Monday, March 19, 2018

From a Flood to an Ocean

I arrived at the guest lodge in Dar es Salaam at midnight on Sunday, March 11, with three suitcases
and two pieces of hand luggage in tow.  The trip had gone smoothly but, as always, was tiring as I rarely sleep on planes.  We arranged for an 8 am start for the day, just a short eight hours away, but our trip in Tanzania was only for three days so we had to make as much use of the time as we could.

A little bleary-eyed and brain-cloudy, we started off in meetings on Monday morning.  Partway into the meeting, we heard it start to rain.  James Kamau, the principal of African Theological Seminary Tanzania and our host, immediately stopped our conversation and said, "We need to pray that this rain will stop.  If it begins to rain hard, no-one will come to the workshop tomorrow.  The roads will be too bad."  So pray we did.  After about ten minutes, the rain stopped for the rest of the day.  We were thankful.  We were able to see the campus of the Africa Theological Seminary (ATS), which is only a couple years old on their new property (they outgrew their last facility).  It is beautiful.
James and Mary Kamau, and Dave Champness, in front of some of the new dorms at ATS Tanzania

Dave's muddy room
After a full day, we finished with a dinner outside at the guest lodge, where I was eaten up by mosquitos (and I had forgotten to start my anti-malarial medication), and then I was more than ready for bed.  At around 3 am, it started to pour.  And pour.  And pour.  By 4:30 am, I stopped praying for it to stop as the damage had been done.  My colleague, Rev. David Champness, the new president of ICM-USA, was in a lower part of the guest lodge, and he gave up trying to sleep at 4:45 am, as he heard some of the staff sweeping water.  He swung his legs out of bed and stepped into two inches of muddy water in his room.  His suitcases and some electronics were all on the floor, but thankfully nothing was permanently damaged (lesson:  keep your stuff off the ground if possible!).  Yikes.  The road in front of the guest lodge was a river.  Mud covered everything.  It was a mess.  But my room, thankfully, stayed dry.

We had expected about fifty people at our event but what could we now expect, given this situation?  We expected very few.  But we continued to say, "Whoever the Lord brings..."

It appears that the rain was worse on our part of Dar Es Salaam than other parts, however, and we are happy to say that we had 56 pastors and church leaders at the event.  Praise God!  We are thankful that even when people have to battle mud and huge pot holes and mosquitos and torrential rain, that they continue to attend to what God has for them to do.  We were blessed by this group and the dynamic conversations that came out of our time together.

At the end of the day, we were told by the ICM Tanzania country director that he was going to take us out to dinner.  We were tired (having not slept much the night before because of the rain) but again, as time was short, we had to make the most of it.  "As long as there are no mosquitos," I thought to myself.  We pulled up to a hotel on the beach...and well...I can let the pictures speak for themselves.

ICM Tanzania Director, Michael, ATS Principal James, ICM-USA President, Dave, and me.
The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the works of His hands.  Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. (Psalm 19: 1-2)

From a flood in the morning to this sunset at night over the ocean.  What a delight to serve such a creative God.

Of course, the beautiful setting didn't prevent us from still attending to business (as can be seen by the picture of me earnestly talking)...nor did the darkness...nor did the wind from the ocean prevent mosquitos from finding my legs and enjoying their own dinner on me.  We accomplished what we came to do in those three quick days and the next day (Wednesday) we went straight from the workshop venue to the airport, where we flew to Kenya.  The next morning (Thursday) I started teaching Integrity and Finance to the ATS in Kitale.

As we say here, "God is good, all the time...and all the time, God is good...and that is His nature."

Monday, March 12, 2018

Work as Worship Retreat update

I am sending this from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where tomorrow we will start a two day training for pastors and church leaders on Discipling Marketplace Leaders.  I am accompanied by Rev. David
Rev. James Kamau
Champness, the new President of ICM, who will co-present with me, as well as Rev. James Kamau, the former ICM Tanzania Director and now Principle of the Africa Theological Seminary, Tanzania.  For the past two weeks Rev. Kamau has been teaching the seminary students on Church-based Business as Mission, a topic that he seems to have fully embraced as crucial for the church.  He wrote us this in a recent email, "I am teaching the Church-based Business as Mission class and loving it.  The students are hearing truths that they have not heard before, and they are wondering how we can get this great truth to a maximum number of people in the shortest time possible.  They want to make me a TV preacher.  NO."

It is exciting when we see various teams in different countries find their own way of promoting this old truth that work can be an act of worship.  It is also exciting that as of March, this has been taught in seminaries in three different countries already in 2018, with the hopes of going further throughout the year.  God is good!

Following this training in Tanzania, we will be moving to Kenya and Uganda, where we will join Dr. Phil Walker and Rev. Steve Kennedy (from the UK), and then later in the month all of us will move to Ethiopia.  Please pray with me for safe travel, good health, and open hearts, minds, and ears to the message that God has given to us to share!

I wanted to update you on the Work as Worship retreat that we had a couple of weeks ago and share with you some of the key quotes that I captured if you weren't able to be there.

On Friday, February 23, about ten thousand people across North America gathered in churches to reflect on the meaning of "Work as Worship."

We heard inspirational speakers and testimonies from Pastors Matt Chandler and Chris Brooks.  Matt Chandler said, "The moment we think that work is work, and Christ is Christ, we lose power to focus." 

Chris Brooks said that the words 'poverty alleviation' just seeks to make poverty a bit more comfortable, and that Christians need to be involved in economic development.  He said that the church is the greatest agent for community transformation and needs to be involved in the diagnosis and treatment of poverty, which is not permanent.

We heard a moving testimony of Anne Beiler, who owns Auntie Anne's Pretzels, and said that she is "not in the pretzel business, but the people business."  This is a key difference for those who do business as mission!

We heard from Joel Manby, former CEO of SeaWorld, who wrote a book called Love Works and how he worked diligently to incorporate love into the work environment.  He said for those who struggle to know how to start when needs are many, "Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone", describing love as a verb.

In my opinion, the best speaker was Phil Vischer, the creator of Veggie Tales, who shared his difficult testimony of challenge in running that business.  He said, "He who has something plus God has nothing more than He who has only God."  Powerful statement.

We also heard from one of my newly favorite authors, Tom Nelson, who has written a number of books including The Economics of Neighborly Love and Work Matters.  He shared from John 15 and reminded us that fruitfulness comes from abiding and for most of us, fruitfulness is vocational productivity.  He reminded us that God's words to Jesus "in whom I was well pleased" were spoken BEFORE he started his ministry, when he had been a carpenter for eighteen years.  He asked, "If Jesus were to give you your job review, what would he say?"

This is only a portion of what we heard in that day.  It was a powerful time with lots of information to process!

Recently I read this quote from C.S. Lewis, who became a Christian at the age of 32 which caused him to reimagine his work as a service to God and others.  He wrote, "The question is not whether we should bring God into our work or not.  We certainly should and must.  The question is whether we should simply (a.) Bring him in in the integrity, diligence, and humility with which we do it or also (b.) Make His professed and explicit service our job."  Lewis didn't change his work upon his conversion.  It changed his relation to his work.

Amen!  How the world would look different if all who claimed Christ as Lord and Savior had this changed understanding of work as worship!

Monday, March 5, 2018

Perspectives, Part 3 of 3: Sweet Trouble

1 Peter 4:12 - Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.

Recently I heard an African pastor share that the question to be asked when facing trouble is "how can this trouble sweeten me?"

Sweet trouble.

How we avoid trouble.  How we dislike trouble.  How we grumble during trouble.  How anxious and nervous and sad and depressed and weary and even burned out we get during trouble.  (How well I know each of those categories!)

How surprised we are at trouble, despite the reminder of 1 Peter 4:12.  "How can this happen?"  "How can this happen to me?"  "How can God let this happen?"

When the person speaking of "sweet trouble" is a Nigerian pastor who has known trouble and has seen trouble, those words strike deep.  The person saying those words has not lived a cushie life of ease.  I remember being in Egypt and listening to them singing a hymn of faith while in trial in Arabic, and tears welling in my eyes as I felt the oppression for Christians in that country yet hearing them sing about the sweetness of trouble.

We don't usually think of trouble as sweet until it is long behind us and we can look back to see how it has shaped us, or how God brought good out of the trouble.

We don't often associate trouble with the participating in the sufferings of Christ.

As I look back over my life, I see so many episodes of sweet trouble.  Trouble that could have been designed to break me down, God was able to use to build me up.  I certainly didn't see it as sweet most of the time.  

Recently, I looked in the face of a dear friend, whose son is struggling with cancer, and heard her words "I am heartbroken for him and yet I hold on to joy."

The perspective of sweet trouble.

When trouble is viewed as sweet, the opportunity is there for it to evolve into something beautiful.  When trouble is not viewed in this way, the potential is there for people to become bitter, cynical, ugly.

A friend said to me last week, as we processed some sweet trouble, "God fixes a fix to fix you.  If you try to fix your fix before you're fixed, He'll fix another fix to really fix you."

Sweet trouble.  We don't pray for it.  But our perspective can certainly help us go through it.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Perspectives: Part 2 of 3

April 15 - tax day - is rapidly approaching.  A day that fills many with dread.

I recently helped my son, Noah, do his taxes.  He graduated from college in 2016 and was blessed to have a fulltime job right out of college.  His taxes for 2016 (filed in 2017) were for six months of fulltime work and so his 2017 taxes (to be filed soon) were his first year of taxes with a fulltime job that was for twelve months.

He was shocked and a little outraged to find that his tax rate as a single person was 28% of his gross income.

I agree that it does seem like a lot.

But then perspective kicks in, which Noah was able to quickly hear given his many years of living in Africa.

He landed a fulltime job right out of university at the age of 22.  That is amazing.  That is a blessing.  He is doing something he enjoys, in his field of study, contributing to the safety of our country.  Not many 22 year olds can say that in the world today!  [Not to mention the fact that he makes more than I do, at the age of 49; granted, DC is expensive but still!!!]

In Ghana and Nigeria, so many young people are now graduating from university with no jobs available.  They are told that doing a small business is "beneath them" as they have a university degree.  So they sit at home and wait and hope for a job to come.  Because of this, there is an increase in armed robbery and kidnapping, as these youth begin to despair of finding purpose and work.  We (at Discipling Marketplace Leaders) are developing an entrepreneurship program to address this challenge.  We believe firmly that the Church need to be about training job makers, not just job seekers, so that people can use their creative abilities, made in the image of God, to help people flourish!

While Noah (and many of us) may not be happy about how much of his income is going to taxes, he does know that infrastructure is consistently provided for in his city/state, and will continue to be kept up - roads (okay, some potholes but overall incredibly good roads!), water, free public education, and electricity.  The government, while full of it's own issues, is not overtly corrupt with nepotism (you may think I'm na├»ve, but again, remember that this is about perspective IN COMPARISON to other places).  He can sleep safe and secure each night, with a country that does protect it's people (granted, not all people equally, but the majority are able to sleep at night without fear).

Is it perfect?  Absolutely not.  Is the US the greatest country in the world?  Not even close, in my opinion.

But again, can our conversations be seasoned with more grace and perspective, given the reality of many places in the majority world?

I think so. 

The challenge of paying taxes is not new.  David killed Goliath in part because his family wouldn't have to pay taxes (1 Samuel 17:25).  But Jesus is very clear in Matthew 22, that we are to pay to Caesar the things that are Caesars. 

Taxes are in place to help level the playing field for all citizens in a country.  That is the goal of government.  I have seen with my own eyes what happens when countries who pay even higher taxes than the US have no infrastructure, no jobs, and no security, when embezzlement is the order of the day; and when killing of certain people groups by those in government is not only ignored but condoned.

Perspective.  It's a wonderful thing.  I know that we can always find people who have it "worse than us," and there is a time and place for being legitimately grumpy about circumstances.  But despite that, perspective is still helpful.

We live between the "now" and the "not yet."

There is much to be grateful for in North America in the now.  But have we arrived?  Absolutely not.  We are "not yet" where we need to be, and it's good that we continue to voice concerns for injustice and take action as we can.  But as we live in this in-between time, let us lend our voice and our prayers also to those who have it much worse.  Let us speak with appreciation for what we have here.  Let us pay our taxes, grateful for what it provides, and continue to pray and be active in working towards the betterment of our country and our world.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Perspectives: Part 1 of 3

My daughter Hannah has a sleep disorder called Hypersomnia.  There is a part of our brain that is supposed to keep us awake that doesn't work right for her, so she is tired all the time.  It took years to come up with that diagnosis, with lots of tests.  She has access to medicine that addresses that and allows her to work, study, and fully function.  That medicine costs $800 per month but because of health insurance, she only pays a copay of $15.

I have a niece that has Crohn's disease.  I have watched her suffer (from a distance) for more than eight years with excruciating pain, medicines, job challenges, etc.  Several years ago, we were able to be present for her wedding and recently she gave birth to a healthy daughter, despite being told that it would be a challenge due to all the medication she had been on.

A fellow church member also has Crohn's disease and has gone through a number of surgeries, sharing on Facebook the difficulties that this disease presents.  She is now doing much better thanks to the medical help she has received.

I have a friend in Kenya, a pastor and graduate of Africa Theological Seminary.  He and his wife have two children.  When I saw him a year ago, I noted that he looked even thinner than his usual thin self.  Upon asking him if he is okay, I was able to coax out of him that he had lost weight because his son is sick.  You see, this pastor makes $200/month for a family of four.  He is a pastor in a relatively large church (500 members) in a relatively large city in Kenya.  But his fourteen year old son has Crohn's disease and the monthly medication for him is $300/month.

Which is why he is losing weight.  When your child is sick, crying each night in pain, and not able to go to school despite being a bright student, you do what you have to do as a parent.  They were buying the medicine as often as they could, which was not often and not in a consistent way that would allow for healing.

So Michael and I stepped in to help.  This young man has now been in school for the last six months, is sleeping during the night, and his medication has now been reduced to half the amount as healing is taking place.

I'm not writing this to toot our own horn.  I'm writing this because of the amount of complaining that I hear about the health system in the United States.  I'm writing this because there comes a time when we need to get a bigger perspective.  I have the luxury of having that perspective thrust in my face every time I'm in Africa.  Not many people have that luxury and when you are surrounded by negativity, it's difficult to find perspective. 

It's true that the system here is not perfect and needs to be worked on.  It's true that health insurance is very expensive and not equitable for all people.  I agree.

But it's also true that we have it better than most people in the majority world.  And because of that, our conversations can be seasoned with more grace and appreciation than what I often hear.

We have hospitals with working machines (something Bob did not have in Ghana).  We have options of health care.  We have "GoFundMe" options when we can't pay the bills.  We have options of paying things off over time (as opposed to many places in Africa where you have to prepay for a procedure as they have little hope of collecting it after - therefore many people die without treatment because they can't afford to pay up front). We can even declare bankruptcy when the bills overwhelm us.

I continue to be so grateful for the perspective that my work affords me.  I pray that God grants me the grace to be thankful, as the quote says, for the "roses in the thorn bushes" and not just lament the thorns.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Did It Rain Before the Flood?

Two weeks ago I was giving my rendition of Genesis 1 and 2, asking the crowd to use their "spiritual imagination" in thinking of how Adam and Eve might spend their time in the garden where they were told to "work" and "take care of" the Garden, prior to the fall (Genesis 2:15).  I reminded them that there were no weeds yet and God was watering the garden on His own with rain.

The next day, Dr. Walker and I did our two mile walk for exercise, which we try to do as often as we can when on the road, and as we walked, we started our routine debriefing of how the workshop went.  We usually critique each other on style and content.  He said to me, "I noted you said that God watered the garden with rain, but you know there was no rain until Noah."

That stopped me in my tracks and I responded with an astounded "what on earth are you talking about."

The idea that there was no rain comes from Genesis 2: 5-6 which says, "When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up - for the Lord God had not cause it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground."

The idea was that a vapor canopy covered the earth, producing a massive greenhouse effect.  Additionally, since there was no mention of rain until Noah, the assumption was there must not have been rain.  To me, the fact that very shortly after this text there were many plants of the field and humans to work the ground, negates this idea.  This text seems to me to be simply a recapping of the creation and the fact that no rain had come by day three.

Apparently many people have held this belief, but this was the first I had heard about it.  [I find it amazing what I continue to learn about the Bible, even after reading and studying it for so many years!]  Many have now abandoned this idea as it has been difficult to show how this would have worked and is not actually backed up with scripture.

On the face of it, with my limited knowledge, it makes no sense that God would create the world to have such a vastly different climate and weather system up until the flood.  The entire system would have had to be different.  But He declared His creation to be very good, so why change it so drastically?  Was rain a result of sin?  Seems odd to me.

I'm not sure I like the idea of living in a greenhouse, which sounds very humid.  And normally, I don't like to get into these type of debates which involve a lot of speculation of the past, which doesn't necessarily change anything for us today.  But it's interesting to learn about some of the speculation that theologians and scientists have regarding the way God created the world.

I had a very busy week in Ghana, teaching Church-based Business as Mission to 98 theology students at the Assemblies of God Bible College in Kumbungu, Northern Ghana.  In addition to that, we had a number of meetings exploring partnerships with other Bible colleges and seminaries.  The meetings were exciting in that we met people in key positions who have such a heart for the Marketplace and are looking for discipleship tools for their members.  One of the Christian universities was so excited (they already teach Theology of Work) about Discipling Marketplace Leaders that they immediately offered me a job and a place to live on campus! 

I'm looking forward to seeing what God will do in West Africa in the next year!  Things are certainly starting to get busy!

I'm now home for a few weeks and then will head out to East Africa, where we will have DML work to do in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and Ethiopia.  

The students at the Assemblies of God Bible College.  A great class!