Sunday, March 29, 2020

The Luxury of "Shelter in Place"

I know that the past few weeks have been a hardship for many of us, as we have been confined to our home.  It's been difficult to change the routine of our lives in the light of the threat of COVID-19.

But as I watch what has been unfolding in Europe and the US, I can't help but imagine what the same unfolding will look like in Africa.  For most of us in North America, our "shelter in place" is really a luxury, comparatively speaking.

Most people in the countries where we work in Africa can't work from home as the technology infrastructure is not there.

Most people that we work with in Africa are working each day for their daily bread.  They don't have savings built up for emergencies.  They are often not on salary where they can get enough pay to stock up on items.

As the markets are shut down, many do not have any source of income and a limited supply of food.  Many are saying that "we will die of starvation before COVID-19."

There is no unemployment insurance.
There is no aid package going out to help each citizen financially.
There are no food banks.

And then we look at the medical infrastructure in many African countries.  Mali has one ventilator for every one million people, for a total of twenty in the entire nation.  Kenya, a country of 50 million people, has a total of 550 ICU beds.  Many nations in Africa have no isolation wards.  And this says nothing about the ability to even give the COVID-19 tests.

In general, African nations have much fewer weapons at their disposal for fighting this virus.

Many countries, like Burkina Faso and Cameroon, have hundreds of thousands of people in Internally Displaced Persons camps where there is no opportunity for "shelter in place."  [The pictures in this blog are from homes where our DML teams have already delivered food.  You can see that the shelters are not ones that are secure from a virus.

Many African nations have gone into lock-down.  In Uganda, we hear of the police "caning" some people into compliance.  In Kenya, police are clubbing people into compliance, as well as using tear gas and other violent measures.  In some countries, there are reports of people being shot for not complying.  One journalist wrote that "it is evident that COVID-19 will be spread more by the actions of the police than by those who have contravened the curfew."

The reality is that people need food, water, and sanitation.  Maybe they will stay indoors for the first day or two, but then as hunger sets in, they will move out.

It is reported that China waited too long to act.  It certainly seems that the US waited too long to act.  We don't want to make that same mistake in Africa.  Africa has been the victim of way too many crisis.  We need to be proactive and help people get the food they need, while they are unable to work, so that they can stay safely in their home.  This disease knows no boundaries.  And we can't believe that this is "someone else's problem, somewhere else."

Please join us to help with this.  I know that there are many places you could help in other parts of the world, but the focus of DML is Africa.  Since Wednesday of last week, we have raised $15,000 toward the $30,000 match drive.  We have already given $10,000 to our partners in Africa and, in faith, we plan to send another $50,000 early this week.  We simply can't wait for all the funding to arrive. Some of the errors in Europe and the US were not acting quick enough.  Africa can't afford that mistake.  To give, please click here.  You will find instructions there for how to give online or by check.

And if you are not financially affected by "shelter in place" - if your salary remains the same or you are able to collect unemployment insurance - please prayerfully consider donating the federal funds from the stimulus package to families in Africa.  It may save lives.  Many lives.

Let me end with the words from one of our partners who just sent me this message:
We know that COVID-19 is a global pandemic and we are praying about it all the time.  However, third world countries like ours are facing the gravest trial of their time.  Whether we have complete or partial lock down, life is not the same anymore.  
Over 80% of our work force is in the informal sector, what we call "jua kali."  Jua kali literally means "hot sun."  In reality, the work in the hot sun with minimal shelter at times.  These jua kali people are usually causal workers, which means they d not have job protection, social security and sustainable regular income.  Most of these get paid on a daily or weekly basis.  With the directive to stay at home, it means many families have no food and other essential supplies.  We don't have food pantries to rely on.  Those who are owners of micro and small businesses, who sell in small shops, kiosks, and open markets, can no longer sell.  It only means they too have tough times in feeding their families.  It is so difficult for too many people who live hand to mouth every single day.  Those who have formal jobs are few, and many companies are laying them off as they cannot afford to pay people who are not working as these companies shut down.
DML has many people in all of these categories and some may die, not of the virus, but of hunger and stress.  If this virus takes off in our population, it will be terrible because some residences don't even have running water to wash their hands...not to mention no soap!  And how about our ill equipped health facilities?  Last one person suspected that he had COVID-19 and went to a nearby hospital and all the medical personnel ran away literally since they didn't have the simple protective gear to come close to the suspect.
Please, please pray for the virus to die in Africa and other parts of the world.
A few more pictures of the food that we have started giving away.  Please help us get to the $30,000 match this week!

Monday, March 23, 2020

United Church of Zambia

It seems strange to write about anything other than Covid-19, but my guess is that we are all seeing enough news about that to satisfy our need for information.  So let me go back to what we were doing before this turned most of us into home-bound people.

Our last stop on this past visit was in Zambia.  We were invited by the United Church of Zambia, after meeting them through a visit in Malawi last year with World Renew.  The United Church of Zambia (UCZ) is the largest Protestant church in Zambia, with churches in all ten provinces throughout the country.  It was formed in 1965 through the combination of a number of different churches, mainly Presbyterian and Methodist.  There are just over 1000 UCZ churches with 3 million members across the country.

Zambia is a country of about 18 million people.  It achieved independence from the UK in 1964, and the first president was a socialist who held his position until 1991. At that time, Zambia became a multi-party country and moved toward democracy.  Zambia is officially a Christian nation, as declared in their constitution in 1996.  Approximately 75% of the population is Protestant and 20% is Catholic.

Compared to the geographic size of Burundi, where we had just come from, Zambia is 27 times larger than Burundi, but the population is not even double the population of Burundi (11 million).  (To contrast, Zambia is 5 times larger than Michigan.) There is much land that is unused and lots of space for growth.

We were privileged to meet with the Synod Bishop of the UCZ, as well as two of the bishops from two provinces.  They seemed to resonate with the message of DML and the need for this in their denomination.  Our workshop was done at the denomination's Agricultural College, where we had a number of students in attendance.  It was good to have youth present and wrestle with the call to view farming as a good and holy thing, as it continues to be the thing to do when you have "failed" at getting the government or other "white-collar" jobs.

About twelve of the students sang for us each time a break was over and it was amazing the sound and volume that they produced with twelve of them and no microphones.  The UCZ service that we attended in Lusaka (of about 2000 members) had six choirs that involved hundreds of men, women, youth, and children.  It was beautiful, fun, lively, and interactive.

We pray that the seeds that were sown on our visit there will not be lost in the Covid-19 pandemic, but we also trust that God remains on the throne and is working in and through His people!  We continue to watch Africa, which seems to be much more proactive with much fewer cases so far.  We pray that the governments and people continue to be wise, and that the number of cases may stay lower.  They are heading toward their "winter" now so that may also cause more cases to emerge.

Please enjoy this song from the small choir which blessed us each day.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Ten Years Later: Missing Bob

The background on my laptop is this picture:


This was taken at the Grand Canyon last June, 2019.  On the left is Hannah, now 26, in the middle is Noah, now 25, and on the right is Noah's girlfriend, Hannah.  

How I love these faces.  How they make me smile each time I look at this picture.  Their personality shines through.  

It was ten years ago this week, on March 20, 2010, when Hannah was 16 and Noah was 15, that our husband and father, Robert Allen Reed, was taken from us so suddenly.  I relive that day often.

How much he has missed in seeing his children grow and mature.

How much they have missed in having the words of wisdom, love, and encouragement from their earthly father.  

What would he say to each of us today if he could?  What we would each say to him?  

There is not a day that goes by that he is not mentioned or missed.  Not a single day.  And there is so much more to come...so much more that will be missed by him.  And that continues to be heart-breaking.

While death can lose some of it's sting with time, the hole made by that person's premature departure is never filled.  

I still talk with him in my mind.  I get angry with him now and then for leaving too soon.  Every now and then, I tell him that he better be advocating on behalf of his children to God - that he better not be enjoying heaven so much that he forgets about us down here.  I miss his quick retorts, the mischievous look in his eye, his passion for justice, and his love of God.

Update on Hannah:  Hannah is living in Grand Rapids and has been working with a very effective program in treating children with autism.  However, now that she has her MSW she is looking for opportunities that will allow her to become a licensed social worker, which requires 4000 hours of supervision.  She has been interviewing and we are praying that she will find additional work that is a satisfying as the work she has been doing, fitting within her gifting and calling.  She has also been dating a young man, Matt Koster, from Grand Rapids for a short time as well, who seems to be a very good fit for her!  (What would Bob ask Matt as the protective father he was of his little girl?  I've tried to play that role but could never do it like Bob!)  We are thankful to God for the blessings in Hannah's life.

Update on Noah:  Noah is still working as a background investigator in Washington DC.  He has been promoted a few times and is completing his fourth year there.  He has been dating his girlfriend Hannah Birmingham for five years.  (What would Bob ask Hannah as he sought to get to know his son's girlfriend?)  Hannah works with International Justice Ministries in DC as well.  They are considering going for their Masters together at some point.  They are also a very good fit for each other and we are thankful to God for her as well!

I told my kids when they were young that they "weren't allowed" to get married until they were 27 (like I could really stop them!).  I said that so that they would really know themselves and know whom to choose for a lifetime partner.  I'm thankful that so far they have listened!  (Even though they remind me that I was 21 when I married their dad!  That's when "do what I say and not what I do" comes in handy!)

As for me, I made it home on Saturday after a busy three weeks in Cameroon, Burundi, and Zambia.  Due to the international travel (including a 17 hour flight from Addis to Chicago with a few hundred people from all over the world where social distancing is impossible), I am self-isolating for 14 days.  I'm assuming it is nothing but want to err on the side of caution.  The BAM conference in Thailand at the end of April has been cancelled, as well as a workshop we were to do in Germany.  The next trip to Africa is also up in the air depending on how things go regarding the virus in the US and Africa.  So far Africa seems to be fairing the best of any continent, but that could change. 

What would Bob say about this virus?  I don't know, but I believe he would agree with what C.S. Lewis wrote:


Saturday, March 7, 2020

Burundi: The Switzerland of Africa

It was my first time in Burundi.  We had been invited by ICM Burundi a number of times over the
years but had resisted due to political instability and the high level of poverty.  The combination of those two scenarios make it very difficult for a business to succeed.  But the invitations continued to come and with several years of more political stability, we agreed to go.

I found out quickly why Burundi is called the Switzerland of Africa.  It is a small but beautiful mountainous country.  The pictures (of course) cannot capture it.  The climate is perfect (60s at night, 70s during the days).  And it is lush with green everywhere, and a long rainy season that allows for a long agricultural season.

And the eleven million people make good use of the land.  It was amazing how much farming is being done, up and down hillsides and moutainsides, in a great variety of crops and a great variety of size plots (everyone seems to own a farm).  Burundi may have a per capita income of only $290/year but they are food sufficient and produce large amounts of food (they are cash poor, however).  It was beautiful to see.  Only 13% of the population lives in urban areas, so when we drove to Ngozi (from Bujumbura, about 1.5 hours by car) we passed through beautiful village after beautiful village.

There are a few unique things that we saw while here:
  • In the US, steering wheels are on the left and we drive on the right.  In Kenya, steering wheels are on the right and they drive on the left.  In Burundi, steering wheels are on the right and they
    drive on the right.  This was confusing for us as it seems unsafe - for example, when you want to pass on a two-lane road, you can't see until you are fully in the other lane.  The reason that we were given was that cars with the steering wheels on the right are MUCH less expensive.  To quote one Burundian, "If we had to buy cars with steering wheels on the left, there would be very few cars on the road."
  • We left for the airport at 6 am on Saturday morning.  We expected the streets to be quiet.  And there were very few cars on the road...but that was because there were hundreds of people
    jogging.  That is the day that most people go running for exercise (including the president!) and businesses are not to open before 10 am.  On every road, both sides, people running alone, in small groups, and in big groups.  Our driver told us, "It's the only day they don't have to be at work early."  My comment was that in the US, we would use that time to sleep in, not get up at 5:30 am to run!  Very impressive to see.
  • In most rural parts of Africa that I have seen, the number of motorcycle taxis continues to increase, making it difficult to cross a street or turn onto a side street.  But in Burundi, the
    bicycles significantly out numbered the motorcycles.  People hauling incredibly heavy loads on bicycles and having to go up and down the mountainous terrain.  
But there is no doubt that there is a lot of poverty here.  It's been a long time since I've seen so many adults and children walking without shoes.  If the per capita income is $25/month, you can imagine that this becomes a luxury as well as so many other things.

Our host, the director of ICM Burundi, stayed in a refugee camp for fourteen years (from the age of 12-26) in Tanzania before being able to move back to Burundi.  When he returned he set up a ministry of evangelism (based on what he learned from ICM Tanzania) which he determined would be self-sufficient.  He ran a tailoring shop and several of his colleagues who also went to Bible school also set up businesses, which then funded the evangelism work that they did each weekend.  He told us, "I don't want to be an employee on earth.  If I am fully paid on earth, then I am not depositing anything in heaven."  He volunetters for ICM Burundi, and his family is supported by the small shop that his wife runs.  Unfortunately, the shop was closed while we were there, as his wife was having their third child.

We had a very good time with about 50 pastors and church leaders and were able to take our time over three full days to really delve into scriptures and debate the call to work and God's view of wealth and poverty.  We left with an agreement to work in Burundi as we saw great potential - the population is set to double in the next thirty years and the climate to grow and expand from small farms to agribusiness and other businesses are immense.

A beautiful country.  A beautiful people.  A beautiful faith of the people we met.  An amazing God.

This man found a creative way to take his heavy load up the mountain!
Every now and then I need to put a picture of me in to let you know I was really there!

Sunday, March 1, 2020

"I don't like going to church," said the Pastor

This week's blog is written by my colleague, Dr. Phillip Walker.

Yaounde, Cameroon:

He stood up in the meeting and shared how he has stopped looking forward to going to church on Sunday.  He shared that he felt something was missing.  Church seemed locked into a way of operating that felt dry and not relevant to real life.  He also shared that he was frustrated with the local Bible School.  It seemed that the curriculum the school used was simply the same one everyone else was using and did not have much new to add.  After the first day of training with Discipling Marketplace Leaders (DML), he said he had learned more in six hours than he had learned in the past six years.

His remarks were encouraging to us as facilitators of the message of DML.  I remarked to one of the other participants that I hoped his pastor was not in the group.  The man next to me smiled, and said,  "He is the pastor.  He is also a professor at the Bible School."

Later I learned from him that he currently teaches at four different Bible schools in Cameroon, but is hoping to launch a school built around discipling the students to be disciple-makers.  Later, when we met with participants from several Bible Schools, they all affirmed that they were looking for something that would help them address the issues faced by the churches in Cameroon. 

They all felt that the DML training was part of the piece that was missing which can move churches and Bible schools from the theoretical to the applicable, from purveyors of knowledge to catalysts of application.

As we travel around Africa teaching DML, we hear many stories of a holy dissatisfaction with the way the church is operating.  Far too many churches are more like theaters where church programs are more about entertaining than equipping.  The emphasis is on getting people into the church, rather than sending equipped disciples into the marketplace.  In most places where we go, the Holy Spirit has already been turning the ground over, preparing people for the message of engagement with doing "work as worship."  

Churches and leaders are looking for a way to become relevant to a new generation, staying true to the Word and equipping them for fulfilling the Great Commission.  (Note:  the median age in Africa is 17 years old.  A young generation!)  When we talk about the greatest untapped resource for the Great Commission being the people in the pew and how their workplaces are their parishes, it resonates and excites.

We have more open doors than we have time to teach.  Please pray for us as we move from Cameroon to Burundi, and then from Burundi to Zambia.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Knowing what I know, what will I do?

On the plane to Cameroon this weekend, I read a book called Visions of Vocation by Steven Garber. It is one of about twenty books that I have stacked on my desk, mostly gifts from my thoughtful husband who picks up any and every book he can find for me on the subject matter. As I read so many books like this, I honestly didn't expect many more new things to be revealed.  But I was pleasantly surprised.

He asks this key question throughout the book:  Knowing what I know, what will I do?

He takes a close at Adolph Eichmann, a Nazi official, who maintained that all he was doing was his job, following the rules, obeying commands.  He didn't kill a single Jew, nor did he give orders for Jews to be killed.  He asked, "How can that be wrong?  I simply did my duty."  Yet it was concluded that he saw enough to be fully informed and therefore he was morally responsible.

He contrasts that story with the founder of International Justice Missions, Gary Haugen, who was working for the US government with the Department of Justice when he was sent to Rwanda following the genocide in 1994.  What he saw upset him to the point that he had to take action and IJM was born.  It now advocates for justice and addresses many legal issues in many countries in the world.  He could have helped Rwanda and left that country, feeling satisfied, and continuing to work for the Department of Justice.  But instead, he left a good-paying job to start IJM where he would have to raise a lot of money, and where his life and the lives of the lawyers that work for IJM are threatened and (some have been) taken.

Two men witnessing a genocide.  Two very different responses.  It begs the question:

Knowing what I know, what will I do?

Or, once you see what is going on in the world, can you still love the world?  Can we know and love the world at the same time?

It is the most difficult dilemma facing every human being to figure out what you will do with what you know.  In large part, it is what makes us human.

The Good Samaritan is an example of this need to love our neighbor by paying attention to the details that matter the most.  But Garber suggests paraphrasing from Walker Percy, "The Man who got all A's and still flunked life" for a new title of the Good Samaritan parable.  The lawyer who was asking the question was obeying the law but not morally serious about the question.  Justice is about following the letter of the law whereas righteousness is about doing what is right regardless of the law.  You can get all A's and completely miss the point.

Garber says,
Good societies anywhere require people with a similar sense of calling, folk who see into the messes and horrors and complexities of human history and decide to enter in for justice's sake, for mercy's sake.
I see things that you don't see.  I see messes and horrors and complexities.  There are people beaten down on the path I take and I have to decide when to enter in for justice's sake, for mercy's sake.

You see things that I don't see.  You see messes and horrors and complexities.  There are people beaten down on the path you take and you have to decide when to enter in for justice's sake, for mercy's sake.

I don't know how you respond to what you see.  I don't know how you struggle to "do with what you know."  I know how I struggle.  Yet I believe that there is much more going on than what we hear about in the news.  I get glimpses of it daily from fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, glimpses that are beautiful and encouraging.  Heroes who are loving their neighbors by paying attention to the details that matter most.

But I believe there could be even more going on if each person was encouraged and equipped to be a change agent in their specific circumstances.  How many of us say "I can't" or "I don't know how to start" or "Someone else can do it better" or "I'm just...".  How many of us are indifferent, living in a climate of "whatever" and "to each his own" or "I don't have time."

Each of us has a piece of knowledge of this world that is different from another.  Our unique personalities and upbringings and cultures all play into that.  And as Christians, we all have been made in the image of God, given gifts and talents, and have the same Holy Spirit.

The call is to do something.  Eichmann did nothing.  We can't all be like Gary Haugen, but we can figure out how to do something with what we know.

This question is good enough by itself and I want to stop here.  But there is more that we need to consider with this question and that will be a future blog.

May you have good and deep considerations this day on this question:  Knowing what I know, what will I do?