Monday, July 27, 2015

Flesh Eating Bacteria

This is not a feel-good blog but may be more of a rough don't read on if you are looking for something positive and upbeat this Monday morning.  I don't think I write a lot of, "Somebody call the waaaaaaaambulance" blogs....but this is definitely one.

Last week was a rough week for me - physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Flesh eating bacteria literally entered my body, but also seemed to enter figuratively, into my soul, my emotions, and my mind.

The week started with the opportunity to meet with old and dear friends, long-time supporters who have "had my back" since 1997.  Toward the end of our meeting, they informed me that they would no longer be able to support me as much, as I was becoming "too evangelical" because I am working with the church.  That hit me hard. When I examine the word, evangelical, it means "pertaining to or keeping to the gospel and its teachings."  Doesn't seem like such a bad thing to me.  Just last week I met with a pastor from the Reformed Church of Zambia who shared with me that the Church in Zambia is telling their business people terrible things about the nature of their work and how unholy it is.  That is not "keeping to the gospel and its teachings" so I am happy to be "evangelical" in that way.  My fear, and where the flesh eating bacteria begin to enter into my mind and emotions, is that "evangelical" is lumped with "fundamentalism"  and because I am adamant that the church needs to be the change agent as it relates to business, I could be cast as a fundamentalist, which is definitely an insult in this day and age.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, I began to feel ill with fever, body aches, etc.  By Thursday morning, I woke up with a completely swollen ear and surrounding tissues, hot to the touch.  When I went to the doctor, I was told it was a serious type of cellulitis and because it was on the face, it needed to be monitored closely, as it can quickly become life-threatening.  It is caused by a flesh eating bacteria that can go both deep and wide - causing permanent damage to the eyes, nerves, brain, and other precious parts.  If it was to spread at all, I was to go directly to the emergency room.  Hannah took Thursday afternoon off to monitor me; Michael took Friday off.  They marked my face with permanent marker to be able to observe any spreading or other symptoms.

Also on Thursday, I received a number of bad news emails from ICM, ranging from partners in a number of countries very sick and in need of resources, to significant budget and fundraising alarms, to program demands that are increasing beyond supplies.  The flesh eating bacteria went after my mind, "See you can't do this job."  "See, you can't raise money - people are leaving you, not joining you." "See how many people are looking to ICM and to you - good, serious people with serious medical issues - and you can't do anything."

On Friday morning, I had to return to the doctor who didn't like what he saw in terms of lack of progress, and decided to give me a shot to try to keep me out of the hospital.  Later that afternoon, I received an email from the publisher with whom I had been talking for some time - the one I was hoping would take my book; they reported that they decided to pass on my book.  I immediately felt the spread of the flesh eating bacteria in my soul, with whispers of "see, you can't write" and "see, no one wants your book - no-one sees the value except you, therefore it must not have value."

On Friday evening, we had a serious blow up at our house.  Not uncommon in a small home with two merging families of many young adults, not to mention tremendously complex extenuating circumstances that are mostly outside of our control, making us often feel like victims.

But that was enough to pretty much shut me down.  The straw that broke the camel's back.  Let the flesh eating bacteria have their way.

Saturday found me searching the want ads, looking for a different line of work, despite the fact that my face was beginning to heal. My thoughts were, "Let me find a job where I do my work, get a paycheck, and go home.  Let me find a job where there aren't so many people depending on me.  Let me find a job where I don't have to constantly think of how to fund the work, on top of doing the work, which is actually difficult to do." An overreaction?  Absolutely.  But an indication of flesh eating bacteria having found their way into my system?  Yup.

As I cried out to God on Saturday night, peace didn't come like a river attending to my soul.  I didn't wake up Sunday morning saying, "It is well."  I was reminded that we will have earthly troubles; that we are to endure hardship for His sake; that suffering is often not meaningless; that "my will" needs to become "Thy will;" and that God will "never give us more than we can bear."  All of these words felt cerebral; none seemed to address the flesh wounds.

And so it's Sunday morning as I write this.  And I am choosing to stay in bed, write this blog, and lick my wounds.  I am praying that tomorrow will show a ray of light in some way to give me the energy to put one foot in front of the other again, and rekindle my energy for the work to which God has called me.  If you got this far in reading this blog, I would appreciate prayers, as I believe that much of this is spiritual warfare.  I also know, in my head, that I am immensely blessed, beyond words.  But beyond privilege and blessings, all humans can be knocked down for a count; I know that what matters is that we don't stay down.
Postscript - I didn't see my regular doctor on Thursday but actually had a doctor who grew up in Nigeria as an missionary kid.  We got to talking, and she is the first person who told me that it IS possible for sepsis to not produce a fever (as in the case with Bob).  As I read about flesh-eating bacteria, and remembering the number of sores that Bob has on his head the night before he died, and having just returned from Nigeria, I am now thinking that we might have a possible cause of death:  necrotizing fasciitis that got into the bloodstream, causing sepsis.  Five years later and I continue to look for the cause of death.  This one seems to get a lot of it right.  I still wonder about the shot of heparin that they gave him just twenty minutes before he died when they "thought" they heard a pulmonary embolism.  I wonder if that shot expedited something in relation to the septic shock that his body must have been in (based on autopsy results).  My reading does show that heparin can react poorly with antibiotics, which is what they had put him on when he entered the hospital.  I wonder, I wonder, I wonder....I will probably wonder until I die.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Sodom and Gomorrah

A picture from the place called "Sodom and Gomorrah"
There is a place in Ghana called Sodom and Gomorrah.  It is a location where approximately 40,000 people live in dire conditions.  Bob first wrote about this place in a blogpost in 2009 when the Ghanaian government threatened to plow it down (great piece if you want to read it - "This may sting a bit.").  They are threatening again because of the recent deaths in Ghana, which is blamed on the flooding caused by trash from this location.

I have often wondered about the name given to this depressed area.  Ezekiel 16:49 seems to make it very clear what the sin of Sodom was:  "'Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy."  Doesn't sound like a place impoverished by poverty, disease, and no sanitation to me.  Sounds to me other places in the world that are quite developed.

June 26, 2015 was a day of terror in many parts of the world.  Syria lost 120 lives due to IS.  Kuwait had a bomb go off with IS claiming responsibility.  Tunisia lost lives, believed to be linked to IS.  Somalia lost lives due to al-Shabab.  France lost lives due to terrorism.  IS spokesmen have called for an intensification of attacks during Ramadan and to spread beyond Syria and Iraq. So many people in so many countries living lives of inescapable hardship, oppression, fear, and anxiety.

And yet it is summer vacation in many parts of the world.  A time for family and cottages and vacations and play and fun and food.  And while I love a good vacation as much as the next person, I am struck by the lack of opportunity for any vacation by the majority world.  Ever.  Ever ever.  Ever ever ever.  

I just returned from a trip to Ghana, Kenya, and Egypt. Ghana which was touted as a great place for development but has been struggling so in the past few years with a currency that is crashing and electricity that is off more than on.  

Kenya has seen the Kenyan shilling falling significantly against the dollar - lower than it has been in many years; al-Shabab continues to threaten; tax rates are oppressively high; and significant poverty continues to be a problem for so many.

And Egypt, where being a Christian is met with outright hostility; where the pressures and stresses of life are palpable and dark.

So it's no wonder that on the day that I re-enter a world that is "on vacation," it feels heavy and I can't sleep.  Ezekiel 16 plays in my mind, "arrogant, overfed and unconcerned."  How I don't want that to be the label for the era in which I live.  

There is serious work to be done by the Church.  Our battle is so far from over.  Yes, we must pace ourselves and enjoy the "tithe of feasts" with family and friends (Deuteronomy 12).  But let us not label depressed places with dark names, like Sodom and Gomorrah; let us not forget that the majority world never gets a vacation and being able to take one is an absolute privilege; let us be stewardly with the blessings that we enjoy, and be wise with how we justify how much of our resources we keep and how much we give away; and let us not forget that many of our brothers and sisters around the world are in a battle for survival, for their faith, and for their family in a way that the majority of North Americans will never truly know or understand. 

Monday, July 6, 2015

More Confirmation...Amidst Challenges

Of the three countries where Discipling Marketplace Leaders is working, Ghana is the safest as it relates to terrorist attacks.  Ghana rates at 56 out of 162 countries on the Global Peace Index (Canada is 5, the US is 95, Egypt is 123, and Kenya is 140).

On the Ease of Doing Business (World Bank, 2014), Ghana ranks at 67 out of 189 countries measured (the US is 4, Canada is 19, Egypt is 128, Kenya is 129).  On the human development index, Ghana ranks at 138 out of 187 countries measured (the US is 4, Canada is 8, Egypt is 110, and Kenya is 147).

As it relates to religion, Ghana is 71% Christian, 22% Muslim, and 7% other (Egypt is 90% Muslim and 10% Christian; Kenya is 82% Christian, 11% Muslim, and 7% other; US is 71% Christian, 23% no religion, Judaism 3%, Islam 1%, 2% other; Canada is 67% Christian, 24% no religion, 3% Islam and 6% other).

That is a lot of numbers that tell a portion of the story - but of course, not the whole story.
The beautiful mountains on our way to Abetefi, Ghana.

Part of the story is that in the last three years (since we left in 2012), Ghana has undergone significant challenges.  It has been quite startling to see, to be honest.  Electricity, which was bad when we lived here, has now gone to being on for twelve hours, and then off for twenty-four hours.  This is incredibly debilitating for businesses.  So everyone is switching to generators.  However, the Ghana cedi has also done very poorly against the US dollar.  When we moved to Ghana in 2009, it was $1: 1.5 GH.  Today it is $1: 4.3 GH.  That means that all prices have increased at least three times.  When we lived here, we could fill our car for 50 GH.  Today, the same car, the same amount of gas, it will take 150 GH.  Yet, incomes have not increased.  Purchasing power has only decreased.  So running a generator is a huge expense for businesses; one small business told me that they are paying 1000 GH per week in gasoline for the generator.  And generators are not safe.  We passed by one which caught fire, threatening all the businesses in the area. 
Ramseyer Training Center, Presbyterian Church, Abetifi

And so the economy is struggling. And when the economy struggles significantly, poverty increases and peace decreases.

When I shared about the work of Discipling Marketplace Leaders with business people, pastors, church leaders, and Bible colleges, the response was a unanimous "Amen" and "When can we start?"  I heard comments like, "We have been praying for something like this," and "This could transform our nation." 

I can only sense again that God had been working in this area prior to our arrival and directed us to the right people.  We will most likely start in September with the Ramseyer Training Center in Abetifi (central Ghana), where 4000+ Presbyterian pastors are trained for ministry, as well as in Accra at the ICM Ghana office for multiple denominations.  (Egypt will now be in November due to additional time to translate materials into Arabic.)
Pastors, Administrators, and Pastors-in-training

I continue to be humbled and thankful at the response that we continue to see to this work.  Keeping up with demand will be a challenge and we will continue to work toward building a team of Master trainers who can go out to help deliver this opportunity to different countries, through many denominations. I am so thankful for our partners, ICM Ghana and Hopeline Institute, as they have great staff who will make setting this up in Ghana much easier.

Please continue to pray for people in Ghana and their economic challenges.  Please also pray for this growing ministry.  Pray for God to send trainers, the funds to translate these into the necessary languages, and for wisdom and discernment in each and every process and conversation.

I leave for home on Wednesday.  I must admit that I'm exhausted.  I didn't feel well for most of this trip and I think it was the constant travel, speaking, changes in climate, changes in food, changes in beds, etc.  I am very ready to be home again but very thankful for your prayers and partnerships in this endeavor of Discipling Marketplace Leaders!

Monday, June 29, 2015


Bishop with the staff of DML, Elly and Caroline
This has been a very busy and fast-moving week in Kenya.  I arrived in Kitale late on Tuesday evening and early Wednesday morning we left for Kakamega to meet the Bishop of the Anglican Church of Kenya.  It was a delight to meet with him and he seemed equally delighted in the work of Discipling Marketplace Ministers.  He quickly organized for us to speak to all of the clergy in August from his diocese, and is going to work with us on organizing the first training of the ACK in Kakamega.  [This had been our control group in the research study but we promised them that when the study is over, we would offer them the same services as those in the treatment groups.]

We then had a meeting with Rafiki (which means "friend" in Swahili) bank where we are exploring having our loans flow through.  It was a good meeting and Caroline's history in the banking industry came in very handy!

The DML office also did some "growing up" in the last week.  It received a full paint job with logo on the door and mission statement painted on the walls.  We also bought desks and office chairs!  It feels like we are moving from the baby to toddler stage!  [I had deja vu of doing that in Restorers for the first Ghana...and now here.]

But the focus of the week was on the inspirational event that we planned for Saturday for all Marketplace Ministers, with BAM father and guru, Rev. Dennis Tongoi from Nairobi.  We had hoped that we would get 100 people out for the event but we were surprised to have 177 people show up!  It was a great time (even though we ran out of food and handouts!).  Rev. Tongoi is a great speaker and everyone loved him.  I first met Dennis Tongoi in 2005 at a conference in Nairobi and he inspired me then.  I view him as my father in Business as Mission.  He is now the Executive Director of CMS (Church Mission Society) Africa and they have an active Business as Mission program as well.  He brought his wife as long as two of his staff members and we found great opportunities for collaboration.  God is at work!
Rev. Tongoi in action.
Brainstorming with the CMS and DML staff. 

On Sunday morning, we had a chance to worship at Pastor Moffat Weru's church.  If you remember, he was the pastor who has been very active with us, and his motorcycle shop was looted last December.  We did some advocacy work with the insurance agency and they agreed to pay him for his losses.  I found out that when he informed me that he had received the check, I had taken it to mean that he had received the check from the insurance agency - but he was referring to the check from a few of you who gave gifts to help him cover his losses.  I learned today that the insurance agency changed managers and reversed the decision.  He has spent 90,000 KSH (about $900) pursuing this but has not gotten anywhere.  He continues to work hard in his church and he preached a powerful message on the end of poverty and the holy calling of business.

The afternoon found us at the commissioning service of Marketplace Ministers in Chebarus with the Christian Reformed Church of East Africa.  There were 41 graduates and a great amount of energy in that place!  We drove in to them singing as seen on the video below.

There are currently seven (!!!) DML classes going on simultaneously in Kitale, Eldoret, Kisumu, and Kiminini, with more pending to start in July.  This is where we begin to see exponential growth and it is exciting!

Tomorrow morning I have to speak at an area company on Business as Mission, then we will have our first Advisory Committee Meeting for DML Kenya.  Shortly after that, I leave for Nairobi, flying out to Ghana on Tuesday.

It has been a busy week but so productive and affirming of God's orchestration of events and people.  Thank you for your prayers!  Enjoy this joyful song!

Monday, June 22, 2015

"We are viewed like a cow..."

Venue for Pastors meeting in Menia, on the Nile River
"We are viewed like a cow - [the church] milks us for all we have but they refuse to feed us...spiritually..."

This was a comment from one of the business participants during a workshop held in Egypt in response to the question of how the church views business.  It was clear that the business people are frustrated by how they are perceived by the church.  Another person said, "Fifty percent think we love money; the other fifty percent love our money."  This opinion is not unique to Egypt, unfortunately.

A young entrepreneur summarized the challenge very well when he said, "Because the church does not share the participation in creating the vision and mission of the church with business people, business people don't feel a part of the church.  Because the church doesn't care for the spiritual health of business people (they just care for their money), the business people don't come to church.  But then they are accused of not coming to church because they 'love money' and because they have 'become worldly.'"

Discipling Marketplace Leaders Logo in Arabic
This comment came at the end of five workshops in Egypt: one workshop for fifty pastors in Menia (from many denominations: Coptic, Catholic, Presbyterian, Assemblies of God, Methodist, and others), one for thirty-two business people in Menia, one for sixty educators and pastors in Cairo, another for twelve pastors in Cairo, and the last for thirty business people in Cairo.  The meetings had all gone very well and the message of Church-based Business as Mission was received with great enthusiasm at all levels.  At the end of one session, a man approached me and said, "What you are presenting is not new.  It is Biblical."  He then followed with, "But I don't know why the church hasn't been doing this all along."
The amazing MELTI team!  They were so great!

I was very excited at the end of the week when the Middle Eastern Leadership Training Institute (MELTI) concluded that the DML program is clearly needed in Egypt, and that MELTI would be happy to partner with DML to facilitate its work.  They are a dynamic, organized, visionary team, and it was fun to work with them this past week.

Not only did the pastors and business people respond favorably, but the schools did as well.  The Academic Dean (who has been trained by both Yale and Princeton) from a seminary told me, "I have so many people that ask me about the relevance of the church in daily life and I often am at a loss for the answer.  Today, you have given me the answer."

Dr. Wahba as my translator
There was definitely a sense that God had gone before us in this, as people indicated that they had been looking for and praying about something like this.  In fact, one of the meetings we had with business people resulted with them forming a group that night.  They weren't going to wait for us to come back!  They wanted to get moving!

We will be back in September to begin training pastors and start a pilot program for business people in a church.  From there, we will then begin to train trainers.  Between now and September, we need to get all materials translated into Arabic.  Lots to do!

I leave on Monday for Kenya, where I will have a busy week as well, and then to Ghana to repeat what we just did in Egypt.  Please keep praying for this work!

Presentation to educators from six different Bible Colleges and Seminaries at the Evangelical Theological Seminary of Cairo.

All work and no play makes Renita a dull girl:  I had one day off while in Egypt, and so Dr. Walker and I took off to see some of the sites, which was a real treat.

Ya gotta see the pyramids while in Egypt.  Very cool.
And of course the Sphinx.
Brief sailboat ride down the Nile River with this father and his two sons.
The scenery from Cairo to Menia.  Maged, a MELTI staff, told me he was our tour guide.  After about twenty minutes, I told him I had learned enough to be a tour guide for the next guest:  "Desert on the right.  Desert on the left."

Monday, June 15, 2015

Contextualization: Egypt

Having worked in primarily Christian, English speaking countries in sub-Saharan Africa for the past ten years, I knew that Egypt would be different in many different ways.  But I didn't expect the difference to become so apparent in the very first meeting that I had.

I arrived at the guest apartment in Cairo at 3:30 am, after a trip that (including a long layover) took around thirty hours.  My first meeting was scheduled for noon with Dr. Wahid Whaba, and his wife, Dr. Laila Risgallah. 

It didn't take long for Dr. Whaba to tell me why he believes the work of Discipling
Marketplace Leaders is important for Egypt at this time.  He said, "Christians are leaving Egypt very rapidly for Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand, and other places.  Over 100,000 have left so far.  We are between 15-17% of the population as it is, so this is a big exodus.  But I believe our call comes from Jeremiah 29 which reminds us to stay and build houses, and plant gardens, and seek the peace and prosperity of the city.  This relates to business. But we don't know how to do it.  The pressures are immense.  The economy has suffered since the revolution in 2011.  That is why I think the message of DML at this time is so important."

In Christian countries, the work of DML is to help people understand that there is no split between sacred and secular, and that all of our work should be done "as unto the Lord" with the Church being at work from Monday to Saturday in the Marketplace.  In a country where the Christians are by far the minority, where they raise their children to know that just by virtue of their name (if it is Christian instead of Muslim) they will not receive equal treatment, and where jobs are held for Muslims only, it seems that there is already a deep understanding of how faith impacts all of life.  Where the opportunity is here may be in exploring how to stand firm when feeling like you are in captivity, as in Jeremiah 29, and understanding how to do be the Church from Monday-Saturday in a world that doesn't accept your faith.  We can look to examples like Joseph and Daniel, both of whom were in captivity yet rose to be the top government official right next to the pharaoh/king, due to working with excellence and integrity.  Both of these men could have had the attitude of not trying their best as it wasn't their land; of cheating the land, just as they were cheated of freedom.  Yet both men decided to seek the peace and prosperity of the land and work diligently, and through that work, not only they but their God was recognized.

I have used the example of Joseph and Daniel many times, but it now jumps to the top of the list of Biblical characters when examining the business people God used throughout the Bible.  Another message that finds its way into the DML teaching is being both a light and a covenant (which comes from Isaiah 42: 5-7) in the midst of darkness.  As you know, when you turn a light off, it doesn't take any time for darkness to take over.  When Christians leave Egypt, they take their light with them.  To stay takes courage and prayer; it is not an easy decision, based on many factors.  But for those who stay, knowing the Church's affirmation of their work in the Marketplace, intentionally praying for each other as they work and bear witness through their actions, and having a place to talk through the frustrations and challenges of working in such an environment, can become a primary role of the church.  The reason that the Muslim religion was so successful in Indonesia was because the Muslims went in and worked in business, and through commerce won people.  The Christians had arrived at the same time but set up churches and tried to win people through revivals.  There is an opportunity here for Egypt.  Dr. Wahid believes that this is a crucial and important time for Christians in Egypt and that the ministry of DML can be instrumental in it.

Other differences that I have observed, maybe you are wondering?  Dangerous at this time as they may be gross generalizations based on very little knowledge, but here are some:
View from my window
  • It is obvious that in order to drive in Cairo, you have to be an INCREDIBLE parallel parker and be very comfortable with very narrow spaces as cars are parked everywhere.  
  • Egyptian men seem very hospitable and helpful as several men around me in the ninety-minute customs line checked in with me several times afterward to make sure that I got all my luggage, that I had a ride, or just to see if there was anything else I needed.  Very polite, very hospitable.
  • Cairo is very dry and dusty - they say you can dust your house and two hours later have to dust it again.  The country receives between 0-7 inches of rain per year, depending on the location.  Contrast this to Liberia which receives 220 inches of rain per year, or Michigan which receives 32 inches of rain per year.  This dust causes lung problems as well.
  • I learned that most widows do not remarry here - it is considered disloyal to your late husband. 
  • There is a heaviness here - a stress that is almost palpable. I feel it emotionally and physically.
It is interesting to me that my initial reaction to being in Egypt is similar to my initial reaction to Liberia - both love and fear at the same time.  For Liberia, it was post-war with ex-combatants all around, causing some fear, but a love for the people and compassion for the hardships they were experiencing.   For Egypt, there is fear in the possibility of persecution, of terrorism, of IS, and yet so quickly a love for the people and a compassion for the hardships they are experiencing.