Sunday, March 26, 2017

Prayer and Paradigm Shifts

Wow - it's been an intense two weeks in both Kenya and Uganda.  I just arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia where I will begin teaching tomorrow but let me share about the last two weeks.

The trip started in Kitale, Kenya, with a two-day prayer retreat for DML business owners.  We had 140 people in attendance, from five different cities (and their surrounding areas), with 28 different churches represented, including twelve pulpit pastors.  It is not easy to get people to close or hand off their businesses for two days, and spend the money to travel to Kitale, yet so many did.  It was indeed a blessed time.  I realized within the first hour of prayer that this retreat was for me as much as it might have been for anyone else.  It is a powerful thing to spend that much time in prayer with so many brothers and sisters in Christ.

We heard many great testimonies of what God is doing in and through the businesses of the Marketplace Ministers:
  • stories of economic growth in businesses, household income, and jobs being created
  • testimonies of networking and mentoring as people from the same church meet and share together
  • declarations of spiritual growth as people continue to grow in the grace and knowledge that the work they are doing is holy and good
  • doors being opened to love their neighbor as themselves
  • environmental awareness growing as we learn to be stewards of the earth
  • testimonies of answered prayers, both individually and corporately
These testimonies were the highlight for me, as well as many others as evidenced by the evaluations. 

We had something called a "prayer supermarket" where we divided ourselves into four groups, and circulated to four different leaders as a group to pray over specific challenges as Christians in the workplace.  People found this to be very powerful.   We also had everyone find a new prayer partner from the DML ministry, who will pray for them in this next year, and help with accountability and transparency.

Very slowly, as time passes, we see paradigm shifts begin to take place.  People are beginning to use a more common language about how they are called to the marketplace.  In fact, there has been a few times that they have corrected us as leaders - one time, we said something about a "secular" business and we were quickly reminded that there is no difference between sacred and secular.  Another time we talked about going to church, and we were quickly reminded that we don't go to church - we are the church.  A different time we asked someone if they were in ministry and another person quickly said that we are all in ministry - as part of the royal priesthood.  It's delightful to see this ownership of the paradigm shift coming about naturally and we pray that it may continue.

On Sunday, March 19 we travelled to Tororo, Uganda to have a two day training with pastors and church leaders with ICM Uganda.  We had a gathering of about fifty, including a number of bishops.  It may have been one of the most fun groups that we have presented to yet.  They love to laugh but they were also many aha moments as paradigms began to shift.  It is such a joy to see people begin to see the Bible, with which they are so familiar, in a different light, especially as it relates to the importance of Genesis 1 and 2, which many pass over quickly as an introduction to Genesis 3.  We have already had six churches sign up to do "Thirty Days in the Marketplace" starting in April and May, so we have our work cut out for us! 

Thank you for continuing to pray for us and for this ministry. 
Rev. Elly Kisala, Co-Director of DML Kenya, with the group of pastors from Uganda

The leadership team in Tororo with ICM Uganda and Africa Theological Seminary Uganda

An amazing, Godly woman, Grace Koelewijn, the Country Director of ICM Uganda.  What this woman is doing, with her husband Cor, is amazing.  I enjoyed getting to know her much better and look forward to working closely with her.

My dear friend, sister, and colleague, Caroline Sudi, Co-Director with Rev. Elly Kisala in Kenya.  Always a joy to have more time with her.  A former bank manager for eighteen years, she is now studying for her BA in Theology at ATS in Kitale, while working fulltime with DML (and running a business).  I'm blessed to be surrounded by great women and men of God!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Seven years ago...

Monday, March 20, 2017 is the seventh anniversary of Bob's death. 

When Hannah and I were discussing this before I left, she remarked that it seems so long ago.  My first reaction was, "No!  I can't believe it's seven years!"  But then I thought about it for a few minutes and agreed with her, that yes, it does seem so long ago.

It's both.  It's been fast and it's been slow.  So much has happened.  He has missed so much and is missed so much.  On the other hand, it seems like just yesterday that I was at the hospital with him. 

On my way to Kenya this past week, I watched the movie "Jackie" about Jaqueline Kennedy giving an interview to a reporter just a short time after JFK's death.  [As a disclaimer, I have no idea how accurate this movie is to the facts.] As she relived the actual moment of JFK's death, and you see the horror in her face, I remembered what that was like.  As she relived her first night alone in their bedroom, I remembered what that was like.  Watching her go through that first week, watching her grieve, attend to her children, commemorate and celebrate her husband's life, it all flooded back.  Moments of sanity, moments of dream-walking (or nightmare-walking), moments of anger...so many different moments.

At one point in the movie, as she is travelling with the body and with Bobby Kennedy, she says to the driver, "Do you know who James Garfield is?"  The driver says, "No."  She turns to another person, and says, "Do you know who William McKinley is?"  The person says, "No."  She looks at Bobby and says, "Two presidents who were killed in the line of duty and we don't even remember their names."  She was determined that would not be the case with JFK.

I know what that feels like.  Wanting your husband, the father of your children, to not be forgotten.  Wanting his life and his death to have meaning.  Wondering, "should I mention him or not?  I don't want to draw attention to our loss; on the other hand, I want him to be remembered as an important person in our lives."

On Wednesday, I flew in a ten-seater plane from Nairobi to Kitale.  It was a rainy morning and this small plane feels turbulence easily.  As is often the case, but particularly in this somber week leading up to this anniversary, my mind turned to death.  I don't fear death at all - in many ways, I would welcome it.  For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.  As I watched the angry clouds outside the window of the plane, I was keenly aware that my kids still need me.  I think about how I talk to my mom each week, and how meaningful her support and love has been for me in these past seven years.  And I think about how heavy that weight can be sometimes as the sole parent remaining.  That part still feels heavy for me, with every landmark that Hannah and Noah pass and with every challenge or joy they face.

As I pondered this while feeling the turbulence and watching the amazing clouds, we began to rise above the clouds, and something caught my eye.  It was the shadow of the plane on the clouds, with a rainbow surrounding it.  I had to blink a few times to realize what I was seeing.  I took a picture of it and also a video of it, which you can see below.  It's not easy to see - I drew a circle around the photo, and the video (which is only 11 seconds) shows it best when going in front of a white cloud, about seven seconds in.

I'm sure there is a great scientific reason for a rainbow to surround the shadow of a plane, but in that moment I felt the arms of God around me, reminding me "Never will I leave you nor forsake you."  (Deuteronomy 31:6)  I am thankful to God that despite loss, grief, and the passage of time, God is a Father who knows all of our burdens and cares, and is a Father to my children as well.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia

I leave today for four weeks to journey to Kenya, Uganda, and Ethiopia.  I will be joined by Dr. Walker and Mel Fox for the whole trip, and Dave Champness for the Kenya and Uganda portion.

In each place there will be different work to be done.

In Kenya, we will have a two day prayer retreat in which 150 businesses will come from five different cities to rededicate their businesses to God.  We will also celebrate the graduation of the next class of students at the Kenyan Africa Theological Seminary with certificates, diplomas, and BAs in Theology and Counseling.

In Uganda, we will meet with ICM Uganda and hold a two day workshop for pastors and church leaders at the Ugandan Africa Theological Seminary in Tororo (Eastern Uganda).  We have been looking forward to this for some time and have already trained a couple of the faculty.  We will be going there with the two DML staff from Kenya who will be able to lend support to the Uganda team as it develops.  We will also spend some time visiting businesses while we are there.

We will then leave for Ethiopia, where I will be teaching Integrity and Finance at the Evangelical Theological College in Addis Ababa, and we will also be doing a Discipling Marketplace Leaders introductory event, as well as the two day training event.  All the materials have been translated into Amharic, and we are praying for the right people to come. 

In the meantime, our training partner for Ethiopia is in Indiana and is hosting a two day BAM symposium.  We are grateful for our trainer, Kent Ringger, who will be representing DML and will be presenting on our behalf. 

I am excited to get back on the field again after doing so much writing over the last little while.  We covet your prayers and will look forward to sharing with you what God is doing as we seek to join Him in His work.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Scarcity, Part 1

Recently I read a book called Scarcity by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir.  It is a fascinating book and I highly recommend it.  It has to do with how the brain works as it relates to the psychology of how we all struggle to manage life and tasks when we feel that we have less than what we need.  "Less than what we need" can refer to money, hunger, time, love, or any other need that we might have.  The realization is that people's minds act differently when they feel they lack something.  This sense of scarcity allows us to focus more intently on the pressing need and have a keener sense of the value of that need (benefits), but it also saps brainpower, willpower, and narrows our perspective (debilitating aspects).  Something we can all relate to is the idea of a deadline - when it is far out and we have lots of time, we are able to blow it off easily; as the deadline comes closer and time is more scarce, we are able to focus on it better but we might lose sleep or eat more or ignore friends while focusing. 

There are some fascinating aspects to this psychology.  For example, as it relates to the scarcity of food for those dieting, they did an experiment using a word search study with those who were on a diet and those who were not on a diet.  Those on a diet performed 30% slower after finding words like "cake" and "donut" in the word search than those who were not on a diet.  Being on a diet significantly slowed down the processing of words related to food.

Another study was a regular IQ test, but before having the participants take the test, they had half of the group read the following hypothetical scenario:
Imagine that your car has some trouble, which requires a $300 service.  Your auto insurance will cover half the cost.  You need to decide whether to go ahead and get the car fixed, or take a chance and hope that it lasts for a while longer.  How would you go about making such a decision?  Financially, would it be an easy or difficult decision for you to make?
The other half of the group had the exact same scenario, but instead of a $300 service, it was a $3000 service.  The researchers had divided each group by their self-reported income between rich and poor.  In the scenario where the service on the car was only $300 ($150 to be paid by the individual), the rich and poor group did the same on the subsequent IQ test.  But on the scenario where the cost of the car was $3000 ($1500 to be paid by the individual), the poor did significantly worse.  All that was done was to tickle the idea of scarcity and the result for the poor was lower cognitive performance.  Imagine how this relates to test scores in low-income schools?

They also found that the idea of scarcity lowers impulse control as well.  They did a research study on two groups of people, giving one group two numbers to memorize and the second group eight numbers to memorize.  They then had them wait in a room where there was fruit and cake, with the only instruction to remember their numbers.  The real test was what they would choose to eat when mental bandwidth is more scarce.  Those who only had to memorize two numbers chose the healthier fruit, while those juggling eight numbers went for the impulsive less-healthy cake.  When we are juggling a challenge, we have less bandwidth for self-control.  In a similar experiment where again half of the group has to memorize two numbers and the other half of the group memorizes 8 numbers, the group was then served food that is culturally very different than what this particular group was used to (in this case, a chicken foot with claw intact).  The group with only two numbers was able to eat the food without any rude statements; the group with eight numbers had a number of rude outbursts, even saying "This is bloody revolting!"  Again, with the brain tied up in memorizing numbers, there was less bandwidth to restrain impulsive words.

I find this type of thing fascinating.  But I especially find it fascinating in light of the research that we did for the Discipling Marketplace Leaders ministry in Kenya.  As you remember, we found that those who made less than $9/day did not benefit from the ministry while those making $10/day and above made incredible gains after going through the program.  We argued that it was because of the stress of poverty, which didn't allow them to apply more complex processes that they were taught, such as marketing, book-keeping, etc.  We knew it wasn't education or gender, as that had been proven as statistically irrelevant.  But now we have better language for the challenge that the poor face, which is actually scarcity of bandwidth which reduces intellectual functioning, impulse control, and self-control.

The idea of bandwidth is definitely something to consider as we look at human behavior.  And right alongside that is the idea of slack, or a buffer, to absorb shocks.  We need to have enough slack in our _______(fill in the blank:  budget, calendar, diet, etc) to be able to manage life challenges.  When bandwidth is limited and there is no slack, we get caught in a scarcity trap: a situation where a person's behavior contributes to his/her scarcity.  How do we increase bandwidth, both for ourselves and in our work?  How many times have we judged someone's capacity (intellectual, emotional, or even capacity to parent, work, etc) without considering bandwidth and slack?

I'll write more about this book in a second blog, looking specifically at poverty and even more closely at microloans.  Hopefully at least some of you find this type of psychology interesting too!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Rededication, Reconciliation, and Results

On March 17 and 18, many business people will descend on Kitale, Kenya to rededicate their business to the Lord.  The Kenyan Discipling Marketplace Leaders team is calling this "Commanding the Year" and we will spend hours in prayer together to lay our work before the Lord again as His ambassadors in the Marketplace.  We continue to seek reconciliation through our work, as it relates to how we do business before God, with others, and our interaction with creation.  Our prayer time will be spent on this quadruple bottom line, with speakers who will guide the prayer time to focus on economic, social, missional, and environmental concerns.  As marketing is done for this event, please pray with us that people will give of their time and join us for this important time of prayer.

This week Discipling Marketplace Leaders will have a Training of Trainers in California for the development of a US team who will begin to go out with us to the places to which God will call them.  The teams we are seeking to build will ideally have person trained in theology and one business person, to be able to reach both pastors and business people.  I'm happy to share the names of a few of those who will be joining this team:
  • Michael Thomson - as Michael has his M.Div, he will be a great partner with me, and we are hoping that the Lord will allow us to team teach together in the future.
  • David Graf - a businessman who has been a prayer partner, encourager, and advisor to me since 2004.  I've wanted Dave to get directly involved in this work for 16 years and finally he is taking that step!
  • James Nowell - a businessman who has been working with us since we were in Liberia, James has also been an advisor, prayer partner, and encourager in this ministry since 2007.  He has taught in Liberia and we are thankful he is joining this team now!
  • Kent Ringger - a pastor and entrepreneur from Indiana, Kent has been teaching at the Africa Bible College in Liberia for many years.  I met him while in Liberia and have stayed in contact every since.  He started a large church and refused to hire anyone to be a pastor unless they had worked in business, as he wanted pastors who could relate to his members.  Business as Mission has been near and dear to his heart for many years!
  • Jim Ippel - a businessman who went on a trip with us in Liberia in 2008 and has wanted to get involved in a more direct way for some time.  We are thankful that God provided a way for him to join us for this trip.
  • Dave Champness - a pastor and businessman from Bakersfield CA, who also serves on the Board of Directors for ICM-USA.  Dave travelled with us to Guatemala last September and believes in the message of DML, wanting to take to other places.
  • Mel Fox - a businessman from Bakersfield CA, who has been involved with ICM-USA for some time.  Mel is feeling led by God to get more involved in the ministry of DML and also travelled with us to Guatemala last September. 
There are a few others who will be joining us as well.  Please note that this is mostly a male team thus far!  If you are a female pastor or business person and would like to get involved, please email me at renitar@icmusa.org and I can send you the information on how to become a trainer.  Please pray for this team to have a time of learning, sharing, and unity this week, that God may be lifted up in the Global Church.

Soon after that, the trips will start to Kenya (March 13), then Uganda (March 19), and then Ethiopia (March 26).  We continue to covet your prayers for this work as we seek to join God where He is already active.

We also were able to come up with our numbers from 2016 and wanted to share that with you as well, especially those of you who are contributors to this ministry, both in prayer, encouragement, and financially.  We are excited to see the growth but know that growth is about more than what we can share in numbers. [Please note that different countries are at different stages of implementation and sensitization, as this is an evolving process.]  Please pray that God will continue to raise up an army of believers who know how to be transformational for Him in their place of work.


Activities
Totals
Pastors who attended two-hour introduction (Kenya, Ghana, Ethiopia)
183
Pastors and Church Leaders who attended Two Day Training (Kenya, Ghana, Guatemala, Nigeria)
524
Churches Using "30 Days in the Marketplace" (Kenya, Ghana)
14
Churches engaged in twelve-week basic business principles training (Kenya, Ghana)
21
Number of businesses who started twelve-week training (Kenya, Ghana)
319
Number of businesses who completed twelve-week training (Kenya, Ghana)
314
Number of other churches represented by people in business training (business people attending training who are not members of the host church)
36
Number of Commissioning Services (Kenya, Ghana)
8
Number of Marketplace Ministers Commissioned in 2016
314
Total Number of Marketplace Ministers Commissioned since starting in 2013
886
Number of Trainers (Kenya, Ghana)
48
Number of businesses involved in mentoring (Kenya, Ghana)
215
Number of businesses involved in advocacy (Kenya, Ghana)
478
Marketplace Ministers involved in Prayer Walk (Kenya)
104
Marketplace Ministers engaged in Subject Matter Expert:  Dr. Marsha Vaughn on Boundaries (Kenya)
81
Cities where DML is being disseminated
14
Denominations who are using DML
20
Amount of Solomon Funds Passive Investments through DML in Kenya and Ghana
$130,227
Number of loans given
172

Monday, February 13, 2017

Kenya's Medical Crisis

In Kenya, the doctors working at 47 public hospitals are now entering their third month of being on strike.  Private hospitals have been overrun with patients, but many cannot afford to go to private hospitals, as fees need to be paid before service is given.  People are dying of preventable, treatable sicknesses. Nurses have been forced to do procedures that they have not had training for, being put in situations well beyond their qualifications.  And recently, the nurses decided to join the strike, making a bad situation even worse.
Picture from Al Jazeera

Hundreds of thousands of Kenyans are suffering because of this strike.  There has not been a death count released because of this strike, but people estimate that it is in the thousands.

So what is going on?

To understand, we have to go back to 2013, when the government agreed to raise the salary of doctors from $14,800 annually to $37,700.  They also agreed to hire new doctors to cover the significant shortage of doctors for the population, deal with equipment shortages, and other provisions.  To date, four years later, officials haven't even begun to implement this agreement.  And this is by a government that is the second highest paid in the world, earning between $5,000-20,000 per month, with multiple pay increases since 2013. Additionally, an internal audit recently reported that of the $4.4 billion dollars that went missing last year from the national coffers, $53 million was from the Kenya Ministry of Health.  And that was just for 2015.
Picture from Al Jazeera

The average Kenyan citizen is suffering.  But what the doctors are doing is understandable.   And oh so difficult.

I held myself back on exclamation marks in writing this, but it well could have been peppered with them.  It is heartbreaking to read the stories of people dying outside of hospitals, of nurses watching patients die, of doctors who long to serve and do what they have been called to do but wanting justice by the government for the sake of the citizens.  The World Health Organization recommends one doctor per 600 citizens - Kenya has one doctor per 4500 citizens.

Jesus tells us in the book of John that we will see trials and sorrows on this earth, and we do see so very many.  Creation is indeed groaning.  I don't know if it is groaning more than previous centuries - I think each generation has its own unique challenges.  But as comparison is not helpful, all we can do is pray for the challenges before us today.  I know there are so many around the world.  But I ask you to join me in prayer for this situation in Kenya - for the government, the arbitrators, the doctors, and the sick.

How we need the Holy Spirit.
Come, Lord Jesus, Come.