Monday, February 23, 2015

Please join us in prayer...

Every Tuesday morning at 7 am for the past seven years, David Graf, Mary Springer and I have been on a prayer call together for thirty minutes.  Other people have come and gone during the seven years, joining in here and there but the three of us have been committed to this every Tuesday morning.  On Mondays, I always email out a list of prayer requests related to the work in Kenya (or Ghana or Liberia prior to Kenya).  We get on at 7 am, Tuesday morning; we have no conversation with each other but enter immediately into prayer and usually, once we say amen, right at 7:30 am, we go on our way.  We have grown very close to each other in the process of doing this and I am so thankful for my brother and sister in Christ and how they have bathed this work in prayer.

Map of where the Discipling Marketplace Leaders Trainers are living in Kenya.
Recently I sent out the list of current classes that are going on in Western Kenya and they asked me to pray through that list, especially as I knew more of the details (and how to pronounce the names) a bit better.  I realized as I prayed through this that it is pretty exciting to have this many classes going on simultaneously and that the prayers that have been uttered regularly have been answered as we have been seeking to join God on the work He is doing.

So I wanted to ask you to join in prayer as well for these groups as you have the time and/or inclination:

Alexie - please pray for her healing!
  • Vihiga Class -  This class was started by Alexie who traveled two hours each way by public transport to Kitale when she learned about this class.  She is a member of the Friends Church and knew that her town of Vihiga needed this ministry.  She became a trainer and started a class with twelve participants from several churches in Vihiga.  They are going to session ten (out of twelve) this week Tuesday.  Unfortunately, Alexie broke her leg recently which caused a bit of delay in her class but they are moving again.  Alexie has sent one member to the current Training of Trainers in Kitale so that she can have someone teaching the classes with her
Pastor Moffat and family
ARK Real Estate Training
  • Pastor Moffat Weru (I wrote about him before - he had the fire at his business and recently received a check from the insurance company - praise God!) has started a class at his church, Faith Tabernacle in Kitale.  This is a big class of 53 participants, involving seventeen other area churches.  They are moving to session five (out of twelve) this Friday.
  • Ndalu Friends Church is taking on session 7 come Friday 14. This has 12 participants and was started by Alfayo Lundu who has been passionate about this work spreading throughout the Friends Denomination. This class has struggled with coordination and needs ongoing support and prayers.
  • Friends Church Kitale (the church where this work was originally started) is training twelve members of an up and coming real estate company called ARK Real Estate, who is building affordable housing.  Several of their key members have already gone through the class, but they decided they wanted to go through together as a company to enrich the experience.  We gave them a loan for $6000 which they paid back easily in six months and they continue to grow.  We are thankful to the pastor of the Friends Church for being willing to serve as a chaplain to this company! They started session 1 on February 1, 2015
  • A new class started at the Christian Reformed Church in Chebarus (outside Kitale) on February 7, 2015. There were 26 participants in attendance and the trainer is David Masai, who has his Masters in Divinity, went through our ToT, and is a pastor in that church.
  • Grace Way Chapel with Pastor Apollo is planning to begin a class soon. The church is in Kitale. Alfred Kibairu recently spoke to the businesspeople in the church where they were having a seminar.
  • Caroline Sudi is planning a second class at AGC in Kitale. She is yet to come up with the dates.
  • The second class in Kakamega is still waiting on the commissioning due to the motor vehicle accident of the senior pastor, Dr. Jackson Wambua.  We join with them in prayer for his healing.
  • There are other classes being planned in Kisumu, Webuye and Luanda Vihiga.  
  • Alfred Kibairu is currently training seven new Trainers from three new churches to begin this work as well.
It is so exciting to see this multiplication taking place! I leave for Kenya this Friday where I look forward to looking in personally on a few of these classes.  I will be there in Kenya for three weeks and will be teaching an Accounting for Pastors Class while I'm there, as well as working to fill two positions for the Discipling Marketplace Leaders office:  the Western Kenya Regional Director and the Program Coordinator.  Please pray for us to find the right people!

Additionally, I will be joined by JoAnn Swart, from Madison Square Church and Marketplace Chaplains USA, who will be teaching a class on Marketplace Chaplaincy at the Africa Theological Seminary in Kitale, Kenya.  The pastors have been asking for this class and I am thrilled that JoAnn was willing and able to come to teach it!  Please pray for JoAnn to have safe travel, and healthy and enjoyable time, and fruitful discussions in her class!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Startling Facts about Food Waste

I mentioned the last time I wrote that 40% of the food grown and produced in the US goes uneaten. If you have been around my house since I learned this, you will know that I can't seem to get this out of my mind.  It boggles my mind - it is so difficult to comprehend.  One hundred and sixty-five billion dollars ($165,000,000,000 USD) per year of food going to landfills.  All of this food in the landfill produces methane gas which is 25 times more powerful in global warming than carbon dioxide. How does this happen in a world with so much poverty, so much need, so much hunger?

So I set about to do a little research.  And this is what I found. There is waste at both the pre-consumer and post-consumer levels.  Pre-consumer waste might come from the farms where produce is found to be less than perfect and won't be purchased or from food processing plants where machines are designed for looking for aesthetic qualities rather than food utilization.  There are things that can be done about that, but I want to spend more on the post-consumer waste, referring to when it comes to us.


First a couple of facts about agriculture:  50% percent of all land in the US and 80% of all freshwater consumed is used for the production of food.  Meat consumption has increased dramatically in the last 100 years.  The consumption per person in the US is 125 KG per year and is the highest worldwide. It is said that three hundred trout are needed to support one man for a year; the trout, in turn, must consume 90,000 frogs, that must consume 27 million grasshoppers that live off 1000 tons of grass.  Currently, fifty percent of US grain production and 40% worldwide of grain production goes to feed animals because of the increased meat consumption.  Usually as income increases, meat consumption increases.  If all countries move toward more meat consumption, there will be challenges ahead in having enough grain to support them.  The way we eat matters.  And what we do with the food we have access to matters as well.

Here are some facts about post-consumer food waste:
  • The average dinner plate has increased in size by 36% since 1960.  That means that we take more food, consume more food, but also potentially waste more if we are not able to finish what we have taken.

  •  Of the food that becomes waste, 44% comes from residential homes, 33% from restaurants and food service institutions, grocery stores 11%, and the balance from the fields and processing side.  There is waste along each point, but the good news here is that WE (you and I) can do something about this.  A lot of the waste comes from buying things that we end up not using and it spoils.  This is mostly produce but can also be in leftovers.  This can be reduced but will take diligence and discipline to use food up on time or freeze it if possible.
  •  There is also great confusion over the dates that we find on food.  Most people see the dates on food as expiration dates and view them as a way to gauge food safety.  But that is not the case.  Those dates typically refer to "best before" or "sell by," meaning that the date is telling the peak quality.  There still may be a lot of time remaining for the food to be good after the date, but much food is thrown away because of this confusion.  I was surprised to find out that these dates are not regulated at all (except for infant formula).  That means there is no supervision to decide the "best by" date and unfortunately, it is in the best interest of food production companies for us to throw out food and buy more.  We need to have more education about food dates. 
  • As consumers, we also need to challenge ourselves to not only buy the most perfect produce.  When stores can only sell the most perfect fruit and vegetables, they are left with the imperfect produce that can't be sold and ends up going to waste.  Some stores do donate to food kitchens or pantries, which is good, but we can also focus more on food utilization and less on aesthetics.
  • Restaurants are another great source of waste, mostly coming from the leftovers of the food that customers don't finish.  Think about how many restaurants are in your area, and how much food is left on plates on a daily basis.  On average diners leave 17% of their meal uneaten and 55% of leftovers are not taken home. All of this food needs to be disposed of.  My proposal is that restaurants begin to charge a "waste" tax.  If you chose not to finish the food on your plate, you are charged a fee to cover the cost of the disposal of that waste.  That might cause people to be more careful about ordering only what they can eat.  Or it might cause people to be more faithful in taking home the leftovers, which still leaves the challenge of eating the leftovers once they are home.  Restaurants also have a challenge in having such broad menus which means they have to have all of that food available for whoever orders it.  This also means that if no-one does order it, it needs to be thrown out at some point.  Did you know that McDonalds throws out their fries after seven minutes and hamburgers after twenty minutes?  Something I appreciated in Africa was that in some restaurants you could ask what is available and they would give you three choices, and you choose from those three. 
  • There are some who say that "because I compost, I don't waste."  Composting is important (although only 3% of food waste is currently being composted) but it is not more important that reducing food waste to begin with.  If we think about what goes into getting a potato from the field to the fork, there is much to think about.  The farmer has their inputs, including fertilizer, water, nutrients, equipment, and labor.  The food production company has their costs.  The retail store has their costs.  By the time it comes to you, a lot has been put into that potato.  To just put it in compost is a waste of those inputs and efforts.  Composting is better than landfill but not better than consumption.
The UK ran a "Love Food Hate Waste" campaign that reduced their waste by 18%.  We need to do the same here but it starts with each individual and household doing their part.  The amount of waste ends up being between $1300-2300 US per family for a family of four.  Think about what that savings could do for our giving if that was turned into gifts that could bless others?

Feel free to join me in feeling faintly ill about this and see what you can do in your own home to reduce waste!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Contrasts

The Christian Reformed Church of East Africa near Kitale
Most countries have significant internal contrasts, with areas of great wealth and areas of great poverty, often in very close proximity to each other.

Recently I experienced such a set of contrasts but in two churches in Kenya.

One week I'm preaching in a church of about 100 people, including children.  It is a mud church, on someone's personal property.  It is in a rural area, surrounded by maize fields and cows pass by the windows regularly.  The service starts at 10 am and finishes around 1 pm.  The people all hang around after the service and share a meal together.

David Masai, a pastor of the CRCEA, also a trainer for CbBaM
The next week I preached three services in a church of about 6000 people, with choreographed dancers, elaborate sound systems and city folks.  I am told I have 20 minutes to preach for the first sermon, 30 minutes for the second service, and 40 minutes for the third service.  At 20 minutes during the first service, the pastor (a student at ATS) gets up to let me know time is up.  Time is managed to the minute.  People are herded out the back door, while a flood of people enter the front door, tightly managed by ushers, to allow the next service to start on time. 

AIC Fellowship Church in Eldoret
Back in the US I am struck by the contrasts in food compared to what I eat in Kenya.  There is a great website that shows what a week of groceries looks like around the world (To see it, go here):
  • In Cairo, Egypt, an average family spends $78/week on food.
  • In Ecuador, $32/week
  • In North Carolina, USA, $342/week
  • In China, $65/week
  • In Mexico, $189/week
  • Food for one week for a family in Ecuador
  • In Mali, $30/week
  • In Kuwait, $252/week
  • In Japan, $361/week
  • In Italy, $295/week
  • In India, $45/week
  • In Germany, $568/week
  • In Cuba, $64/week
  • In Canada, $392/week
  • In Sarajevo, $90/week
  • In Australia, $428/week 
Food for one week for a family in the US
What is interesting is how different the food is in each country - very processed versus very fresh. And I just learned last week that about 40% of the food grown in the US ends up in the landfill due to waste.  This is mostly because of the amount of food that we throw away in restaurants, institutions, and our own homes.

Lands of contrasts.  These are just two very small contrasts of course.  One could list thousands and thousands.  But it can feel overwhelming when changing between cultures.  I continue to get flashes and waves of the contrasts from day to day, and often find it difficult to articulate.

I will be dropping the blog to every other week for a period of time, especially while so much of my time is being consumed by writing the Discipling Marketplace Leaders book and manual.  I continue to appreciate your prayers for this process!

I could see these two children from my seat in the rural church.  They studied the back of my car for such a long time, pointing things out to each other.  It was very cute.

Monday, January 19, 2015

When Advocacy Works

On December 8, I wrote a blog about Pastor Moffat Weru and the fire he experienced in his business (click here to read the story).  A number of you replied with sympathy and prayers.  A few of you offered gifts or loans to help rebuild his business.  If you remember, Pastor Moffat had just graduated as a Marketplace Minister and was running a motorcycle parts shop when the shop two doors down from him caught fire.  The fire was spreading and in an effort to "help," community members broke down the doors of Pastor Moffat's shop and carried his goods out to "save them."  Unfortunately, most of those goods were then looted and the fire did not reach the interior of his shop.  Pastor Moffat had insurance but the insurance company denied his claim as the fire didn't reach his shop.  When he argued that they broke in and stole, the insurance company stated that because it was such a large crowd it was a political looting and therefore his insurance didn't cover that.  When Pastor Moffat pursued the security company, who also carries insurance on properties that they protect, they said they weren't responsible because the security guard was doing everything he could to stop the fire.

Shaking our heads over the injustice of it, we rallied to figure out how we could help Pastor Moffat.  But for just a few days we forgot that we had power that goes beyond that.  Power in the name of advocacy. 

Of the four activities that we do to help businesses develop, three are based on internal issues:  training, mentoring, and access to capital.  But anyone who has done a SWOT analysis, knows that there are both internal and external issues that face businesses (or churches or organizations), with the external issues taking the form of opportunities or threats.  That is where Advocacy comes in, the fourth activity that we do with businesses.  Often times businesses feel very much like the little fishes in these pictures, without much hope to come against the big system and make any changes.  Kenya ranks at 129/185 countries for the ease of doing business, according to the World Bank annual report (Doing Business 2014).  There are many threats to doing business, especially as it relates to the strength of the legal systems in a country as well as the cost and efficiency to business processes.

However, what advocacy does is help these "small fishes" figure out how to organize themselves to look like a big fish and exert a bit more power on the system.  I was first exposed to this idea when I worked with an organization called the Michigan Organizing Project and carried it over to my work with Partners Worldwide.  This visual image resonates with small business owners who often feel overwhelmed by the system and powerless as to their role in it.  The businesses in Kenya are doing a great job of seeing the potential of this and they have organized themselves into three centers, with three different cooperatives based on their geographical area.  Within these cooperatives, they are forming a number of subcooperatives as it relates to agriculture (both crops and animals), retail, services, manufacturing, and energy production.  Together, they have decided that the Discipling Marketplace Leaders office needs to form a National Forum under which they can all come together to address national issues.  We have formed a committee for this and are well on our way with these plans.

So now, back to the story with Pastor Moffat.  On the Friday before I left Kenya, we were to have an Advocacy committee meeting.  As I waited for people to arrive, the idea occurred to me (or can I say the Holy Spirit planted an idea?) that we should get involved with Pastor Moffat’s situation.  Here was a man who paid insurance and had a security firm who is insured for looting and both had denied him.  There was injustice here.  A secondary motivation for me was the knowledge that when it is difficult for people to believe in working together, it is necessary to have a “win” to help business members recognize the importance of standing together and uniting. 

During the meeting I brought up the idea that we should pursue this case with Discipling Marketplace Leaders, have a meeting with Pastor Moffat and the insurance company and security company, and remind them that we are advocating for our businesses to take insurance but if they won’t pay, what is the point?  We also talked about picketing the place with our businesses if we needed to.

I left Kitale on the Monday following this meeting and asked Pastor Alfred Kibairu to take the lead on this.  Kibairu met with Moffat, who had already admitted defeat and didn’t want to go back to them.  But Kibairu persuaded him to set up a meeting, and Kibairu accompanied him.  And it’s amazing how quickly a business can see sense when faced with a bit of pressure, backed by the power of numbers!   After a couple of meetings, the security firm closed shop and fled town. But the insurance agency agreed to pay!  Pastor Moffat had to round up his receipts and turn them in.  He lost about 850,000 KSH worth of goods (about $10,000 US) but was only insured for 650,000 KSH ($7600 US) and that is what he will receive.  He is thrilled!  Plus it’s a good lesson for him to increase his insurance and keep it for next time, this time including a policy for looting! 

We will now invite this insurance agency to speak to our businesses about the importance of insurance and (hopefully) offer them good deals, continuing to develop a relationship with DML that will be good all the way around!  We will tell this story to our businesses and encourage them to work together!

This week we will be going through loan applications from all three centers, totaling over $100,000 US in requests.  We have only $40,000 to loan out, given by several investors in the US who have loaned us the money for these businesses, so we have some tough decisions to make.  Pastor Moffat will be one of the ones receiving a loan, but please pray with us for discernment and wisdom for the rest!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Reflections on 2014

This is the first blog entry for 2015.  2014 was quite a year for me personally with my marriage to Michael and the blending of our two families.  We spent the week of Christmas merging our two houses to finally be under one roof.  2014 was a year of great joy and great changes.

Professionally it was also quite a year, with the work of Church-based Business as Mission growing by leaps and bounds, with the development of a plan to develop suitable materials to be rolled out to more countries in this coming year - starting in Ghana and Egypt.  This also includes a number of changes for me.

My children continue to change and grow:  Hannah turned 21 in 2014 and Noah will turn 20 in just a few weeks.  Hannah is a senior at Calvin; Noah is a junior.  Both continue to face life challenges and develop into the adults that God is calling them to be.  It is exciting yet scary to watch.

But most significant in this past year was what continues to happen around the world.
  • Ebola swept through West Africa reaping devastation and loss of life.  Countries that have experienced so devastation because of civil war and poverty were hit again with this terrible and terrifying disease. 
  • Boko Haram continued to wreak havoc in Nigeria.
  • Al Shabab continued to kill and terrorize in Kenya and Somalia.
  • The rise of IS and terrorist attacks in other parts of the Middle East drive fear into the hearts of many.
These are just a few of the things that remind us of how tenuous peace is and how fragile life is.  We are reminded of how far we are from being the creation that God intended.  Yet through the darkness we hear stories of grace and mercy, of perseverance and God's light shining through. 

Overall there continues to be a spirit of optimism in Africa that things are changing for the better and that Africa is indeed rising.  What will 2015 bring?  What entries will be made in this blog over the next 52 weeks?  What turmoil, grace, and creativity will the world see?

To help me find my center, I go back again to the book Guerrillas of Grace by Ted Loder, and to the prayer, "Help Me to Believe in Beginnings":

God of history and of my heart, so much has happened to me during these whirlwind days:
I've known death and birth; 
I've been brave and scared;
I've hurt, I've helped;
I've been honest, I've lied;
I've destroyed, I've created;
I've been with people, I've been lonely;
I've been loyal, I've betrayed;
I've decided, I've waffled;
I've laughed and I've cried.
You know my frail heart and my frayed history - and now another day begins.

O God, help me to believe in beginnings and in my beginning again,
no matter how often I've failed before.

Help me to make beginnings:
            To begin going out of my weary mind into fresh dreams,
                        Daring to make my own bold tracks in the land of now;
            To begin forgiving that I may experience mercy;
            To begin questioning the unquestionable that I may know truth;
            To begin discipling that I may create beauty;
            To begin sacrificing that I may accomplish justice;
            To begin risking that I may make peace
            To begin loving that I may realize joy.

Help me to be a beginning for others,
            To be a singer to the songless,
                        A storyteller to the aimless,
A befriender of the friendless;
To become a beginning of hope for the despairing,
Of assurance for the doubting,
Of reconciliation for the divided;
To become a beginning of freedom for the oppressed,
Of comfort for the sorrowing,
Of friendship for the forgotten;
To become a beginning of beauty for the forlorn,
Of sweetness for the soured
Of gentleness for the angry,
Of wholeness for the broken,
Of peace for the frightened and violent of the earth.

Help me to believe in beginnings,
            To make a beginning,
To be a beginning,
So that I may not just grow old,
But grow new
Each day of this wild, amazing life
You call me to live
                        With the passion of Jesus Christ.

I can't control much of anything in the world.  I can control very little within my own circle of family and loved ones.  I have difficulty even controlling myself.  But if I can live into even a portion of these words in 2015, this year will be a success.  I wish you the passion of Jesus Christ and the belief in beginnings as well in 2015.

Monday, December 22, 2014

"I've got you..."

This blog may make some of you uncomfortable, as I will be talking about the healing power of touch.  If that does make you uncomfortable, please stop now and know that next week's topic will be different!

For those of you still here, I want to share something that has become an important realization to me in the last six months, as it has been such a surprise. It is intimate and personal, yet I think important.  It has to do with sleeping with someone - not sex - but actually sleeping.

You see, Bob and I shared a bed for nineteen and a half years.  Very early in our marriage we somehow decided that it was too hot and disruptive to hold each other during the night and still get a good night's sleep.  And so we slept side by side but without touch.  And to be honest, over the years when I saw people sleeping and holding each other on TV or in movies, I was 99% certain that they just did that for the cameras.  After all, I believed that people can't actually get good sleep that way!

Imagine my surprise after marrying Michael six months ago when he immediately wanted to hold me all through the night.  I thought, "well, we can try it but I can't imagine that we will get much sleep."  For the first few nights, I didn't sleep much as I'm a light sleeper.  But then I got used to it.  And I have grown to absolutely love it.  Suddenly, the bed is a haven, a safe place where being held is so healing and powerful.  It is private and intimate, and no-one enters in that sacred place.  To enjoy that for seven hours a night is an amazing thing!  It makes you feel that you can face any troubles in the daytime, knowing that there will be healing again that night.  If you have experienced this type of touch and affection for your entire married life, then you are indeed blessed.  I wish I could turn back the hands of time and do it differently with Bob as I think it would have made our marriage even stronger and healthier.

Not only is being held a delight, but whenever Michael stirs during the night, he usually whispers some words of love to me for a second (almost unconsciously) and then falls right back to sleep.  On one of the first nights when he stirred, with his arms around me, he said reassuringly "I've got you."  I remember smiling and thinking to myself, "Really?  You've got me?  Hmmm...not sure I need that.  After all, I'm this tough missionary lady who has survived rogues, arrests, a husband's death, and being alone in Africa.  I think I've proven that I am not the type of woman who needs a man." 

Yet, over the months, I have learned something additionally important.  I do need someone to hold me and tell me that they've "got me".  I have learned that I'm not so tough.  I have learned that in many ways, this is how I was made to be at this time in my life - in relationship, in communion, both a helpmate to and a helpmate of another person.  God has used Michael to slowly break down that wall of independence.  The thing I love about Michael is that he has always seen me as Renita the person, and not Renita the missionary or Renita the widow or any other role.  And so when he says he's "got me," he is telling me that NOT because I am needy or weak or need reassurance, but simply because he loves me.  And that lesson has pointed me back to the realization of my dependence on God as well.  I want to feel the embrace of God and know that He's "got me" but too often I don't want to bother Him, or I think I need to solve my issues for myself, or even worse, for Him.  But God's desire for me, like Michael's, is one of pure love and acceptance, and He has proven over and over again to me that He's "got me."

That is one of the gifts of Christmas time - the message that He's "got us" whether we are married or single, old or young, wise or naive. The message is that it doesn't matter what we have or have not done, said or not said, thought or not thought; He loves us and He desires to be intimate with us and hold us in His safe, reliable, and ever-loving arms. And likewise, I think the message for us is that we need each other to be the hands and feet of Jesus, to hug and encourage, to "have" each other when we need each other and even when we don't.

Since getting married, Michael and I have heard independently from countless people, in many places, how much better we look, how much healthier, more rested, more youthful, and more lovely we look.  [In fact, it has happened so often that I shudder to think of how terrible I must have looked before - and that it was obvious to so many people!]  I believe that this change is a reflection of the healing power of touch, of safety, and of the joys of marriage.

As we enter this week of Christmas, my prayer for all of you, dear friends, is that you experience the loving arms of God and know that through the birth of Christ we can be assured that, indeed, He's got us.