Sunday, November 11, 2018

Letting pictures tell the story

[Writing to you from Kaduna, Nigeria where we have DML events, as well as teaching a class for the ECWA seminary Masters students.]

To say that last week in Ghana was a busy week would be an understatement.  But to say it was a successful week, with many answered prayers, would be quite accurate.  We thank God for the past week with our DML partners from West and East Africa.

We spent time in prayer and worship as a team.

We spent time in planning and dreaming of how the Church could reclaim the redeemed marketplace for Christ.

We spent time laughing and fellowshipping together.

We had Yoseph and Sitotaw from Ethiopia.  We had Grace and Moses from Uganda.  We had Elly and Caroline from Kenya.  We had James from Tanzania.  We had Freeman from Nigeria.  We had Joy and Maxcelline from Cameroon.  We had Steve from the UK.  And from Ghana, we had Fanny, Beatrice, Afia, Derek, Yvonne, Rev. Johnson, Isaac, Pastor Adams, and Elder Johnson.

Our thanks to those who prayed for this trip.  Our thanks to those who donated to make this trip possible.

Please enjoy some pictures of our time together.  I wish I could share some video but the internet is too slow for uploading those!

The DML Team, with members from nine countries.  In order to reinforce the teaching of the environmental bottom line, we gave each team member a Brita water bottle and filters; no more disposable plastic water bottles while we were together and they can continue using it in their own context!
We had a worship service together which involved getting up and dancing to the Lord!
Every morning we had devotions with the hotel staff.  Front and center in this picture is Joy from Cameroon.
Dr. Ahilijah, President of Ghana Christian University, sat through our entire week of Training of Trainers, took the exam, and taught with me on Monday.  Very unusual for a man of his stature to do that!  He is an excellent trainer and passionate about DML!  We are thankful he is on our team!
We shared the Lords Supper together.  Serving us (right to left) was Pastor Moses from Uganda, Rev. Johnson from Ghana, and Yoseph from Ethiopia.  Three great men of God who are passionate about serving Him!

Monday, November 5, 2018

"God is moved by faith, not by needs."

This past week we had a delightful time with very thoughtful, experienced, wise pastors, church leaders, theologians, and business people.  The Ghana DML Movement team carefully selected representatives from the following regions of Ghana:  Northern Region, Ashanti Region, Brong-Ahafo Region, Western Region, Eastern Region, Upper East, and Central Region.  All regions of Ghana, with the exception of Upper West, were represented.  Then they selected leaders from Togo and Burkina Faso to join.  And we also had guests from Liberia, and guests representing Sierra Leone present.

We had great in-depth discussions with those who were thinking of the big picture - in fact they are now not calling this the DML Ghana Movement, but the DML Africa Movement.

We were blessed to hear thoughtful comments like this throughout the week:
  • Africa is the most praying continent in the world and the poorest continent in the world.  We need to stop praying so much and start acting!  
  • The Church views businesses like a refrigerator.  We just open the door and help ourselves!
  • You cannot speak of the glory of God if you are not living to the glory of God.
  • Are we teaching people to hear the voice of the Lord or are we trying to be the voice of the Lord to the people?
And the one in the title, "God is moved by faith, not by needs."  While I think we can debate this one, it does get one thinking.

These comments challenge us both as individuals and as a group.

And we also hear this feedback about our time together:
  • We have rediscovered a truth that is in plain sight. As you shared from the Old and New Testament, we began to see what is clear:  Jesus and the disciples spent more time in the marketplace than in any other place!
  • The theological teaching opens our eyes, but the practical teaching has equipped our hands.
  • The training was filled with examples, laughter, and stories.  It gave me a fresh understanding of what it means to be the Church scattered.  We are salt, light, and leaven in the community.  Very, very practical.
Two of the participants shared early on that they had a vision of people walking arm in arm, linked together like a chain.  That in order to change the Marketplace and for the Church to have relevance in the world today, Christians need to come together.  As we closed our time together, we formed a circle and linked arms, and prayed for God to work in us and through us to be the change that we wish to see in our communities, in our churches, and in our nations.

On Sunday, all of our teams arrived from Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, and Cameroon, to join the Nigerian team, UK team, US team, and Ghana team already at work.  We know this week will be very full of activities, but we can't wait to see how God will use this time together to build each other up, and ultimately to build His church!  Please pray for our time together!

Monday, October 29, 2018

We Can't Wait...We Won't Wait

In 1945 a book called Toward the Conversion of England stated this:  "We are convinced that England will never be converted until the laity use the opportunities daily afforded by their various professions, crafts, and occupations."

In 1945, 30% of England attended church.  In 2018, less than 7% attend church in England.  In Europe, fewer than 3% of the population attend church weekly.  They have become secularized and now live in a post-Christian era.

Africa has come to Christ faster than any other continent in history.  In 1900, fewer than 5 million in Africa were Christians.  In 2010, 45% or 500 million Christians were in Africa.  By 2050, it is projected that there will be one billion Christians (out of the projected population of 2.5 billion) in Africa.  However, Church size is not necessarily indicative of Church health.  The question we are asking African Church leaders is will they equip the "laity" to use the opportunities afforded to them daily through their work to be the Church every day of the week?

We are in Ghana where a Discipling Marketplace Movement was born in June, through a number of key strategists who desire to see the message of DML move from border to border in Ghana and beyond.  

These leaders in Ghana wrote me in July to request if DML could start working in Burkina Faso.  We said no, as we don't have the time or the resources to add that country.  They said, "We can't wait.  We won't wait.  When you come to Ghana next, we will have them come.  The Church there needs this, especially as Muslims have taken over the Marketplace and the Church doesn't know what to do about it."  We are having two very key leaders of church and missions in Burkina Faso join us on Monday.

Then some leaders from Liberia came and asked if we are going to work in Liberia.  We said no, as we don't have the time or the resources to add that country.  They essentially said, "We can't wait.  We won't wait.  Where are you speaking in the area that we can come and listen?"  We are having three people from Liberia join us on Monday.
Yesterday we learned that the DML movement in Ghana is also bringing in leaders from Togo to join us.  We also will have a leader from Nigeria join us.  

Suddenly, what was a key event for significant leaders in Ghana has turned into an international event with leaders from five countries in attendance.  

On Friday night, we met with a couple of the leaders in the movement and heard their passion for this message.  But mostly what we heard is that God had been calling them into this area of ministry for longer than DML has existed.  Let me repeat that:  THIS CALLING HAS EXISTED ON THEIR HEARTS LONGER THAN DML HAS EVEN EXISTED.  And that is what is so exciting to us.  This isn't a DML message.  This isn't my message.  This is God's message.  We are a tool to be used in the purpose of fulfilling what God has called the Church to do, and for many years the Church has forgotten this component.  

Of course, we also tremble a bit at this.  Because we know that after this next week of intense meetings and workshops, the requests will come with a bit more passion for us to go to these countries.  And it's more difficult to say no when you have a relationship and hear the need.  

BUT we also know that God continues to raise up leaders who can take up the call.  Our focus in this next year is to be equipping leaders.  That is why we are doing a Training of Trainers in Ghana this next week.  We will be doing a Training of Trainers in Nigeria in January and in Cameroon in February.  We just did a training of trainers in Ethiopia.  And Kenya DML just did a training of trainers for Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.  So the team is growing and we are thankful!

Please pray for the Holy Spirit to be very present this week in the hearts and minds of those who will be with us this week - that this attitude of "we can't wait...we won't wait" may be fanned and fed by the Spirit of the Living God!

Monday, October 22, 2018

Faithful, Flexible, and Forgiving

My trip to Cameroon was canceled.  We have postponed the DML trainings in Cameroon until February.  Both major cities, Yaounde and Douala, are on lock-down by the government until the announcement of the winner of the election, expected on Monday morning.  Riot police have taken over the streets and gatherings have been canceled.  Citizens are currently blocked from using the internet.  It is expected that the current president, 85-year-old Paul Biya, will be announced as the winner again, starting his seventh term as president.  There have been many accusations of widespread fraud and voter intimidation, but all legal attempts to have the election rerun failed.  Prominent politicians are under house arrest and many journalists have been arrested as well.  Because of this, we don't expect there to be a lot of news coming out of Cameroon, so please pray for our brothers and sisters there!  Please continue to pray for peace in Cameroon, as well as justice and equality for all citizens of this country, both English-speaking and French-speaking.

I leave for Ghana this Thursday, where we have two very busy weeks scheduled.  I land on Friday at 8 am and then leave immediately for a three-hour talk on "Doing Our Business God's Way."  Hopefully I will be able to stay awake!  We then will have a two-day workshop the following Monday and Tuesday for pastors and church leaders, followed by a Training of Trainers for the rest of the week.  The exciting thing will then be Sunday, November 4, when our DML teams from Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Cameroon, and Nigeria will all arrive in Ghana, and we will spend five days together learning, sharing, and growing in how to do this ministry to the glory of God.  Following that time, I will make my way to Nigeria and will be there for about ten days.

It is time for a brief update from home:

The big news is that Michael has left his job at Eerdmans Publishing Company after twenty-three years.  He served as the Sales Director for a number of years, and then as the Senior Acquisitions Editor for a number of years.  He has taken a job with a different publishing company called "Wipf and Stock" where he will start Monday in a similar position as Acquisitions Editor (https://wipfandstock.com).  Wipf and Stock is located in Oregon, but Michael will be able to work from our home in Michigan.  This will be a big change for him, as well as for us as we adjust to both of us working from home - at least when I'm here. He's excited about this change, and the opportunity to work with this new company which is growing and involved in some similar yet some different lines of books.

Michael's desk/office in our sunroom.
During the farewell lunch for Michael on Friday, his boss described Michael as someone who has exemplified being flexible and forgiving in their office.  They also remarked on what an incredibly hard worker he is, and how he is like the energizer bunny, which keeps going and going.  I would definitely agree with this assessment of Michael.  He is one of the hardest workers I know.  He bends over backward to help people, and he has a great ability to not hold grudges and to forgive those who have wronged him. He is faithful, flexible, and forgiving!

We are thankful for this new phase in Michael's life and the opportunities ahead.  God is good!

Monday, October 15, 2018

Twitches in Our Life

Image result for eye twitchFor the past three weeks, I have been dealing with pretty constant headaches and an eye twitch on my right eye. Twitch, twitch, twitch.  All day.  It seems to be directly related to fatigue and stress.  The eye twitch isn't very noticeable to other people, but it feels very obvious to me.  I try to rub it away.  I try to apply counter pressure.  I try to close my eye for a few minutes but to no avail.  Twitch, twitch, twitch.

As I've struggled with being irritable about it, it has caused me to think about how complex and intricate our bodies are.  I am fatigued and stressed.  I get headaches.  I get eye twitches.  When I rest and deal with the stress, the headache goes away and the eye twitch stops.  It's quite amazing, really.
Image result for finger pointing with three more pointing back
It has stopped me from complaining, for the most part.  Because while I can point fingers to stress and fatigue, as an adult, I know that I have made the choices that are bringing fatigue and stress, and therefore I need to live with the consequences.  As I often teach, when I point my finger at others, there are three fingers that point back to myself.  While I'd like to exonerate myself fully from life challenges, that almost never works in this world of relationships and choices.

I need to pay attention to twitches in my life.  I need to be curious about where these twitches come from and what my part is in them.  I need to be curious enough to investigate the three fingers that point back at me.

And of course, that gets me to thinking about our amazing Creator and the role of the Holy Spirit in the twitches of our lives.  God has created our bodies, so intricately and wonderfully.  He has made us in His image, giving us the opportunity to be co-creators with Him.  He has not created us to be like animals, searching for our daily bread every day, but has created us for a much higher purpose than that - to be a blessing to others through the gifts and talents that He has endowed us with.  He has given us the Holy Spirit which often can feel like a twitch, reminding us and prompting us to do the right thing as ambassadors of the Most High God.  When we experience the twitching from the Holy Spirit, we can either ignore it and hope it goes away, or examine it and do something about it.

He has put us in the contexts of families and networks of relationships that can often act like twitches as well.  People who know us, love us, care for us, can act like an annoying eye twitch as they seek to lovingly (and sometimes not so lovingly) remind us of who we are and whose we are.

We can ignore these twitches.  We can continue to point fingers and lament the pains of life.  OR we can learn to appreciate these twitches, remain curious about them and have the courage to look at them full on.

Twitch.  Twitch.  Twitch.  While I'm not quite at the point of thanking God for my eye twitch, I do have a greater appreciation for it!

This week Friday I leave for Cameroon.  They had their election on October 7 and the results have not yet been announced.   There have been demonstrations and there is expected controversy for when the announcement is made, which should be while I am there.  We are unsure whether or not the program that we have scheduled will be able to go forward.  Please pray for this country and for peace; please pray for justice and equality for the people in this country who have felt downtrodden and ignored for decades; please pray for the safety of those who may be traveling for our DML program, should we decide to continue; please pray for wisdom and discernment on our part as to whether we proceed or not.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Ethiopian Economics

Ethiopia is considered to have one of the fastest growing economies in the world, for GDP per capita growth from 2000-2016 (IMF).  It has been lauded in many arenas because of this and it is believed that their GDP will continue to show great growth for the next five years at least.  Additionally, while much of Sub-Saharan Africa found the number of people in extreme poverty going up in the last fifteen years, Ethiopia decreased from 29 million to 20 million.  However, with a per capita annual income of $660 (per person) it is hard to celebrate with abandon.  That works out to be $1.85 per day, which is right around extreme poverty.

What is also confusing to me is the World Bank's report on the "Ease of Doing Business" as it relates to the last three years in Ethiopia.  In 2016, Ethiopia ranked at 146 out of 190 countries for the ease of doing business; in 2017, Ethiopia ranked at 159; and this year, 2018, they ranked at 161/190 countries.  This seems to be the opposite direction for a country that is seeing good growth in the GDP.

This report breaks down this number into a number of different categories, and for the ease of starting a business, Ethiopia ranks at 174/190 countries (because of a high cost, high number of procedures, and a lengthy process) and 173/190 for the ease of getting credit.  The lack of ability to get credit is alarming as most businesses need multiple injections of capital in order to grow their business.  When I ask what the interest rates are in the banks and microfinance institutions, I hear 15%-20%, which is pretty typical across sub-Saharan Africa.

But as you get to know people and people begin to trust you, you learn the real story.  Let me share one with you (with permission from the business owner, whose name I will change).

Eyob is a carpenter and metal fabricator.  He won the award from the government last year for entrepreneurship which is a huge honor!  As a result of this award, the government gave him $14,000 worth of equipment, which he needs to repay over the course of five years at 0% interest, as well as a workshop that he can use for free. This is great!  Unfortunately, the two machines he has been given have yet to be used.  The reason is this:  in order to get the contracts that will give him a large amount of work, Eyob needs to have enough stock to run the machines efficiently and meet the demand.  He needs a loan of about $3000 to do this.  He went to several banks and microfinance institutions and was approved for a loan in this amount at 15% interest per annum.  But then, on the side, he was told (in each situation) that he would need to give 20% of the loan to people processing it as a bribe.  That essentially brings the interest up to 35%, something that Eyob knows he cannot afford.  Add to that the fact that most churches tell their members that they need to tithe off their loans, and suddenly he is looking at 45%.

So he continues to work from home, doing the
work by hand, but saddened by this gift that he has been given which is sitting idle. (Pictures of Eyob with machines that are covered and have never been used.)

This is a significant challenge and one that I am learning is not unique.  And unfortunately, these bribe demands are being done by non-Christian and Christians alike.

DML in Ethiopia is working on a way to address this but it will take time.

Another challenge is that of personal vehicles.  Ethiopia is a country of approximately 110 million people but only 500,000 cars in the country.  This means that 0.5% of people have cars.  The reason?  The government imposes a 230% tax for all cars that are imported in an effort to reduce the number of cars and protect the roads.  That means that a used car that is imported from Dubai at a value of $10,000, will now cost $23,000.  I'm told that cars in Ethiopia actually appreciate (rather than depreciate) because of these challenges.  My host told me that he purchased his 2004 Toyota two years ago for $10,500.  Today, he believes he could sell the car for $13,000 US.  Bizarre.

We continue to pray for breakthroughs for the citizens of Ethiopia, as well as other countries who face similar challenges.  The desire to work is there.  The ability to be creative and grow businesses is also there.  What we need is opportunities and a more level playing field to marshall that will and ability in a productive way.