Monday, May 13, 2019

Uganda: Pentecostal Assemblies of God

I am so thankful to share that my passport with visa arrived on Tuesday morning in time for me to catch my flight to Uganda on Tuesday afternoon!  Thanks to all of you who prayed!

We are already in Tanzania, after a very successful and exciting workshop in Uganda with the Council of Bishops of the Pentecostal Assemblies of God.  This growing denomination of 6000 churches has already been doing some significant work on economic development through a unique development arm of their church called "Church and Community Methodology Process," which seeks to have every local church completely engaged with the community that it is in for a holistic approach.  The partnership with Discipling Marketplace Leaders seems a very natural connection with them and their bishop, Simon Peter, is a gifted leader who knows how to structure and organize for impacts.  

We were also blessed to give each bishop, as well as each manager of the development arm, an Africa Study Bible.  

Tomorrow we begin a training in Dar Es Salaam, and on Thursday we fly to Cameroon to start a busy program there.  We covet your prayers!

The Presiding Bishop (left) and his Deputy (right) along with Dr. Walker and myself and the Africa Study Bible.

Thanks to all who helped with the purchase of the Africa Study Bibles!

Monday, May 6, 2019

How do you define success?

Yoseph is a 38-year-old Ethiopian man, who is married with three beautiful daughters.  Yoseph owns his own home, has a number of rental units, and owns his own car (which is a big deal in Ethiopia as the government adds a 260% tax on any car brought into the country in order to discourage people from owning cars and keep the roads less congested).

Yoseph has created two positions for himself in the Kale Heywet Church, a denomination of 10,000 churches with close to 10 million members.  The first was the Campus Ministry Director, ministering to Kale Heywet Christians on many campuses across Ethiopia.  This ministry is now fully integrated into the church, and they have 11 regional fulltime campus ministers across the country.

The second is the Business as Mission Director for the Kale Heywet Church.  He proposed this position in 2009, but it didn’t become a reality until 2017.

Yoseph is an entrepreneur.  Entrepreneurs are quite easy to recognize.  If you spend any time with them at all, and you are a safe person to them, you will hear multiple ideas from them about this, that, and the other.  They are generally able to pull it off.  But they also may not stay long in one place.  Their calling, their role, is to start something new, get it going, and let other people run it.

From all perspectives, Yoseph is a successful person.

But it didn't come easily.  He was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth.

Yoseph is the second of eleven children and was born into a very poor family.  He tells the story of all eleven of them having to sleep on one mattress on the floor, with only one blanket.  He would often wake up cold, as his older brother would have wrapped the blanket around him to keep others from pulling it off.  When I visited his home, he showed me his daughters’ bedroom, each of whom has three blankets.  That was intentional.  His children would not go cold at night like he did.

But despite the poverty, Yoseph was taught how to pray by his father.  His father would often wake him at 3 am and tell him it is time to pray.  And they would spend several hours in prayer together.

At the age of 18, Yoseph identified seven points of success that he strives to live by.  He teaches these to many others.  He is a charismatic and effective teacher/preacher – people hang on his every word.  This is what he wrote at such a young age, showing wisdom beyond his years.  He wrote the first phrase, the points after the dash is what I captured in his explanations.

Seven points of true success  (by Yoseph Bekele, at age 18)

  1. Having a healthy relationship with God.
  2. Having a healthy relationship with self – many times we live in conflict as we can’t live what we believe; self-control is a challenge.
  3. Having a good relationship with others - being salt and light for others is success.
  4. Living in proper relationship with Creation – stewardship; give room for health, cleanliness, etc.
  5. Getting our basic necessities – being a good provider; enough resources for us and to share with others; having capacity; getting what we need is success.
  6. Sharing what we have – giving is success; sharing time, treasure, talents – many things; we are created to give.
  7. Living and dying for the glory of God; our legacy is for the glory of God; starting with God and finishing with God (to live is Christ and to die is gain).
He also wrote the following on how to identify your gifts and talents. As I read it, I think about the eight years he waited for the Business as Mission position, and how it fits into his gifts and talents.  He was willing to wait, to work without pay, and he is hearing a great amount of confirmation of his giftings in this area.

How to identify your gifts and talents (by Yoseph Bekele) 

  1. Attraction – What areas are you attracted to?
  2. Burden – What do you have a burden for?
  3. Capacity – How has your capacity been developed through education, experience, etc?
  4. Inner voice – What is the Holy Spirit whispering to you?
  5. Other’s testimony – What do others say you have a gifting for?
  6. Commitment – Are you committed to do it even without incentive (pay)?
  7. Patience – Even if it takes many years, do you have the patience to see it come to be?
  8. Outcome – Does your work shows results and success?
  9. Happiness/Joy – When working in this area, does it bring you joy and happiness?
Please keep Yoseph in your prayers as he drives all over and preaches at many different churches!  
The recent training of trainers in Addis Ababa - Yoseph is building a team that has the capacity to be change agents in the Kale Heywet Church across Ethiopia!
I would also like your prayers as the Cameroon embassy has decided to give me a hard time regarding my visa.  I am supposed to leave on Tuesday for Tanzania but I don't have my passport back yet and can't get them to answer the phone or respond to emails.  So I'm in the dark as to whether I can leave on Tuesday.  Thanks for your prayers!

Monday, April 22, 2019

Sickness, Africa, and the Reeds

This past week, on Wednesday evening, I started feeling sick.

I had to leave for a flight to Bahar Dar at 5 am the next morning and hoped it would just pass.  At 2 am I woke up feeling worse but not bad enough to cancel the trip.  I couldn't sleep and wondered what I should do.  I prayed and asked God to help make the decision clear.

He answered.  Loudly.  And quickly.  Within an hour, I had a rising fever, vomiting, and the runs.

No question about the trip now.  I made the decision to cancel.

Six miserable hours later, I thanked God for His answer and reminded Him that I had canceled the trip so He could let up on the symptoms.  He did.  A bit.

Turned out to be malaria that I likely picked up in Kenya.  While I lived in Kenya, I didn't contract malaria even one time because of the high elevation (mosquitos and malaria don't mix in high elevations - the same is true in Addis Ababa where malaria is quite rare).  But it seems that malaria is adapting and it is becoming more common in higher elevations as well.  And I didn't take anti-malarials while on this trip at all.  My son has chided me and told me that I'm grounded from going to Africa for a year.  Point taken.

BUT here is why I'm writing this blog.  When I get sick in Africa, it seems to trigger immediate and anxious reactions for some family and friends.  There is for a good reason - because of the death of Bob.  His death was quick, without warning, and to this day, without explanation.  When that happens, one loses confidence in the system to diagnose and treat, as well as in illnesses that can appear minor (as Bob's did) but can take a loved one's life within hours.

And so when I get sick, I know that it triggers fear, especially for Michael, Hannah, and Noah.

And I feel bad about that.  Michael put messages on Facebook asking for prayers, and the number of comments he received was pretty remarkable.  We felt loved, supported, and covered in prayer.  And I have a feeling its because people know that there is probably fear and anxiety for all of us under the surface...again, for good reason.

How I wish we had a cause for Bob's death.  How I wish we could understand it.  Not just for his sake but for my other loved one's sake, as I continue to put them through the fear of me getting sick while I work in various parts of Africa.  Even on this trip home, as I pondered my own illness, I came up with a couple more theories about Bob's death and researched them (fruitlessly).  It's a question that my mind wants to be answered but to no avail.

Until then, we are reminded of Heidelberg Catechism Q&A#1, which is particularly poingant on this Easter weekend:

That I am not my own, 

but belong with body and soul,

both in life and in death, 

to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. 

He has fully paid for all my sins

with his precious blood, 

and has set me free

from all the power of the devil. 

He also preserves me in such a way 

that without the will of my heavenly Father

not a hair can fall from my head; 

indeed, all things must work together

for my salvation. 

Therefore, by his Holy Spirit

he also assures me

of eternal life 

and makes me heartily willing and ready

from now on to live for him.

Monday, April 15, 2019

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Church Today...

Writing on Sunday, April 14 from Hawassa, Ethiopia, about a five-hour drive from Addis Ababa, situated on a beautiful lake.  Our DML Coordinator for Ethiopia, Yoseph, was to preach at one of our partner churches but he decided to stop at a park on our way to church.

And then a funny thing happened...

We stopped at a park to look at the lake and suddenly were surrounded by monkeys and storks.  Before I knew it, the black and white monkey in the photo jumped on my head in order to get better access to the food in my hand.  Having owned a monkey when we lived in Liberia, I wasn't completely taken aback.  But he was heavy.

And then a memorable thing happened...

Yoseph and Sitotaw then proposed that we go for breakfast on the side of the road - with fresh fish that was just caught that morning, fried on the side of the road and eaten with your hands.  It was delicious.  And it reminded us of what the disciples ate with Jesus after his resurrection - fish and bread.  And Paul Soper, who joined us in Ethiopia this past week, reminded us that when Jesus told the disciples to cast their net on the other side of the boat, and they caught 153 fish, it was symbolic of fishing for Gentiles instead of for Jews - 153 fish is a very specific number and it is believed to be the number of different kinds of fish that they were aware of at that time.

And then an inspirational thing happened...

When we finally got to church, we found that the service was going to include a wedding.  It was beautiful, fun and special to see.  But the highlight was listening to Yoseph preach.  He is a gifted preacher.  He is funny and entertaining, yet profound and inspirational.  We didn't understand everything he said as he preached in Amharic, but it didn't need translation to see that the crowd of 2000 people was hanging on his every word, laughing, engaged, shouting Amen, and being fed with the Word of God.  It was so good to see and hear.

It was a very full and very good day.

On Wednesday, we drive back to Addis and Paul leaves that night.  On Thursday, I will fly to Bhar Dar, northern Ethiopia, for meetings with our partners there.  I will then fly home on Friday night.

It will have been six weeks since I left, seven weeks since I saw my husband Michael as he was on a trip before I left.

I only will be home for three weeks before heading out again to Uganda, Tanzania, Cameroon, and Ghana.

I hope you found joy in your day today as well!

Sitotaw, Renita, Paul, Yoseph:  Photobombed by storks.

Surrounded by storks - they really are not the most attractive birds...

Cute little guy was at least polite enough to climb on the car, rather than on me.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Beauty in Addis Ababa

Addis Ababa is a beautiful city of close to four million people, sitting at about 8000 feet above sea level.  It is a city of beautiful people, lovely views, great food, and cultural richness.  Ethiopian people seem to love Ethiopia (maybe that sounds obvious but there are many people who don't like their own country).  We have heard a number of Ethiopians tell us that if they were given a chance to live anywhere in the world, they would choose Ethiopia.  That tells you something about this place.

Last year witnessed some amazing changes in Ethiopia, with a new prime minister who is allowing for freedom of speech, has brokered peace with Eritrea, and has given the whole country hope for the future.  Additionally, a new female president was brought in last year, and women represent more than 50% of the government.

But no-one would say that Ethiopia is perfect.  No country is.  Although Ethiopia is set to have one of the fastest growing economies in Africa, this reality is in part true because they are starting from such a low level.  On the Human Development Index, Ethiopia ranks 173 out of 189 countries.  The per capita income is $783 (compared to the US which is approximately $31,000).

Only 4% of the population in Addis Ababa are Protestant, while 82% are Orthodox Christian.  To say the Orthodox faith varies greatly from the Protestant view of how we are to live and worship would be an understatement.

Predictions are that Addis Ababa will be a city of more than six million in the near future.

Addis Ababa is a city with more than 100,000 homeless people, and at least 18,000 of those are children under the age of eighteen.  People can be seen sleeping on the sidewalk everywhere, every day.

One of the many reasons for this high rate of homelessness is the lack of affordable housing for those moving to urban areas from rural ones.  Additionally, safe housing with basic needs such as running water and electricity are also in short supply.  According to one study, 75% of the total population in Addis is living in overcrowded or dilapidated structures.

But another key reason is the lack of jobs and the high unemployment rate.  As we often say in DML, we need to train job makers, not just job seekers.

One of DML's partners in Ethiopia is an organization called Kibir (, which means "glory" in Amharic, who is doing just that - creating job makers.  Kibir is working in a number of different areas, and they took us to visit one special partner this past week.  A businessman, in his mid-thirties, who owns a construction and a catering company, felt the call of the homeless on his life.  He decided to start a ministry that would daily feed breakfast to the homeless youth and lunch for homeless adults.  While we were visiting, about 20 pre-teen and teen boys were there for breakfast.  About 80 adults show up for lunch daily.  Showers are provided, as is a laundry area where they can wash their clothes.  The gospel message is shared at every meal through a full-time pastor who has now worked in this ministry for six years.  The work is very challenging especially with the youth, Pastor Jeremiah shared, as it can take years to develop a relationship to the point where they will change their living situation.

Kibir is now working with this ministry to provide business training skills to the participants in this program.  Pastor Jeremiah pointed out that many of the homeless adults have a business or are even employed full-time but are still unable to afford housing.  Kibir hopes to help them increase their earnings by teaching the DML business training to them.  Misikir Aliku is the National Coordinator for Kibir and speaks with great excitement about the connection from working with churches, to training business members, to their potential impact in the community.

From the 27 people trained in their first training with this ministry for the homeless, 15 people came together, pooled their individual loans of 3000 birr (about $100 USD) and started a car wash.  The government even gave them land.  This car washing company is running well, with mentoring and consultation provided by Kibir.

Some of the Principle Objectives of Kibir:
  1. To see disciples of Jesus loving our neighbors and showing God’s goodness through our behavior as His people within the marketplace/workplace.
  2. To see many more business people in Ethiopia prepared and sent by the Ethiopian church to tell people of Christ and share his love, recognizing their God-given skills and experience in business. 
  3.  To do all this in a manner which will serve the local church and honor Christ. This is business with integrity and excellence. In particular, we would want to express the work as the single body of Christ, while recognizing our diversity of backgrounds and emphases. 
This is just one story of many that I heard from Kibir as it relates to the impact they are having.  Kibir is one of the beautiful parts of Addis.  In March, they trained 23 new trainers for the DML program.  We are blessed to be partnered with them!  Please pray for them and for their ministry as it grows!

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Heart-breaking and Back-breaking

On Saturday morning, I worked with my students on their income and expenditure analysis and the budget that they formed for their family (we work on both personal as well as organizational/church budgeting).

One pastor showed me his budget, which wasn't balancing, and we looked for options of where he could reduce expenses to help his budget balance.  I noticed he had about $33 in his food budget for the month and asked him how many people that was supporting.  He said six people...and added that it wasn't enough.  Not an option for cutting expenses.

Another pastor had 50% of his income going to rent. No wonder it was difficult for him to balance his budget.

Three of my students aren't working - they are all adults in their late 20s to early 50s - and are trying to survive on about $100/month.

Very tough to make ends meet.

Not only that, but a key difference between African budgets and American budgets is the number of lines for generous giving.  In the US, we usually have one budget line for gifts and offerings.  In the budgets I use here, there is a line for tithe, a line for offerings, a line for family contributions, a line for community contributions, and a line for giving to the poor.  And there is usually something filled in for every line.  One student had 10% for tithe, 36% for family contributions, and about 5% for the others.  Over 50% of his income was given away.

I finished working with the students on their assignments and left my classroom to go back to the guesthouse.  On my way out, there was a bazaar going on at the Evangelical Theological College with lots of different arts and crafts being sold.  They were closing up and so I quickly stopped to pick up a few gifts to take home with me and then rushed to the van.

On my wayback to the guesthouse, I realized that what I spent on gifts - without even thinking - was about the same amount that the one pastor spends on groceries for a whole month for his family of six.


That sick feeling crept in again.

What was I thinking, buying those gifts right after working with these challnges?  What can I do?  How is this fair?  Where is the justice?  I can help some of them out for a month or two but then what?  And what about the conversation we just had in class about how aid can create dependency?

They weren't complaining.  They wanted to figure out how to be stewards with their resources.

I hate poverty.  I hate the struggle that so many have to go through every day to survive. I hate how slow progress is in addressing poverty, the opportunity to work and provide for themselves, and for people not just to survive but to thrive. The selfie I have posted here is from Mount Entoto (just outside of Addis) where woman after woman is seen walking down this mountain with this huge pack of wood on their back.  Where there was a guard rail to keep cars from going over the mountain, they would take the opportunity to rest their load.  Backbreaking work.  And my guess is that the profit is very small.

We had just watched a portion of the Poverty Cure in the class, where Mohammad Unus says, "Human beings are not animals.  Animals are the ones who go around and look for food all day, and then get tired and sleep, and the next day begin in search of food. Human beings are created for a much higher purpose - to take care of the whole planet and take it forward."

While China and India have seen millions of people come out of extreme poverty, Sub-Saharan Africa has actually seen an increase of people in extreme poverty. Watch this clip from the Poverty Cure, which is one that inspires people so much across Africa when we show it.

Yoseph Bekele (right), a DML trainer Tafese, and myself on Mt. Entoto, overlooking Addis.  
One of the older Orthodox Churches in Ethiopia, on Mt. Entoto.  The Ethiopian Orthodox Church represents about 43% of Ethiopians.  There are many challenges in this faith, for which there is a need for ongoing prayer.  Ethiopia has an amazingly rich history, being the first African nation to recieve both Christianity as well as Islam.

Yoseph is doing amazing work as the Business as Mission coordinator for the Kale Heywet Church.  He drove us up the mountain in his car which he rolled three times just a few weeks earlier and yet walked away without a scratch.  He was able to repair it but it is having some issues.  If you would like to contribute to his car repairs so that he can continue to get this word out to 10,000 churches across Ethiopia, please go here and follow the instructions for giving.