Monday, April 13, 2015

Why Egypt?

The June launch date of Discipling Marketplace Leaders (DML) in Egypt and Ghana is drawing closer.  As the date draws nearer, my nervousness goes up a bit, especially about Egypt.  To date, the countries that I have worked in have been primarily English-speaking (except for Cote d'Ivoire,  but I was able to make do with my elementary French) and primarily Christian.  Egypt will be quite different.  Additionally,  my budget is already stretched tight in raising funds for the work in Kenya with two new staff and a growing office; adding Egypt and Ghana will increase the budget by an additional $10,000-15,000 USD for travel, translations, and launching meetings.  I find myself worried about starting in two new countries, requiring this even more expanded budget.  But I am reminded to, "not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God" (Philippians 4:6).


However that is easier said than done, and so as I worked at not worrying in this past week, I found myself needing to be reminded of the call for this work to move forward in Egypt.  In this process, I found some peace again, reminded of the struggle of the Church in Egypt and the need for encouragement for our Egyptian Christian brothers and sisters.  On top of that, I found peace in reminding myself that my Father "is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else." (Acts 17:25).  And so I also want to share with you regarding the current situation in Egypt.

You may recall the recent news of the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians in February of this year
by IS. These were young men who left Egypt in search of jobs and wound up in Libya where they were targeted because of their faith.  The story of these young men dying with the name of Jesus on their lips is very moving. This story also tells us that there are serious economic challenges in Egypt and further investigation tells us that persecution of Christians in this area of the world is not unusual - Egypt included.  A story from this past weekend was that the Egyptian Christians who received permission to plant a church in the village where these young men were from were attacked by Muslims who declared there would not be a church located there.  Cars were set on fire, stones and bricks had been thrown, people had been bloodied.   “This is a classic issue in Egypt,” said a Coptic Christian, Abdelmalak. “Even after you struggle to get permission from the president to build a church, you still have to face the mob, which rejects the idea of having a church built in their
neighborhood.”

Gathering for church plant in remembrance of 21 martyrs
The state religion of Egypt is Islam, with 90% of the population (72 million) claiming to be Muslim, of which the majority are Sunni Muslim.  Any new laws in Egypt must agree with Islamic law, and the law allows for freedom of religion to extend to the three Abrahamic religions (Islam, Christianity, and Judaism), but only those three. Religion plays a central role in most Egyptian's lives, with the call to prayer five times a day regulating the pace.  The weekend is Friday and Saturday, with services occurring on Friday.

Coptic Cross reads "Jesus Christ, the Son of God"
Christianity is a minority religion in Egypt.  Egyptian Christians, nearly all adherents of the Coptic Orthodox Church or other Coptic churches, most likely account for about 10%, though sources give between 3-20% of the population. The Coptic Church was established by Saint Mark, according to tradition, in the middle of the first century (42 AD).  Mark, the gospel writer, preached in Alexandria, Egypt in the first century. During this time, Alexandria was the cultural center for the world, with its famous Library of Alexandria. It was home to some of the world’s most renowned philosophers. All people living in Egypt at the time, lived peacefully together. The Jews, who lived in Alexandria during that era, translated the Old Testament into Greek. This was the first ever translation of the Holy Scriptures into any other language.

As Mark preached the gospel in Alexandria, he was tortured unto death. His martyrdom led to the foundation of the Coptic Orthodox Church that kept the faith in Egypt and the whole of the Middle East for 2000 years and until today. Persecution and martyrdom since Mark’s death in the first century, has been all too common.  Christians throughout the region too often pay with their lives for their faith. It has become a pattern through the ages. The persecution and suffering of the Christians remains a hidden story.  There have been many failed attempts to document the sufferings and courage, of the millions of Copts (Orthodox Christians of Egypt) who gave their lives for their faith.

Despite the small proportion of Christians within Egypt, Egypt's Christian population is the largest in terms of absolute numbers in the greater region of the Middle East and North Africa. [For those of you who like statistics, the breakdown by denominations for Christians is listed below.]

So what could God want from DML, a Church-based Business as Mission program, in Egypt?  That is a great question...one that I believe He will answer in time.  But it seems clear to me that DML offers a couple of things:  one, business and economic development that will allow Christian business owners to grow their businesses, care for their families, employ more people, and provide goods and services that will allow individuals and communities to flourish; and two, as business people are commissioned as Marketplace Ministers and are trained by their local church (with support of their pastor/priest) to view their work as worship, and their place of work as their parish, the opportunity for evangelism and church growth is immense. 

I expect that Egypt will the most challenging work that I have encountered to date.  Being nervous is normal, I believe, but staying in a place of nervousness is not appropriate.  My life thus far has been a process of moving further and further out of my comfort zone, and while God has not always protected, He has always been there.

And I expect that just as He had prepared the ground in Kenya for this work, He is doing the same in Egypt.  But I do covet your prayers.  Will you pray with me?
-------------------
Table of Churches by Denomination in Egypt:

Denomination
Number of Egyptian adherents
Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria
7,200,000 (95%)
Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria
350,000 (0.5%) (4,500 are of Greek descent, the rest are mostly of Syro-Lebanese descent)
Coptic Catholic Church
161,000 (0.3%)
Evangelical Church of Egypt (Synod of the Nile)
14,000 (out of 27,000 Protestants)
Assemblies of God
7,500 (out of 27,000 Protestants)
Baptist
4.000 (out of 27,000 Protestant)
Free Methodist
2,000 (out of 27,000 Protestants)
Christian Brethren Church
1,500 (out of 27,000 Protestants)
Anglican Church (Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East)
1,000 - 1,500 (out of 27,000 Protestants)
Melkite Greek Catholic Church
9,000 (0.8%) (Adherents are mostly of Syro-Lebanese descent)
Armenian Apostolic Church
8,000 (0.1%)
Latin Catholic Church
8,000 (0.1%) (Formerly large communities of Italians and Maltese made up the Latin Catholic population)
Maronite Church
5,000 (0.1%) (Adherents are of Lebanese descent)
Pentecostal Church of God
375 (out of 27,000 Protestants)
Syriac Catholic Church
2,000 (>0.1%)
Pentecostal Holiness Church
140 (out of 27,000 Protestants)
Armenian Catholic Church
1,200 (>0.1%)
Church of God of Prophecy
110 (out of 27,000 Protestants)
Seventh-day Adventist Church
852
Chaldean Catholic Church
500
Syriac Orthodox Church
450 - 500

Monday, March 30, 2015

A Vicious Circle

About one year ago, I was asked by the (then) Dean of Theology at the Africa Theological Seminary to develop a course on Accounting for Pastors to be taught to the BA students in Bible and Theology.  As the seminary works with pastors who are already pastoring a church, there was knowledge of the importance of teaching sound theology but also the need to help develop the ability to run a church that is transparent and accountable.  Many of the pastors are in small churches where much of the accounting responsibility falls to the pastor, or at least the developing of the accounting system, so training is important.  

It didn't take me long to say yes to this request.  I had recently learned from some of the business people with whom I worked that pastors had been telling them to pay a 10% tithe on any loans that they received from their business.  I also could see that the business people with whom I worked often had no idea how to determine their tithe as they were not on a regular salary from their business but were rather taking "small small" from their business on a daily basis.

So I developed a class that helped churches design an accounting system in their church which conforms to the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), in
which the pastors have to develop (or report on) the governance structure, internal controls, financial oversight policies, confirmation of compliance with local laws, transparency, compensation structures, and stewardship in charitable gifts, including truthfulness in communication.  I taught the class for the first time last November and it went over very well.  The pastors responded well to it and stated that it was a class highly necessary for pastors.  I taught the class again a couple of weeks ago and this time learned a few more things that gave me some pause.

The first pause came in the budgeting class as we talked about developing both personal budgets and church budgets.  I came to a better understanding of why there are so many independent churches in Kenya.  Two of the mainstream denominations that were represented in my class reported that the local church is only able to keep 20% or 40% of the local offerings, with the balance of the offerings having to go up to the headquarter levels.  In my church in the US, we call that ministry shares and it
goes to the operations at the denominational level as well as some ministries, and is around 10%.  But giving 60-80%?  Additionally, the headquarters takes 100% of the Christmas and Easter offerings, which are often the biggest offerings of the year.  How is a local church to survive and grow, to pay a pastor and develop ministries if they have so little to work with?

And then the second pause came.  We had a hot discussion about tithing, covering the call in the Old Testament and the changes in the New Testament.  During a pause in the debate, one of the pastors (actually a bishop in a mainline church) said to me, "So then, what do we charge to dedicate a car...or a house?"  Long pause.  Then I carefully asked, "Help me understand why you are charging for this?"  I came to learn that some pastors charge 5% of the value of the car or the house that is to be dedicated in order to have the pastor pray over it.  I asked for the Biblical justification of this.  The response was, "You don't understand.  We get paid almost nothing here and we have to be able to cover our costs.  Plus, they want their car to work well, right?" Hmmmm...pastors are charging members for prayer.  And the implication is that if you don't pray for their cars, their car will break down or their home will have issues.  
 
But when one of the pastors volunteered to share his personal budget, I saw that his salary from the church ($57 per month or $684 for the year) doesn't come anywhere near his expenses, of which school fees alone were $3700 (for one child in university, one child in the last year of high school, two children in elementary school, and his tuition at ATS).  So what is a pastor to do?  This particular pastor was quite creative.  He farms 1/2 acre, his wife runs the church nursery school, they make and sell liquid detergent, and as a pastor he runs three fundraisers per year of which all the profit goes to him.  But after that, he was still short $190/month.  And that is where the "fee for services" comes in.  Church members apparently "know" that the pastor should never be seen without giving a gift.  Pastors complain that even if they preach tithing, people still don't give.  We discover that many people don't keep records of their income, so how can they even know how much to give. 

And there is the vicious circle.  

It's easy to judge these pastors for charging for prayers. It's easy to judge people for not giving a portion of their earnings out of the joy of their heart.  But when looking in the face of poverty and survival, things become a little less black and white.

One pastor, after our discussions, decided to inform his members not to give him gifts anymore when he came to visit.  He said that he didn't want to be seen by his members as a beggar, and that they are more concerned with finding something to give him than visiting with him as the pastor.  He said that if they want to give him a gift (something culturally that is very strong), they could bring it to his home on their own time but not just because he shows up to pray with them.  While this was lauded by the members, other pastors did not appreciate this pastor sending this message, as it threatened them financially.

More than anything, this class (I hope) opens the door for dialogue on this issue and provides alternatives for healthier financial transparency and accountability.

Please pray with me for these pastors, their churches, and the struggle for survival.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

So much to report...

So much has happened in this last week that I can't even begin to tell half of it.  So I will let the pictures tell the story.
On Wednesday, we traveled to Eldoret where the vicar of St. Mark's Anglican Church of Kenya has been transferred and a new vicar is in charge.  We had the formal handing off ceremony with the three leaders who have been appointed to chair the Business as Mission office in this church.  We are sorry to see Rev. Karoki leave, as he did a great job of empowering his church to own this ministry and help it move to the next level.  Rev. Karoki promises to have Discipling Marketplace Leaders (DML) start at his new parish in the next six months.  We pray for a good relationship with the new vicar and praise God for the good work being done in this place.
On Saturday, Africa Theological Seminary (ATS) had its graduation ceremony.  One of the graduates was our own Alfred Kibairu.  Here we have a shot of the gathering after the graduation with family and friends dancing around him.
As Alfred has also completed his contract with DML, we got him a cake, which he is cutting with his wife here.
The Marketplace Ministers from Kitale, Kakamega, and Eldoret all sent gifts to thank Kibairu for his work and he is being presented with the gift here.
Alfred with friends and family.
Alfred with his mother and father, as well as his baby daughter.  Please join us in prayer for his mother as she was recently diagnosed with bone cancer; Alfred and his family are looking for money in order to get her some chemotherapy, but unfortunately, that is very expensive here.
This is Rev. Elly Kisala, who has just been appointed to be the Director of DML Kenya.  Elly has his Masters in Divinity, is a business man, and has been working with DML for the past year.  DML is now officially a department of the Africa Theological Seminary and we are excited to have Elly on board to help us go to the next level!  Elly will be focusing on the on-boarding of churches in Kenya, the training of pastors, and the theological education.
This is Caroline Sudi, who has recently been appointed as the Deputy Director of DML Kenya.  Caroline worked in the banking industry for eighteen years as head of the loans department as well as bank manager.  She left the banking industry two years ago as she felt a calling for God to bring her skills into the church but she didn't know how.  About a year ago she met me and started taking one of the DML classes, and then became a trainer.  She is so good with people and she knows business well, as she also owns two businesses.  Caroline is now running her second class at her church, Faith Community Center with the African Gospel Church, where she also serves as the worship leader.  We are very excited to have Caroline on board with DML!  Caroline will be primarily focused on working with churches to provide quality business development to their members.

On Sunday, we had another commissioning service of Marketplace Ministers in Kakamega.  Bishop Jackson Wambua is anointing the Marketplace Ministers with oil here after they made their commitment to accept their calling and to do their business "as unto the Lord."
Here they are being prayed over, while the first group stands behind them to give them support.  Both classes have now joined together to form a cooperative.  The next class will begin in April.  Additionally, there will be a new class starting in the Anglican Church of Kenya in Kakamega and the trainers will go from this church there to help them get started.  We praise God for continued growth!
At most commissionings, we ask one or two Marketplace Ministers to speak and share with the church.  This woman shared that of all the certificates she has, this one is the most meaningful, and she went on to explain how it has impacted her.  I thought it was a nice thing to say but later I was told that this woman has her Doctorate and teaches at the university in town!  I find it hard to believe that she values this certificate higher than her Doctorate, but praise God for the value she found in it!
Dr. Walker, President and co-Founder of ICM then gave a great and passionate sermon about how we are all to be living sacrifices - out there - in the world.  He reminded us that studying the Bible will bring about knowledge, but obedience changes the heart.  We can study all we want but we have to get out there and do it for the heart to be transformed and to be witnesses to the love of Christ.  His sermon reinforced the commissioning and it was a great service.
And there is so much more that I didn't take pictures of:  we are in the middle of another training of trainers; there are three simultaneous DML classes going on in Kitale and the environs; the ATS Leadership Summit will be held over the next two days; and I've been giving the orientation to the new staff members, trying to leave everything in good order.  I leave Kenya on Tuesday and will be back in Grand Rapids on Wednesday.  This was an incredibly busy and taxing month, and to say that I am exhausted is an understatement.  But I continue to be encouraged by the good people in Kenya and the quality leadership that I have seen.  Thank you for your prayers!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Dear Bob...five years later

Five years ago, less one month, I wrote a letter to Bob giving him an update.  Now five years later, I wish to do the same:

Five years ago this week, you left this earth for heaven.  I was 41 years old, Hannah was 16 years old, Noah was 15 years old.  I'm 46 now (not much change) but Hannah is now 21, almost 22 years old.  Noah is 20 years old.  And they have changed so much. 

Do you see them?  Do you get a chance to check in?  Any windows in heaven from which to peer down and check things out?

Hannah is graduating from Calvin in a few months.  You wanted her to go there, while I still was holding a bit of a grudge and wanting her to experience a broader mindset.  You would be proud of her.  She has a triple major.  I know, I know, a high achiever...and you aren't surprised.  We saw that in her before she turned two years old.  Psychology, Social Work, and French are her majors.  She already talks and acts like a social worker.  She is putting in 400 hours for her internship, as well as working two jobs, and still keeping her grades up high enough to continue to be blessed with scholarships.  She will take one extra semester in France this fall to finish her third major.  But Hannah has been sad since you left.  Five years of sad is a long time.  She has been tired since you left.  She wonders whether God hears her.  She misses you so - your wisdom and your counsel.  She is sad to be graduating without you being present.  I miss her happiness, her freedom, her spontaneity.  I often wonder what you would say to her if you were here.  I often feel inadequate to walk her through these tough days.  I have to remind myself that she is God's child and He is forming and shaping her through challenges to fulfill the purpose for which she was created.

Noah is a junior, with one year left at Calvin.  You would be proud of him too - of course, that might be easy as he is like you in many ways. He is sensitive and compassionate.  He is a good listener and may have a gift of counsel.  Just the other day, as he made his way home for spring break (and I am not there to welcome him but am in Kenya), I sent him a message on Facebook letting him know that I would put money in his account so that he could order a pizza and get some soda that night.  His response was, "Mom, you don't have to feel guilty about not being here, yknow."  Sometimes he is too smart for his own good.  He is an RA this year at Calvin; last year he was the floor chaplain.  He has put so much of himself into this work, willing to give up privacy and so much time to serve the young men on his floor.  He has put more time and priority into being an RA than into his classes.  He really has only one more semester at Calvin as he will take his last semester in Washington DC while he sorts out how to get into foreign service work.  While he may not appreciate the institutional church (which he reminds me that you struggled with as well), his faith seems to be deepening.  Oh yeah - and he finally dyed his hair blue.  He told his dorm that if they raised $1500 for charity, he would dye it blue for interim.  That made for some interesting conversations as he had lunch with the new Calvin President, as well as the former leader of NATO.  
You can kinda see the blue hair.

Your mom just had surgery in Grand Rapids.  The one year anniversary of Keith's death just passed recently.  She seems to be doing well, with lots of help from Don and Caroline, as well as Denny.

As for me, I'm adjusting to being married again.  You told me that you hoped I would marry again if you ever died, and that you hoped it would be someone who loved me well.  I can assure you that that is the case with Michael.  Our friendship and our love grows deeper every day.  That doesn't negate my love for you and what I miss about you in my life.  I miss our ministry together.  I miss our coffee time in the morning processing life.  I miss your silly songs.  I miss your cooking.  I miss your ministry to so many people.  I miss how confident you made me feel in our ministry as you encouraged and spurred me onward.  So many little and big things are missed.  And we still mention you almost daily at the house - you continue to be wrapped in and through who Hannah, Noah and I are. 

At your memorial service, we sang "When we've been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we've no less days to sing God's praise, than when we first begun."  I wonder how that feels for you.  It seems so long since you left.  It seems so long since I've heard your voice.  I'm thankful for the videos we have to remind me.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer says this about loss to which I say, "Amen!"

"There is nothing that can replace the absence of someone dear to us, and one should not even attempt to do so. One must simply hold out and endure it. At first that sounds very hard, but at the same time it is also a great comfort. For to the extent the emptiness truly remains unfilled one remains connected to the other person through it. It is wrong to say that God fills the emptiness. God in no way fills it but much more leaves it precisely unfilled and thus helps us preserve -- even in pain -- the authentic relationship. Further more, the more beautiful and full the remembrances, the more difficult the separation. But gratitude transforms the torment of memory into silent joy. One bears what was lovely in the past not as a thorn but as a precious gift deep within, a hidden treasure of which one can always be certain.”

Hannah also makes it a yearly tradition to write a letter to her dad.  She agreed to let me share a portion of it on this blog:

Hi Daddy,

I can't believe it has been five years.  My life has changed so much but sometimes it does not seem real.  Sometimes I think it hasn't fully registered with me that you are really gone.  Sometimes I think I see you on Calvin's campus or a customer will come into work and for a second I will see you before I realize its not you.  In those moments there is a part of me that is hoping that this was all some elaborate scheme.  You and mom were going to get a divorce and you did not want to tell us so you faked your death; or you were needed on a top-secret mission to save the world and faked your death so you could do your work.  But the whole time you were looking out for me, just in the shadows so I would not see you except for a glimpse now and then when you forget to be careful until one day when you can come up to me and tell me you love me and are proud of me and tell me you were there the whole time and you were sorry you had to leave for so long.  And I would be so happy to see you, and so angry that you left, but none of it would matter because you were here now.  My mind creates all this in a matter of seconds because you can't actually be gone.  I won't actually have to go through the rest of my life without you.  That can't be.  And then, with a jolt, I am brought back to reality.  Sometimes it takes a lot of strength to bring myself back.  Sometimes it takes a lot of strength not to crumble when I have to face reality again...

...A couple months ago, one of my professors who you knew told me that you would be so proud of me; I hope so.  I know a lot of people tell me that- they tell me how proud you would be, what an amazing man you were, how they see some of you in me.  I hope that is true too.  And as much as their words are important and touching to me, it will never be you saying it to me.  You will never congratulate me on getting through college.  You won’t be there when I go to France and have a crises and just need some advice.  You won’t be there when I get my first social work job and cry because it is so emotionally taxing.  You won’t be there to comfort me when I wonder if I am cut out for social work or to get me through rough situations when I do not know how I can continue without breaking.  You won’t be there when I get through graduate school.  You won’t be there when I discover a job that I am passionate about.  You won’t be there when I am dating someone and don’t know whether or not to say ‘yes’ to his proposal.  You won’t be there to vet the guy and make sure his intentions are good.  You won’t be there when I say yes to celebrate with tears because your little girl is getting married.  You won’t be there to give me away.  You won’t be there when we have our first fight and I don’t know what to do.  You won’t be there for all the good times or all the bad times.  You’re just gone.  And there are days when I just cannot accept that and there are other days when I can barely remember a time when I was not a girl who lost her father.  Sometimes I am scared I will lose your voice entirely.  Then I remember all the blogs you wrote and the videos we have of you and I praise God for modern technology that allows me to still hold on to you as much as I can.   

So why am I writing it?  Am I really that delusional?  Do I think that God has a big screen in heaven that allows you to read what I write to you?  Or do I think you are a ghost who follows me around and can read this over my shoulder?  Why write to a person who is gone?  Why write when you can’t hear me or see me or talk to me or hug me or comfort me as I cry?  Am I really still clinging on to the idea that you are really here so tightly?  Do I think that maybe someday you will be able to respond?  Maybe I hope one day to wake up and find a message under my pillow, like when you pretended to be “Selah” my tooth fairy- evidence that while you may be gone, you’re still kind of here. Shouldn’t the shock be over with?  Shouldn’t I have been able to accept your death by now?  Clearly it’s not, since even in this letter I have avoided saying that you are dead.  Cause it just is not possible.  

 In the last five years, I have been picking up those shattered pieces.  I picked them up and put them together, but the result is not the same.  There is a big hole in those plans, because those shattered pieces shattered into ash which we scattered by a tree in Bliss, Michigan as the last physical remnants of the daddy I loved most dearly.  The hole you left can’t be filled.  But, in the last five years, I made the pieces that remained into a new sort of shape and design.  The hole you left is a big part of the design, but it is no longer the whole design.  I have grown and made something of the rest of the pieces that I think will be good, even if it will always be missing something vastly important.  I don’t want time to keep marching forward.  I want time to have stopped on March 19th, 2010, or even before that when I was a little girl and you were my strong father, without worrying about boys and college and my future.  I want my wanting to be effective, but God does not work that way in my experience.  

Anyways Daddy.  I love you so much.  I always will and will always feel your absence keenly.
I love you forever.
I'll like you for always.
As long as I'm living,
My daddy you'll be.