Sunday, September 23, 2018

Week Six, Eighth City, Fourth Country

Today we start our last week of this trip.  It started in Ethiopia, then Uganda, on to Kenya, and finishing in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.  This week, as with the previous five weeks, will be packed with training pastors and business people.  There is a deep weariness setting in but God has been good as we have been able to reach deep to summon the strength to finish well.

Last week, we were in Eldoret with pastors from 27 different denominations.  We were doing our two-day workshop for pastors and church leaders.  This was a "next step" from the two-hour presentation that had been done in March of this year, in which awareness creation is done for the DML ministry.

After the teaching in March, Pastor Joe purchased one of the three books we have written, The Grand Narrative of God.  [We wrote this book at the request of pastors who had gone through our two-day workshop and said they needed material to read through more slowly on their own, after the event.]

Pastor Joe shared with us that following the two-hour DML Awareness Creation event in March, he was invited to speak to high-level government officials and big business owners in Busia, Kenya.  He would have an audience of about 130 people and he was wondering what he could say to them.  The meeting would consist of Christians and a large number of Indian businessmen.  While many in the meeting would profess Christ, he believed that few understood how to be the Church every day of the week.

He read our book and decided to present its principles to the group.  He shared with us that the response was very, very positive.  Indian business owners who are very successful asked for his contact information and have been following up with him to learn more.  Government officials were challenged to do their work as an act of worship to the Lord.

We can't know how God will work through the people we speak with to be change agents for the Lord in their time and space.  We know that He has invited us to join Him in what He is already doing.  We know that the Global Church needs a paradigm shift as it relates to how we view the Church - too many of us define it as the building rather than the people.  We need a paradigm shift to understand that business people are not there only to financially support the mission of the Church, but according to Genesis 1 and 2, prior to the fall, they ARE the mission, the purpose, for creation.

We are learning that while almost everyone has "aha" moments during our workshops - and many people say that they wonder how they have missed this - changing the system is difficult to do.  We are used to "doing church" in a certain way.  We are used to "doing evangelism" in a certain way.  We are finding that people need to hear this message two or three times before the paradigm shift takes root enough for a pastor or church leader to effect change in their church.

Last week's training had bishops and pastors saying that their "theology is being rattled."  Some pastors said that "we thought 'subdue' from Genesis 1:28 referred to subduing the devil and sickness" (even though this word was used BEFORE the fall!).  Others said, "No longer can we just bind the demons of poverty; now we have the tools to actually teach people how to get out of poverty."

We continue to be humbled by the opportunity that God has given us to present this message to His Church in West and East Africa!  We appreciate your prayers as leaders consider how to remember this forgotten truth from Genesis 1 and implement it in their churches!

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Challenge of Integrity

A student in my Integrity and Finance class at the Africa Theological Seminary in Kenya shared the following situation with me a few days ago:

When the whites were leaving Kenya in the 1960's, there were plots of land being sold at very reasonable prices.  My father and my uncles approached their father, my grandfather, to ask if they could sell some of his cows in order to buy the land.  He said no.  They reapproached him two additional times and each time they were told no.  Finally, as the last plots of land were going, the sons decided to secretly sell ten of their father's cows at several different points to buy several plots of land.  The father didn't notice (he had many cows), or if he did notice, he couldn't figure out what had happened to them.

Sometime later, when the truth came out, he saw that what his sons had done was actually a good thing, as the land had become quite valuable. In a warm culture, where the community is more important than the individual, does this action constitute a lack of integrity?

This is what the student asked, leading to a lively discussion.

Then he added this several minutes later:

The land that had been purchased was being worked mostly by the older sons.  The younger sons did not have land and wanted to farm.  So they did the same thing that their brothers did, and sold cows in order to start farming.  This time the father was very upset.  He went to the village chief asking for some justice against his sons.  The chief told the father that he should empower his sons to do the farming.  Not satisfied, the father went to the village police.  They learned what the chief had said and gave him the same response:  empower your sons.  Still not satisfied, he went to the city police to try to prosecute his sons for stealing from him.  They gave him the same answer:  empower your sons to do the farming.  He returned home, made amends with those sons, and they began their farming.

Again, a very lively discussion.

A few days later, as we discussed personal finance and budgeting and how this can create conflict in a marriage, the same student shared another story - this time about his wife.  She wanted to buy new furniture to replace what they had.  As most husbands and wives in many parts of Africa keep their money separate, she had some of the money and wanted her husband to contribute the rest.  It was a bit expensive and he had other plans for the money she wanted from him, so he asked her to wait.  After returning home from a trip, he came home to find that furniture in his house.  His wife had been able to come up with a good portion of the money but still needed him to add to it.

A lack of integrity? (I reminded him that maybe she had heard the story about his uncles and decided to do likewise.)

We had fun with this discussion, and in the end, we all concluded that the "end doesn't justify the means."

But the challenge of integrity is real and it is heartbreaking to hear the stories of how deep and widespread corruption can be in different places, affecting almost all people, from adults to children.  It is overwhelming to think about how that can change and be reversed.

As a class, we concluded that it needs prayer, appropriate action and standing up for beliefs, as well as obedience.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Update from the Road: Down but not Out

I am writing from one of my "homes away from home" in Kitale, Kenya.  I have spent more than three years in this little room.  It is the seventh bed that I have been in since leaving home three weeks ago.

In the three weeks, I have spent eight days traveling:  from Grand Rapids to Ethiopia:  Addis Ababa, to Arba Minch, back to Addis, to Wolayita, back to Addis.  Then by air to Kampala, Uganda, and then by road to Kitale Kenya.  I have spent twelve days teaching four different groups, in two different countries and four different cities.  I have had two days of Sabbath.

My last trip in June and July of this year was to West Africa.  It was 33 days with 21 days of teaching and 10 days of travel, with one day off in the beginning and one day off at the end.  During that time I was sick four times - each time on the first day of teaching a new group.  First impressions are important and so it wasn't lost on us as a group that each time I was sick was on the first day with a new group.  But I didn't let being sick keep me down - I didn't miss a minute of teaching time and, with God's help, most of the groups didn't even know I was sick.

But my prayer group challenged me to take better care of myself while I travel.  They reminded me that God rested and that I am certainly not stronger than God!  I committed to them to structure in one day of rest each week on this trip.  I have kept that commitment but it has not been easy!  Turning down speaking or preaching engagements, just to take a day of rest, feels like missed opportunities when in a place for such a short time.  But so far I have had the strength to say "no" to more opportunities and "yes" to my need for rest.

But there was one incident in Ethiopia which was a wake-up call to this again; by "this" I mean the spiritual warfare that we feel we are very much up against in trying to reclaim the redeemed Marketplace.  Last week Sunday, we left Addis early in the morning to drive to Wolayita to train women leaders from the Kale Heywet Church.  They were coming from all eleven regions of Ethiopia.  These are women who oversee over four million women across 10,000 local churches in the denomination throughout the country, and we were excited about the opportunity.  The goal was to train these women, who would then carry the message back to their regions, train their district leaders, who would then work with the local churches.

On the way to Wolayita, there were two very close calls with car accidents involving a donkey each time.  The number of animals on the roads in Ethiopia is amazing!  And donkeys are rather stubborn animals who don't like to move very easily (you see countless young boys struggling to pull or move their donkey one way or another).  But thankfully, we were spared from having an accident.  We arrived at the venue and began to settle in.

The deputy leader for the Women's Ministry, Bizunesh, who had coordinated the event accidentally dropped her phone and it shattered.  All the women coming from the various regions had been calling her for directions to the rather obscure place where we were located and now they would not be able to reach her.  We tried her SIM card in all of our phones but it didn't fit any of them.  She then checked her watch to see the time and realized her watch had stopped.  As the time-keeper for the event, she now had no phone and no watch.  Additionally, she had been coughing all day and had told me it was allergies.  But it now appeared to be a head cold that she was developing and she started to feel miserable.  We prayed for her and then set off for the venue.

We set up the two projectors that we use - one for English and one for Amharic.  The same two projectors that we had used all along on this trip so far both decided to not work.  They kept overheating and shutting down within the first two minutes of being on.  We tried everything to get them to work.  After twenty minutes and almost giving up, we realized it was a strange voltage issue and were able to get a voltage regulator which allowed us to proceed.  By this time, all the leaders from our team were realizing that we were having a spiritual attack of sorts and we were shaking our heads, smiling, and saying that we would persevere!

But we weren't through the attacks yet.  I had given the most recent Amharic version on a flash drive to the person who would operate that slideshow.  I watched it being copied to the flash drive.  As I began teaching, I noticed that the Amharic and English were not lining up - the wrong powerpoint was being shown.  I went to the person and informed him that it was not the right one - the right one was on the flash drive.  I went back to teaching but noticed that still it was not right.  I stopped teaching again and went to check on the problem.  When I opened the flashdrive on his computer there was nothing there.  Hmm.

Then, as I came close to the end of the teaching for that night, I began to feel quite ill.  I hadn't felt great all day - quite tired and nauseated on and off.  But that isn't that unusual, given the givens, so I didn't think it was anything.  But suddenly, at 8:23 pm (I was supposed to stop teaching at 8:30 pm) I realized that I was going to faint.  I assumed that I was probably dehydrated (the elevation is high but because the weather is very cool you don't feel thirsty).  I had fainted once before years ago because of dehydration so I knew the symptoms.  But I had two more slides to get through.  And it had been such a rough night with the projectors and the slide issues!  So I decided to push through in order to not cause a scene, hoping I could finish and sit down without anyone noticing.

But pride goeth before the fall, they say.  I didn't make it.  I finished my slides and said that I needed to sit down before I passed out...and then proceeded to stumble toward the audience and fainted.  My translator caught me on my way down.  When I came to, I was on the ground with all the women around me shouting and praying and extremely worried.  I immediately assured them that I was okay - I just needed water.

How embarrassing.

But what Satan can mean for evil, God can use for good.  As they processed what had happened the whole evening, they all decided to pray against strongholds.  They prayed that evening and then woke early in the morning to cover the training in prayer.  When I made it to the venue (still feeling a bit shaky), they declared to me that all strongholds had been removed and the rest of the time would be well.  And it was.

The fact that I had fainted however impacted the women in a way that caused them to listen to me more closely.  They kept saying I fainted because I had been working too hard and was exhausted - I kept telling them it was dehydration - but nevertheless...they believed that the message I had given to give to them was so important that I would press on despite exhaustion and so therefore it was critical that they get this message.  We had an excellent two days together and everything worked seamlessly.  The women interacted very well with the material and are very excited to start this work in their various regions.

Down but not out.

Expect the unexpected.

Keep pressing on (but if you feel like you are going to faint, sit down!!!).

As the picture says, the devil doesn't care if you go to church or read your Bible, as long as you don't apply it to your life.  Discipling Marketplace Leaders is about getting people out of the church building and reminding them that they are the Church every day of the week.  We are reminding them that their work is an act of worship.  We are reminding them to have a quadruple bottom line (economic, social, environmental, and missional).

We are beginning to reach some large numbers through large denominations, who can have a significant impact on the marketplace.  And my guess is that the devil doesn't like it.

Will you join us in prayer?

We are also in need of financial support.  Both Dr. Walker's support and my support are currently at a negative balance.  If you feel so led to give, please go, click on donate, and follow the directions from there.  If you are not able to give, please pray for this as well, as God has been faithful to supply our needs since beginning this ministry!

Saturday, September 1, 2018

"A Dream Come True"

Being in Ethiopia during this trip has been like a breath of fresh air.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed

On April 2nd of this year, a new Prime Minister was appointed, following the sudden resignation of the previous Prime Minister.  I was in Ethiopia when this happened but I had no idea of the significance of that event.  On this trip, I feel like I'm seeing a different people - a people with hope, a people who believe they have a leader who is for them, a people who are developing confidence in the future.

Let me explain first through an example.

I was picked up for lunch on Saturday by a colleague who is becoming a dear friend.  He told me that a former dissident was arriving in Ethiopia today so traffic would be very busy, necessitating us to have lunch close by.  When I asked about the person coming, he shared that this was a person who had been outspoken about the former Ethiopian government.  He said that if this person had come a year ago, he would have been jailed or killed.  But today, he is coming in as a hero.  Apparently, 20,000 people are expected to turn up to hear him speak.  As we drove, we saw people walking with a flag that had the same Ethiopian flag colors but was lacking the emblem.  In 2009, this was forbidden by the Ethiopian government and would have resulted in fines and imprisonment.  Today people were walking with that flag in masses.

I've been in many countries where there are demonstrations, and when those happen there is often a fear of violence.  But today it felt so different.  We sat in the restaurant, facing the street, and we saw wave after wave of people walking by, holding these flags.  My friend said to me, "This is like a dream come true."  He went on to share that never in his life (he is in his late 50s) has he seen this type of freedom in Ethiopia, where people can express disagreement without fear.  I immediately teared up upon hearing his words - peace is something that I take for granted in the US; the right of free speech is vigorously protected.  To witness this moment of a new freedom in Ethiopia felt like a holy privilege.

This new Prime Minister, Dr. Abiy Ahmed, is an evangelical Christian (representing about 20% of the population) and part of the majority Oromo tribe (representing about 30% of the population).  He is only 42 years old, with a doctorate in peace and security.  Since April, he has done what seems to be an amazing job at undoing many of the injustices from the previous administration.  The BBC stated that he has been changing Ethiopia at an "unprecedented speed."  Everyone seems to speak of him with such awe and joy.  He is a humble leader, articulate, educated, intelligent, sensitive, compassionate, and the list goes on.  I listened to him speak to his own people who are demanding that their language become the second official language of Ethiopia, and heard him challenge them on their underlying motive for this.  It was an impressive speech.

But there is a new fear that I heard from many, and that is the fear that something might happen to him.  There have been threats, especially as he is bringing people to justice for previous abuses; there has been a loss of power of a few who still hold much of the countries resources.  This new breath of fresh air is still taken with a sense of caution, with a question of whether it will last.  The fear that it would disappear or be taken away is legitimate.

Maybe you will join me in prayer for the protection of this leader, as well as for the protection of his work toward peace and justice in this great land?  And continue to pray that soon this freedom may go beyond Dr. Ahmed to all the people, becoming a movement that will be held by all.  And pray that as people gain strength and confidence in living in newfound peace and harmony, that the peace of God may rule in their hearts and their minds.

What a privilege to be here during this time!  May God bless this land that is rich in history, in resources, in culture, and in opportunities for people to be co-creators with Him!

Sunday, August 26, 2018

When Life Gives You Lemons...

Arba Minch is a city of about 70,000 people, in the southwest part of Ethiopia, approximately 500 km from Addis Ababa.  It is a beautiful area of mountains, lakes, banana and mango farms, and lush green everywhere you look.

When I was growing up in the 1980s, Ethiopia had been struck by a severe famine due to drought, and the picture that I had in my head of Ethiopia was a dry, brown land.  I have been traveling to teach in Ethiopia for three years and this was my first trip outside of Addis Ababa.  That childhood picture has now finally been changed.

One of our partners in Ethiopia is the Kale Heywet Church, the largest evangelical church, with more than 10,000 local churches and twelve million members.  They have established a Business as Mission office, and Yoseph Bekele is the BAM ministry director.  Discipling leaders in the marketplace was a vision that he had in 2008, which finally came to be in 2017.  He is doing an amazing job of preaching the message of "work as worship" across Ethiopia and developing teams in each region.

Arba Minch is in one of the eleven regions.  The General-Secretary of this zonal region for the Kale Heywet Church is responsible for 1200 churches.  He spent seven years studying in the UK and then returned to Ethiopia where he was the first to introduce the apple and moringa to Ethiopia, choosing to work with farmers in rural areas in order to develop agriculture.  Many times, I'm told, people pleaded with him to come to lead the church in the region but he refused.  Five years ago he finally agreed.  He came to the DML workshop for pastors and church leaders in jeans - something you almost never see in Africa from a leader at a formal meeting for pastors - but it spoke of his humility and his commitment to being real and coming alongside real people.  In his introductory message that morning, he said that Christianity is like a supermarket - open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  He said that our lives are made up of one story - not several stories - and because of that, wherever we are, whatever we do, we need to reflect one truth: the truth of who God is.  He told the audience that in our work we need to reflect Christ so that people don't get confused.  That opened our time for a very rich two-day interaction with pastors and church leaders from this region.

The zonal headquarters for the Kale Heywet Church in Arba Minch has an interesting story.  As we drove onto the compound, which is about 20 hectares, I saw huge rocks everywhere and a large bulldozer breaking up the rocks. I was told that twenty years ago, the government gave this land to the church, stating that it was full of rocks and no one would be able to do anything with it, so may as well give it to the church.  A year ago, one of the leaders who is an accountant and this week will become a trainer for DML, proposed that they begin breaking up the rocks and selling them for construction.  They calculated the costs on this and realized that this could bring in a nice income for the church and make the land usable.

It is a classic example of what to do when life gives you lemons:  make lemonade.  Another way to put that is what Satan means for evil, God can use for good.

The people in this region learned about DML this past April when some of the leaders attended our workshop in Addis.  Since then Yoseph did another workshop in Arba Minch, and I learned that they now have nine groups of 100+ business members in each group, who are meeting every day for prayer at noon, and weekly for Bible study and discussion about business as mission.  They are so encouraged that God sees their work as holy, and they are learning to do their work as worship.  They are also learning to work together as collaborators and not as competitors.  Soon, I pray, we will be able to offer the business training for them which will help to grow their businesses.

I wish I could convey how touched they are (their words) and excited they are to see this forgotten truth of Genesis 1 and 2.  We had a number of business people in this workshop who are committed to working with their pastors to have a business ministry in their local church.  Yoseph has a goal of seeing all Kale Heywet Churches have a business ministry in all 10,000 churches in five years.  This is ambitious but he is an entrepreneur, businessman, and pastor who knows how to create the system to make this happen.  Those of you who pray for this ministry and support it financially need to know of the impact that you are having.  Last year October, we were able to send Yoseph to Kenya to learn from the team there and attend a training of trainers.    He has made such progress in a year, with the support of the leaders of his denomination.  This can't be done without your prayers and support.  [This year, in November, Yoseph and his assistant, newly hired Sitotaw, will travel to Ghana to meet all the other DML teams, to teach what they are doing and to learn from others as well.]

Please pray for Arba Minch and for their desire to reclaim the marketplace for Christ.  Pray for the business people selling used clothing, housewares, the carpenters, metal fabricators, and weavers of hand-made cotton scarves.  Pray for the mango and banana farmers, the cotton farmers, the coffee and tea farmers, and the crocodile and pig farmers.
The Arba Minch DML Leadership Team (Yoseph in the middle)
One of the DML Marketplace Ministers in his shop, proudly displaying the Amharic version of "30 Days in the Marketplace" Devotions that he and his wife are using daily.
The Arba Minch group

So beautiful - mountains with a different lake on each side.

Monday, August 20, 2018

The Power of Multiplication

Last year we had Discipling Marketplace Leaders classes in educational institutions in three countries.  So far THIS YEAR we have had DML classes in six countries with more than 175 students!

Last year we trained a total of 565 pastors and church leaders in the DML workshops.  So far THIS YEAR we have more than doubled that, and have already trained more than 1200 pastors and church leaders!

But the news I'm really excited to share is that last year we had a DML prayer walks only in Kenya, taking place in four cities.  THIS YEAR we are having prayer walks in Kenya (five cities), Ghana (three cities), Uganda (one city) and Ethiopia (one city).  Four countries and ten cities!

We are recognizing the significance of prayer in the challenge of the work that we are doing.  It's not a secret that the enemy does not like us invading his turf in the Marketplace and reclaiming it for Christ.  The challenges are with churches, who tend to be inward focused.  The challenges are with businesses and their capacity to grow.  The challenges are with the environment, which can be hostile and threatening.  The challenges can come at many levels.  We have been having a weekly prayer call for years where we pray about this ministry and what is happening in the various fields.

But we are recognizing that in many ways our prayers can revert to being reactive rather than proactive.  The typical pattern is this:  we work, we see issues, we ask for prayer, and we keep working.  RATHER, we need to let prayer be the foundation from which we get the vision and then execute based on that.

I'm not saying that hasn't happened.  It has happened with every strategic plan and vision casting.  But it is good to remind ourselves that prayer is not to be
reactive but rather be proactive.  We clearly see God leading this ministry, which is exciting!  We continue to meet people whom God has already called and equipped for this ministry, and we get to join them in what God is already doing.  That is exciting!  These prayer walks are a chance to be proactive - to walk and pray and allow the Lord to reveal His message, His will, and the opportunities that He wants us to take.

Please join us in prayer both for the prayer walks as well as for the work and the battle that is taking place in seven countries and twenty-nine cities.  Our God is an awesome God!

This morning I am leaving for a 42 day trip to Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania.  We will be doing four two-day workshops for pastors and church leaders (one in each country), one five-day Training of Trainers for 50+ in Ethiopia, two micro-business trainings (first one in Ethiopia and first one in Tanzania), and teaching at the Africa Theological Seminary in Kitale, Kenya.  In addition to that will be countless meetings.  The goal for the next six months is to help each country team build their capacity to be able to do these trainings on their own.

We covet your prayers!