Monday, July 16, 2018

Cameroon in Conflict

Lydia is a businesswoman from the Northwest portion of Cameroon, an Anglophone (English speaking) area.  Since 2016 it has been caught up in a conflict between the Anglophone and Francophone (French-speaking) Cameroonians.  Lydia is Anglophone.  She and her husband have a 22-year-old biological son and three adopted children ranging from 18-23 years old. 
Lydia was forced to close her business on Mondays starting in October of 2016 by those opposing the French dominated government.  All businesses were forced to close as a sign of protest by the Anglophone forces.  Recently they added Tuesdays as well.  Those who disobey and open their business will be attacked.  The loss of two business days has had a significant negative impact on her business.
When you add to that the insecurity and fear of being out in the streets where these forces are roaming, business is negatively impacted even more.
Sixty-five villages have been razed and burned to the ground since this conflict started two years ago.  The complaints of the Anglophones are genuine; with only 25% of the population, they tend to be disadvantaged at every level of leadership.  Villages continue to be invaded by the Anglophone force, where various leaders are being kidnapped in an effort to control the area.  Thankfully, they are not killing people, but people are forced to flee when they invade.  Many of those who lost their homes are living in the bush.
Lydia is very afraid for her son.  The Anglophone force is recruiting young men to join them.  “Recruiting” might be a generous term.  Those who have sons who may be considered old enough to fight are afraid for them.  Lydia’s son graduated from university and is now hiding in their home in the Northwest, while they try to get him accepted for a Master’s degree in a university in Europe or Canada, where he can be safe.
More than 500 soldiers of the Cameroonian army have been killed by the Anglophone Forces, but only 50 of the English Defense Force have been killed.  When asked why the numbers seem lopsided, it is explained that the Anglophone forces are believed to be protected by a spirit who won’t allow them to die.  In response, the military is now asking for help from the spirits as well. They are tying a red rope on their guns to break the power of those spirits of those shooting at them.
Yet Lydia travels many miles to attend the training we held in Yaoundé.  She told me that her heart is “weeping with joy” for the message she heard.  She loves doing business and apparently does it very well. To hear that it is a good and holy calling when done “as unto the Lord” touched her heart deeply.  She has felt guilty doing business and wondered if she should leave it to go into “full-time ministry?” She now recognizes that her work can be an act of worship and it can be her parish and place of ministry.  She left our training renewed and invigorated to do her business with God as owner and be intentional to help other business people see their work as an act of worship.  She is planning to attend our next training to be a trainer for Discipling Marketplace Leaders.
I told Lydia I would be praying for her and her son.  Maybe you will join me?

Sunday, July 8, 2018

A Quick Note

Dear praying friends,

It has been a busy week of teaching at the ECWA Seminary with 27 students in my class.  Some are bishops.  Some are pastors.  Some are civil servants.  Some work with international or local nonprofits.  Some are in business.  Some are Baptist, Christian Reformed, ECWA, Catholic, Lutheran, and others.  They are taking Integrity and Finance as part of the degree, Masters in Organizational Leadership.  It's always a fun class to teach, with some tough dialogue about the challenges of ethics and integrity in the day-to-day lives of people struggling with temptations, especially for those also struggling with poverty and a lack of hope in the system.

On Saturday, we were able to lead a workshop for another of our students, a bishop of a Lutheran Diocese in Abuja.  His church has 1200 members and is a beautiful building.  He had just under 100 pastors and church leaders in attendance and it was a good day to continue to share the vision of the church being the people of God and not the building.

Today (Sunday) I leave Abuja for Jos, to teach a two-day microbusiness training.  Dr. Walker will head to Kaduna with Dr. Gaga (our partner) to do a two-day training for about 100 pastors and church leaders.  Please pray with us for these two events.

Jos has quieted down in this last week, for which we are thankful.  For three days, the Christians will fast (Monday-Wednesday) and pray for peace in the Plateau State.  If you feel so led, please join them.  There is so much anger and stress relating to this long-time struggle between the Fulani herdsman and those who live in the path that they travel.  Conflicts, murder, kidnappings for ransom, extortion, and hatred/fear are an all-too-frequent occurrence. One pastor confessed that she had been preaching on how we need to love our neighbor while knowing in her heart the anger and unforgiveness she holds in her heart towards those causing so much strife and hurt in this country.  There is a deep fear that Christians are going to be annihilated.  Words fall short in these times of deep despair, especially from outsiders.  We know that the church has often grown significantly during times of persecution, but that is little comfort.

We cry out to God for peace, for strength, for perseverance, for reconciliation.  We pray for the Church to rise up, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to forgive, to love, to point all towards the light of Christ.
The Lutheran Cathedral which we were privileged to speak at on Saturday.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Problem or Opportunity?

One of the things we like to teach is that we don't have problems, we have opportunities.  God has given us the potential by being made in His image, as well as through the resources of this world and through the body of Christ, to take these opportunities and find ways through them.

Nigeria is currently the 7th largest country in the world by population.  The largest are (in descending order) China, India, USA, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, and then Nigeria.  By 2050, they predict that Nigeria will have passed the USA to be the third most populous country in the world.  Problem or opportunity?

Lagos is a city of 22 million.  It passed Cairo to be the most populous city in Africa in 2013.  By 2050, 72% of Nigeria will live in urban centers.  Problem or opportunity?

Nigeria has 28 million businesses.  Twenty-two million of those business have no employees (microbusinesses).  In high-income countries, small and medium entrepreneurs (SMEs) who have between 5-500 employees provide 60-80% of the jobs.  There is a significant lack of SMEs in Nigeria and therefore a significant challenge with employment.  Problem or opportunity?

Nigeria just passed India to have the highest number of people live in extreme poverty.  While much of the world reduced the number of people in poverty in the last twenty years, Nigeria increased.  It is reported that 2/3rds of the population in Lagos lives in slums.  Problem or opportunity?

We believe that the Biblical perspective is that p
eople are not the problem - they are the solution. Made in the image of God, people are creative, have been created to work, and are problem-solvers.  The slums may have a depth of richness because of the people there, that is greater than the oil reserves.  But they need the capacity to grow and learn, and they need the opportunity to work as God has intended.  Perspective is so important.

To be in a city of 22 million is somewhat staggering.  To consider how such a mass of people move, work, travel, and communicate is difficult to get our head around.  In many ways, it is a country unto itself.  People in Lagos tell us (relating to DML), "If you capture Lagos, you capture Nigeria.  If you capture Nigeria, you capture Africa."

While in Lagos, we heard testimonies from pastors who have implemented Thirty Days in the Marketplace in their church.  They reported:
  • Total paradigm shift by the church as work was recognized as a act of worship and business was recognized as a calling.
  • A portion of the group trained in Lagos
  • One pastor shared how much he personally was changed by the process of teaching this as it relates to his perspective of why we were created and how essential it is to disciple people in the workplace.
  • Bible studies were held regularly on how to do our business as a mission.
  • New accountability is taking place in relationships relating to how we do business.
  • As prayer walks were done by the church in the communities, strongholds were identified and prayed over.
  • New souls have been won as a result of this ministry.
  • Some pastors reported an increase in giving as a result.
  • Business members have been anointed and commissioned by their pastors.

    Assemblies of God leadership team
We are encouraged by this.  When people begin to see their work as worship, it changes so much.  From Lagos, we moved to Ibadan for the first time to do a two-day workshop for pastors and church leaders, as well as a workshop for business people.  Yesterday (Sunday) we moved to Abuja where we will teach at the ECWA seminary until Saturday and then have a DML workshop with the Lutheran Church where one of our students serves as the Bishop.  

Following this, Dr. Walker with our partner Dr. Gaga, will move to Kaduna to do another two-day workshop for pastors, with an expected 100 pastors in attendance.  I am to go to Jos to do a two-day microbusiness training for one of the churches who has completed the Thirty Days in the Marketplace.  However, Jos has had a significant
Ibadan DML Team
amount of violence with over 200 killed, demonstrations, and a curfew has been put in place.  We are hoping that things will calm down in the next few days, otherwise I am being advised by our partners not to take the risk, as the roads into and out of Jos are a key trouble spot.  Please pray for peace!

And while you are praying, please also pray for Cameroon.  We are to go there after Nigeria and news reports are that Cameroon is moving towards a civil war between the English-speakers and French-speakers.  Our trip there in January was postponed for that reason and it had appeared things were improving.  Where we are going is quiet and peaceful, so we will still go, but some of the leaders will be coming from that area.  Please pray for their safety and for the Church to rise up in this time to be promoters of peace and helpful solutions.  There are opportunities in this too if we have the courage, compassion, capacity, and competence to find them!
Some of the leaders trained in Ibadan
Great Quote

Attendees capturing the info on their phones

Rev. Johnson, from Ghana, teaching from his vast experience in doing Business as Mission for more than 25 years.  But he is now a firm believer in Church-based Business as Mission and is joining us on the road to help train and mentor fellow pastors and business persons.  We thank God for him!
On a church wall in Ibadan

Monday, June 25, 2018

"Do You Want Gold?"

Writing from Ghana airport this past Friday, waiting for our cancelled flight to Nigeria to be rescheduled, I felt tired yet energized.  It was a long week with teaching from Monday-Friday, 9 am-4pm.  We had two different groups of pastors and church leaders, about 80 in all:  one group came on Monday-Tuesday; one group came on Thursday-Friday.  Wednesday was a workshop with the Ghana Christian University faculty and staff, doing some dialogue about opportunities and challenges, including the opportunity to engage the concept of “Work as Worship” in their Development Management programs, Nursing programs, Theology programs, and others.

While we were praying together on Tuesday morning, Fanny (Founder and Director of Hopeline Institute) shared that she felt she heard God’s voice asking, “Do you want gold?  You have gold before you.”  She believed this was referring to the message of Discipling Marketplace Leaders and the very real need and opportunity to reach the Marketplace for Christ through the Church.  By Friday afternoon, Fanny had organized what she is calling the “DML Movement” made up of twelve key strategic leaders.  They will have their first meeting in a few weeks to strategize how to make this call to reclaim the redeemed Marketplace, through DML, a National Movement in Ghana.

As a Director of Hopeline Institute, Fanny oversees 44 staff persons in three different units:  Training, Projects, and Microfinance.  They are a great team of men and women who are striving to do their work as an act of worship unto the Lord.  God is using them to bless and encourage so many.  How does one start a movement?  There are probably many ways, but I believe that the Holy Spirit and Fanny are a good mix to do it!

As you may remember, DML started working with Hopeline in Ghana in 2016 in Tamale,  This past week, while I was teaching, my colleague Barbie Odom had the opportunity to travel to Tamale to visit some of the businesses who went through the DML business training and some of the pastors who have been guiding the DML ministry in their church. She was very encouraged by what she saw.  One of the business women who produces a local juice from beesap (hibiscus) shared with Barbie how her business has been growing over time and how DML has helped.  In the picture you see a coin balanced on her finger, and she shared that when she started, she was able to put one coin aside after another to save and increase the business; she has now risen to the level where she has labelled her bottles and has had good growth.
the Northern Region of Ghana.

Pastor Adams oversees a total of five churches in this rural area and is also a maize farmer and pig farmer.  He is pictured here with his five-year-old son in their maize field (which is struggling with the army worm), and that is one of his delightful pigs in the picture below.

Five more churches are about to begin the training for their business people in the northern part of Ghana, and now we pray this movement of God will pick up in Accra as well through this new team of people.
This week will have two days of training in Lagos (Monday-Tuesday), and then three days of training in Ibadan (Thursday-Saturday).  Please pray for strength and health for us (last week had a few health challenges), that the word of God may go out and that people may be inspired, through the Holy Spirit, to reclaim our relationship to creation and to work.
The second group of Pastors and Church leaders at GCU

Isn't this just the cutest picture?

Monday, June 18, 2018

Bird Strike

When an airborne bird hits an airplane it is called a "bird strike."  It is important to avoid a BASH (Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard) when flying.  These are real terms. It's a real thing.  Birds can crack a windshield of a plane.  Maybe you remember the Miracle on the Hudson in 2009, where an airbus came down after being struck by a flock of birds.

Nothing that dramatic happened to me on my way to Ghana, thankfully.  But the plane I was supposed to take from Brussels to Accra had a bird strike when landing, which resulted in a two hour delay as that plane was damaged and then assessed, and then another two hour delay as a new plane was made ready (because the other was too damaged), and then another two hour delay as the crew was then close to being over their allowed hours on shift.

It's always interesting to be around a group of people who get bad news like that together.  Crowds tend to bond and do so quickly with bad news.  While they may spend eight hours in close proximity on a plane and never speak to each other, they will talk and shout and reason together when told of a delay.  There were many upset people, which is not unusual for a delay.  If you fly, you've probably seen it.

But then it became about Africa.  In Brussels, they have a special terminal for African flights.  You have to take a shuttle to get to it, as it is in a separate building.  From the anger I heard (I didn't do the research myself) that there are no water fountains in that terminal and that there is only one restaurant in that terminal.  And suddenly people were talking about the need to file complaints and work together to make changes.

I don't fully understand the Brussel airport because I usually fly Delta instead of United, but for this flight United was a lot cheaper.  I don't understand why they had signs up for "African flights" to go this way or that.  I didn't see those signs for Asian flights or South American flights, etc.  But in this day and age, you don't expect there to be such overt segregation, so I'm imagining (possibly naively) that there could be another reason for a separate terminal.  I don't want to jump to conclusions and judge.  But maybe there isn't another reason (I've also seen enough racism to know that it can still be so).

And so a bird strike turns into a discussion on racism.

And as I waited, it made me think about the impact of small things in our lives, and how they ripple out.

300 people inconvenienced by a bird.  If each person had one person waiting for them in Ghana, that is 600 people.  A number of people talked about the functions that they had to get to and were going to miss because of this delay.  So maybe 300 more people impacted.  Suddenly we are over 1000.  The people in Togo (where we were rerouted) were yelling when they boarded because of how they were inconvenienced, and then again the same for those being picked up in Accra, after we were dropped off.  And the ripples go out. Unintended consequences.  Collateral damage.

I think about the ripples in our lives from little things that happen.  Something said without thinking can cause emotional damage that can last for years.  A glance at a phone when driving that can take a person's life.  How quickly things can change and how frequently we have to deal with the impact of these ripples.

And it's amazing to me that my faith tells me that God is in control of my life and that He can work things together for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.  All these details.  All these people.  From little ripples to crashing waves.

I don't believe in a God who eliminates waves or ripples.  I don't believe in a God who promises a cushy life with smooth sailing.  That life is coming.  It's called heaven.  For now, it's comfort enough to know that He can give strength and purpose as the waves crash over, or as the little ripples disturb the peace.

How I live through these ripples matters.  How I am a testimony in these ripples matter.

And so, a dead bird reminds me of the great God that I have the privilege to serve.  A dead bird reminds me of a great God who gives me purpose and peace.  And the dead bird reminds me to be careful of the ripples I make, the unintended consequences that I bring, and the collateral damage that I cause.

I'm sorry for the bird.  But it's death was not in vain.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Back to West Africa: Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon

On Thursday, I leave for West Africa.  It looks to be a busy trip as it will cover three countries in about four and a half weeks:  Ghana, Nigeria, and Cameroon.  Our teachings will cover all three of Discipling Marketplace Leaders audiences:  Christian universities/seminaries, Churches, and Businesses.  Our travelling team, who will meet our country teams in each place, will consist of Barbie Odom of Oklahoma, Dr. Walker of California, Rev. Johnson Asare of Nothern Ghana, and myself.  These trips take a great deal of planning and coordination with our in-country partners, and this trip has been in the works for about six months.  It is good to see it coming close.

Our time in Ghana will be primarily with Ghana Christian University, where we will do two two-day workshops with about 100 pastors and church leaders, and then also spend one whole day with the faculty and administrators of the university to help them know how to integrate the idea of "work as worship" into the various departments of the University (Nursing, Theology, Marketing, Management, Business, and Engineering).  We are privileged to have the President of the University very much on board with this - they had been trying to integrate business as mission into their setting but lacked the tools for how to do it.   We are excited to join them.

Our time in Nigeria will be in five different cities:  Lagos, Ibadan, Abuja, Kaduna, and Jos.  We will be conducting two different trainings for businesses (Jos and Ibadan), two two-day trainings for pastors and church leaders (Ibadan and Kaduna), an intro meeting with a new group in Abuja, and follow-up meetings with DML pastors in Lagos.  In addition, we will be teaching classes for the ECWA seminary in Abuja. We do ask for your prayers for safety as we travel from place to place, as the number of kidnappings for ransom in Nigeria continue to be on the rise due to economic hardships.  95% of the kidnappings are of Nigerians, and most of the time a ransom is paid, which fuels more kidnappings.

Our time in Cameroon will be our first foray into this country and we will be starting in the capital of Yaoundé.  We were to start in Cameroon in January but due to conflict there, it was advised that we wait until July.  We have been busy having our materials translated into French.  Cameroon was colonized by the British and the French, resulting in "French Cameroon" and "British Cameroon", although for a time before that the Germans were there, as well as the Portuguese.  French Cameroon became independent in 1961 but British Cameroon waffled between the choices of staying separate, joining Nigeria, or unifying with French Cameroon.  Cameroon became a one party state in 1966, and there has been ongoing clashes between different groups from time to time since then, with the most recent struggles being the English-speaking Cameroonians claiming oppression from the French-speaking Cameroonians.  In 1990, a multi-party system was established.  There are more than 200 ethnic groups in Cameroon, which continues to be a major producer of cocoa and coffee.

The religious affiliations of Cameroon can be seen in the graph.  Cameroon ranks at 153 out of 188 countries on the Human Development Index, and 163 out of 190 countries for the ease of doing business, according to the World Bank.  So there are lots of challenges, or as we like to say more appropriately, lots of opportunities in Cameroon.

We look forward to seeing what God will do in our travels as we seek to join Him in His work.  We covet your prayers!