Monday, October 20, 2014

10-20-90 to 10-20-14

Youthful Bob
Twenty-four years ago today, I married Robert Allen Reed, on a sunny autumn day at Madison Square Church.  I was 21 years old; Bob was 35 years old.  In many ways, I didn't know who I was or what I was doing - but God knew.  I believe our marriage was orchestrated by Him.

A lot of who I am today is because of the influence that Bob had in my life.  I know that I have heard many of you speak of the influence that Bob had on your life through counseling or his writing.  Imagine 19 years of time with him and you can imagine the influence.
Our last family picture in December 2009 (hasn't Noah changed?!).
Bob helped me discover my own faith. He affirmed my gifts and talents, and encouraged me to develop them.  He challenged my thoughts and my theology.  He taught me to argue in a healthy way.  He encouraged me to see conflict as a good and even healthy thing.   

Although he has now been gone for 4.5 years, he is not forgotten. If you ask my students, they will tell you that I refer to Bob every day when I teach.  I now have to clarify between "my husband" and "my late husband" but the impact that Bob had on my life and the majority of stories that I have to tell are of the time with Bob as my husband.

I don't ever want to forget him, our marriage, or the love we had.  There are three days per year where I will take the opportunity to share:  his birthday, our anniversary, and the day I said goodbye.  But every day I remember him in one way or another.  My heart aches for how much he has missed as our children continue to grow - and even more so for how much my children have missed in having their father witness their life and use his wise words to direct them.

As my friend recently wrote, grief does change us and we don't forget our loved ones, no matter how life may have changed in the years since their passing.  We are encouraged to reinvest in life and not stay stuck in grief.  I'm thankful to God that I have been able to do that, and have been able to continue to live into my calling and even accept a new calling.  

Until we meet again.
Bob, with Rev. Zar by his side.  I'm assuming they have connected in heaven.

Last picture taken of Bob on earth, in Nigeria, two days before he died.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Its Ghana! and Egypt!

If you've been hanging out with us long enough, you might remember way back in January 2009 that Bob wrote a post called, "Its Ghana!" (here), after the decision came for where God was leading us after Liberia.  It was the last post in the "Reeds In Liberia" blog, after which Bob developed the "Reeds In the Wind" blog.

As you know the pilot project in Kenya is drawing to a close and the work is moving forward very well by nationals in several parts of Kenya.  Our philosophy has always been to get out of the way once the work is strong enough to be continued by nationals, while giving support and encouragement as needed.  That strategy worked well in both Liberia and Ghana where the work continues with strength and relationships continue.  And now that time is drawing nigh in Kenya. 

As I have also mentioned, the pilot project was leading us to see if Church-based Business as Mission is something that will work to develop business leaders spiritually and economically, as well as build the church numerically and financially.  It is clear from the work in Kenya that the answer to this is an emphatic yes.  The final surveys have not yet been done and they will give us the actual statistics but all observations and narrative reports are positively conclusive.  Therefore the challenge now before us is to develop materials for the Global Church and begin to widen the work beyond Kenya. 

When I attended the International Council for ICM in Ghana last month, one of the agenda items was to determine which countries would be next.  There have been a number of requests from various African countries but our goal was to determine which countries had the partnership potential and infrastructure through ICM and our partners (like the Christian Reformed World Missions and Partners Worldwide Affiliates) to make this work effective.  An additional aspect we considered was to work in a country that is not considered "Christian" to see the response of the Church in such a context.  After considerations, conversations and consultation (and a lot of prayer), we have decided to start in Ghana and Egypt in 2015.

Rev. Philip Tutu (L) and Rev. Stephen Mairori (R)
Ghana has a strong ICM presence, with ICM Country Director Rev. Philip Tutu, who has been a friend and colleague since 2010.  Additionally, Hopeline Institute is the organization with which I worked for the three years we were in Ghana.  The director, Fanny Atta-Peters is a dear friend and colleague who has wanted Church-based Business as Mission in Ghana since the idea has been in its infancy.  This work is part of her desire, vision and on-going prayers.

Egypt is not one of the formal ICM countries but ICM has been doing work in Egypt for a number of years, through the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo (ETSC) and the Middle East Leadership Training Institute (MELTI).  The Christian Reformed World Missions is also doing work in Egypt through ETSC.  Egypt has been on my heart ever since the Business as Mission Congress in Thailand in which three Egyptian businessmen asked with earnestness for support and help in doing business as mission.  Additionally, Egypt would be a context very different from Kenya, Liberia, and Ghana, all of which are considered Christian countries. This would test this program in a different way; additionally, it will require this work to be translated into Arabic.

The goal will be to develop this program, (book, manual, and possibly video series) during the first few months of 2015 and then launch Discipling Marketplace Leaders in both Egypt and Ghana beginning in June.  I will continue to travel to Kenya as well, being there in both March and October of next year to teach at the seminary.

The big change is that no longer will I live in these countries for extended periods of time.  This work has to grow beyond me if we want to reach the Global Church.  It is not efficient for me to live for two-three years in each country. This is why it is important to develop materials that Church leaders can take and run with.  I will be based in Grand Rapids and travel out to teach and train Church leaders in the respective areas.

Please continue to pray for this work moving forwards.  Current funds are almost depleted and there are still a number of critical projects to complete this year.  We also need to grow our resources so that we can begin in these two new countries next year.  Please pray with us for God to send partners through the body of Christ who believe that reclaiming the marketplace is a valuable effort for building the Church and for poverty alleviation!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Congrats, Kenya! ... I think...(and some sad news)

In my Church-based Business as Mission ToT class, we take a close look at the economic situation in Africa as we discuss the gap between the rich and the poor and the role of the church in the reconciliation of that gap. On Monday, I asked my class the question, "From 1960-1990, the four countries in Asia that led the way in economic growth (called the Asian Tigers) were Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan.  What are the four Lions of Africa?  Most people come up with Nigeria and South Africa pretty quickly, but struggle to come up with Egypt and Algeria.  And since I am teaching a class to Kenyans, most students put Kenya on the list;  I have to tell them that I am sorry, but Kenya is not in the top four.

That was Monday. On Tuesday, BBC announced that Kenya had done some recalculations of their economy, using 2009 as the base year rather than 2001, and including the two areas of communications and property which were not previously included.  The result is that the Kenyan economy is 25% bigger than previously calculated, and it now moves up to the number four slot on the continent.  Additionally, Kenya is now considered a lower middle-income country.  The economic growth rate for Kenya went from 4.7% to 5.7%.  [Growth rate for the US is 1.9% in 2013.]

I got to announce to my class on Wednesday morning that I was wrong and they were right.  That brought cheers but also some sobering discussion.

Being considered a middle income country means that Kenya will not qualify for some assistance from the IMF or World Bank.  To be considered a middle income country, the per capital income per year has to be between $1045 and $12,746.  The per capita for Kenya is $1246, with poverty levels at 45.9% and life expectancy at 61 years.  That is just over $100 per month which is a very difficult income level to survive on.  Not to mention that the tax rate is 44%.  And the unemployment rate is 40%.

The change may increase foreign investor interest in Kenya, which is a good thing, but also can be problematic if foreign investment comes in the form of foreign ownership of local resources at the expense of Kenyans ability to own their own resources.  Foreign investment often means the resources are used, Kenyans are paid a minimum wage, and all the profits go back to the country of origin for the foreign investors.  

To some degree, this makes the work that we are doing a bit more urgent.  Because most people are raised to pursue employment in the formal sector and when they fail to do that they "have to" get into business, doing business is a sign of failure.  Furthermore, business is viewed as a dirty business and the belief is that to succeed, you must be corrupt.  That perception begins to change when we understand the God of business, the purpose of work, and the calling on each of us to "be fruitful and multiply" to fill the earth and help provide goods and services to allow the seven billion people on earth to flourish. 

Additionally, the barriers to do business in Kenya are immense.  In a study by the World Bank, Kenya ranks as 121 out of 185 countries for the ease of doing business (the US ranks as #4, Canada as #17; Singapore is #1).  As one of the trainers said this week, "The sustainability of the whole concept of Church-based Business as Mission lies in Advocacy - in fact, not just sustainability but mobilization and coordination as well."  They declared very loudly that we must develop a national voice, so that the small and medium size entrepreneur has representation as well as options to move ahead in this growing economy...so that they are not left behind.  We will have a meeting this week with a subcommittee to look more closely at that issue.  We have had several associations and cooperatives grow out of our work but each has been geared toward a specific industry.  Developing a national voice would be a bit of a different challenge.

So it's an exciting time and also a challenging time.  I believe the Church has a role to play in this.  I believe the Church doesn't stand aside and watch economies develop.  In fact, I'm writing a paper right now on the role of religion in economic development, and it is quite fascinating to study the role of the Church over the last one hundred years.

As a side note, and as a result of our own development, we are changing our name.  We are no longer the ICM Marketplace Ministry.  We are now "Discipling Marketplace Leaders:  Church-based Business as Mission."  This work is not about just training business people to do business better.  It is about the Church discipling business people to reclaim the redeemed marketplace; and as business people rediscover their calling and recognize that the work of the church is in their parish - their business - they in turn impact the marketplace.  It's not about business as usual.  It's about business as mission.
Postscript:  I just learned of the death of Rev. Augustine Zar from Liberia due to Ebola.  If you visited us in Liberia (and a number of you did) you met him.  He was the Principal of Christ's Friend Children's Academy as well as the pastor of the Christian Reformed Church in Thinkers Village.  [To read a story that Bob wrote about him, click here.] Rev. Zar wrote me a few weeks ago to tell me of his wife's death. They had nine children who are now orphans.  I can no longer pray with confidence for God to do something miraculous in Liberia.  I think His answer is that He will do it not supernaturally but rather through His people - His hands and feet - the body of Christ, His Church. But what to do?  Michael and I sent money for food, and specifically asked that some go to Rev. Zar's family for the funeral of Mary.  Seems a tepid response.  I have been tempted to go to Liberia myself but I don't have medical skills.  I could go and care for the patients, and help clean and bury, but is that a reasonable, rational response?  I've been told it is not.  Why is there not an urgent cry for volunteers to go and help?  Americans will be medically evacuated if they contract Ebola.  They will get treatment - we've seen this.  2 Chronicles 7:14 keeps going over and over in my head: If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face....  God, show us what the Church should be doing regarding Ebola!
Rev. Zar is in the front row, next to me, in purple.

Monday, September 29, 2014

And we're off!

Last week Tuesday, I started a gauntlet of three back to back classes at the Africa Theological Seminary that will carry me until the end of October.  The one day off per week that I do get (usually Sunday) is filled with driving to Kakamega or Eldoret to do continuing work with the groups there.  My evenings are filled with reading and writing papers for my Masters, so my time is very full.  [I know what some of you are thinking - good, then you won't miss Michael as much.  But it doesn't work that way.  :) ]

The current class is a Training of Trainers session, this time with 28 students.  I thought that it might be a bigger class but you never know until the day of, and this time, most of the people who said they were coming actually came. [This presented some problems, as I only had 12 textbooks, but we made due.]

What was so exciting about this class is that this time the two other churches in the pilot project showed up with strength.  The Deliverance Church not only brought three more trainers from their church but also four other pastor from area cities to begin this work as well.  The Anglican Church of Kenya sent three delegates from St. Mark's Church in Eldoret to become trainers.  In addition, a number of other pastors and business leaders from Kitale and a number of cities are also in this class, including two pastors from the Christian Reformed Church of East Africa!  We now have over fifty churches involved in this work across Kitale, crossing many denominations!  There has been great debates and discussions.  I am loving it.

In addition, there are now three simultaneous business classes going on - one in Kakamega and two in Kitale, with a total of about 85 businesses, all run by partner churches.  The trainers are working together and sharing the load to get the best training out to our participants.

We had a Trainer meeting on Thursday and had 29 trainers present!  When we look back and see how we started, it was great to see a room full of trainers who are passionate about this work. And they had such great input as to how to make this program better and better.  It was exciting.

And so, we are off and running.  Please pray with us that Church based Business as Mission will continue to spread in a way that will bring glory to God.  We want to be part of "discipling the Nations" by discipling the Marketplace!

A prayer for all of you foolish people out there like me - this spoke to my heart:


Monday, September 22, 2014

Ahhh...Ghana...

I just spent a whirlwind four days in Ghana. 

The International Council for ICM was meeting, with all the country directors including:  Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Burundi, Ghana, Nigeria, Congo, USA, and Canada.  Liberia and a few others were not in attendance due to other issues.  It was very good to hear the reports of what is going on through the work of ICM in these other countries, both the strengths and the challenges.  It was especially good to spend time in prayer and to refocus our attention on the big picture of what it is we are trying to achieve by equipping Church leaders.  Every country is independently run and it was wonderful to see so many strong leaders wrestling with the changing times in theological education and the changing times in the Church as well.  I was privileged to sit at the table with them.

ICM Country Directors from Uganda, Kenya, and Ghana.
I was given the opportunity to present Church based Business as Mission (CbBaM - get used to this acronym - you will see it more) and was pleasantly surprised when the International Council decided to have CbBaM as one of the three focus areas for ICM going forward.  There was a lot of interest in figuring out how to go forward in the respective countries, so that is very exciting, but also challenging for me.  I additionally had a chance to see a bit better how I fit into the ICM USA team and whether or not there are needs/opportunities/callings for me to get involved in the greater work of ICM.  There are some definite areas of convergence between some of my gifts of organizational development and business and some of the needs of the individual partnerships.  Time will tell.  Dr. Walker continues to encourage me to "narrow my focus and go deeper."

The International Council for ICM
They have done great advertising as well!
As the IC was meeting from 8 am until 7 pm, I had to sneak in meeting times before and after with other dear friends and colleagues from Ghana, like Laurie Korum, Emily Daher, and the whole Hopeline Institute team.  On Friday morning, Hopeline Institute had a breakfast meeting for all their businesses and I was able to meet a lot of old friends and acquaintances.  It was great. 

Hopeline has had amazing growth in the two years that I've been gone.  When I met them in 2009, they had one small office and seven staff.  They now have 25 staff, serving over 6000 businesses, have a central office, a microfinance unit that looks and operates like a bank in the central market area, a full training center with three simultaneous classes going on at a time, and an IT center with sixteen computers, teaching businesses basic computer skills.  It is amazing.  Despite all the growth and success that they have had, they continue to be very grounded spiritually and seek to serve all those with whom they come in contact.  The servant leader heart of Fanny Atta-Peters, the Director, has infected the hearts of her staff, and that is very apparent when you meet them.  In fact, the day I was to fly to Ghana I realized that I would not be able to get a visa upon arrival as I had earlier been told.  The staff there went into full swing to do everything in their power with their contacts in immigration in Ghana to make contact with the Ghanaian Embassy in Nairobi, and with their help I was able to get a visa within a few hours, rather than missing my flights and having to wait 24 hours.  They then met me in full swing at the airport to greet me at ten pm, despite my flight having numerous delays and ICM having a bus to take me to the guest house. 
The Hopeline Microfinance Unit and staff in the Market.

Think that's amazing already?  Well, the next day, I found out that the day I asked for help for my visa, their office had been broken into during the night and they lost most of their laptops and equipment.  While they were helping me, they were dealing with police and with this major loss.  But they didn't speak a word of complaint and instead were gracious and helpful and called me every twenty minutes or so to check up on me.  THAT is a team that is amazing and has a servant heart.  I am honored and blessed to know them.  [By the way, if anyone wants to bless them with a laptop to replace one that was stolen, let me know!]

On Saturday, before taking off for Kenya again, Fanny and Dennis had me over to their house to have every Ghanaian food that I have missed, as well as to visit the new window factory that Dennis has started.  It is called "PROFAD" (with FAD standing for Fanny and Dennis) and it really is quite remarkable.  Several years ago, they brought me to this plot of land in the middle of nowhere where Dennis was producing cement blocks for his construction work.  They have now built this huge factory on that same piece of land, and the area is so developed now that I didn't even recognize it.  Dennis was trained in this work in Turkey when he went there to get windows for the housing development that he built.  He now has so many orders that it is a challenge for him to keep up with the demand.  Praise God!


But things are not easy in Ghana right now.  We stopped for gas while we were out and Fanny asked for 220 Ghana cedis of petrol to be put in.  I looked at her with astonishment and asked how big the tank was, as when I was in Ghana it only took 50 Gh to fill my tank!  When I left Ghana in 2012, the exchange rate was $1 US to 1.5 Gh (it had been that rate pretty consistently for the three years we lived there).  At the beginning of 2014 it increased to 2.5 Gh and right now it is 3.6 Gh.  Prices have increased with the increase in the exchange rate but salaries have not kept up.  So someone making 300 Gh per month at the beginning of this year, is now barely able to do much more than fill a tank of gas with that same salary.  The business owners we met expressed much stress and fear about this trend.  A number of businesses have closed.  When you add to that the high interest rates on loans (upper 30%s) and the frequent power outages, it reminds me how to pray for our brothers and sisters in Ghana. 

Please pray with me!

Monday, September 15, 2014

sigh...Heaviness...sigh...

The last couple of weeks have been quite heavy for me.  The adjustment to Kenya was more difficult than I anticipated.  I miss my husband and my children.  I had to move into a room that is just big enough for the bed, no dresser, and so all my things are piled on top of each other with no where to move.  I moved into a small house with six other people who all seem to be very extroverted (and I am very introverted).  We didn't have any water on several different occasions and in one day the power went off at least twenty times.  A few days after arriving in Kitale, I had to travel again for a training near Nairobi.  And in a few days I will travel again to Ghana.  I have felt very blue.

But I didn't want to share with anyone, although Michael let me vent pretty consistently for the better part of a week, bless his heart.  He encouraged me to share and ask for prayer, but I resisted.  And I realized recently why that was.  I think it is because under the personal heaviness of moving back to Kenya by myself, there is an even greater heaviness for what I see around me.  The Ebola crisis in Liberia occupies my mind much of the time - I pray constantly for my brothers and sisters there.  My brother there shared with me that not only has the economy ground to a halt and prices of food are rising significantly, but he has to pass by countless people on his way to work who are sick with Ebola, laying outside the gate of a hospital or clinic because there aren't enough beds for them to get care. I can't imagine how heartbreaking that would be.  (How can I complain about being away from my husband and children in light of that? Or about the size of a bedroom?)

New weigh bridge in Kenya.
And this week, while conducting a training outside of Nairobi, I heard the following lament of a Kenyan business owner.  The woman I spoke with runs a construction company with her husband.  He is a contractor; she is a supplier.  She has been running this business for about 15 years and for most of those years, business was very good.  But business regulations have changed of late with the government organizing itself in different ways.  This business owner shared that there is a new fee for transport trucks on weigh bridges along the road:  there used to be no weigh bridges, but now, if your
Trucks waiting to be weighed on Kenyan roads.
truck is over 25 tons, you are fined 400,000 Kenya shillings (or $4700 US).  Trucks used to carry 50 tons in order to turn a profit.  Since they can only carry 25 tons now, those who had taken loans for their trucks are simply letting them get repossessed as they can't make a profit with these new rules. 

Permits are now required for digging sand out of the river bed and those new permits went from zero to 60,000 KSH per month (or $700 US).  Her business can't afford that (nor can the customers) and work has slowed down considerably.  She is unsure this business can continue. The challenges to do business are immense.

Add to that the insecurity issue.  I spoke to a man this week who was supplying specialty produce to hotels in Mombasa, but because of Al-Shabab most of the hotels there have closed, tourism has dried up, and he had no buyers for his product.  It all went to waste as Kenyans don't eat it.  The heaviness of doing business in this environment:  new regulations and fees at every turn and insecurity.

One of the buildings with beautifully manicured grounds at KEFRI
So...weight...heaviness...and lots of sighs.  I know that we can always find someone that has it worse than us.  I know that this world will always have troubles. Michael has reminded me over and over that just because others have it worse doesn't negate my discomfort or sadness.  But more than anything, I pray for Christ to return.  And soon.

Growing bamboo is encouraged.
Yet in the middle of this, I had the opportunity to stay at the Kenya Forestry Research Institute for several days as the training that I conducted was held here.  It was a place of beauty and forward thinking - researching trees and their uses; nurseries everywhere with people tenderly caring for these plants; carefully nurtured flowering trees and beautiful plants everywhere; it was quite and serene amidst a world that is chaotic.

This week someone posted this poem by Mary Oliver on Facebook and it resonated with me and spurred me onward:

"When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it is over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.”
― Mary Oliver