  They all turned up for the commissioning, including the pastors who didn't come to our meeting, and they promised to do an affirmation and sending of their members from their church.  Praise God!

Alexie, on the right; her "sister" Grace next to her.
One of the graduates is Alexie.  She comes from Vihiga, which is 135 km from Kitale.  She is a member of the Friends Church and when she heard about this class, she just knew she had to come.  So each Friday for twelve weeks, she traveled three hours each way by public transport, spending $21 on transport each week, to attend the class.  After just a few classes she was sold, and when she heard there was going to be a Training of Trainers session coming up, she signed up.  She completed successfully, and despite her self-doubt in her accounting ability, received the highest exam score!  She organized 25 businesses people from her church and the surrounding area, and started a class three weeks ago.  This woman believes in moving!  She is such a dear, precious, godly woman.  I am so excited to see how God is going to use her in this ministry. 

Churches are engaged and it is spreading!  Last week I had two different trainers stop by to talk about areas where they want to start a training.  For both of them, I was able to pull up my trainers list (seventy strong now) and connect them with one or two trainers in the geographical area where they desired to go.  We connected them and now they can work together to organize business people in their areas!  I was also able to start spending time gathering data for the work that has been done in Western Kenya thus far.  I put a map together to show where our ToTs are so far, which was fun.  They come from six mainline denominations and 28 independent, and are spread across 23 different cities, in three major concentrations in Western Kenya.  Only God could do this in two years!   
Map of where Discipling Marketplace Leaders Trainers are located
Moffet Weru (center) is the Pastor of Faith Tabernacle International Ministries, Kitale.  He is a BA Theology student at ATS, a ToT for Church-based Business as Mission, and he brought eight members of his church to this training.  He is now going to launch a training with a couple of other churches in his area who also are Trainers.  This is about multiplication and we are seeing happen!  This will make the third location in Kitale alone!
We have one more commissioning before I leave on December 15 in Kakamega, and the Africa Gospel Church will have one shortly after I leave.

God is good, all the time; and all the time, God is good...and that is His nature!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Do They Know It's Christmas?

Last Tuesday, my class at the Africa Theological Seminary presented their group papers.  One of the groups presented splendidly on how charity has hurt Africa and they articulated their position in a way that made this teacher heart proud.

That evening, I received a posting from my former colleague, Jeff Bloem, regarding the organization BandAid putting out a remix of an old song, Do They Know It's Christmas? to raise money for Ebola.  The leader for this movement, Bob Geldof, is someone that we discuss in class as an example of how NOT to do aid.  He is quoted as saying, "We have to do something, even if it doesn't work."  No, Bob.  We must use our head as much as our heart and do the right thing.  Sometimes helping hurts.  And if it hurts, it is not the right thing to do.

So wincing, I went to the website and saw the words of the song.  Sigh.  Fears were confirmed.

First of all, the title is demeaning.  Of course they know it's Christmas.  Liberia is a Christian country and all three countries hardest hit by Ebola have Christmas as a public holiday.  Secondly, they treat the continent of Africa as a country. It is a continent of 55 countries, 1000 ethnic groups, 2000 languages and dialects, and is geographically bigger than China, the US and Europe combined!  Third, the lyrics say of Africa “where nothing ever grows, no rain or rivers flow” and “where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears.” Wow.  So one billion people should just give up and wait for the aid to come.  Nothing ever grows.  Are you sure, Bob Geldof et al?  Never mind that Africa is the world's richest continent in terms of natural resources.  Never mind that the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, and Zimbabwe have enough agricultural potential to feed the entire continent of Africa! Fourth, these lyrics:
There’s a world outside your window, and it’s a world of dread and fear
Where a kiss of love can kill you, and there’s death in every tear
And the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom.
Death in every tear? The percentage of the population in Liberia with Ebola is 0.2% (Sierra Leone - 0.1%; Guinea - 0.02%).  I point this out not to undermine the seriousness of Ebola, but do they have to be so very dramatic and manipulative of the audience?  Can they use their brain in this?

There just doesn't seem to be much of an excuse for how insulting this is, especially in this day and age, where it only takes two seconds of a Google search to come up with a more correct view of Africa.  I was embarrassed in front of my students for how insulting "my people" are (and yes, all white people apparently are my people) and I had to apologize (again). I encouraged them to get angry and speak out - to let people know that this type of aid is not welcome.  We welcome those who want to come alongside those in need but to engage their heart and their head and not damage the image of one billion people in the process.

If you are friends with me on Facebook, you saw my rant about this already.  I have copied one of the responses to this song below, because in the midst of my anger, it made me laugh.  And it really is better to laugh, because very close behind the laughter is tears, brought on by outrage and the continued misrepresentation and mistreatment of so many - often in the name of Christianity and good intentions.

[From http://www.vox.com/xpress/2014/11/18/7242291/band-aid-30-single]
Having watched the video, I have a number of questions. For instance:

  1. Do Bob Geldof & Co. know that 87% of Liberians are Christian, as are substantial minorities in Guinea and Sierra Leone?
  2. If so, why does the song spend so much time asking if they "know it's Christmastime at all"?
  3. How many Africans need to learn about Christmas in order to cure Ebola?
  4. Can learning about other holidays also cure disease?
  5. Could knowing that it's Columbus Day cure malaria?
  6. How can you be so sure?
  7. Well have you run a randomized controlled trial on the anti-viral properties of holiday knowledge?
  8. Why are they singing "it's Christmastime" in early November?
  9. Is it possible that Bob Geldof & Co. are the ones who are having difficulty pinning down the existence and timing of Christmas?
  10. Did they get their calendar information from the same source that told them that there is "death in every tear" in West Africa?
  11. Shouldn't they know that there is death in, at most, a fraction of a percentage of all tears, once infection and survival rates are taken into account?
  12. Why didn't the song's writers feel an obligation to be more accurate in their lyrics?
  13. Because it's art? Really?
  14. Hahahahaha, no really why?
  15. Why did the song's producer respond to measured criticism from a Liberian academic by angrily asking if she wanted people to "sit back and do nothing?"
  16. Is he under the impression that the only available options for Ebola relief are "produce and market a stereotype-laden pop song that offends the people it's supposed to be helping" or "do nothing"?
  17. Is anyone else growing increasingly curious about where these guys get their information?
  18. Has anyone told them that Wikipedia is a thing?
  19. Or, you know, Oxfam?
  20. Speaking of which, where is the money from this campaign actually going?
  21. The Band Aid website just says "all proceeds from the Band Aid 30 competition will be donated to the intervention and prevention of the spread of Ebola"; doesn't that seem a little unspecific?
  22. Can't they tell us the actual charity?
  23. Could they give us a hint?
  24. Even if we promised to keep it a secret?
  25. Please?
What is sad is that it is one thing for these artists to be so ignorant and insulting about Africa.  But it's quite another to note that this song sold $1.7 million in the first four or five minutes.  Does that mean that so many people are really this ignorant?  Or maybe they just don't care but want to feel good about doing something?  Or maybe they want to care about Ebola but don't really care about the manner that the people dealing with Ebola are cared for?

"The important thing to remember is that compassion is not simply vehement expression of a point of view. The compassionate person has to consider the practical effects of what he is giving." (Theodore Dalrymple, Author Life at the Bottom)

If you want to help in the fight against Ebola and want to give to a ministry that uses its head and heart, consider giving to ICM.  Go to www.icmusa.org.  

And now, because I believe every blog should have pictures, let me share with you a couple of pictures from yesterday.  I had the opportunity to preach at the East Africa Christian Reformed Church of Sande, which is close to Kitale, Kenya.  I think this is the first real CRC church that I have visited in Africa (the CRC in Liberia didn't really count since they only said they were CRC because the Reeds were CRC).  This church had a pastor who graduated from Calvin Seminary in 1984, they recited the Apostles Creed (in Swahili) and sang songs I knew (except in Swahili :) ).  It was great to be with them and we hope to engage them more on Church-based Business as Mission.  

A small, rural church who is passionate for Christ!
The leaders of four CRCs in Western Kenya.  The pastor of this particular CRC is to the right of me.  Two of the pastors in this picture have gone through the ToT for Church-based Business as Mission and we hope they will start training soon.
As a gift for preaching in the Luhya tradition, I am given a live chicken, bananas and a cabbage.  Poor thing had to stay tied in my car for a number of hours as I was busy all day, but he survived!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Toilet Paper...and Second Marriages

I made it back to Kitale from the US on Tuesday morning at 9:30 am, after a 29 hour trip.  I had to begin teaching at 11 am.  During the travel, I came down with a cold from my dear husband, despite his best efforts not to give it to me.  I was jet-lagged, felt lousy, and exhausted, but started teaching anyway.  It was a very full week with the alumni conference here at the seminary, lots of guests, meetings, and lots of catching up to do after being gone for two weeks.  On Thursday night, I received a text message telling me that the commissioning service scheduled for that Sunday was going to be pushed back a week.  For a moment, I was happy because it meant I had the Sunday off.  Ten minutes later I received a text from a pastor of a large church in Eldoret, asking if I would preach and then lead a seminar this Sunday on business as mission and family budgeting, subjects that are passions of mine.  I know that I'm leaving Kenya in about a month and opportunities to speak should be taken when they can. What to do.

My dear husband, of course, urged me not to do it.  "The time is too short to plan a message and seminar, plus you still have to teach on Friday and Saturday.  Your body needs a rest.  You need to rest."
Dr. Walker, the founder of ATS and a friend and mentor to me, urged me not to do it, telling me over and over again that I need margin in my life and that I need space for quiet. And what did Renita do?  She accepted, of course, and began working at each spare moment on her message and presentation. Both men shook their heads.

On Saturday morning, I woke up with a fever, lungs hurting, and voice strained.  I was to teach from 8 am - noon.  I made it until 11 am with the help of cold medicine but then stopped.  And I decided to cancel Sunday, much to the chagrin of the pastor (and myself, to be honest).  I spent the day sleeping and hanging my head over a bowl of hot water trying to clear my lungs.

What does this have to do with toilet paper and second marriages?  Good question.  This week's debate with Michael about my work load was reminiscent of debates I had with Bob.  Bob's two biggest complaints about me were that 1. I'm too serious, and 2. I live in "what's next" mode.  This week I saw a glimpse of Michael understanding why this was a complaint of Bob's.  [So far Michael is very positive about my approach to life.  He says very positively, "you get more done than anyone I know in a day!"  But I know what that could turn into if I'm not careful.]

It reminded me of the "great debate" that Michael and I had this summer.  The toilet paper debate.  You see, when I married Bob, I believed that toilet paper should come from the bottom, or point A on the picture.  I actually think that Canadians tend to have it come that way.  Bob thought it should come from the top, or point B.  And we didn't resolve that argument - whoever happened to change the toilet paper would put it his/her way.  Over the years, I came to appreciate that having the paper come from the top was more logical (easier to grab), but I don't think I ever told him that.  Michael has the toilet paper coming from the bottom - and he is Canadian - go figure.  So we had a fun debate about it.  In the end, he said that he really doesn't care which way the toilet paper roll is hung.  My quick counter was, "if you don't care, then just do it my way."  And he agreed.  I was pretty surprised; it caused me to pause and reflect on his gracious response.  Michael is able to be a stubborn man - he proudly declares that.  My name means "firm of purpose" and I too can take pride in being stubborn.  It's one of the reasons I fell in love with him - we have great debates on many topics together.  So why did he give in on this?

This week a friend, Shirley Hoogstra, posted an article that gave a bit of insight on this.  The article was on the scientific finding that lasting relationships depend on two basic traits: kindness and generosity (to read article go here).  More specifically it talks about "bids" that partners make for connections - for example, "look at that beautiful bird outside" - the partner can either turn toward this "bid" or turn away from it.  The scientist who did this study can predict with 94% certainty whether or not relationships are doomed to fail or be unhappy if the responder turns away from such bids with contempt, criticism or hostility. It describes kindness in one of two ways - either it is a fixed trait, or it is a muscle that can grow stronger with exercise.  The article states that one way to practice kindness is to be generous about your partners intentions.  Over the twenty months that Michael and I have been together, I have seen him turn toward my "bids" so naturally each time; I have seen him practice kindness and generosity over and over again, so naturally.  You might say, but this is still young love - give it time.  But at 45 and 49 years old, it is difficult to "pretend" for this long of a period without reality showing.  I am so thankful for the kind and generous spirit that Michael has toward me, as well as to so many others.  He teaches me about turning toward bids and I hope to exercise my kindness muscle to be ever responsive to him.

And who knows?  Maybe I'll start turning the toilet paper the other way.

[Oh, who am I kidding?  I can't change.  It's not logical to have it come down the back side, to have to reach an extra three inches and bang into the wall!  sigh...Sorry, Michael. I'll focus on trying to say "no" more often.]

Monday, November 3, 2014

Firsts - Looking at things for the first time...

This week I am back in the US with two colleagues from Kenya, Pastor Charles Keya from the Deliverance Church in Kakamega and Richard Lukuyu from the Friends (Quakers) Church in Kitale.  This has been a time of many firsts for them, and it has been fun for me to see those firsts through their eyes.
Leaving Nairobi.
  • For both of them, it is their first time in the US.  
  • For one of them, it was his first time on a plane.
  • It was their first sighting of fall, with leaves changing colors.
  • It was their first Halloween and they tried to understand the meaning of it.
  • It was their first time change which also seemed strange, as they observed that it was still dark at 8 am and the days seemed shorter than their days in Kenya.
  • They had their first sighting of snow. They had hoped for enough to make a snowman, but the rest of us were thankful that wish did not come true.
  • For one, it was his first tasting of cheese (he didn't like it) and butter (which he liked).
  • For both it was their first taste of asparagus, couscous, salmon, key lime pie, and many other foods.  (However, without ugali and chapati, most meals felt lacking without these Kenyan staples.)
  • It was their first time seeing a pastor preach in a t-shirt (Madison Square Church).
  • It was a first to see church announcements start and finish in two minutes (in Pastor Charle's church, announcements alone can take an hour; then an hour for preaching and an hour for praise and worship).
They have been able to share about the work of Church-based Business as Mission a few times and the response from those hearing has been very positive and encouraging.  There were questions about why this is not in seminaries in the US and that it needs to be accreditated for seminaries throughout the world.  We thank God for the positive response and the interest in seeing this work grow in churches.

They will be visiting a number of businesses yet this week, then flying to Texas for a conference for church leaders.  We will fly back to Kenya on Sunday.  Thanks to all of you who helped to make this trip possible!
Richard, Charles, and I on the bridge in Grand Rapids.
Richard presenting at the Partners Worldwide conference on the Church-based Business as Mission and the impact of this ministry on his church.
Time with old friends and new friends at the Partners Worldwide conference.  Former intern, Jeff Bloem, was able to spend time with Richard and Charles, much to their enjoyment.
Mary Katerberg graciously opened her home to Charles and Richard during their stay in Grand Rapids.  Thanks, Mary!