Monday, July 15, 2019

What pain do you want in your life?

I read an article the other day that said too many of us are asking the wrong question, which is "What do you want out of life?"

The author stated that everyone wants to be happy, have a great family, and a job they love.  That is not new and it is not unique.  The bigger question he stated is what pain do you want in your life?  What are you willing to struggle for?  Because that seems to be a greater determinant of how our lives turn out.

It's an interesting thought.  The truth is that:
  • To achieve what we want requires pain.  
  • To be in a relationship means inevitably going through hurt feelings, emotional drama, and tough conversations.  
  • To be in good shape physically means watching what you eat, exercising, sweat, soreness and hunger pangs.  
  • To have a job you love takes a risk, repeated failures, education, experience (often from the ground up) and hard work. 
So what determines your success is not what you enjoy, but rather what pain you are willing to sustain. You can't have a pain-free life.  It really is the more difficult question.

Too often we want the reward and not the struggle.  We want the result and not the process.  We want the victory but not the fight.

When you can answer the question, "What pain do you want in your life?" then you can actually make progress in achieving your real goals. 

Shortly after reading this article, I was dealing with a dilemma regarding the DML and someone asked me what I wanted out of the situation in an ideal world.  I thought for a few minutes and answered that I thought the better question was what pain I was willing to put up with.  That completely changed the conversation to be more productive and helped us to really weigh the pros and cons.  We were able to move beyond the ideal to the real.

It's true that this is not a happy question. I tend to be somewhat of a realist though, so it works for me.

I have returned from a good and productive trip to Nigeria.  I now will be home for a month (which feels like a nice long stretch - first whole month home this year!) before heading to Malawi, Uganda, and Tanzania.  There are many programmatic things that need to get done as we continue to grow and learn, so the month will be busy but at least I will not be living out of a suitcase.  Thank you for your continued prayers!

Yet another exciting group picture - wish there were more exciting shots, but this is what we do!


Monday, July 8, 2019

Extreme Poverty in Nigeria

We are currently in Nigeria, where we have finished workshops in both Ilorian and in Igbaja.

In one part of our workshops, we ask the participants to answer the following questions:  Which institution do we look to primarily for alleviating poverty?  What about for promoting peace?

In most places, the two most common answers we hear are government and church.  Usually in that order.

Except, sadly, in Nigeria.  Government doesn't even enter the conversation.

And for good reason.

Our colleague from Kaduna had a kidnapping in his community just this past week.  Men came into the community in the night, shot guns in the air to scare everyone into hiding, kidnapped someone, and then left.  He was receiving calls from people, suspecting that he had been kidnapped.  His wife and children had to flee to the church for safety.  He has two doctorates and could be a prime suspect for kidnapping.  He believes that the reason for the many kidnappings in Nigeria is due to the high unemployment and the lack of effectiveness of the government to make business more conducive for the average citizen.  Nigeria ranks as 145 out of 190 countries for the ease of doing business overall, and 183 out of 190 countries for being able to trade across borders.  In a country of 200 million (currently - expected to double by 2050) that presents a real problem.

At another point in our workshop, I point out that in 1980, 52% of the world was considered to be living in extreme poverty.  Then I ask, do you think that number is higher or lower today?  Most people (from other countries) tell us that the number of people in extreme poverty has decreased.

Except, sadly, in Nigeria.

And for good reason.

The number of people living in extreme poverty worldwide has actually gone down to 25%, which is great!  But in Nigeria, it has increased from 51 million to 86 million.  Nigeria actually took the number one spot for highest number of people in extreme poverty in the world (passing India last year).

The reason that the number of people in extreme poverty dropped so significantly was not because of the work of non-profits or the Millennium Development Goals, but rather because of business.  China reduced the number of people in poverty from 756 million to 25 million primarily through manufacturing.  India decreased the number of people in poverty from 338 million to 218 million primarily through the service industry.

We tried to comfort Nigerians by saying that it's not that things have gotten SO much worse here that they are now holding the less than prestigious spot of #1 for people in extreme poverty but RATHER because China and India are doing so much better.  It is little comfort, and the truth is that the number has increased by 35 million.

We keep repeating that we need to be CREATING JOB MAKERS, not just job seekers.  The Church can have an impact on this.  By 2050, Nigeria will be the third most populous nation in the world (passing the US).  One in four people will by African by the year 2050, and by the year 2100, one in three people will be African.  But we need to make sure that Africans will own the companies, businesses and resources that will allow people to flourish (rather than foreigners)!  This trend of the number of people in Sub-Saharan Africa living in extreme poverty CAN be changed.

One other fact about Africa that is interesting is that the median age in most countries is below twenty years of age.  This is promising in terms of a labor force (median age in Europe is 40 years and median age in the US is 35 years) but it also means that jobs need to be created and those businesses creating those jobs should be owned by Africans.




Please join us in this work if you feel led - prayers, words of encouragement, and support are all needed!  We are working in five of the ten countries listed for having the highest extreme poverty in Africa, and we are seeing results in increased income and jobs being created.  For more information, go to www.disciplingmarketplaceleaders.org.


Sunday, June 30, 2019

On Rest and Escape (by Hannah Reed)

I (Renita) just had a delightful nine days, starting with celebrating the graduation of my daughter Hannah with her Masters in Social Work (MSW) and then on to a one week vacation in Arizona with Michael, my mom, Hannah, Noah, Noah's girlfriend Hannah. To say it was needed and beautiful would be an understatement. I was home for just three hours from Arizon before heading back to the airport to Nigeria.

Hannah volunteered to write this blog from her perspective on these last couple of weeks, so here it is from her in her own words, written as we returned from AZ:

I officially graduated with my Masters in Social Work on June 21st.  It will, I’m sure, feel great at some point to not have any classes to attend or homework to complete. However, on June 21, though I was happy and relieved, I was too tired to feel much of the real sense of relief and excitement that I imagine I should have felt based on how much it took out of me to get here. 

Over the past six months or so, and even more in the past month, people have asked what I plan to do now that I have attained this long-term goal.  My answer has varied but recently has been more consistent: Nothing.  At least, nothing different in the short term.  I plan to continue to be at my same job, not worrying about job applications or frantically studying for my licensing exam, and just allow myself to enjoy being where I am.  No immediate plans for change.  Changes will come- and when they do, I want to be ready for them.  

My answer to “what’s next?” has also recently included “Vacation”.  

Attending graduate school for the past few years, both to get certified as an alcohol and drug abuse counselor and as a masters level social worker (both of which require additional tests in order to be licensed) has been a privilege and something that I am very grateful for.  I recognize that I am privileged to be where I am and to have received the level of education I have been able to receive.  It has also drained me of energy.  I love social work but I also tend to want to give 100% to everything, and so when I have a class, work, church work, and an internship that I am trying to give 100% to, something (most things) loses out and I lose energy.  I thought that without class or an internship, I would have more of a shot to give more to the things that are left.  More time for friends, time to be creative and energetic at work with my clients, time to develop good, solid relationships with coworkers, time for my church community.  But I realized, coming up on May and June, that I had very little left to give.  I couldn’t recharge myself by escaping into a tv show or a book- I never wanted to leave those forms of escape and was immediately tired upon re-entering the “real world”.  Little things gave me anxiety.  Big things gave me more anxiety.  I was exhausted, lacking in joy, resentful of my responsibilities, but unable to say no to them due to feelings of guilt. I was burned out.  And felt guilty for being so, because each different thing that I had committed to and was passionate for wasn’t getting 100% from me, so how could any of them understand that I was burned out? Despite all the rational reasons for why I shouldn’t be burned out, I was still burned out.  I eventually acknowledged the guilt and the exhaustion, stopped trying to fight them or explain them away, and began to long for a break.  

Thankfully, one was planned right after the day I graduated.  I was able to leave Grand Rapids, get a whole week off of work (which I don’t think I have ever taken before, and am incredibly grateful for the job and boss that I have), and go to Arizona with my family.  

I love Arizona- it is one of my favorite places and the beauty here is breathtaking.  I spent a week not looking at email, barely able to access the internet as we were in the mountains where internet reception was spotty, and just be.  We did a lot and saw a lot.  There were good moments, great moments, and okay moments, but I didn’t worry about homework, or feel guilty about missing work, or anxious about not being a part of this meeting or that meeting.  I was able to both rest and escape, existing in the moment and in the mountains of Arizona.  

Escaping is something that I try to do too often in ineffective ways - I turn on the tv, open a book, try to drown out real life with something different and contrived.  Sometimes that is just enough of a break to help my brain feel rested.  But it is not the real rest that I need.  In Arizona, I climbed up rocky slopes, ran down paths of the Grand Canyon, stood on the edge of cliffs, felt the wind rushing through my hair and the sun warming me from head to toe.  I was not cold (which is unusual for me) and had no headaches (two years post-concussion headaches are a constant companion still). I have not had a week as free from headaches as this week in recent memory.  My body was active, but my mind was at rest.  I had escaped, in a way, from my everyday real life, but not from the real world.  I found rest and joy and escape.  

As soon as I get back on Sunday, I will go to a meeting at church.  Then, on Monday, work starts again as normal.  The difference between now and a week ago is that I do not feel like crying at the prospect of either of these things; I do not feel angry or resentful towards my responsibilities or guilty about feeling resentful, as I would have without the rest I have received.

Real rest for me comes not just in escaping to a contrived world on a page or a screen - both have their place, but neither last very long.  Real rest comes in being outside, experiencing the joys of Creation, hiking and walking and even zip lining.  It comes from exerting energy in a new way.  I needed rest.  I still need rest.  I won’t look for a new job yet - I love my job, and hope to stay there a while.  At some point, I will find a job that fits my degree, but waiting a while to make sure I have recaptured my energy and passion is important.  I am grateful for this past week, for my family who shared it with me, and for the friends and coworkers who have supported me through all the ups and downs of graduate school.  

One journey is at its end; the celebration for its ending is also at its end.  Now, I begin a period of rest and re-discovering who I am underneath the stress of this past journey, before I gear up for the next one.



I enjoyed taking pictures on this trip as well - I took more than 900 shots!

Antelope Canyon, on the Navaho Reservation - incredible beauty.  

Noah strikes a pose in the amazing Antelope Canyon

Enjoying time with my brother, Noah, and his girlfriend!
Mom and Michael taking in the si

My Oma, who joined us in ziplining at the Grand Canyon at the age of (almost) 83!  Happy Birthday, Oma!

On top of the Hoover Dam - I did say I love to feel the wind in my hair, right?

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Work as Worship Retreat(s)

I am back home after what felt like a very long month in East and West Africa.  I am thankful for safe travel and for the many events that took place.  One such event is the one I describe here:

Discipling Marketplace Leaders has partnered with RightNow Media, who produces the Work as Worship Retreat, in order to bring this opportunity to Africa.  These are hosted like the Global Leadership Summit (GLS), if you are familiar with those, with recorded speakers from the actual live event in February, as well as local speakers.

We invited our DML country partners to host these retreats in their given contexts, and four of our partners were able to do so (for some of our partners it was not an option as the retreat is only in English).  In Nigeria, they were able to host three events (Abuja, Kaduna, and Jos).  In Cameroon, they were able to host two events (both in Yaounde) with more scheduled.  In Kenya, they will be holding theirs at the end of June.  And in Ghana, they were able to hold three (one in Sandema, one in Tamale, and one in Accra).  I was able to help organize the one in Accra, which was fun for me.  It was good to be a part of this maiden edition!

We made sure that after each speaker there was time for discussion, which was very important to allow the message to settle in better.  Hearing the discussions about how to do our work as an act of worship, in very practical ways, was inspiring for many.  Talking about what that looks like in our various contexts, with our various challenges, was helpful.  People reported being encouraged, some rededicated their lives to Christ, some dedicated their work to the Lord, and there was good talk about next steps as well.

So many view worship as the songs that we sing on a church service.  Remembering that worship is so much broader than that is critical.  When we actively remember that the focus of our work is not on ourselves but rather to glorify God, and to help customers and employees flourish, it can change so much.

As this was our first year, we are thankful to have been able to hold nine such events and pray that next year there may be even more.
The organizing team for the Work as Worship Retreat, Accra

Fanny, me, and Sister Afia:  Three women passionate about getting this message out!

Our local speaker was Rev. Thelma Odonko, who worked as the head of an insurance agency for 24 years.  She was interviewed by Sister Afia, and shared about the challenges of integrating faith and work in her environment.  She gave very practical ways of how to do this and encouraged many people.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Our brother in Christ, Steve Kennedy

Dear Friends,

On Thursday, our Discipling Marketplace Leaders brother, Steve Kennedy from the UK, fell and hit his head.  There was significant brain damage and yesterday Steve passed from this life into the next.

Our hearts are broken by this.  Steve was an intercessor and was coordinating our prayer effort for the DML movement across Africa.  He just recently was with me teaching in Tanzania.  Last November he was with us in Ghana where he met the entire DML team and had been leading this team in monthly prayer calls.  He joined us for our weekly prayer calls in the US and he has been such a blessing to our team.  We were planning a prayer retreat for the team for early next year.

He breathed a breath of fresh air into us with his perspective of God and his faith.

And now he is gone.  Just like that.  He leaves a wife and two daughters, as well as the DML team (and many others!) and we are mourning.

Yesterday, as the DML team in Ghana was holding a Work as Worship retreat, we spent time in Psalm 90.  Verse twelve tells us this:  Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.  I can hear Steve's voice saying, "Amen, amen" to this.  He would want us to use his death for the good of the Lord in some way.  When we see how Steve lived, and we see the brevity of life, we need to be shaken from any complacency and seek to work and live with an eternal purpose.  We grow in wisdom when we are able to focus and recognize what is important in this world and what is not.

On my phone, I have a note from my recent trip with Steve where we shared more with each other about our stories and testimonies.  Steve told me that I need to write a book about my life and then gave me the title:  And God Meant It for Good.  He said that was a theme in my story.  Maybe someday that will come to pass.

I am thankful for this friendship with Steve that was too short.  But I look forward to seeing how God may use this for good.  Please pray for Steve's family and our team at this time.

Steve teaching in Tanzania

He loved taking selfies!  (with James Kamau)


Monday, May 27, 2019

When a Colleague is Kidnapped

When we landed in Cameroon, on May 16, we learned that one of our colleagues had been kidnapped recently and had been released the day before.  This past Monday we had a chance to sit down with her and hear her story.  I was given permission to share it, but because of continued insecurity, I will not share her name or any other relevant details that can be traced.

As I wrote in an earlier blog, the businesses in the Northwest part of Cameroon have been forced to close their businesses every Monday as a sign of protest.  Those days are now called "Ghost town" days as it has escalated with the fighting in the last six months - those days are sometimes extended to three days if there is an additional need of protest.  The military is trying to squash the rebellion, and so anyone seen out on Ghost town days is in danger of being killed.

It was one of these Ghost town days when Esther heard a knock at her door at six am.  She was alone in the house with her fourteen-year-old daughter and she immediately knew that this would not be good news.  She peeked out the window and saw the young men out there with their guns.  She asked what they wanted and they told her to come out of the house.  She came out and they immediately demanded her phone and informed her that she needed to come with them.  She tried to protest but they insisted.  She was allowed to get dressed, and she informed her daughter to call her father (her husband) who was working in a different city.  She told her that everything would be fine and left with the young men.  Esther had just been released from the hospital a couple of days before and was still weak from her illness, but she was told that they would have to hike into the bush to reach the motorcycles that would carry them to their military base.  They hiked and hiked.  At one point she was crawling because she was so weak.  And it was dangerous.  They had to hide several times because it was a Ghost town day and the military would act if they were seen.

They finally made it to the motorcycles and Esther was blindfolded so that she could not see where they were going.  When they finally arrived, she was taken to the "women's cell" where she was alone.  She heard men in the men's cell, who were being taken out into the yard and tortured.

When they finally came to her, they told her that she had to pay two million CFA (about $4000) in order to secure her safe release as they wanted to buy another of the large guns that they had (they showed her which gun they wanted).  After a long series of negotiations, they settled on 500,000 CFA ($1000) and let her go with the promise that she would pay by Friday.

They blindfolded her again, drove her out a ways and then released her.  She had no idea where she was.  She was weak, it was dangerous to be out alone, and she had no idea where to go.  She started walking and finally saw a house with a woman, who waved at her to get down.  Military trucks rolled by several moments later.  She was able to get to the house where she hid for a couple of hours before heading out again.

When she finally made it home, she found the house full of people who were very sure that they would never see her again.  They were very relieved to see her.

Two days later, her husband went to pay 100,000 CFA to the kidnappers in an attempt to negotiate again.  They took the money but kidnapped him.  They held him until Esther paid the 500,000 CFA.

Thankfully, he too was released unharmed.  For many, the story does not end as well.

I have heard story after story that is similar to this, and worse.  This is how the resistance is funding their part of the war.  They are kidnapping their own people and holding them for ransom.  On the other hand, we hear that the military is committing atrocities to try to squash this, and blaming the resistance for some of these.  People in this area are being killed on both sides.

I spoke at a workshop on Friday in Yaounde (the capital city and outside of this area of conflict) and my co-presenter was from this area.  When we finished at the end of the day, he looked at me and said, "Well, back to the war-zone."

What do we say to this?  How do we even pray?  We believe that there is a legitimate complaint of injustice toward the 20% Anglophones and there has been no movement toward reconciliation.  To their credit, the resistance has tried to resolve this peacefully through protests for a couple of years now.  But the last year has seen an escalation, and it is being met with escalation.

While we can't solve the conflict, what we would like to do as Discipling Marketplace Leaders, is to establish a benevolence fund that can be used to stand with our ministry partners in the countries where we are working.  We can't protect Esther or her family, nor can we erase the trauma, but we can stand with her as the body of Christ through prayer and offsetting the financial hit she took from this ransom payment.

If you would like to contribute to this fund, please go to www.disciplingmarketplaceleaders.org/donate, and select DML from the dropdown box.  In the comment section, write "benevolence."

Thank you for helping DML make a difference!

The view from my room: a beautiful, peaceful sunset over Yaounde.