Monday, May 21, 2018

30,000-Foot View

Due to a trip being cancelled in May, I have been able to really go after some of my classes for my PhD.  I am currently in the middle of an International Law class, and while reading about law is not exactly exciting for me, I have had a few "aha" moments.

Talking about politics at this time is difficult (maybe it is always difficult?) and we get so mired down in the issues of today and the fears of tomorrow that sometimes we miss the forest for the trees.  This class has given me a view of the forest from a 30,000-foot level and it really is beautiful. Now please don't get me wrong.  I'm not saying everything is perfect or going well.  But we do have a lot to be grateful for and if we don't take a few steps back every now and then to see a much bigger perspective, we can get lost in negativity and be filled with complaints.  So this might be helpful for one or two of you as well.

A lot of good has happened globally in the last seventy years (1948-2018), at the end of World War II when the UN Charter was signed.  Up until this time there had only been failures at recognizing an international community, international laws, and fundamental values that are universal.  There were four main freedoms being called for in 1948:
  1. Freedom of speech and expression
  2. Freedom to worship God in his own way everywhere in the world
  3. Freedom from want
  4. Freedom from fear
[How amazing would it have been to sit in a room and discuss the main freedoms that could be common to all people!]  

From these freedoms the universal declaration of human rights was born, written at the lowest common denominator to be able to get all states to agree, but it ultimately led to the right to self-determination of all peoples, which led to the end of colonization worldwide within the next three decades.  Listen to this quote from one of my textbooks:  "The human rights doctrine has operated as a potent leaven, contributing to shift the world community from reciprocity-based bundle of legal relations, geared to the 'private' pursuit of self-interest, and ultimately blind to collective needs, to a community hinging on a core of fundamental values, strengthened by the emergence of community obligations and community rights and the gradual shaping of public interests (Cassese, International Law).

Not only that, but the birth of the UN has led to the suppression of the use of force between states and has also defined, by an accepted international authority, what is legal and what is not as it relates to force.  Prior to this, there was an unfettered freedom of states to use force on each other, with no-one declaring what was right or wrong.  To have this happen in seventy years, with most of the 200 states in the world accepting these key principles and accepting this "authority," in part because of peer pressure, is pretty astounding.

Isn't that exciting?  Doesn't this seem to be the right direction for us to be moving in this world?  To be community minded and have fundamental values that are almost universally accepted sounds like a movement towards being a global family.  Additionally, there have been more prohibitions on certain weapons, there has been banning of torture and genocide, there has been unity on the need to protect the environment, there are international courts that have accepted authority to try individuals and state officials on war crimes and human rights violations, and there are joint efforts on working against terrorism.  Not all of this has been done perfectly, and there continues to be needed work on finding ways to monitor compliance while still respecting state sovereignty, but what progress!

One objective of the original UN Charter of 1948 had to do with the freedom of want.  As someone who has been doing business development in West and East Africa since 2005, this was of particular interest to me.  There is open acknowledgement that this has not gone as well as the movements in human rights or in banning the use of force.  There are, of course, many complex reasons for this, not the least of which was that many of the major powers had colonized many developing nations and were using their natural resources for exports without building any infrastructure in those countries.  It took three decades for colonization to end, and those nations then realized how much further behind they were due to the lack of infrastructure, including roads, water, electricity, education and health.  As these nations joined the General Assembly of the United Nations, they began to have a louder voice, requesting more favorable trade positions given their current conditions. 

Many developing countries have agriculture as their dominant economic activity.  There can be a section of the economy that still exports raw materials for manufacturing in industrialized countries, as well as some local industry producing textiles and foodstuffs.  But for the most part, these are family size businesses and the equipment is often very basic.  What developing nations need, according to my textbook and what I affirm after working in this context for thirteen years, is trade preferences, foreign investment to promote economic activities, transfer of modern technology, and training of skilled workers.

The good news is that most "developed" or "industrialized" nations, who caused a lot of the problems and didn't want to see themselves lose power, have now come to agree that it is in the best interest of everyone for to have opportunities to work, to grow, to create, to network, to trade, and to develop.  This too is encouraging and I continue to be thankful for the work that we are doing in Discipling Marketplace Leaders.

Seventy years is really a short amount of time.  It is a lifetime for some but in terms of history, it is short.  Many of us don't remember or know the situation in the world one hundred years ago, when everyone did what was right in their own eyes.  My parents emigrated from the Netherlands after the Second World War and tell some stories about what they endured, but they were young as well.  Let's be encouraged that the bar can be raised.  People and states CAN change. Who knows where we might be in another seventy years?

If you find yourself wanting to send me a bunch of "Yeah but..." messages, I encourage you to take a deep breath, read these words again, and let them wash over you.  Every day has enough "Yeah buts..." from the ground level, but sometimes we need to take a 30,000-foot view. 

This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it! (Psalm 118:24)

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Billionaire Who Wasn't

As money is a frequent topic in my travels and teachings, it has come up more and more that the greater question that can be asked in terms of giving back to God is not "how much do you give" but rather "how much do you keep." 

I often tell the story of a day when Hannah and Noah were just 9 and 7 years old and were discussing what they would do if they won a lottery of 10 million dollars.  As I walked in the room and overhead this discussion, Hannah looked at me with a big smile and said, "Mommy, if I won 10 million dollars, I would give 9 million to the poor!"  I should have hugged her and thanked her for her generous heart.  I should have recognized her desire to please me, as she know how her parents were striving to serve the poor.  But, in not my finest hour as a parent, I said, "Why do you need one million dollars?"  

My point (which went over the head of a 9 year old) is that we can feel good about giving away 10% or even 20% of our income in our tithe and offerings but that doesn't mean that we are living a sacrificial life.  

A story that comes from The Irish Times and helps to illustrate the point:
Chuck Feeney today is a man of no property. He and his wife Helga live in a modest rented apartment in San Francisco. He has no car or luxuries of any kind. Actually, come to think of it, he has a very nice watch. It is plastic and cost about $15. There are no trophies or vanity photographs in the apartment to show that he has devoted his $8 billion fortune to making the world a better place.
It was always so with Feeney, a brilliant entrepreneur who became a billionaire through the company he co-founded, Duty Free Shoppers, back in the 1960s. The frugal globe-trotting philanthropist routinely flew economy class, stayed in small flats, and ordered the second-cheapest white wine in restaurants. 
The key moment in Chuck’s giving career, one that was to enhance the lives of millions of people, came on November 23rd, 1984. On that day Feeney, his then wife, Danielle, and his lawyer Harvey Dale, flew to the Bahamas, a location chosen to avoid huge legal penalties for what they were about to do. They gathered in a rented conference room. At 4pm Chuck began signing a series of documents. Then they left for the airport. 
While millions of Americans expressed gratitude that Thanksgiving weekend for their material blessings, Chuck Feeney felt a profound sense of relief. He had just divested himself of all that he owned, cash, businesses and shares, and placed them into a foundation he created, known today as Atlantic Philanthropies.  It was done in the utmost secrecy. Feeney continued to manage the businesses, and buy and sell properties around the world, so everyone thought he was still a billionaire, even Forbes magazine. 
‘The right thing to do’ 
I asked Chuck more than once why he decided to give it all away. Never one for introspection he replied simply: “It was the right thing to do.” 
I believe the reasons included an innately generous personality, discomfort with the trappings of wealth as a product of an Irish-American neighbourhood in New Jersey where “nobody blows their horn”, and the example set by his mother, a nurse who was always helping others.  He was also influenced by Andrew Carnegie’s essay The Gospel of Wealth, with its famous declaration that “the millionaire will be but a trustee for the poor”.  After that day in Nassau, Feeney began a lifelong quest to do good things with his wealth, while growing the businesses and property portfolio to provide more funds for his foundation’s giving... 
...A critical moment came in New York on March 3rd, 2003, when Feeney signed off on a decision to spend everything in his lifetime. “Giving while living,” he called it. Foundations usually dole out 5 per cent annually to maintain perpetuity. Chuck wanted to do big things, especially with bricks and mortar.  “If I have $10 in my pocket and I do something with it today, it’s already producing 10 dollars’ worth of good,” he explained to me one day in his New York office, wearing a cardigan with a hole in the sleeve. “Giving 5 per cent doesn’t do so much good.” 
Now aged 86, Feeney’s travelling days are over, but as he tucks into his favourite dish – chicken – in his Bayside restaurant he can reflect how his example has exploded in philanthropy. He got a letter one day from Amit Chandra in which the Indian billionaire confided he was so inspired by Feeney’s story he has devoted much of his own wealth to creating schools, hospitals and universities. He thanked Chuck for the “joyous journey” this entailed. 
Conor O’Clery is the author of the biography of Chuck Feeney, The Billionaire Who Wasn’t (
I love the declaration that the "millionaire will be but a trustee for the poor."  That completely flips the world of consumption upside down.  HOWEVER, the work of generous giving needs to be coupled with competence.  How we give also matters.  The majority of the poor don't need a trustee, as they are fully capable if given opportunities and access to networks.  But they do need opportunities, a hand up, restoration of their dignity, and an affirmation of their potential to fulfill their calling of being made in the image of a creative, working God.

One idea that someone gave me years ago (I can't remember who) is that for every year of marriage, they increase their tithe by one percent.  I have tried to live this way and found that the incremental increases were doable.

The question of how much money I keep for myself is one that needs to be wrestled with individually before God.  May God give us the courage to have open hands before Him.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Let the Numbers tell the Story!

Let the numbers tell the story!

Every now and then, numbers can tell a great story.  The numbers below tell the story of the expanding impact of Discipling Marketplace Leaders in the first quarter of 2018 and I'm excited to share them with you!

First Quarter Statistics for Discipling Marketplace Leaders
  • 6 countries, 22 cities, and 24 denominations participating with DML
  • 375 business leaders trained and commissioned as Marketplace Leaders
  • 27 DML workshops, training 665 pastors and church leaders
  • 5 courses taught in 5 countries, with 133 pastors and leaders taught by the DML team in colleges/seminaries 
  • 63 visits with 123 pastors to discuss next steps with DML

Praise the Lord!  That is just in three months – January, February, and March!  We are advancing in six countries, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Ghana and, come July, Cameroon.  Our strategy is to see DML rooted and growing in these seven countries in the next two years.

We are equipping pastors to train and equip every member to impact every corner of the marketplace and community. God is moving in and through DML to reclaim the marketplace God has redeemed.  We are seeing pastors equipped, church members discipled and societies impacted.  We can’t do this without you!  Please keep praying!

The God of “just-in-time” has blessed us with an amazing opportunity. As we expand, the need for funds expands. With the growth comes the challenge of raising $4,000 per month to fuel the growth in these six countries.  We thank God for a partner who has committed to a matching grant of up to $2,000!  We are happy to report that we now have $1,500 out of the needed $2,000 for the match.  We are looking for DML partners to help with the last $500/month of the challenge grant.

Would you prayerfully consider joining us with a monthly gift of $10, $25, or $50 per month (or any other number!) to help us reach this match? If so, please go to ICM at, select Discipling Marketplace Leaders" in the dropdown, and include "match" in the comment line. 

Thank you for your partnership, prayers, and support!

Monday, April 23, 2018

Earth Day 2018 - Giving Up Straws

It's time to get serious about plastic.  I've been passionate about this for some time - my daughter for even longer.  But we need this concern to grow and action to be taken based on that concern. One million plastic bottles are bought every minute - that is 20,000 per second!  And less than 50% actually goes to recycling.

A recent study looked at 250 bottles of water from nine countries, including international brands such as Dasani, Aquafina, and Nestle Pure Life, found plastic parts in 93% of the water.  This is in bottled water, folks; that is water that we expect to be clean and clear.

When I travel, I always take my water bottle and water filter with me, as many of the countries I work in do not have the current capacity to recycle.  When we do workshops, it saddens me to know that the bottles and bottles of plastic water bottles that are used will likely end up in a landfill and eventually in our water.  It's not always convenient or easy (especially when teaching for eight hours in very hot conditions and drinking lots of water is a must!), but I do my best to stay away from plastic bottles on my trips. 

We teach all pastors and business people to have a quadruple bottom line, including environmental, reminding them that Christians should be the leaders in being stewards of creation!

But my new enemy is straws.

Straws really aren't necessary for the majority of us, the majority of time.  They often do not get recycled.  What takes us about fifteen minutes to consume will then stay in the environment for many, many years.  And we go through millions of straws globally every single day.  Some estimates say 150 million straws every day.

That's crazy.

And it's easy to "just say no."

When I go to a restaurant and order a drink, I say "No straw, please."

If they put it on the table I ask them to take it away just in case they are tempted to throw it away later when they clean the table.

My goal is to ask places that I frequent to put straws in a jar on each table so that people can choose to have a straw.  Or better yet, only give a straw when people ask for one, rather than the opposite.

Will you join me in this?  If so, send me an email so that I can know who is joining me in this endeavor (  It's not a big sacrifice in terms of quality of life, but it can make a difference.  And if people ask you why you are not using a straw, you can tell them and invite them to join as well.

If you are really attached to straws, there are many types of reusable straws that you use, if you wish.

There are some restaurants who are already trying to change things up.  For example, Brick Road Pizza on Wealthy Street in Grand Rapids uses paper straws.  If you know of others, feel free to email me to let me know!

We are doing all sorts of things to the planet we live on without even asking what the side effects and interactions might be.  I think that part of our calling as citizens of this world is to be curious about the impact of our decisions, and the impact of what we use and what we choose to do on the beautiful creation.  We have been commissioned to be a manager in trust of God's estate.  We are invited to share in the income, without invading the principle of the trust.  We are to be faithful, wise, and effective stewards of that estate.

It feels like a big job and a battle that often feels like we are losing, but we can start with our own small decisions at a personal or family level.

By the way, if you live in Grand Rapids, we use a service called Organicycle which allows us to recycle paper towels and pizza boxes, bones and all organic waste.  Since we have winter for half the year (or longer it feels like), composting is more difficult.  But Organicycle picks up this type of waste every other week, using compostable bags for this waste.  It takes a bit more effort but that, plus recycling, has reduced our trash significantly.  Check it out!

One more thing: my daughter reminded me that while recycling is good, it would be even better if we don't buy plastic bottles to begin with.  The process of making plastic bottles takes a great amount of water and energy; recycling just means more plastic will be made.  Just more to think about!

Monday, April 9, 2018

What can I say?

What can I say at the end of a trip that spanned four countries for the DML team?

Workshop ready to start. TV cameras for the evangelical channel capture the event.
What can I say after teaching more than seventy hours in two different theological institutions, giving two two-day workshops, several shorter workshops, countless interviews and meetings across these four countries?

What can I say that can convey to you, the faithful blog reader, faithful prayer partner, faithful encourager and supporter of the Discipling Marketplace Leaders ministry, of the impact in dialogue and discussions that we had in this last trip?
Addressing the Environmental Bottom line.  

Some of these trip reports can begin to sound the same.  Pictures of people in a workshop.  Class pictures.  Pictures of people in their business.  It is so tough to capture and convey the work that this blog describes.

Fifty-six pastors and church leaders in Tanzania; 42 pastors and church leaders in Uganda; 105 pastors and church leaders in Kenya; 91 pastors and church leaders in Ethiopia. 

As we head home, we are weary.  But we are also blessed and encouraged.  The ongoing work of support, follow-up, and discipling continues in each place as God continues to call forth His people to lead this work. 

Yoseph (next to me) and his beautiful family.
In Ethiopia, we have Yoseph (pictured with his beautiful family) who is the Business as Mission Coordinator for the Kale Heywet Church, the largest evangelical church in Ethiopia.  With over 6000 churches and more than 10 million members, we were so privileged to have the Deputy Secretary for the Denomination join us for the two day workshop.  Additionally, we had key leaders who oversee over 1000 churches also in attendance, and who are now asking for us to come back and start the work of Discipling Marketplace Leaders in their region.  In fact, nine of the eleven regions of Ethiopia were represented in this workshop.

Let me share with you some of the feedback we heard this past week:

From the Deputy Secretary of the Kale Heywet Church: "This is where we need to be.  This is relevant for the Church of today."

From an SIM missionary, who was in marketing and advertising in the US for ten years:  "This is the most comprehensive storyboard of Business as Mission that I have heard yet."

From a pastor who oversees 1500 churches:  "The lights have come on.  I feel guilty for not having taught this in the church before.  This is so necessary for our people."

From a successful business man who had grown up in the church:  "I haven't been preached to until today.  You came for me to hear this message."

From a church leader who's husband is a business person: "I had told him that what he was doing was not godly, that he was spending too much time in his business.  I now realize that I need to support him in his ministry."

Amazing church leaders in this class at the Evangelical Theological College - such great debates, discussions, as well as laughter!
I had a number of key leaders from several denominations in my class, which lead to many debates about integrity and finance, as well as the role of the Church in these changing times.
God is good.  I'm sending this now from Amsterdam on a brief layover on my way home.  Looking forward to being home for a bit!

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Easter Tidings

I have been receiving Easter tidings from students, friends, and colleagues from across Africa and North America, yet Ethiopia is on a different calendar, celebrating Easter (and Christmas) one week later. [They are also on a thirteen month calendar, and their time is also different - 7 am is 1 am - the day starts when the sun rises...but I digress.]  I miss these holy days with family, as well as any opportunity for quiet in preparation, but my appreciation for what God has done for me grows so deep in a place like Ethiopia that I rejoice in a different way.

I feel like words other than reflections on Easter are busy words at this time, so I go to my favorite prayer book, Guerillas of Grace by Ted Loder for his words on Good Friday:

Holy One,
shock and save me with the terrible goodness of this Friday,
and drive me deep into my longing for your kingdom,
until I seek it first --

yet not first for myself.

but for the hungry
and the sick 
and the poor of your children,
for prisoners of conscience around the world,
for those I have wasted
with my racism
and sexism
and ageism
and nationalism
and religionism,

for those around this earth and in this city who, this Friday, know far more of terror than of goodness;

that, in my seeking first the kingdom,
for them as well as for myself,
all these things may be mine as well:

things like a coat and courage
and something like comfort,
a few lilies of the field,
the sight of birds soaring on the wind,
a song in the night,
and gladness of heart,
the sense of your presence
and the realization of your promise
that nothing in life or death
will be able to separate me or those I love,
from your love

in the crucified one who is our Lord,
and in whose name and Spirit I pray


I leave for home on Ethiopian Easter and will arrive home next Monday.  I appreciate your prayers for strength yet for this last week and safe travel back home.