Monday, October 24, 2016

Two Simple Words: "Receive Jesus"

Last Monday, I left for Kenya.  I arrived in Kitale on Wednesday morning, had ten minutes to "settle in" and then we took off for a long day of meetings in Kakamega, returning to Kitale twelve hours later.  Needless to say, I was exhausted.

Thankfully, Thursday was a national holiday in Kenya and so I had the day to rest, unpack, iron my clothes, do my grocery shopping, and some cooking to carry me through the next week of teaching and meetings.  I was to start teaching Business as Mission for the BA Theology class at Africa Theological Seminary on Friday.

Mid-morning, I left the seminary campus to get my groceries.  I flagged down a "boda-boda" (motorcycle taxi) and jumped on the back.  Despite having been on the road and in meetings yesterday seeing a great deal of Kenya, I took a deep breath of fresh air and sighed happily.  This is what I love when being back in Africa - having all my senses wake up with the sights and sounds of a society who lives so much outside:  people walking, talking, and laughing, cooking and cleaning, hustling here and there, cows, goats, sheep on the road, little shops everywhere.  The boda-boda zipped through town, dodging people, cars, animals, and other boda-bodas.  As we came close to the junction of the grocery store, there was heavy traffic and we were stopped for a few minutes.  Cars, motorcycles, and pedestrians were pressing in on all sides.  Instinctively, I tightened my arm against my chest to protect my purse from being grabbed.  Then a man, maybe in his 50s, thin and looking a little disheveled, crossed between the bike I was on and the car behind me.  He caught my eye as he came closer.  And as he passed, he put his hand on my shoulder and said, "Receive Jesus" and kept walking.

I smiled and relaxed.  My first thought was, "Thanks, but I have."  Traffic began to move again and as I felt the wind in my face, those words continued to wash over me again and again.  Such simple words.  No agenda behind them as we were in traffic.  He wasn't trying to present the four spiritual laws to me.  Simply a hand on my shoulder, "Receive Jesus" and moved on.

And it made me think all day.  Thoughts like... 
  • ...Why don't I ever say things like that?  I'd be afraid they are already Christian and I'd be insulting them.  I'd be afraid it would be seen as a platitude of a "muzungu" (white person) who wants to be the "missionary savior..."
  • ...Wishing that ministry could be that easy.  Two simple words.  Not the long challenge of empowerment and personal ownership, of transformation that takes a great amount of time... 
  • ...Where did he learn to come up with those two words and how long has he been saying them?  Rather provocative words, they immediately make one think.  They are an invitation, not a command. If all you have it two seconds with someone, those are two great words... 
  • ...Reflecting back to my flight from Amsterdam to Nairobi, where I was sitting next to two men (one from Toronto and one from Sweden) who wanted to talk the whole way.  In the past I would have assumed that these men were coming for humanitarian reasons and probably were associated with a missions group (they both were with groups seated elsewhere on the plane).  It didn't take long to understand they were both going to Kenya for safaris and, given my recent blog on unreached people groups, it was pretty safe to think that they might not have "received Jesus."  When they asked me what I was doing in Kenya, I spoke with boldness but didn't say "Receive Jesus..."
  • ...Wondering if that man said that to all people, or when he caught my eye, whether he saw something in me specifically.  I wondered about his own life, his story, his own journey with Jesus...
You can see how my mind was going.  But what a delightful thing - two words and I'm left in a world of thoughts for the day.

Please continue to pray for the work of Discipling Marketplace Leaders in Kenya as we seek to reach more people for Jesus, equip them to achieve the purpose for which God made them, and send them out to be a blessing to others, causing more people to "receive Jesus."

I leave you with a picture of me and DML Kenya Co-Director, Rev. Elly Kisala.  My dear husband, Michael, complained that it has been many, many months since I have put a picture of me on this blog, so here it is!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

This is NOT Normal "Locker Room Talk"

I didn't think I'd ever write about this.  Ever.  Ever ever.  My fingers tremble as I begin.

However the recent video released from Donald Trump in which he says "when you are a star, they let you do can do anything," and the on-going follow-up afterwards, is compelling me to speak up.  As I listened to Michelle Obama’s passionate speech about this subject, I heard her say the following, " would be dishonest and disingenuous of me to just move on to the next thing like this is all a bad dream...this is not something that we can just sweep under the rug as another disturbing footnote in a sad election season...It’s that feeling of terror and violation that too many women have felt when someone has grabbed them, or forced himself on them and they’ve said no but he didn’t listen – something that we know happens on college campuses and countless other places every single day...if all of this is painful to us as grown women, what do you think this is doing to our children?"  I realized that the violation that I felt during one period of my life also needs to come out as part of the landscape of what women deal with from generation to generation that is glossed over and passed over by countless others.  I realized that my story is one of thousands upon thousands, but it may be one that is helpful to share to remind us that this is very real, very disturbing, and very much part of our present. 

When I was nineteen years old, a sophomore at college, I was acquaintance-raped.  The guy was a senior, a captain of a sports team, and a guy I thought was really cool.  It was April and he was graduating from Calvin College in a few weeks.  He hadn't really paid any attention to me prior to this event but that night, out of the blue, he called me and asked if he could come over.  His girlfriend had just broken up with him, he was bummed out, and he wanted to talk.  He showed up at my door with a twelve pack of beer and proceeded to lament his situation.  And then he started to make some moves on me.  At first, I was flattered.  But then, not so much.

And then he went further and I told him "no" a number of times.  But he didn't stop.  I didn't scream.  I didn't hit.  I didn't punch.  I struggled.  I was overwhelmed.  I felt helpless.  He was popular.  He was a star (in my eyes). I didn't know how to stop it.  And then it was over.  The next day, he sent me an "I'm sorry" card, which I still have.  He knew what he did was wrong.  I never heard from him again.  He graduated a few weeks later and disappeared.

Life for me changed dramatically after that.  Up until that time, I had had a very active social life but it all stopped after that event.  I told no-one.  For two years, I dated no-one.  I stopped seeing friends.  My parents, who had called me their "sunshine girl" while I was growing up, didn't know what happened as their little girl was no longer smiling.    I focused on school and began working forty hours a week while going to school full-time, just to stay busy.  I made three appointments with my pastor over those two years, but cancelled each one as I could not bring myself to talk about it.  I was struggling with tremendous guilt and shame.  How could I complain about something when I didn't do everything to stop it?  I thought it would have been easier if I had been stranger-raped and attacked.  This was a very quiet, hidden crime.

I didn't tell anyone for two years.  Two very long, lonely years.  The first person I finally told was Bob, not as a counselor, but as my boyfriend at that time.  He, of course, helped me to process it and put the locus of responsibility off myself and onto this man.  Bob helped me heal and come back to be myself again.  My parents were so happy when Bob came into my life because they said they finally had their little girl back.  I started to smile again.

Why am I telling this now in this public forum?  Because of the words that Trump used as related to justifying sexual assault and then calling it locker room talk.  That was NOT locker room talk.  Locker room talk is crude; it is not about assault and breaking the law.  He was a 59 years old man (!!) who had been married for one month to his third wife when that incident was caught on tape.  He was not a pimply 19 year old trying to impress his buddies.  These comments show a scary side of a need in a grown man for power and control.  Saying that he can "do anything" to women, because of his position, was reminiscent to me of the man who raped me.  This guy knew that because of his sports position and being a senior that he had some power over me, a young enamored starry-eyed girl.  I imagine the women that Trump groped felt the same way as I did.

But I think it was even worse for them.  Their jobs were/are at stake.  This is a man who is has no hesitation to publicly lie and call names at any accusation. I completely understand why the women now accusing Trump of sexual assault didn't come forward for years and years.  It was 28 years ago for me and while I have no interest in knowing what the man who did this to me is doing now, I would feel compelled to speak up if he entered a public arena.  Without a doubt. 

I'm glad that the person interviewing him, Billy Bush, was suspended.  We apparently have lower standards for people running for president then for journalists.  It's appalling to me that Donald Trump might be the president of this country and that we, as a people, have let him get as far as he has.

As a victim of sexual assault, I'm outraged.

As a woman, I'm outraged.

And as a human being, I'm outraged.

This is not a political statement.  I have no interest in engaging politics in this blog.  But I do care about not having someone who flouts sexual assault as the commander-in chief of this country.

Enough is enough.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Surprising News About Unreached People Groups

I just returned from a mission conference in Seattle, with hundreds of people who are passionate for world-wide missions.  It is great to see the creativity of God's people in meeting needs, challenges and opportunities around the world in such creative ways!

As I was manning a table for most of my time for Discipling Marketplace Leaders, I didn't have a chance to hear a lot of the workshops or speakers, but there was one workshop that I was able to attend.  The speaker was J.D. Payne, an author and pastor from Birmingham Alabama, who talked about "Pressure Points" for the Global Church.  What was most intriguing for me was the research that he shared about unreached people groups.

A simple definition of an unreached people is a group that has a common affinity linguistically, culturally and socially, and where there are less than 2% evangelical Christians, or less than 5% adherents to Christianity.

What was most surprising is the list of the four countries with the most unreached people groups.  They are:  1.  India; 2.  China; 3. United States; and 4. Canada.

Surprising, isn't it?  The US and Canada are number 3 and 4.  All four countries are also rather large, but if we were to look at much of Europe, we would probably see a similar phenomenon as only 2.5% of Europeans are Evangelical Christians.  The face of missions is changing.  No longer does "missions" mean going overseas.  No longer does missions mean going to a foreign land or learning another language.  Doing missions now includes going into our cities, our communities, and learning who our neighbors are, right where we live.

The US, Canada, and Europe are considered Post-Christian Mission Fields.  It's an interesting concept to process.  Ironically, Seattle and Portland are the least religious cities in the US.  A city in Utah has only one church for every 18,500 citizens.  This takes an entirely new thought process to missions.

The Great Commission, in Matthew 28:19-20 says, "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."  There is one main command in the Great Commission, which is to "make disciples."  Once you have made the disciples, you are to baptize and teach them.  And the word "go" is to be understood NOT as going to a foreign land, but more "as you are going about your business."  Too often we emphasize the word "Go" and not the words "make disciples."  All of us can be involved in making disciples every day of the week as we go about our work.

For me, this makes the work of Discipling Marketplace Leaders all the more necessary in the United States.  We need to know "as we are going about our business" how to be the Church from Monday to Saturday.  It has continued to be somewhat baffling that we have yet to find traction with a US Church who understands the need for this for their members and embraces this ministry.  Business people understand the need for it and frequently tell us that it is necessary here - not just in developing countries.  A man overheard me describe this ministry at the conference to a pastor - he interrupted me with an apology and told me he worked at Boeing and has been searching for something like this for thirty years! 

The challenge is in front of us.  For the US and Canada, the nations and people groups of the world are coming in great numbers.  There are many opportunities to fulfill the Great Commission.  Are we ready?

Monday, October 3, 2016

What is your objective for your children?

Noah and his Hannah
A friend told me that it was time to give an update on my children, so here goes.  Noah seems to be settling well into his work in Washington DC as a background investigator for a federal contractor.  He is learning to negotiate Washington traffic and seems to enjoy the challenges in his work.  I'm happy because I think this position is a good fit for Noah and at the same time, he is contributing to keeping our country safe.  I'm also thankful for Facebook Messenger which allows me to keep in contact with him.  Hopefully we will get to see him at Christmas.

Hannah is living at home, working full-time, and recently started grad school at Western Michigan University in a specialty program for Alcohol and Drug Abuse.  Her passion is social work and many of our conversations center around that passion. Last week I had the opportunity to drive with Hannah to Lake City, MI to visit Bob's mom.  On the way back we had an interesting conversation that went something like this:
Hannah:  What I don't understand is what people's objectives
are for their children.  Is it only for them to be happy?  Or for them to also be well-adjusted, contributing members of society?

Renita:  Well-adjusted, contributing members of society would be great.  But, wait a minute, are you saying that your childhood wasn't happy?  (Pause)

Renita (cont'd):  It's not like we moved from the countryside into a high crime urban neighborhood with drug houses and prostitution on our street when you were four years old.....oh yeah...we did...(pause)
...It's not like we sent you to a failing closing public school for which your dad lost his job, and you and your brother were the only white children when you were eight years old....oh yeah...we did...(pause)

...It's not like we moved you to a war torn country where there was no running water or electricity when you were twelve years old...oh yeah...we did...(pause)

...It's not like you lost an important family member when you were sixteen years old....oh did...(pause)
...Well, ummmmm... at least I didn't sell you into the sex trade!
My Hannah, in Washington DC
My goodness, Hannah.  We gave you a tough challenging childhood! 
Hannah:  But that's the thing, Mom.  It was challenging to be sure, but you and Dad were always there for me (well, until Dad was not).  All decisions were made together through discussion.  And you processed everything with us.  Too many parents seek only their children's happiness and comfort, and fail to produce well-adjusted contributing members of society.  Part of the reason that my childhood was happy was because I learned very early on that you respected me and I learned to respect you.  Respect was a mutual expectation.  I was happy to hang out at home because I loved being with you guys.  I feel that the problem with many parents is that they come down too hard on the happiness or too hard on the discipline, but if you have mutual respect you don't have to come down hard on either side.   Don't get me wrong, I thought some of your rules were unfair growing up, but it was not because you didn't explain them to me but because I thought I was smarter than your rules.  Also, I know that even though we discussed the rules, the rules weren't up for discussion.  There was consistency and an intentional consciousness of everything we did. 
This was only a snapshot of a discussion that we had for quite some time.  I am still waiting to see if one day my kids will say that we "sacrificed them for the ministry" as many missionary kids say of their parents.  Bob and I worked very hard to not allow that to happen.  That is why we didn't send them to boarding school, but home schooled when there wasn't a better option.  When they went to the public school, I dropped them off and picked them up every day, and was home when they were home so that they would never be "latch-key" kids.  We had regular family meetings.  We told stories around the dinner table.  And every dinner also had high points and low points from the day, shared by adults and kids alike.  When we moved from Liberia to Ghana, we had a family meeting to discuss, before God, what were our "must-haves," our "like-to-have," and our "would be very nice to have" options.  Running water and electricity were not on anyone's "must-have" list but both kids had "a school with friends" on their "must-have" list, which is why Ghana was a good choice for them.  We certainly didn't do everything right, and they can testify to lots of mistakes, but our objective was happy AND well adjusted, contributing members of society. Clearly, taking them outside of their comfort zone was part of that process.

It is fun to have adult conversations with my children and to hear their perspective on their childhood.  Bob and I sometimes wondered whether our call to the mission field was going to be more about them then about us and any work we might accomplish.  Lots of these things are only seen in hindsight, so at age 23 and 21 it still is probably to early to tell.  But I continue to thank God for the privilege of knowing Hannah and Noah and trust their Heavenly Father to meet their needs according to His riches in glory!

Monday, September 26, 2016

¡Guatemala feliz

This bridge was built by slaves in the late 1400s.
Guatemala, whose name means "place of many trees" is a beautiful country, very mountainous with many rivers, lakes and forests, as well as volcanoes.  Not only is it rich geographically, it is rich in history, going back thousands of years with many historical buildings and landmarks.  Unfortunately, it is also has had many challenges - a civil war from 1960-1996, earthquakes (the one in 1976 killed 200,000) and hurricanes, just to name a few.  Guatemala is a land of extremes in many ways: highlands and lowlands, wetlands and deserts, historical and modern, and a wide gap between the rich and the poor.

A very shaky bridge leading to one of the villages.
We spent time this past week with Partners Worldwide and a church called Lluvias de Gracia (Rains of Grace).  Lluvias de Gracia has planted many churches throughout Guatemala, approximately 250.  On Wednesday, we took time to travel to some remote villages and visit a few of the small churches in those villages, learning about the types of business and work in which the members are involved.  The pastors all serve as volunteers (with no salary) and therefore most are involved in some sort of work.  Many work as day laborers in some of the large farms in the area - coffee, corn, bananas or sugar.  It was great to walk into these villages of 200 people or less, and see these churches - often the only one in the village - persevering under challenging circumstances.  While Guatemala is certainly different culturally than many places in Africa where I have worked, there are many similarities as it relates to the struggle of business and the challenges of poverty.

A coffee plant nursery in one of the villages.
We then spent some time with the leadership who are looking to help empower not just the business members of these churches but also the pastors in terms of poverty alleviation.  We took them through the two day workshop of understanding the God of Business in the Old and New Testament, as well as understanding the various needs of reconciliation that need to be done in the Marketplace.  The message was very well received and there was real excitement about the potential of working through their many churches with Discipling Marketplace Leaders.  One of the pastoral supervisors who was in attendance was going to speak with thirty pastors the very next day and he decided to immediately start presenting this material.
One of the churches of Lluvias de Gracia, with Pastor George.

The particular group around the table was unique in some ways as there was more "haves" at the table than "have nots."  The challenge in this case is to help the "haves" understand the necessity of the operating from a "pull" not a "push" - meaning that those struggling with poverty and the volunteer pastors must have a say in the solution if there is to be any progress.  There can't be a decision that "all pastors will run a business" when many pastors may not be gifted or have the desire to run a business.  My experience with Asset Based Community Development and Restorers came in very handy for those discussions.
Very traditional dress in one of the villages, worn by all the women.

Overall, it was a very good week in which we learned a lot about Guatemala and they learned about Discipling Marketplace Leaders.  They will now consider as a church how to begin implementation of this ministry.

We are thankful to God for this opportunity and we covet your prayers for Lluvias de Gracia as they seek to move their people out of poverty to discover the full potential that God has for them!
Part of the group with whom we spent time.  A dynamic bunch of leaders, passionate about Christ, His Church, as well as a strong desire to end poverty.

A prayer meeting held in front of the presidential mansion at 6 am on Saturday morning.  What a blessing to participate with these Christians praying for their country, their leaders, their economy, and their people!

Monday, September 5, 2016


It's been a while since I've posted on some personal reflections.  A day like 9/11 brings out the reflective side of many of us.  We can all remember where we were the day that happened.  I was at Restorers, the Christian Community Development Organization in Grand Rapids where I was serving as Executive Director. 

It seems that several lifetimes have passed for me in those fifteen years.  At the time of 9/11, Bob knew he was to leave Calvin because of our decision to send our children to a closing public school, but he still had a couple of months left and had no idea of what he would do nor where our income would come from (I was making very little at Restorers).  At that time, Africa was not even remotely in the picture.  We of course had no idea that Bob had less than nine years to live.  And while Michael Thomson was someone I knew from church, I would never have guessed that one day I would be married to him.

It was a year ago, on 9/11, that I was sitting at the airport in Chicago, on my way to Ghana, and I suddenly felt hit with the realization that I was on the edge of burnout.  I fought (read "denied") it for three months before it completely overwhelmed and consumed me by early December, after which I spent two months in what felt like "the dark night of the soul." 

And this past week, a dear sister in Christ buried her second son under the age of 21, and I found myself caught up in the throes of grief for her, and the realization of the on-going devastation of the grief of loss by many around us who suffer silently with memories, longings, and desires that things "could have been different."  This suffering takes place through daily reminders, as insignificant as hearing a line that the loved one frequently used,  to a significant event that the loved one is missing. 

Suffering.  Both loud and obvious, and silent and invisible. 

In John 16:33, Jesus says, "I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace.  In this world, you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world."

Take heart. 
A day at a time.
A moment at a time.
One step forward at a time.
Soon, fifteen years will pass and you will be amazed at what has changed.
You will see where it was that Christ entered in to give peace.

My prayer list continues to grow longer and longer.  I suspect it will be that way until the day I am called home. 

This prayer, from one of my favorite prayer books called Guerillas of Grace (by Ted Loder), reminds us that while we think there is too much suffering, we need to be reminded that it may because there is too little of something else:
Sometimes, Lord, it just seems to be too much:  too much violence, too much fear; too much of demands and problems; too much of broken dreams and broken lives; too much of war and slums and dying; too much of greed and squishy fatness and the sounds of people devouring each other and the earth...
Sometimes the very air seems scorched by threats and rejection and decay until there is nothing but to inhale pain and exhale confusion. 
Too much of darkness, Lord, too much of cruelty and selfishness and indifference...Too much, Lord, too much, too bloody, bruising, brain-washing much.
Or is it too little, too little of compassion, too little of courage, of daring, or persistence, of sacrifice; too little of music and laughter and celebration?
O God, make of me some nourishment for these starved times, some food for my brothers and sisters who are hungry for gladness and hope, that, being bread for them, I may also be fed and be full.
And that is my prayer - "make of me some nourishment for these starved times."  Come, Lord Jesus.

Second Annual Prayer Walk

The prayer team in Kitale
Last week Saturday, Discipling Marketplace Leaders had its second annual prayer walk in Kenya, taking place across four cities:  Kitale, Kisumu, Kakamega, and Eldoret with more than 100 Marketplace Ministers participating.

A prayer walk for DML is where we gather at a church for some corporate prayer and to share our prayer concerns for the city.  We then break up into pairs and walk the streets, two by two, praying over the businesses, government buildings, hospitals and schools as we walk, and taking time for the Holy Spirit to reveal to us what we need to be seeing in our city.  Every pair is assigned streets to pray over and a prearranged time is set to gather on the other side of the city for some chai and mendazi (tea and donuts) and debriefing.
Taking time to pray for a small vendor. 

During the debriefing, these are some of the comments that were heard:
  • This needs to be a habit, not just an annual event.
  • This should be longer than three hours - it should be a whole day.  
  • People were wanting us to stop and pray for their business but we didn't have enough time to stop at each place.  We want to have lots of time to pray for each business!
  • The prayer walk should be tied to fasting.
  • God opened my eyes to see so many things differently than how I had been looking at them before this prayer walk.
So many churches coming together to reclaim the redeemed marketplace!
Don't you love these comments?  These were not business people who complained about giving up their Saturday to do a prayer walk.  These were not complaints about walking in the hot sun.  These were Marketplace Ministers who seized the opportunity to be part of a transformational movement, after having been discipled to the purpose of being a minister to the Marketplace.

Please join us in prayer for the Global Marketplace and your specific city or town by reading the prayer below.

A Prayer for Our Work

Lord God,
We pray for all
who work in business and industry,
who work in homemaking,
who work in medicine,
who work in education,
who work in agriculture,
who work in government,
The prayer team in Eldoret.
who work in service to others,
who are beginning a new career,
who struggle in their work,
who are seeking new or different jobs,
who are retired or anticipating retirement,
who are unemployed or underemployed.
[Add other categories as appropriate]
Give us joy in our work, and in using gifts and talents we receive from you.
Give us joy in doing all our work to your honor and glory.
Equip us to labor in ways that promote justice and peace.
Equip us to be ministers of your peace in a world that cries for peace.
Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
(Taken from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship)
Debriefing after the prayer walk with chai and mendazi, sponsored by the DML Cooperative.