Monday, December 17, 2018

Turning 50 Ain't So Bad

Yes, it looks like I'm sticking out my tongue.
I remember when my dad turned fifty years old.  He was a pastor at a church in Toronto, and the Council brought over a very large Abraham made out of fruit.  I was 11 years old and it made perfect sense to me to bring over an Abraham, as Abraham had become an old man and 50 seemed really old to me.  Looking back at it now, I wonder what they were thinking?  As they were all in that same age range, surely 50 did not seem THAT old to them!

It's amazing how perceptions of age change with age.  I now hear of someone dying at the age of 75 and say, "That's so young!"  Maybe it's because my parents are in their 80s and I know of a number of friends have parents who are in their 90s.

Today I turn 50.  Many people lament it.  For some reason, it's not bothering me.  Turning 40 bothered me more.  It may be because I'm the youngest of five children, and I watched all my siblings break into this decade long before me.  It may be because Bob, who was fourteen years older than me, broke the 50 decade in 2004 (he would be 64 today!).  It may be because Michael broke the 50 decade a few years ago.

But, for what it's worth, I'm ready and I'm okay.
My family

In fact, I'm more than okay.  I have much to celebrate.  I feel I have lived several lives in these fifty years.  I have been privileged to see the world go through significant and positive changes in these fifty years. I have been able to watch my children grow and mature into adulthood.  That is not a privilege that Bob had and I am daily aware of that.

Not only that, but I also get to do work that I love.  Recently, I heard someone ask the question, "If you won one million dollars today, would you be at work tomorrow?"

I believe that I am one of the privileged who would answer that with a hearty, "YES!"  It's a privilege to work.  It's an even greater privilege to LOVE what you do. (Okay, I might take one day off to figure out what to do with the million dollars but THEN I'd be right back at work.)  Many of you may think, "It's easy for you, Renita - you get to travel to cool places."  But make no mistake that every work has its challenges - the grass is almost always greener on the other side of the fence.  But I do love my work.  And I know that is not the case for many.  What do we do in those circumstances?  Do we stay and try to find joy?  Do we change jobs?  Do we keep plugging along?  How does work become worship?

What about you?  If you won one million dollars today, would you be at work tomorrow?  For my birthday, if you would take a minute and respond to this with a "yes" or "no" and maybe a brief reason as to why, I would appreciate it!
My dad on his 50th birthday.  He turned 89 last month.
I love this picture of me with my sister Yvonne.  I was such a cute kid.  And I know my brother is thinking (RIGHT NOW - yes, you, Henry), "What happened?!"

I close with this prayer on my birthday, "Bless What Eludes My Grasp," from my favorite prayer book, Guerillas of Grace:

Lord, so many things skitter through my mind
and I give chase to gather them
and hold them up in a bunch to you.

But they go this way and that,
while I go that way and this...

So gather me up instead
and bless what eludes my grasp but not yours

Trees and bees, fireflies and butterflies
roses and barbeques, and people.

Lord, the people...bless the people.

Birthday people, 
giving birth people,
being born people,
conformed people;

Dying people, dead people, 
hostaged people, banged up people, held down people;

Leader people, lonely people, limping people;

Hungry people, surfeited people, indifferent people;

First world people,
second world people,
third world people;

One world people,
your people,
all people.

Bless them, Lord.
Bless what eludes my grasp, but not yours.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Creation As Both Temple and Choir

I have finished my courseload for my PhD (Woo-hoo!  Let me say it again even louder:  WOO-HOO!  So happy and thankful!) and have started working on my dissertation proposal.  While the title is yet a work in process, the essence of the dissertation will be looking at justice in the Global Christian Church as it relates to the economy and the earth.  The requirements for the literature review for the dissertation is one hundred and fifty writings from different authors.  That is a HUGE amount of reading to do.  Thankfully, Michael let me check some books out of his library - he says there are no late fees which is a good deal for me!  At this time, I'm about 1/6th of the way through the 150 readings.

This past week, I read two books:  one by Jonathan Wilson called, God's Good World:  Reclaiming the Doctrine of Creation, and the other by Edward Brown called, Our Father's World:  Mobilizing the Church to Care for Creation.  There were a number of "aha" and "amen" moments as I read these books.  One phrase that particularly caught my attention is that creation is both a temple and a choir.  I love this phrasing.  I had to put the book down for a while and just think about the implication of those words.  Creation is a temple.  It is a worship space that is sacred, where we meet God and He meets all members of creation to be in relationship with them.  Hear this from Psalm 148:7-13:

Praise the Lord from the earth,
you great sea creatures and all ocean depths,
lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding,
you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars,
wild animals and all cattle, small animals and flying birds,
kings of the earth and all nations, you princes and all rulers on earth, 
young men and women, old men and children.
Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; 
his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.

Creation is also to be a choir, a participant in the worship of God.  We are to join in leading the choir to worship the one true God.  We help the plants, animals, and all the resources that we use from creation be able to worship God. We are to help fix creation - to restore it to how God intended.  God gives many instructions for how we are to care for the earth in the Old Testament.  But Brown laments that, despite the hymn that says, "This is My Father's World, O let me ne'er forget...", we have indeed forgotten.  We have allowed consuption and convenience to trump our care for this creation.  We are afflicted with "affluenza" in many parts of the world.  He goes on to say that nothing is more important than the care of the environment, because without a healthy environment, almost nothing else matters.  People, animals, plants, and relationships all suffer.

None of us are able to play our instruments correctly in this choir and orchestra except through Christ.  Creation groans and is unharmonious (Romans 8:22).  We need a lot of practice in order to play well.  And the place where this practice can happen is in the church.

Wilson writes that Christian theology began to abandon the doctrine of creation about 250 years ago when science began to come up with answers that the Church could not compete with.  Theologians began to recast Christian convictions in terms of our inner life or about "the heart."  He goes on to say that the doctrine of creation is primarily about the nature of the God who creates.  The God who creates cannot be known apart from the God who redeems.  Moreover, he says, the doctrine of cration is primarily not about the origin but about the end. Yes!

He says, "One of the greatest tragedies of theology's neglect of creation has been the church's complicity in the destruction of the natural world and thus also of conditions that contribue to the flourishing of life.  An even greater tragedy or an even greater sin has been the voices in the church that have resisted and mocked the passion for life that leads to care of creation."

I love this!  To find theologians who back what I have been saying and thinking is thrilling.  And they put it so much more articulately than me.

Our reason to love creation is not about the current crisis (that we may or may not believe exists), but rather because of God and our love for what He has created for us.  The environmental problems that we face are essentially a result of sin.  And if it is a result of sin, then it is a spiritual problem.  An if it is a spiritual problem, then the Church must be involved.  The Church continues to be the institution that can best deal with the complexity of this problem.

Theologian Christopher Wright wrote that, "It is not so much that God has a mission for his church in the world, but that God has a church for his mission in the world...mission was not made for the church; the church was made for mission - God's mission."

And so some of my questions for my dissertation have to do with why the Church comes to this table so late with significant divisions, and why the Church does not speak more loudly on how to be a harmonious contributor to this choir? Why do we continue to not respect or affirm those who contribute to the economy in terms of their work being an act of worship?  How we find a way forward, joining the voice of the Church (the highest populated religion in the world) to the efforts of 170 nations who have committed together to protect the dignity and flourishing of human life, as well as the protection of the earth?

Thomas Aquinas said, "Any error about creation also leads to an error about God."

Thankfully, for me, this is a topic I'm passionate about and it is something that Discipling Marketplace Leaders is passionate about.  That makes the reading and the research much more enjoyable!  If you have any books or articles that you think would be good for me to read, please feel free to refer them to me at renita@disciplingmarketplaceleaders.org.

Monday, December 3, 2018

An Expanding DML Team

We are excited to announce that the Discipling Marketplace Leaders team is growing.  Our goal as a ministry is to stay as organizationally flat as possible, partnering with existing ministries in our partner countries.  This helps keep this ministry owned by nationals who know and understand the context the best, as well as keeping organizational overhead costs low.

But as we grow, there is a need for some expansion.  Dr. Walker and I have been doing most of the work for DML, and we are beginning to find the work a bit much for the two of us.  We are very thankful to make a few additions to our team to help share the work.  What's even more exciting is that each of the three additions has come on their own - not that we were looking for specific people.

The first person is Paul Soper, a CPA from Grand Rapids, who has been providing healthcare consulting services to hospitals in the US for the past 22 years.  Prior to becoming a healthcare consultant, Paul was an auditor for an international public accounting firm and a financial executive for two nonprofit organizations.  Paul and his wife Sue have been married for 26 years and have three adult children.  Due to the sale of Paul's company in December 2017, he is now able to devote himself fulltime to working with a variety of Christian non-profit organizations.  As a businessperson, Paul has been drawn to serving God through organizations that focus on Business as Mission.  He especially appreciates how DML provides Business as Mission through the church and has been greatly impressed with how God is blessing the work of DML in Africa.  He looks very much forward to being part of the DML team!



The second is Emeline B. Nde from Cameroon.  In 2011, Emeline wrote her Masters thesis on the need for the Church to become involved with discipling business people. (This was before 
DML was born.)  God had laid this on her heart and then He orchestrated us meeting in Abuja, Nigeria.

Emeline has been working as a missionary for the last eighteen years as a church-planter, cross-cultural mission's coordinator and as a translator.  For the last twelve years, she has been working with Development Associates International (DAI) as the Administrator and MA Coordinator for Nigeria, International Facilitator in Uganda, a member of the DAI International Leadership Team, a graduate lecturer for the DAI MA program, and the director for DAI's work in Cameroon.

Emeline has a teaching ministry that has taken her to university classrooms and conference centers in different parts of the world including India, Egypt, Rwanda, Sweden, and the USA.  As a lecturer and a seminar facilitator, she teaches servant leadership to Christian leaders in the Church and marketplace.  She is an author,  an associate pastor at Omega Gospel Mission in Washington DC,  as well as a doctoral student at Regent University in Virginia.  She has a passion to see Christians in different sectors of society equipped and empowered to do their work as ministry/worship unto the Lord.

The third person is Steve Kennedy from the United Kingdom. Steve has been a Christian for over forty years and is active in his local church where he is licensed to minister.  He received the call to missions in the latter part of 2015 when he acted on an invitation to go overseas and visit the West African country of Sierra Leone.  This was the first of several visits there.  Steve retired from British education in December 2017 and began to do more visits to other nations in January 2018.  He has since been to Eastern Europe and the African continent to support and serve churches and other missionaries.  For over thirty years Steve has been happily married to Dawn and they are the proud parents of two grown daughters, Abigail and Naomi.  Steve has a special interest in intercessory prayer; he founded and ran a school of intercessory prayer for over ten years.

Steve Kennedy got to know Dr. Walker many years ago when they served together for a period of time in Israel. They recently met up again, and last year Steve felt led to start International Christian Ministries in the United Kingdom.  Steve has accompanied us on a number of trips and is especially passionate about Discipling Marketplace Leaders. He has a passion for prayer and prophetic ministry and will join us as the DML Prayer Team Coordinator, helping each of our teams to be covered in prayer, and uniting us regularly to pray together.

Please welcome these three to the DML team and keep them in your prayers as they seek to serve the Lord by helping the local Church to Reclaim the Redeemed Marketplace!

Monday, November 26, 2018

Discipleship Makes Her Feet Dance!

I had to start teaching just hours after the long trip from Grand Rapids to Accra, Ghana.  I felt pretty good, but I knew it was a stretch to be my best.  It turned out well and after teaching we were to go to dinner (although I was ready to go to bed).  God’s timing does not wait for my rest!  During the dinner, a key business lady began to share her excitement about the DML message and work.  It is always nice to hear from busy people that the message is appreciated.  But my eyes (beginning to droop) snapped open when she told us that she had shared about the message and upcoming workshop of DML with another Christian business leader; she told her how work is worship and God’s plan is to disciple every member of the congregation to be disciple makers in every corner of the community.  She then really got my attention when she said this important, successful business person got up and danced at the news!  Really, I asked, they danced?  She said yes because it affirms business as a calling through which the message of making disciples is to flow. 

At the heart of DML is discipleship. While business training is critical to our mission, discipleship is critical to God’s desire of developing ambassadors of the Good News. To make effective business people without making effective disciples is to major on the minor part.  We are all called in a variety of occupations, but also called to be disciples who make disciples. DML is first about making disciples and second about making good business practitioners. It is what makes our feet dance and our hearts sing. We love business and making disciples, and we will not do one without the other.
Discipleship in the Local Church Fuels the Ministry
By the end of 2018, we will have formally introduced DML in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Nigeria, and Ghana, with initial discussions in Liberia, Burkina Faso, and Togo.  Our focus has been on understanding the best way to introduce DML so that it is both effective and sustainable. 

The holistic approach of integrating faith and work is becoming a major concern for churches and denominations in Africa.  Africa will double in population by 2050 and then double again by 2100 (if current projections hold true).  Economically the African economy is expected to grow 10-fold, from 1 trillion dollars now, to over 10 trillion dollars in the next 30 years. 

The African Church understands that it cannot hide behind the walls of a building if African Christianity wants to impact the continent and world.  African church leaders have seen a correlation between church decline and increased prosperity in Europe and America.  Leaders do not want to follow the same path.  They want to move their model of church from a place to gather to a place from which to scatter.  Discipling Marketplace Leaders (DML) provides a solid Biblical basis for seeing work as a God-given directive (Gen. 1:28, 2:15).  This affirming of work as a holy calling has begun to give leaders hope that the church has relevance in a growing economy.  The rising generation wants a faith that is relevant to every area of life. DML connects the Sunday service with life lived out the other six days of the week.

Our “official” date of launching Discipling Marketplace Leaders was 2016.  Starting with a few dozen participants in 2016 we have seen over 20,000 leaders attend one or more of our trainings in 2018.  We are now being approached by Christian leaders who want to implement the vision and ministry across their denominations.  One denomination has 10,000 churches and over 10 million members.  Another has over 5,500 churches and a million members.  Another wants to field test it in one diocese and then roll it out in other dioceses across their country.

We have the message, we have the delivery, and we are building the structures to help implement this ministry across Africa.  But to do business training without discipleship is to take away from the church its greatest resource for sharing the love of Jesus in every community.  We desire to see every local congregation discipling every member to be released as light, salt, and leaven in every community.  
Discipleship Leads to Amazing Growth (i.e. God is Good!!)
The following table shows the expansion of DML over the past two years.  The cost per person per training is kept low as DML partners with other ministries rather than setting up its own organization in a country.  We also require participants to provide a portion of the training costs.  This keeps the training cost per person to under $10 per event.


Activity
2017 (12 months)
(five countries)
2018 (Jan-Sept)
(seven countries)
Introductory meetings/attendance for pastors and church leaders

Not measured
231 meetings
with 570 people
Awareness Creation meetings/attendance
(more formal 2-hour or 4-hour meetings)
8 meetings
With 444 people
73 events
with 16,404 people
Two-day events/attendance for Pastors and Church Leaders
18 events
With 694 people
16 events
with 1,298 people
Seminary Classes/students trained around the theme of DML
4 classes with
43 students
9 classes
with 206 students
Churches using “Thirty Days in the Marketplace”
53 churches
With 1694 members
36 churches
with 6,383 members
Total number of business people trained in one of our three training programs
558 businesses
 860 businesses
Business events/participants involved in advocacy
18 events with
539 participants
33 events
with 1,375 participants
Cities/Countries where DML is active
24 cities in five countries
47 cities in seven countries
Denominations where DML is active
32
48
As you review this report, we ask you to try and look beyond the numbers to the faces of men and women who are beginning to understand the role they play in God’s economy.  They are moving out of the shadows and into the light of understanding their call to be God’s chosen ambassadors whose parish is the auto shop, corner kiosk, small market garden and hundreds of other small businesses.  It is in these places where they are in touch with thousands of vendors and customers in need of the love of Christ. The starter gun has sounded, and we have a strong surge out of the blocks.  But we know and understand that we are in a marathon race to see the local church reenergized to move from the four walls of a building to be the Church in the four corners of the community.  Your prayers and support are part of the foundation that makes this ministry possible.  On behalf of the global DML team, thank you for joining us as we seek to disciple the next generation to be God’s light in the marketplace.
If you would like to support this ministry as it expands and grows in 2019, please go to www.disciplingmarketplaceleaders.org/donate and follow the prompts to give to DML, or to https://www.resonateglobalmission.org/support/donate-now and select "Missionaries-Africa" and then my name (Renita Reed-Thomson).  If you prefer to send a check, please make it out to ICM and mail it to PO Box 129, Monument CO 80132, and add the code 609045 on the memo line. We thank you in advance for your prayerful consideration!

Sunday, November 18, 2018

From the Mouths of Children

This past week, I had the privilege to be the speaker for theBible Study at the Victory Baptist Church in Kaduna, Nigeria.

I have to admit that it was a bit of a struggle for me to get enthusiastic about it.  You see, I had to teach Integrity and Finance with ECWA Seminary that morning from 9-12:30 pm.  Then I had to rush to another Baptist Church where we were doing a two-day workshop for pastors and church leaders from the area Baptist Churches (about 50 pastors and church leaders were in attendance).  I taught there from 1 pm - 4 pm.  I then was scheduled to teach at this particular church from 5:30-8 pm.  There was no time for lunch or dinner (other than some quick ramen noodles which I always keep in my suitcase for times such as this).  Normally, this isn't a problem for me to teach this much.  But the last two and a half weeks had been so exhausting (especially for me as an introvert) and weariness was settling in deep.

I tried to persuade the person arranging this to let me just speak for thirty minutes and then let me go.  But I could tell that they weren't going to budge.  So at some point, I resigned myself to the fact that I would be there for the full evening.

And, as God often has it, it turned out to be a blessing.

The church was in an unfinished building with a dirt floor, with more than 120 people waiting for Bible study to start at 5:30 pm on a Tuesday evening.  Let me emphasize this:  120 people, ready (and on time) for Bible study at 5:30 pm, on a Tuesday evening.  This is unusual.  And this is the average turnout, I was told, for their weekly Bible study.  Most of those in the audience were considered youth (which in most parts of Africa, means under the age of 35).  I spoke on 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 and talked about how work is an opportunity to worship and how we can witness through our work by working with excellence, being committed to our values, and remembering that we work for the Lord and not for man.

I then showed them the first session of the Poverty Cure, by the Acton Institute.  If you have not watched it, I would highly recommend it.  I love watching Session one and two with Africans because you can see the lightbulbs going on.  The first session is called "Charity that Hurts" and it begins to expose the audience to the idea that aid can be problematic, that looking for solutions from the outside is problematic, and that most answers can be found within ourselves (with the help of God) and our community.  I then broke them up into small groups for discussion.  The noise was astounding as people talked and argued and debated about these concepts.  The feedback was great, as it always is when we show it, with people responding by saying that they need to stop waiting for the answer, and instead, be the answer.


But the highlight of the night was that as the adults broke up into about ten groups to discuss what they watched, there was a small group of children, pictured here, who also came together as a small group and they too were discussing what they saw.  When it came time for the leader from each group to share what had been discussed, a nine-year-old girl in the back row, dressed in blue, stood up as the leader for the children's group.  She said something like this, "We also discussed what we watched in the video.  And we have seen that it is good for us to work with our hands.  There are things that we are able to do that we are not doing.  We need to not be fully dependent on our parents but also work."

Praise the Lord!  May a new generation arise that doesn't look outside for answers but knows that as co-creators with God, as image-bearers and reflectors of the Most High God, that they have the capacity and ability to find answers for themselves.

I leave for home today after a very full time in West Africa.  I'm looking forward to some family time this week over Thanksgiving.  I am so thankful to God for His faithfulness, His grace, and His mercy, and I thank God for each of you as well who have encouraged, prayed for, and supported this ministry!

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Letting pictures tell the story

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

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

We spent time in prayer and worship as a team.

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

We spent time laughing and fellowshipping together.

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

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

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

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