Monday, September 18, 2017

A road that was not a road...and a goat named Thursday

On Tuesday afternoon, in the Upper East Region of Ghana, close to the Burkina Faso border, following our meetings with four churches in Sandema, we wanted to stop to meet a family whose sons have been living with my dear friends, Dennis and Fanny Atta-Peters, for years.  Fanny had not ever met the parents of these young men, despite having helped them for over ten years.

The challenge of finding directions to a home without road signs began.  When we finally located the young man to who was to guide us on his bike, he quickly let us off the road, onto a path....and deeper into the corn fields we drove...until there was only a small bike path before us, and millet and maize fields all around.  We kept wondering where this house was, when suddenly we curved around the field and there it was, completely surrounded by millet.

As we pulled in, we all exclaimed surprise at what we saw (I was with three Ghanaians who had not seen such a compound either).  The architecture, I was told, is very much like that in Burkina Faso: flat roofs, so that people can sleep on top when it is hot and also dry peanuts or other foods up there; smooth buildings, made of mud, cow dung, rice husks, and other organic materials, that make for a very solid, strong smooth walls (this particular compound was over 100 years old!).  Four generations live together in this compound, including a husband, with four wives, many children, many grand-children, and great grandchildren.  Each wife has her own particular area, as does the husband, and the children begin to build their own areas onto the compound.

Animals are also a part of the home.  As you enter, you see round structures in walls with tiny doors for hens and guinea fowl, somewhat larger areas for goats and dogs, then in the center of the compound is the place for the cows (as can be seen in the picture below).




But it's not just the 100 people, four generations, and many animals who enjoy this compound. The picture below shows the little house where the chicken and guinea fowl live.  But in front of the bench, you can see a mound.  That is where the grandmother is buried.  There are other places as well throughout the compound where a grandfather or other family members are buried.   It's a visual reminder of the generations, although prayer to ancestors is still quite strong in these parts.  (We were told that if they need rain, they pray to the ancestors and rain will fall in an hour.)

Out of gratitude to Fanny and her family for all they have done for the three young men that they have helped with work and education, they presented her with a goat, which we named "Thursday" (for reasons that would be too long for me to write in this blog).  Thursday made the long road trip back with us to Tamale, where he found a home with a new family.  The family also made a gift of a drumming dance presentation made by a number of young men from the family and the extended community.  We were privileged to watch and enjoy, although we were interrupted part way through by about fifty cows running into the compound right through the middle of where we were sitting.
It was such a privilege to visit with this family and to learn a small bit about their lives.  On the one hand, it was beautiful, peaceful, and serene.  On the other hand, it felt like we had gone back in time quite a number of years.  Someone remarked to me, "What can we do to help them?"  To which I responded, "How do you know they need help?  I didn't hear them complain."  What feels to many of us like going back in time, to them may be a choice of remaining intentional about family and community. 

[Recently a Ugandan told me that they love sitting on mats on the floor.  Someone came to their house to visit, thought, "These poor Ugandans can't afford furniture!" and sent furniture to their house.  But the Ugandans didn't want the chairs, and very soon, the chairs were outside in the rain and the elements so that they could continue living culturally in a way that was preferable to them.  Tough for us to recognize and appreciate sometimes, but so important that we don't project our own preferences on someone else!]

Below is a very brief video of our time in the Northern Region of Ghana, including this compound and the drumming.  I hope it captures for you a bit of the beauty that we were privileged to enjoy.

video

Monday, September 11, 2017

Twenty-one Churches, 450 members, and we need your help!


I am currently in the Northern Region of Ghana, visiting churches who have completed the Discipling Marketplace Leaders "Thirty Days in the Marketplace," which followed the training that was given to the pastors and church leaders in June. It is Sunday evening when I am writing this and in the past few days we have visited twelve churches, with more to come on Monday-Wednesday.

We wanted to meet with each church to see whether or not the pastor was able to effectively communicate the message that work can be worship, that business is a holy calling, and that God delights in the creativity and work of man, made in His image.  As the business people and pastors gathered in the church, we started the meetings by asking for testimonies from the business people of what they learned during the "Thirty Days in the Marketplace."  It was very apparent, very quickly, which pastors "passed the test" and which pastors need a bit more time to learn more, in order to better educate their members.  We are thankful that the majority of churches, thus far, passed with flying colors.  The business people spoke with such passion about business being a calling...about people in the Bible who were business people...about Jesus himself being an active carpenter for more than 15 years!  It brought me much joy to hear their joy and excitement over the realization that business is not "evil" but can be used to glorify God.  It was also great to see the pastors smile, as they listened to their congregants bear witness to their teachings.
The next step for those churches who are ready is the training of the business people, and so a large part of our meetings in these churches involves assessing whether or not the business people would benefit more from the micro-business training or the small and medium size entrepreneur training.  What types of businesses did we find?  A number of the churches are in very rural areas, and so there are many farmers who are farming between 3-12 acres:  corn, rice, peanuts, cashews, cocoa, peppers, tomatoes; a number also have animals in addition to their crops:  goats, sheep, cows, pigs, rabbits, guinea fowl, ducks, and chickens.  In the more urban areas, we find accountants, bakers, caterers, fashion designers, tailors, beauticians, make-up artists, gospel musicians, hat makers, shoe makers, artisans, metal workers, and the list goes on.  Truly a mix of retailers, service providers, manufacturers, and agriculturalists.

Once we understand the types of businesses found in a church, we then need to coordinate times, dates, and trainers as we seek to train and release up to 450 Marketplace Ministers into the Northern Region of Ghana.  This region is a very Muslim region and many of the churches are made up of Muslim converts.  We have already heard a number of stories from those we trained last year of people giving their lives to Christ and it is exciting to think of what 450 Marketplace Ministers released into the Marketplace could do.

And this is where we need your help.  It is time for us to do a major effort in the training of trainers.  We have huge opportunities in Ethiopia and Ghana, and emerging opportunities in Uganda, Tanzania, Nigeria, and Kenya.  We have planned a training of trainers for the key leaders of DML from October 5-13 in Kitale, Kenya.  We are flying in trainers from these countries to spend ten days together at the Africa Theological Seminary, where we will certify many of them as trainers and have a chance to share best practices, lessons learned, and continue to build a team made of national leaders, who can reach pastors, church leaders, and business people in their own context and culture.

We have a donor who has offered an challenge grant in the amount of $1500 towards this effort.  We need more than $3000 for this effort, but we are thankful for this opportunity!  (Have you noticed how many people are liking challenge grants lately?  We all want to see our investments double quickly, which is wise investing!)  If you are willing to help build the church through Discipling Marketplace Leaders, please go to www.icmusa.org/donate, select "Discipling Marketplace Leaders" in the dropdown box, and in the comment section put "Training of Trainers Matching Grant."

At the same time, my support has dropped very low (for the first time this year, for which I am thankful!).  If you are able to chip in something extra for that as well, it would be greatly appreciated!  To do that, go to the same web address and select "Renita Reed" in the dropdown box.

Lastly, many of these businesses that we are training would benefit from loans.  In Ghana, the interest rates are ridiculously high (38% in banks, 60% with MFIs, and 120% in the informal sector).  Through investors, we are able to give loans at a much more affordable rate.  We currently have $50,000 invested in Ghana, and would like to see that doubled or even tripled by March (when these churches will have completed their training).  We accept any amount from $1000+, we pay investors 4% annually, and ask for your investment to remain with us for three years.  If you are interested in putting your money into small businesses in Northern Ghana, please email me at renitar@icmusa.org for more information.

Thank you!  We appreciate your prayers as we work to coordinate this great opportunity that God has given us!

PS - We are excited to have found a home for Hopeline Institute and Discipling Marketplace Leaders in Tamale.  Thanks to the on-going generosity of Rev. Johnson Asare (an incredible man of God and business man who is SO committed to Business as Mission), we have received an office at the Radach Hotel and Conference Center where Isaac and Blossom (the two on the right of the picture below) will be able to work out of and coordinate these efforts.  Also in this picture is Rev. Monday, who is the Mission Outreach Coordinator for the Good News Bible Church and has been instrumental in the spreading of DML in the Northern Region, and beside him is my dear friend, Fanny Atta-Peters, the Executive Director of Hopeline Institute.  What a privilege to spend these days with this team!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Third Annual DML Prayer Walk - Kitale Branch

[A few weeks ago, I asked you to pray for the Kenyan elections.  After peaceful elections, with international observers declaring that it was free and fair, the Supreme Court supported the opposition request, annulled the results citing irregularities, and has called for a new election in sixty days.  While this was generally met with great surprise, we are thankful that Kenya took their disagreements to the courts rather than to the streets, and are thankful for the courage of the Supreme Court to be willing to make this move - which is a first in African history (supporting an opposition claim to overturn a presidential election result).  On the other hand, this is disruptive for the country, and especially for businesses  Please pray for the next sixty days in Kenya and again for peaceful and just elections.]

The last Saturday in August saw the third annual prayer walk for Kenya.  Discipling Marketplace Leaders started doing city-wide prayer walks in Kenya in 2014, and we have now grown to have this in five different cities in Kenya.  Below is the story of the event, as captured by one of the attendees.  It will warm your heart and make you want to take to the streets to pray for your city!
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The day is finally here - 26th Aug 2017, our third DML Prayer Walk. Much planning went into the preparation for this day with a committee of 5 members.
The day started on a slow note, with people arriving one by one to St Paul’s ACK (Anglican Church of Kenya). Soon the registration was underway and after some time, we were ushered into the sanctuary and a small worship team began with praise songs.
After a short demo of how the prayer walk is done, Pastor Ven Sarah took the podium for a sermonnette.  She read from Numbers 14:8-9 and shared on the theme- DO NOT FEAR; the LORD IS WITH US.”  This really set the mood to go out fearlessly and claim the territories for Christ. She gave three tips for the success of the day- Be fearless, Pray scripture and Do not quit! She ended with a powerful commissioning to go out and fearlessly take the town for Christ.
We were divided into 5 groups under 5 group leaders, with specific routes to walk. We moved outside the sanctuary for flagging off.  The prayer walk t-shirts, which had been delayed, arrived just as we set off.  All is ready and we were flagged off - 78 of us.  Each team started on their routes and the Prayer Walk was on.

The debriefing meeting point was the Africa Theological Seminary, where tea and mandazi will be served.  Two people arrived early to the meeting point - one was an old lady with a walking stick - I had earlier spotted her in church and wondered how she would walk but she had done quite some kilometers before her teammates asked her to stop and take a motorbike to ATS. The other (a DML trainer) had come despite feeling sick - after quite some distance he had developed a chest congestion and had to stop and head for the finish. The determination that members showed in being involved in this exercise was touching and amazing.
During the debriefing, testimonies from the group leaders were shared with the whole team as tea and mandazi were served. Learning institutions such as Kitale Technical, Kitale Vocational School and several primary and secondary schools, were prayed for. Businesses along the routes, churches and even mosques were appropriately prayed for.  Many idle youth spotted all along the estates were prayed for. Closed business premises, hospitals, mortuaries, garages, and slums were earnestly prayed for; witchcraft, drug abuse, poverty and alcoholism and many vices were uprooted. Prophesies over the law courts, county developments and hospitals were declared.
In some spots people tried to read our t-shirts but came up with ‘Discipline’ and called the teams passing by ‘The Discipline People.’ Others asked if we were tourists!
One leader humored us all by confessing the sin of murmuring on behalf of her team as they felt they had been given a much longer route than others - but they arrived second in line at ATS.

The youngest prayer walker was a 10-yr old boy from Great Mercy Orphanage, a ministry ran by Pastor Judith. She had come with a large team of 23! She also shared that since our first one prayer walk, she had introduced the same to her ministry and the children have witnessed miracles after doing prayer walks - a thicket where murder and murder victims would always be found had been cleared and was under cultivation; they had received a hot ready meal from a good Samaritan to the joy of all the children. So they had come to witness the ‘big’ prayer walk. A leader from ACK also shared that they had done one as women of their church, and they too had been blessed.  A young man had joined our team as we held hands and prayed outside the gates of a primary school.  I thought he would leave after the prayer but he walked on with us till the end! We recognized him during the testimonies and he said he was in town for a short while with the road construction company; he was excited at seeing people walking and praying and decide to join us.
The oldest to participate was a woman who also had a hand swelling caused by an accident; and an impromptu ‘harambee’ (Swahili for "all pull together") was done to contribute towards her medication. A nurse in our midst was identified to assist her to get the medication at the Referral hospital. I witnessed them talk and exchange contacts. She emotionally made a prayer after the last prayer was done - appreciating what had been done for her. The word of God in James 2:16 comes alive - don’t just tell your brother “be warm and be filled” without meeting their need; it profits them nothing! A deaf man in our midst who has paralysis on one hand had also participated.  Prayers were said for his healing.  A school principal had heard that morning about the prayer walk and had cancelled other business to attend- a Mrs Wafula from Bishop Muge Girls Seconday school. Seven DML trainers and six pastors from different denominations were present.

We ended by joining hands and final prayers were said. Suddenly rains came as if in agreement with our prayers.

Wow, what a day it has been. To God be all the glory.

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I look forward to the day when this prayer walk happens across nations as well!  Tomorrow I leave for Ghana where I will be meeting with eighteen churches in the Northern Region who have completed the "Thirty Days in the Marketplace" and are now looking to start training with the business people.  Please keep this work in your prayers!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Family Update

After a very productive trip to Tanzania and Ethiopia, I want to take a brief pause at the end of the summer to give an update from our family.  I know that when I start getting email responses to my blog with "By the way, how are Hannah and Noah doing?" it's time for an update.

As many of you know, Hannah suffered a concussion at work early in the summer.  This past year she worked really hard at dealing with all of her health issues and we felt she had finally come on top of them, but then she was hit at work with a flying object and received a phase two concussion.  This has resulted in pronounced dizziness, nonstop headaches, and a strong aversion to sound and noise.  It has been over two months now and she is not able yet to work with her clients, but thankfully her job has found other things for her to do in the meantime.

What was very interesting to learn is that our instinct when we are injured is often wrong.  I had been advising Hannah to rest, to avoid noise, to avoid things that make her dizzy (and to be honest, her doctors had been advising her of the same).  But when she went to the concussion clinic, they told her that avoidance will delay her healing and prolong her brain's intolerance of things that bother her.  Rather than moving away from what makes her uncomfortable, dizzy, and headachy, she needs to slowly move toward it.  That was actually a huge relief for us to hear.  We had been hearing stories from people that it can take one-two years to recover from a concussion, but what we are learning is that a major factor in recovery is how the person "protects" themselves, and thereby prolongs their discomfort.  So Hannah is slowly trying to challenge herself and expose herself to noise by hanging out with clients, shopping at Meijer, going for walks and moving her head to look around.  While the symptoms are still uncomfortable, the fact that her healing is somewhat within her control brought a bit of comfort to her.

It was a good challenge for me to think through.  I had gone through the same thing with my back injury last year.  We want to protect and heal and avoid that which causes discomfort.  But sometimes we need to move toward those things that make us uncomfortable in order to grow in tolerance.  Seems like that lesson could be applied a few places, doesn't it?

Hannah is in grad school at Western Michigan University for her MSW (and of course she didn't let her concussion stop her from taking a summer class).

Noah and his girlfriend Hannah were able to fly home from Washing DC for a week of vacation and we had a chance to go camping with all of us:  Michael and his boys Jonathan and Benjamin, Noah and his Hannah, my Hannah, myself, and Michael's two dogs, Rosy and Pebbles.  It was only a few days of camping but the Reeds hadn't done it since we had moved to Africa in 2005, so it was good have that experience again.

Michael then had a conference in Washington DC and I took the opportunity to drive down with him, spend some time with Noah and his Hannah before flying out to Tanzania. I was thrilled to get into his car and see the cross that I had anointed his car with the year before (when he had just bought it) still on the dash, now outlined with dust.  Can you see it in the picture? I loved that he kept the visual reminder of the fact that he is the manager of the car and that it to has been committed to God.  We had a great few days together doing some touristy things and also just learning more about the work that they are both involved in.  Noah is still enjoying his work as a background investigator and his Hannah continues to work with International Justice Ministries.

My dear husband, Michael, continues to enjoy his work at Eerdmans, where he has now been for 22 years.  He takes me with him for some lunches or dinners and I have to admit that the authors he meets with speak a different language than me.  It's interesting to listen in to the very academic theological talk that he is engaged in day in and day out!  He also continues to be very patient as I travel here, there and everywhere, often without internet or ability to have contact.  Skype continues to be our friend when we can access wifi!


Jonathan avoiding some teeth.

Michael's boys are also doing well.  Jonathan turned 23 in July.  He is celebrated his first year anniversary of working at the Meijer gas station and continues to take computer classes at GRCC. 

Benjamin spent a second summer interning with Madison Square Church and had the opportunity to go on a service project to Pittsburgh, which he said was very moving for him spiritually.  He is hoping to be baptized in the fall.  He also has a part-time job with Firehouse Subs and is trying to save towards college as he is now entering his senior year of college.
Benjamin in Pittsburgh
Hannah enjoying the waves of Lake Michigan!
Noah trying to look serious.  Doesn't he look like Bob in this picture?

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Theological Education in Africa, Tanzania

The Theological Education in Africa (TEA) conference, hosted in Tanzania by Resonate Global Missions (formerly Christian Reformed World and Home Missions) concluded last Friday.  Five hundred people from about fifteen countries in East and Southern Africa, worshipping together and networking.  It was exciting, invigorating, and productive, with many good speakers from many parts of the world.  Dr. Mwaya Kitavi and his team did an amazing job of coordinating and facilitating this conference.

We had the opportunity to present the Discipling Marketplace Leaders ministry on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday to pastors and church leaders.  As usual, our message is received with great enthusiasm.  We continue to be thrilled at the excitement and engagement of our participants.  Several came up to me during the course of the week and told me how our workshop has completely turned their thinking about the church, and that they can't stop thinking about what we presented.  But we know that no matter how excited someone is when they hear the message, the real challenge is when they go back to their normal environment and resume their regular duties.  The brain tends to compartmentalize and we don't easily transfer new information and knowledge into application.  Therein lies our challenge.  How do we help pastors and church leaders implement a ministry of discipling the marketplace members in their church?
We were blessed to have our Kenya team travel to Tanzania, despite the worrisome aftermath of the Kenyan election.  The pastor who seems to have done the best job of full integration of the DML ministry in his church, Pastor Moffat Weru, was with the team and gave a great testimony at our workshop, describing how this ministry has changed and grown his church.

Today I fly from Tanzania to Ethiopia where we will have a few days of meetings with the up and coming DML team in Addis Ababa.  We continue to covet your prayers for this ministry!

DML Kenya Team (L to R):  Rev. Kisala, me, Caroline Sudi, Betty Ndagwa, Pastor Moffat Weru, Dr. Walker

We worshipped at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Arusha, a very formal, High-Church.  After the service they auctioned off the non-cash tithe gifts.

Rev. Dr. Michelle Lloyd-Paige, a former colleague of Bob at Calvin College, led us in worship each day of the conference through her beautiful dance.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Praying for Kenya

On Tuesday, August 8, Kenya will have it's presidential elections.  I was in Kenya for the last presidential election in February of 2013, which was very tense because the previous election of 2007 erupted in much violence and many deaths.  Thankfully, the election of 2013 was mostly peaceful.  But I have been told by Kenyans that tensions are high for this election.  Commodities are scarce as people are stock-piling goods, and business has slowed down considerably as people are holding on to their money in case of emergency.  Many people are leaving the major cities and going to the countryside in hopes of being safe.

It didn't help that last week, a senior election monitoring official was tortured and murdered.  It's difficult to think of the courage that others who are responsible for monitoring this election for transparency will have to show, given this violence.

Tribalism plays a major role in Kenyan politics and this election is no different, with the race between current president, Uhuru Kenyatta who is Kikuyu, and the opposition leader Raila Odinga who is Luo. This is Odinga's fourth time running for president. The Kikuyu tribe is the largest in Kenya, with 6.6 million people; the Luo tribe is the fourth largest in Kenya, with 4 million people.

Please pray for Kenya this week, for free and transparent elections, free of violence, where every vote of every citizen will count.

While all of this goes on in political spheres, we continue to see small business men and women, who care about the Church and their families, continue to seek and strive to be who God has made them to be.  The story below was written by one of the co-directors of DML Kenya, Caroline Sudi.

SALAMA RIDERS


By Caroline Sudi, Co-Director DML Kenya
Grace Mzee, in the front, standing with one of her drivers.

Meet Grace Mzee, the Manager of Salama Riders. The word ‘Salama’ is Swahili for ‘fine’. This is a business in the transport industry owned by a Marketplace minister and TOT (Trainer of Trainers) of the Discipling Marketplace Leaders ministry. Grace is one of those who were in the very first class of BAM and in fact taught both of the current Co-Directors for DML Kenya (Rev. Elly Kisala and Caroline Sudi), as we were in the second class. She is also a Medical Engineer at the Kitale Referral Hospital right here in Kitale town. She is also a Pastor’s wife serving in their ministry.  Talk of a busy marketplace minister!
In more rural areas of Kenya, many people get around by “boda-boda,” which are motorcycle taxis.  The customer demand for this form of public transportation has been significantly increasing over the last number of yearsSalama Riders was started in January 2016 with a capital of $1200.00 USD and begun with one new motor bike. Through a well-structured management, Grace was able to purchase two more second-hand motorbikes in quick succession, and a fourth one through a DML, loan growing her fleet to 4 motorbikes in less than two years. Her husband doubles up as the Supervisor of Salama Riders; and runs the day-to-day of the business including recruitment, repairs and servicing. She has employed four experienced riders and a mechanic who ensure that the bikes are in tip-top condition. Her husband is also Pastor to their local church.
Each motorbike earns her $3.50/day, six days a week giving her about $330.00 USD net profit per month. Through the business training offered by DML, Grace is able to manage the processes from recruitment of drivers, communication, record-keeping to salaries; and according to Grace, this is the reason for her success. “DML has been of great help to me and my business,” she stated during our conversation. 

Salama Riders business hopes to grow into motor vehicle public transport business and the purchase of a car –the probox model is in their plan. These are commonly used for public transport commuting between Kitale town and the outskirts which is their target area. They also plan to expand their church building with resources from the business – a need necessitated by their growing congregation. They also have a social bottom line which is to support needy children. These are found within their locality and what better way than to reach out to such as they are the hope for tomorrow’s church.