Monday, September 15, 2014


The last couple of weeks have been quite heavy for me.  The adjustment to Kenya was more difficult than I anticipated.  I miss my husband and my children.  I had to move into a room that is just big enough for the bed, no dresser, and so all my things are piled on top of each other with no where to move.  I moved into a small house with six other people who all seem to be very extroverted (and I am very introverted).  We didn't have any water on several different occasions and in one day the power went off at least twenty times.  A few days after arriving in Kitale, I had to travel again for a training near Nairobi.  And in a few days I will travel again to Ghana.  I have felt very blue.

But I didn't want to share with anyone, although Michael let me vent pretty consistently for the better part of a week, bless his heart.  He encouraged me to share and ask for prayer, but I resisted.  And I realized recently why that was.  I think it is because under the personal heaviness of moving back to Kenya by myself, there is an even greater heaviness for what I see around me.  The Ebola crisis in Liberia occupies my mind much of the time - I pray constantly for my brothers and sisters there.  My brother there shared with me that not only has the economy ground to a halt and prices of food are rising significantly, but he has to pass by countless people on his way to work who are sick with Ebola, laying outside the gate of a hospital or clinic because there aren't enough beds for them to get care. I can't imagine how heartbreaking that would be.  (How can I complain about being away from my husband and children in light of that? Or about the size of a bedroom?)

New weigh bridge in Kenya.
And this week, while conducting a training outside of Nairobi, I heard the following lament of a Kenyan business owner.  The woman I spoke with runs a construction company with her husband.  He is a contractor; she is a supplier.  She has been running this business for about 15 years and for most of those years, business was very good.  But business regulations have changed of late with the government organizing itself in different ways.  This business owner shared that there is a new fee for transport trucks on weigh bridges along the road:  there used to be no weigh bridges, but now, if your
Trucks waiting to be weighed on Kenyan roads.
truck is over 25 tons, you are fined 400,000 Kenya shillings (or $4700 US).  Trucks used to carry 50 tons in order to turn a profit.  Since they can only carry 25 tons now, those who had taken loans for their trucks are simply letting them get repossessed as they can't make a profit with these new rules. 

Permits are now required for digging sand out of the river bed and those new permits went from zero to 60,000 KSH per month (or $700 US).  Her business can't afford that (nor can the customers) and work has slowed down considerably.  She is unsure this business can continue. The challenges to do business are immense.

Add to that the insecurity issue.  I spoke to a man this week who was supplying specialty produce to hotels in Mombasa, but because of Al-Shabab most of the hotels there have closed, tourism has dried up, and he had no buyers for his product.  It all went to waste as Kenyans don't eat it.  The heaviness of doing business in this environment:  new regulations and fees at every turn and insecurity.

One of the buildings with beautifully manicured grounds at KEFRI
So...weight...heaviness...and lots of sighs.  I know that we can always find someone that has it worse than us.  I know that this world will always have troubles. Michael has reminded me over and over that just because others have it worse doesn't negate my discomfort or sadness.  But more than anything, I pray for Christ to return.  And soon.

Growing bamboo is encouraged.
Yet in the middle of this, I had the opportunity to stay at the Kenya Forestry Research Institute for several days as the training that I conducted was held here.  It was a place of beauty and forward thinking - researching trees and their uses; nurseries everywhere with people tenderly caring for these plants; carefully nurtured flowering trees and beautiful plants everywhere; it was quite and serene amidst a world that is chaotic.

This week someone posted this poem by Mary Oliver on Facebook and it resonated with me and spurred me onward:

"When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it is over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.”
― Mary Oliver

Monday, September 8, 2014

Ebola, Flat Tires, and Resettling

Dr. Rick Sacra doing what he loves.
This past week I learned that our former doctor and friend in Liberia, Dr. Rick Sacra, who works with SIM, was infected with Ebola and evacuated back to the US.  Rick had been in the US but returned to Liberia at the beginning of August to help reopen the wing of ELWA hospital for prenatal and maternity care.  Rick is a great doctor and such a compassionate man.  He couldn't stay away from Liberia knowing that people were not getting the care they needed for malaria, deliveries, and came knowing the dangers - the hospitals, for the most part, are just dealing with Ebola and all other issues are falling to the wayside.  What he did is heroic in my eyes.  He was diagnosed last Tuesday and was flown out of the country on Thursday.  His wife, Debbie, gave a powerful testimony during a press conference about how to live is Christ and to die is gain.  Our family is fervently praying for Rick's healing. [To read more about this story, see the news report here.]

Of course, many people in West Africa are not so lucky to be evacuated and receive special treatment.  On Tuesday, the WHO reported that the death toll had gone to 1900 with 40% of those deaths taking place in the last three weeks.  On Thursday, the death count was 2100.  What is interesting is what the US is learning about Ebola from the three evacuated missionaries - they are learning that there are some similarities between Ebola and Cholera.  A major part of the issue is the loss of electrolytes due to constant diarrhea and vomiting.  These electrolytes keep the heart beating regularly and without it can cause a heart attack.  If people can get on a saline solution early, have their electrolytes monitored and replaced, there is good hope of recovery.  Unfortunately, in countries like Liberia, that is easier said than done.  (For more on this go to this website: Faith, Medicine or ZMapp?)

This was also a big week in the news for this area: the US conducted airstrikes against Al-Shabab and have taken out their key leader.  Al-Shabab just named a new leader and vowed revenge; area governments are gearing up for attacks.  Additionally, the president of Kenya who was elected despite indictments by the International Criminal Court just had his trial adjourned indefinitely as key witnesses kept pulling out.

For me, my trip back to Kenya was relatively uneventful, other than the bush plane that I flew in from Nairobi to Kitale.  The 12-seater plane had a flat upon landing and it felt like we were sliding on ice.  Thankfully the pilot got control pretty quickly and we were able to get out safely.  Quite the change from the 600+ passenger plane that I was on the night before! 

I am settled back at the Africa Theological Seminary, although because of construction, I am in a room about a third of the size of the one I had before.  My little 10 x 10 room is now home for the next four months, although I leave on Tuesday to do a training outside of Nairobi; then I fly to Ghana for the International Council for ICM.  It has been raining pretty much non-stop since my arrival but the rainy season should begin to draw to a close.  The farmers are hoping it will end soon so that the corn does not begin to rot.

It is good to be back, to catch up with colleagues, brothers and sisters in Christ, and to enjoy the activity of Kenyan roads (all by bodaboda - taxi motorcycle - so far, as my car is apparently broken down and in the garage to be fixed).   

God bless you all this week!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Return to Kenya

On Tuesday, September 2, I return to Kenya for four months (except for a ten day visit back for the Partners Worldwide International Conference, accompanied by two Kenyan church leaders, at the end of October).  It is, of course, a bittersweet time.  Leaving my new husband for that long of a period will be difficult.  Leaving my children is always tough.  But I do love my work and I do love Africa.

These days, talk of Africa brings immediate questions about the Ebola virus. As I write this, Ebola has not yet been discovered in Kenya, although the World Health Organization (WHO) warns that
Fruit bats are considered to be the major carrier of Ebola.
Kenya is at high risk because it is such a hub for Africa.  But the landscape does keep changing.  I check BBC now every couple of hours to keep track of what is happening with this virus.  I just now went to check and see that the first case was discovered in Senegal.  Yesterday, the WHO reported that the number of cases may get as high as 20,000, may take six months to eradicate, and may cost as much as $489,000,000 dollars.  The day before, Nigeria decided to close all of the schools in order to try to prevent the spread.  And so it goes.  It is heartbreaking to hear the fear and the alarm from brothers and sisters in Christ that you care about and love.  It is painful to know of the food shortages, the businesses closed, the looting that happens as people panic.  It is difficult to hear the doubt from nationals who believe that the government is lying about this virus in order to profit in some way - it speaks to a deep rooted mistrust.  I continue to pray fervently every day for God's intervention and for the brave people who are risking their lives to combat this disease.

As for my travel to Kenya, Michael and I have decided that my decision to go or stay needs to be made as objectively as possible, so we are relying on the US Embassy and Department of State for how they advise US citizens in Kenya.  Thus far, the only advice from the US Embassy in Kenya is to not travel to the east side of Kenya due to Al-Shabab terrorist activity.  Thankfully, I work on the west side, so that is not a problem.

All of this reminds us that our lives are not our own but we are called for a purpose.  We don't make decisions out of fear or out of a desire to stay safe.  We make the best decisions we can make to do what we have been made to do and then trust God's will to be done.  And I have learned that God's will is not always to keep us safe or alive, but never-the-less, we still trust.
Hannah working at Qdobe on 28th St.

Please continue to pray for the Ebola crisis, for the challenges of Al-Shabab in Kenya, for the work of the ICM Church-based Business as Mission, and for my travel throughout this time.

A quick update on Hannah, Noah and Michael:

Hannah is entering her senior year of Calvin after having a very busy summer of working three jobs.  She is working on a triple major of psychology, social work, and French.  She is a very hard worker and high achiever!  She continues to struggle with the fatigue that has plagued her for a number of years now, which makes her feat even more impressive.  Thankfully she is only working two jobs this fall, and I'm hoping that will become only one!

Noah (far left) and the RA Team for Schultze Eldersveld.
Noah is a Resident Assistant (RA) this year at Calvin.  Last year he was a Barnabas (floor chaplain) and he enjoyed being in a leadership position. It seems to be a role that he rather easily slips into.  I hung out with him for a bit on his floor and it was very cool to see how many young men were seeking him out.  I am reminding him, though, that he is a student first and an RA second.  He continues to want to work in the Foreign Service field and was able to get some advice this summer from a member of one of our partner churches, specifically for the path to take toward working in US Embassies in the Consular section.

As for my dear husband, Michael, parting for four months just shy of our three month wedding anniversary is a challenge, but we will fall back to old routines that did work well for us - Skype and Facebook.  The fall is a busy time for Michael with lots of work travel as well, so that will also help to make the time go quicker as well.  We had a very busy summer with lots of travel for both of our work and for the most part we were able to accompany the other, learning more about each others work and meeting colleagues. I will miss him!

Our wedding cake

Monday, August 18, 2014

Wait! Before you snap!

I have grown increasingly uncomfortable with taking pictures in Africa over the years.  I have observed more than a few altercations with Africans objecting to their picture being taken by North Americans.  I encourage guests to get permission before snapping photos.  Yet, I feel I need to put photos up every week on this blog; every quarter I try to include pictures in my prayer letter; and every time I do a presentations in North America, I want to use pictures, which convey "more than a thousand words." 

The problem comes through the idea that people want to see (or perhaps more viscerally respond to) pictures that connote need, heartache, hunger, disease, or poverty. 

I'm taking a class now on culture and global change, and it described pictures of African babies with swollen bellies and flies hovering around them as "pornographic."  Really, I thought?  That is a very strong word.  But looking up the dictionary definitions, pornography is "obscene pictures with little artistic merit;" obscene is defined as "offensive to morality or decency."  The author of the book goes on to say this:
Photography combines voyeurism and control because visual images are taken by the powerful of the powerless; the subjects of the photograph are transformed into objects by virtue of being 'shot.' So photography can produce the colonized and the powerless as fixed realities:  entirely knowable and visible, but equally 'other,' irreconcilably different:  the objects of desire and derision. (Young 1990: 143).
These pictures are negative images which often lead to the wrong type of development, focused on charity, stripping of dignity, and development of dependency.  And wrong development has been pushed by many for many years   Development that objectifies and paints a helpless, hopeless picture.  Development that expresses need without expressing innate capacity.  Development that damages rather than restores - often by well intentioned people who wanted to help but do so with a short term perspective and maybe even self-serving in making ourselves feel good about what we are doing.

Contrast these pictures to this advertisement below by Christian Aid, where a young woman is on a bike, a national doing something positive in her community.  This is a positive image in which there is a name given to the person, she is working, there is mobility, a sense of community, and the need for health care which is universal.  This is a great picture of a glowing empowered subject: independent, competent, and self-determined,  instead of an object of development who is hopeless and despairing.
(BTW, "Third World" is no longer politically correct.  "Developing countries" or "Majority World" or "Two-thirds World" is better.)
So what to do with this dilemma?  I want people to see a positive, hopeful Africa.  But I also need to raise funds.  I want people's hearts to be moved by the positive, sustainable change that we see in the work that we do.  Yet pictures of classes or pictures of businesses are not as evocative as pictures of orphans or orphanages.  The challenge to myself is not to objectify people and justify my behavior by trying to raise funds for a good ministry. [Michael reminded me of the Benny Hinn story where he took a sad-looking boy, stood in front of a dilapidated building, with a makeshift orphanage sign, and raised a bunch of money. I wish I could say that I haven't experienced similar stories across Africa.  Ask me sometime to share what I think about orphanages in Africa because of these experiences.]  And my challenge to all of us is to be careful how quickly our emotions are moved by a picture - make sure that the brain has a chance to keep pace with the emotions; and if there is an opportunity to travel internationally, be careful in how those pictures are taken or presented. And feel free to hold me accountable if you catch me drifting toward bad development!

Monday, August 11, 2014

So....What's next?

"You're married now...your time in Kenya is wrapping up...the pilot project is coming to a close...what's next, Renita?"

That is the main question I have been getting of late; an answer that I'm happy to report that God has been slowing revealing as He had prepared it for me way in advance!  I continue to love Him and trust Him with all the twists and turns that my life takes.

I went into this summer knowing that those questions would need to get some serious answers.  Some of those answers already began to show themselves last year when Dr. Phil Walker, the Founder and President of International Christian Ministries, challenged me to do an eighteen month pilot project on Church based Business as Mission, and then to write a report on the research to see whether this work could translate globally.

After many conversations, prayer time, and reflection, this looks to be the path ahead, knowing that our sight is often limited by our humanity, and wanting to remain open to His direction.
  • I leave for Kenya on September 2.
  • I hope to return for a ten day trip in late October for the Partners Worldwide International Conference with four Kenyans who have been implementing this work in Kenya, and will have opportunities to share about this ministry on their church and denomination. 
  • I will then move back to Grand Rapids toward the end of December, with the pilot project mostly under completion.  Some of the final interviews (which must be done by someone other than me) will take place in January.
  • Beginning in January, I will start looking at the results of our work and begin writing an extensive report on the work and on our findings.  We are beginning to think that what may come out of this is a church program for Church based Business as Mission that can be applied across many contexts, denominations, and cultures.  The development of that work will take priority for me in the first half of 2015.
  •  I will be back in Kenya for the month of March to teach at the seminary as well as follow up on the work there.  I will also be working hard to finish my MBA in Sustainable Development in the first half of 2015.
  • Beginning the second half of 2015, assuming that the research results look as we suspect and I am able to write comprehensively on the subject, I will begin to roll this work out globally, starting with two countries.  It is too soon to tell, but the countries that we keep talking about are Egypt, Nigeria, or Ghana.  We would like to try this work in a country that is not "Christian" which is why we are thinking of Egypt (plus ICM and Christian Reformed World Missions have partners there already), and also under consideration are Nigeria and Ghana as they have some excellent foundations already which could be built on.  So I plan on spending some time in each of the two countries selected in the second half of 2015.
  • I will travel back to Kenya at least once or twice more in 2015 (for a total of 2-3 months)
That's the plan as we see it at this time.  Lord willing, we will continue to take a step forward each day and trust Him to direct our paths in this work and its development. Please continue to pray for this work and that God's will is done in it!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Remembering Bob...

41st birthday (with Noah six months old)
This Saturday would have been Bob's sixtieth birthday.  Sixty years.  Wow.  Hard to believe.  We were fourteen years apart and I think as we grew older that gap would have made itself a bit more obvious.  I'm sure he would be rolling his eyes at the fact that I am even writing this.  Not just because of the number but also because I'm drawing attention to his birthday.

Bob was not a big fan of birthdays...AT ALL!  When I threw him a surprise party for his 50th birthday, he made it very clear to me that he was not one of those types who says not to make a big deal of it but secretly want the attention.  He did NOT want the attention.
40th birthday (with Hannah at 15 months)

But as August 9 approaches, I can help but remember and celebrate the gift of his life.  I remember the countless apple pies or rhubarb pies that I made for his birthdays.  We had a tradition of picking our favorite meals to cook for birthdays.  For Bob, it was often ribs.

Bob continues to live on in our hearts and memories.  Not a day goes by where the kids or Michael and I have some brief comment or memory of him.  (It is such a gift that Michael knew Bob as well and can share in our memories and even contribute!)  In part, the daily memories is because much of our language is peppered with "Bob-isms."  He was constantly quoting lines from movies or songs.

As many of you loved "Yers Trooly" as well, I thought it appropriate to share this birthday with you.

We love you and miss you, Robert Allen Reed!  We thank God for your life and the gift that you have been to so many!  I still have people come up to me whom you counseled who tell me that your words continue to have an impact on their life!  We celebrate the day that you received life 60 years ago!

Celebrating his birthday with my family.  My parents anniversary is August 10 (this year is 57 years!) so the celebrations often were side by side.
This picture was actually taken when I was about to drive to Toronto with Hannah as a baby and he was worried....asking me to drive safely.  But this plaintive look is one I would get in terms of not doing anything for his birthday as well.  He had such an expressive face!