Sunday, January 19, 2020

Feedmills and Water and Cows, Oh My!

It was a week of intensive learning about livestock - from feed to health, to genetics, to farm management.  It was great!

Narok County is unlike any other part of Kenya, according to people we met with this week.  It is made up of the Masai Tribe, who have a rich tradition and culture with deep roots in raising beef cattle.  Many own 50+ acres of land and could have up to 400 cows.  We had some very good meetings and are being to see how the work of DML, through the church in Narok County, could work towards a holistic plan toward a quadruple bottom line.

It was also a week of lots and lots of water.  The rains should have stopped a while ago but it rained almost every day we were there.  The last night it rained a lot and we were driving on a dirt road that stretched about 30 kilometers.  On the way in, it took us about 2.5 hours to drive that distance.  On the way out, after all the rain, it took us 3.5 hours.  We only got stuck three times and had the fun of driving over a bridge that was underwater (see picture).
The Masai Mara is an incredibly beautiful land as well and is very well known for its amazing animals.  We were blessed to be able to see some of them this past week as well.

This week I will be making visits with our Kenya DML team to a number of churches that we have been working with over the years and look forward to catching up with some people I haven't seen in a long time.
Beautiful people, beautiful land, beautiful culture, and beautiful traditions.

A creative God, infinite yet detailed, global yet personal, merciful yet just.
So blessed to be known by Him and loved by Him!

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Business Missions: Livestock Feed and Value Addition

I'm in Kenya this week with Paul Soper, CFO of DML, and an old friend, Malcolm DeKryger from DeMotte IN.  Malcolm is the President and CEO of Belstra Milling and Fair Oaks Pig Adventure, as well as a number of other agribusinesses.  We will be taking a look at the challenges relating to livestock feed around several parts of Kenya.  The conversation around a trip like this started during a phone call in September of 2019 and was then confirmed by a visit that Malcolm had in October with one of the Kenyan governors asking for assistance in this specific field.  We quickly felt
like God was confirming this track.  This week will be looking at the demand for livestock feed, the current feed producers, and the potential gaps in the market relating to the value chain in producing healthy meat.  We will be meeting with this Governor and the livestock farmers in his county who do not have good access to feed.  We will also be meeting with one of our key partners in Kenya through the Anglican Church and discuss challenges for their livestock farmers for their members as well.

I'm excited about this because for the last five years, I have been focused on helping the church understand the importance of business in the Kingdom of God and developing tools to help them be able to disciple their members to do their work as an act of worship.  But my real passion is seeing business owners equipped and released to do the work that helps people flourish, use their gifting in a way that is reflective of the Image of God, and to find real joy in doing meaningful work.

As we begin to round a corner of churches and denominations understanding it, there are a number of businesspeople who have said to me, "Now it's time to continue developing tools to help business owners thrive!"  Malcolm is one of those people who has said this to me.

This year we are launching a new part of our ministry called "Business Ambassadors."  For years, typical missions has involved those of a theological background or those willing to paint/build.  But what many parts of Africa need for sustainable poverty alleviation is technology transfer - learning from other entrepreneurs and business people - access to information about new technologies that can help their business grow, and possibly leapfrog some technologies to get to those that can really develop capacity in this growing world.

These business ambassadors will be representing Christ by mentoring and teaching business owners in their specific area of expertise.  They will come for a week and be able to go deep in mentoring with two businesses and then provide a workshop for a much larger group in the area.

We believe it's time that business people take on business missions and we believe that through our network of churches and denominations, this can be done in a way that will be mutually beneficial and respectful, with the goal of fulfilling Genesis 1:28.

If you might be interested in being a business ambassador, please email us at info@disciplingmarketplaceleaders.org.  We appreciate your prayers for God's leading as we explore this important topic this week!

Monday, January 6, 2020

Guest Blog: The Power of Church and BAM Partnerships

Happy New Year to all! We are so grateful for the gift of life that allows us to see this new day, this new week, this new month, this new year, and this new decade!  Our prayer is that in this year and in this decade, Christ may be high and lifted up, with His Church reclaiming all aspects of this earth for Him!

And thanks to many of you, we not only met our financial goal for December, and therefore for 2019, but surpassed it, which allows us to move forward with our plans for 2020!  We are grateful for your partnership and humbled by the opportunity to continue to join God in this work in 2020!

In November Dr. Walker and I had the opportunity to write an article for the Global Business as Mission movement.  We have received feedback from several new parts of the world based on this writing and I thought I would share it here as well.  We continue to see the hand of God as this ministry moves forward and takes root in churches and denominations, with the goal of it becoming part of the DNA of the church!


Discipling Marketplace Leaders: The Power of Church and BAM Partnerships


by Renita Reed-Thomson and Dr. Phil Walker

A Kenyan pastor approached us following our workshop and said, “Church begins on Monday. Sunday is ‘garage/maintenance time’ to prepare for that.” The lightbulb had gone on. It is the lightbulb that reminds pastors and church leaders that the Church gathers on Sunday for the purpose of being equipped to be scattered on Monday, shining the light of Christ everywhere they go. Unfortunately, the Global Church tends to be inward focused, defining itself as a building or by programs, rather than the people. While the majority of adult members in our churches spend the majority of their time in their workplace, we do not disciple them to the purpose of doing their work as an act of worship. Discipling Marketplace Leaders is seeking to remedy this as it brings the work of Business as Mission into the Church.

Finding Common Ground

In 2012 Dr. Phil Walker (President and co-founder of International Christian Ministries) was conducting a leadership seminar in Accra, Ghana. Renita Reed-Thomson (Regional Director for a BAM ministry) was attending the seminar with her team. At the break, she began sharing with Phil about the challenges of the BAM movement. While successful in helping Christian business owners grow in their ability to operate successful businesses, she was concerned about their spiritual journey (Deuteronomy 8:18). It was easy to see financial growth, but hard to know if they were growing in their walk with the Lord. Phil discussed his frustration with the local church and its inability to substantially impact the community by empowering members to be light and leaven in the community. Phil invited Renita to Kitale, Kenya, to teach a course on Church-based Business as Mission at ICM’s Africa Theological Seminary.
Over the initial months of teaching pastors, Renita saw a dramatic change in their perspective regarding business and work. Teaching business as a calling, supported theologically, pastors shifted from business as a “necessary evil,” to business as calling, contributing to fulfilling the Great Commitment of Genesis 1:28. Renita shared with other BAM practitioners about integrating BAM formally with the church. They said BAM and the local church could not find common ground for working together. Some stated that the church is “too difficult” to work with and therefore should be side-stepped. Renita decided on a research project to test whether the faith and work movement was possible within the local church. From 2013-2015, Renita conducted an 18-month research study, in three cities with six churches and 260 businesses. 

The Fruit of Working Together

The results were dramatic in outcomes. The local church, business owners, and businesses benefited from working together. The local church showed numerical and financial growth, the local business showed growth in profit and sales, and the business owner showed growth in household income and spiritual growth.
Additionally, these other key findings were noted:
1. Church-based BAM training enables the BAM movement opportunity to be part of the DNA of the local church, like a women’s or youth ministry. Church history has seen several iterations seeking integration between faith and work. Unfortunately, these had limited success due to limited connection to the church, where there are opportunities for ongoing discipleship, encouragement, and equipping.
2. In Church-based BAM, business owners are encouraged by their pastor to see and understand their businesses as part of God’s plan and mission. This affirmation brought tears to some during their commissioning as marketplace ministers. They were recognized as part of the mission of God and not merely an ATM for church projects. Failure of the local church gathered to see the importance of the church scattered is to lose their most strategic members placed where they can have considerable impact. The symbiotic relationship between Christian businesspeople and the local church is critical for the fulfillment of the Great Commission.
3. BAM provides the local pastor and church with the practical application of theology. Most pastors are taught informally that work is a necessary evil and that calling is about leaving the marketplace and becoming a “full time” Christian worker. When pastors understand this fallacy, their eyes are opened to the potential of business as core to effectively living out the Christian life.  Evangelism moves from a program to “life on life” experience.

Paradigms Shifting

Since they first met and discussed their frustrations, Renita has built a training curriculum around the concept of Church-based Business as Mission and ministry. Discipling Marketplace Leaders (DML) was the product of holy discontent. In DML, Pastors go through a two-day workshop. At the conclusion, they are asked to institute a “business month” into their church calendar.  Ministry is set up in the local church to support workers in the workplace. Training is provided, along with Bible studies related to the integration between work and faith.
In 2018, Phil stepped down as President of ICM in order to help Renita implement a new model of church involvement. Renita sees DML as an answer to her frustration of not knowing if the people she trained under the traditional BAM model were growing in their faith.  Phil saw the connection with Christians in business as the vital link for both discipleship and light, leaven, and salt in the community.
The process of moving to Church-based Business as Mission (CBBAM) has not been simple nor easy. There have been challenges, as well as opportunities. The single most significant barrier to the introduction of CBBAM is the absence of a theological framework that pastors and their church leaders can understand and accept. There is a paradigm shift needed that moves from “church as building” to “people as the Church.” The paradigm shift needs energy, focus, commitment, and determination. In 2018, DML discovered that working with denominations is much more efficient and effective. Currently, DML is working in six denominations to roll out DML in more than 20,000 churches. DML has launched in nine countries in Sub-Sahara Africa.

Fulfilling the Potential of Church-BAM Partnership

In 2004, the Lausanne Occasional Paper on BAM gave two recommendations for Business as Mission in the ‘BAM Manifesto’. The first was for the Church to identify, affirm, pray for, commission, and release businesspeople. The second was for the business people to accept this affirmation. It is still the most straightforward presentation of what and how BAM should be done to fulfill the great potential that can come between the local church and Marketplace Ministers.
The dichotomy between BAM and the local church needs to end. There is too much at stake. The BAM movement could be and should be the catalyst for a second reformation, which empowers every member to be a minister in their work and business.
Two people met by “chance,” both frustrated from different angles. God turned frustration into opportunity as thousands of churches across Africa introduce Church-based Business as Mission. The DML model keeps the local church central to discipling nations, and work as central to combatting poverty while carrying the message of reconciliation to the nations.
For more information, please go to www.disciplingmarketplaceleaders.org.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

For Everything There is a Season

Today is a significant day.

Yes, it's New Year's Eve and a time when everyone reflects on the past year.
Yes, it's the last day of this decade and it's a time when we can reflect on the past ten years.

But for me, this day has more significance.  It is a day of recognizing seasons.

It is also a day of realizing, with some surprise, the significance of the number seven in my life.  Seven indicates the number of completeness in the Bible and I was startled to realize, upon reflection, the four distinct seasons of seven years that I have had in my life.

Today is the last day that Restorers, a non-profit in Grand Rapids that was partnered with five different churches to work with neighbors in the Madison-Hall community, is closing.  This is a ministry that I had a hand in starting when I was a deacon with Madison Square Church.  The late Norm Katerberg had the idea to buy the building at 1413 Madison and he donated it to Restorers.  The late Jane Lambers sat with me in that empty building, with two chairs and a table, wondering what God was going to call us to do.

I served as Executive Director of that ministry for seven years (1998-2005), and when I left it had nine employees, eleven programs, a robust partnership with neighbors and neighborhood churches, as well as the local public school.  It was a delightful, albeit challenging, seven years.  It served the community for 22 years and today it is closing its doors.

For everything, there is a season.

From Restorers, we moved to Liberia and then to Ghana.  I worked with Partners Worldwide for seven years (2005-2012).  While I lost Bob during that time, God was also doing some amazing things in me and with me.  I remember saying that I wasn't leaving Ghana because while Bob's call was done, I did not have the assurance that my call was also done.

In 2012, I met Dr. Walker from International Christian Ministries.  After a series of conversations about my frustration regarding the business as mission movement not working through the church and his frustration regarding the church not moving into the marketplace, I was invited to move to Kenya to see what God might have me do through pastors.

For everything, there is a season and in 2012, I realized that my season with Partners Worldwide was over.

Seven years ago, I went alone to Kenya to teach pastors at ICM's Africa Theological Seminary to teach them about business as mission.  I started with a class of twelve pastors.  We started a pilot project with one pastor and one church.  In seven years, we have grown to nine countries, working with 30,000 churches that have more than 12 million members.  

And now, today is the last day that Discipling Marketplace Leaders is housed under International Christian Ministries.  For seven years (2013-2019), ICM allowed DML to start, explore, expand, and grow.  In 2018, we recognized that it was time for DML to stand on its own.  To be honest, I fought that idea for some time because I know the responsibilities of running a stand-alone ministry.  It is more comfortable to be under ICM than to branch out.  But God was bringing more people who were saying with a louder voice that the time has come.

Little did I realize, until just recently, that seven years have passed again.

For everything, there is a season.

And as I do the math, I realize that Bob and I got married in 1990.  In 1997, we moved into the Madison-Hall neighborhood, which led to the starting of Restorers.  Another seven-year season.

Today, I am grateful to ICM for their partnership and we look forward to continuing to partner with them in 2020, as we begin to work with ICM Burundi (in addition to on-going work with ICM Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania).  I am uneasy about DML starting on its own, but I am thankful for new partners like Paul Soper, Emeline Nde, and our new board of directors who will help to guide this work.

But more than anything, I am grateful to my God and Father, who continues to guide and shape and move according to His seasons.  The fact that I have seen these distinct seasons of seven gives me goosebumps as it has the fingerprint of God on it.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, "Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time."

As you reflect on this past year and this past decade, I pray that you too see the fingerprint of God on your life.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Still Time to Give for 2019

Dear Friends,

We sent out an appeal at the beginning of December indicating that we are hoping to raise $50,000 this month to reach our budgeted donation goal of $340,000 and start the new year in a positive position.  To date, we have raised $41,000, which puts us $9,000 away from our goal yet.

We know that many of you will give yet in the last few days of December, so we want to remind you of this opportunity to join with us in the work of Discipling Marketplace Leaders.  And we also want to remind you of what you "get" when you join us:
  • A church unleashed from the building to be the church every day of the week, in every sphere of influence (30,000 churches in nine countries, with more than 14 million members!)
  • Pastors who teach and disciple their members to work with a quadruple bottom line, making disciples, loving neighbors, being fruitful, and caring for the earth.
  • Christians who have a growing understanding that work is an act of worship; that worship goes beyond singing songs on Sunday to the use of time and talent as a way to worship God.
  • Christians doing their work with the goal of helping people (customers and employees) flourish, rather than having the primary goal of profit.
  • Poverty alleviation as businesses grow and wealth is increased, and job creation, which is so critical in Africa, as unemployment is so high.
And I could go on.  But I think these are amazing outcomes that can be transformational for the church to find its way back into the Marketplace!

Please consider joining us if you are not already doing so.  We believe that 2020 will be a year of even more open doors as God continues to call His people in His Global Church to be torchbearers for Him in every workplace!

To give directly to DML, please go to www.disciplingmarketplaceleaders.org/donate to give online or to see instructions on other ways of giving.
To give through Resonate (Canadians, please use this one!), please go to www.resonateglobalmission.org/donate, and select "Missionaries - Africa" and then select my name in the dropdown.
To give through ICM-USA, please go to www.icmusa.org/donate, and select Discipling Marketplace Leaders.

Thank you!

Monday, December 23, 2019

Blessed Christmas to All

It's been quite a year for the ministry of Discipling Marketplace Leaders.  It's been a year of great growth and also of significant losses.  It's been a year of blessings and spiritual warfare.  It's been a year of both exceptional highs and lows.

For many of our African Implementing Partners, it's been the same.  There were economic growth and jobs created, but there were also currency exchange challenges, religious and ethnic challenges, and some natural disasters.  There were denominations who joined the DML movement and churches who became distracted and lost progress.

Additionally, the Global Church made some progress in key areas in this past year but struggled fundamentally in other ways that are deeply painful for the testimony of Christians.

Maybe each year feels this way.  We reflect and are thankful, while at the same time wondering what is changing?  What progress is being made?  How different are we today from the struggles of last year?  Ten years ago?  One hundred years ago?  One thousand years ago?

How long, Lord, will you tarry?

We make our plans for 2020.  We try to discern the voice of the Lord and His will.  We try not to get ahead but to listen for His voice.

There is much work to be done.  There is the opportunity for revival and reformation if we stay the course.

I remind myself every day to be thankful for life and to remember that all I have is today.  I remind myself each day that I am responsible to be obedient - I am not responsible for results.

I was reminded yesterday in church of how the "things of earth will grow strangely dim" when we turn our eyes upon Jesus.  We keep our eyes focused on Him.

And so, as we spend time in this season remembering this great gift we have been given, we are aware of not only how we receive this gift, but how this gift spurs us into action.  2 Corinthians 5:14 reminds us that Christ's love compels us - as we have been loved much, so we, in turn, love much. And so we strive to do this every day.  And we are joined with many on this path - not doing it perfectly but striving to do it well and putting one foot in front of the other every day.

Thank you for those who have modeled Christ's love to us and with us and through us, as you have prayed, encouraged, and supported this ministry in this past year.

From the DML family, we wish you a blessed Christmas and a blessed New Year!