Monday, May 23, 2016

Transitions

Noah and his girlfriend, Hannah.
On Saturday, my second and last-born child Noah, graduated from Calvin College with his BA in International Relations.  It's hard to believe that four years have passed since he graduated from the American International School of Accra.  It's even more difficult to believe that his dad missed not only his high school graduation but now his college graduation.  It underscores how long Bob has been gone and how much he has missed in his children's lives, and will continue to miss.  Noah's graduation hit me a lot harder than Hannah's and I think it is because for me it is the end of the "undergraduate" college era.  My kids are both fully launch-able, even as they are not yet fully launched.  I feel great sadness at both their longing and their need to hear the wisdom that their dad would have espoused to them over these important and formative years.  I long to see the look of pride on Bob's face as his kids graduate and begin to consider how to impact the world that he cared about with such passion.

Proud Mama with son
Noah has been blessed with a position in Washington DC as a background investigator for people seeking security clearance with the US government.  He will be working for CACI International, a contractor for the US Office for Personnel Management.  Because of this, he needs high security clearance and therefore many of his friends and family have been contacted by investigators doing thorough research into Noah and his acquaintances.  He has had to list out every foreign person that he knows, which for a kid with a Canadian mother and Canadian step-dad is many, not to mention his acquaintances from Liberia, Ghana, and a number of other countries where his high-school classmates have spread.  It makes for an interesting time of looking back over one's life, which has been very full, even at the young age of 21 years.  It has been quite a life thus far.

Today we leave for DC to look for an apartment for him and begin to navigate the new landscape (if you have any tips on how to find an affordable apartment, please let us know!).  While he has lived in more difficult environments, this is the first time he is heading out on his own.  Tough for me to see him go, even while I go all the time!

My prayer for Noah is from Guerillas of Grace by Ted Loder:
In this moment,
draw me to yourself, Lord
and make me aware,
not so much of what I've given
as of all I have received
and so have yet to share. 
Send me forth in power and gladness
and with great courage
to live out in the world
what I pray and profess,
that, in sharing, 
I may do justice 
make peace,
grow in love,
enjoy myself, 
other people
and your world now,
and You forever.
Can you pick Noah out?  No?  Me neither, which is why I took binoculars with me.  Last year, I found out that I had been tracking the wrong girl instead of my daughter Hannah and I wasn't going to let that happen again.  They all laughed when I took out the binoculars but a number of them ended up borrowing them!
Hannah and my mom, and in the distance my sister Janette and husband Dale behind (note where the binoculars are) :)
Noah and his good friends
Grad friends cutting their cake together.
The Cake

Monday, May 16, 2016

Daring to be Daniel

Over the past twelve months I have visited business men and women in Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, and Ethiopia.  I have documented many stories of success, of inspiration, of challenges, and of failures. These stories fill my heart with joy, courage, sadness, anger, and love.  

I want to share one story with you but I will not identify the person or the country for this person's protection.  I wish I could say that what has happened to this young man is unique, but unfortunately this is a story that I hear all too often.  What is unique is what this young man has done with the challenges that he has faced in his short 27 years.  I hope you will be inspired, as I have been. I also ask that you will pray concerning the many and immense pressures that hundreds of thousands of Christians face regularly in the Marketplace.

I will call this young man Daniel, for reasons I will explain later.  I met Daniel at a business where he serves as a manager.  He had attended a workshop that we gave on Discipling Marketplace Leaders and had approached me during the break with pain on his face about how a Christian is to do business in a corrupt system.  He asked me to visit his business for a consultation.  As I find great joy in visiting and learning from business people in various contexts, I readily agreed.  As we settled in his office, I asked him to tell me a bit about himself.  And this is the story I heard.

Daniel grew up in a poor family, and was a sponsored child through Compassion International until the age of 21.  His family was Christian but he drifted away from God during his teenage years.  He worked hard in school, came back to God at the age of twenty, and was able to go to University where he obtained a degree in Accounting.  Upon graduation, Daniel went on a number of interviews, where he clearly told those interviewing him that if asked to change a number 3 to an 8, which is an unfortunate part of many developing countries with high corruption, that he would say no.  He didn't get a job for a while, and was eventually hired by a seed company involved in exporting and importing agricultural products, including seeds.  He watched with discomfort as his boss bribed officials to say that the seeds were a good quality.  When his boss filed for a leave to go to school, Daniel knew that he was next in line and would need to be the one paying the bribes.  At the time, Daniel was making about $24/month, while his boss was making $120/month.  Daniel decided the money was not worth the integrity violations and so when his boss left on his leave, Daniel quit as well.  The owner of the company was not pleased and called Daniel, asking for him to return.  Daniel made it very clear that he would not do anything unethical and would not return.  The boss then surprised Daniel by asking him to tutor his children for the next two weeks, as the owner and his wife traveled to China for business.  Daniel was reminded of the Bible story of Daniel who had to make a decision to forgive the King and continue to work with him, while maintaining his integrity, and so he said yes.  But he demanded $48 for those two weeks and demanded that he be paid ahead of time in cash.  Daniel was surprised when the owner said yes!

Daniel did this for some time but knew that he needed to get training to do a different work that wouldn't be as involved in corruption as accounting.  He was blessed to be able to go back to school for a degree in medical laboratory work. While in school, several classmates were won to Christ as they witnessed Daniel's testimony of not cheating on tests or assignments.  Daniel finished first in his class and was offered the position of head of the laboratory at a government hospital that was just opening.  It was there that Daniel saw again the trap of corruption.  He was encouraged, even by Christian supervisors, to buy lesser quality equipment, pad the invoices, and take shortcuts in setting up the lab.  Daniel refused and set up a first rate laboratory, despite a great deal of hardship in the process.  But then the orders came in from the doctors, requesting unnecessary tests in order to increase the profit, from patients who had to pay cash without insurance.  Daniel challenged the doctors but after some time couldn't stomach giving unnecessary tests to those who couldn't afford them and so he left that position.

He then contracted tuberculosis and was very sick for two years.  During that time, he prayed for God to end his life at least ten times, knowing that he would be going to a better place.  His days were filled with pain and his nights were filled with nightmares.  He thought it would never end.  What got him through this dark period was the gospel of John and the silence of Jesus and God the Father through Jesus' suffering.  Jesus knew who he was even in the silence.  Daniel said he realized that he did as well, so he could accept God's silence while he waited for healing.  Eventually the suffering decreased and he gradually began to heal.

He then met the owner of the business he is now in, who invited in to be his personal assistant for one month.  It went well, and another month was given.  Daniel is now the manager of the business, making about $100/month.  He is sharing his income by supporting ten children, just as he was supported.  He told me, "I don't give.  God is the only giver.  I simply share what God has given."

But he says that he knows he has not reached his destiny yet.  He said, "I know that someone somewhere is looking for me to show him or her Christ.  So I am waiting for God to show me the next move."

I was so blessed by Daniel's testimony.  I'm not sure how a 27 year old learned to keep his hand open before God as it relates to his time, treasure, and talents.  Too often, as we become aware of our time, treasure and talents, we tend to close our hand and hold on to them tightly.  But Daniel has learned that God is the giver of all three and therefore it is better for him to keep an open hand, so that God can keep pouring in.

My heart aches for the many Christians who do not have the courage to do as Daniel has done and for the many Christians who are not able to speak openly about the challenges and ethical compromises that they feel forced to make, especially if they have families to feed and school fees to pay.  We are to be a light in the darkness, but to be a light, we need to be discipled, equipped, encouraged, and lifted in prayer.  Please continue to be in prayer for the many other Daniels out there.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Out of the garbage heap...

Evangelical Theological College (ETC), Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Greetings from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where it is surprisingly cool and wet!   Unfortunately, other parts of Ethiopia are experiencing a drought that is worse than the drought of 1984, with over ten million people affected.  Thankfully, important lessons were learned from that drought and there has been much work done to make sure people are getting food.

My impression of Addis Ababa is that it is unlike other African Capital cities that I have been in.  It seems more peaceful, more orderly, more regulated.  People actually obey traffic laws, queue for lines for taxi buses, don't talk on the phone while driving, and the city is quite clean with trash cans everywhere.  From the little I've seen in the short time I've been here, I'm impressed.  Unfortunately, there are people sleeping on the sidewalks everywhere you go, and the per capita income is one third of Kenya - at $550/year/person.  Ethiopia is the second most populated country in Africa yet one of the poorest.  However people are actively involved in business everywhere you go.  Ethiopian pastors are not bi-vocational for the most part, unlike Kenya and Ghana, but more like Egypt.  While Christians are the largest majority in Ethiopia, about 43% are Orthodox or Coptic Christians and 20% are Evangelical.  About 34% of Ethiopians are Muslims. 

Discipling Marketplace Leaders (DML) had the opportunity in this past week to present the ministry to pastors and business people at the Evangelical Theological College (ETC).  It was a blessing to meet and have these discussions in a new context and culture.  Many important connections have been made.

ETC has an interesting history.  During the period where Ethiopia was under a communist government (from 1974-1991) the Evangelical Church suffered the most and was essentially shut down.  The underground church grew rapidly, however there was no training of church leaders.  Some Christians approached one of the Christian NGOs who had been allowed to stay to do humanitarian work to ask whether they could train people in Christian leadership and theological education.  The NGO agreed and the first class was started with seventeen students.  Only one of the seventeen graduated.  But the desire for training and education continued, and when the communist government fell, the school asked the government (who owns all land) for a location that they could use.  They were offered the city garbage dump.  Undeterred, they accepted and sought to redeem that land.  As you can see from the pictures, they have done that very well.  On hot days, I'm told, the smell from the dump that still exists behind them can be strong, but they say it's a good reminder of how God redeems all of our lives from the stench of sin.
Beautiful flowers in bloom at ETC

It's no surprise that the business context of Ethiopia is different from the other countries involved with DML.  In many ways, Ethiopia reminds me more of Egypt than Kenya, the neighbor to the south.  Being a landlocked country presents certain challenges, as does high rates of poverty and high government control. It makes for some interesting challenges for businesses.  I learned that business owners who make a sale without a receipt can be jailed for three-six months.  Businesses pay 35% of their profit in tax (the customers pay 15% value added tax).  The government controls a good number of businesses, including all of the telecommunications. 

But the theme of mistrust and suspicion between the Church and the Marketplace is unfortunately consistent with our findings in other countries.  Business people articulated that they too feel only valued by their church for their financial ability to contribute to the ministry, and are not respected or valued for their work, gifts or talents.  They reported, and the pastors agreed, that business people are seen as unspiritual and, if successful, most likely corrupt.

Dr. Frew Tamrat, Director of Master programs at ETC,
addresses pastors and business people.
We challenged the pastors to disciple their members to the purpose for which most have been called, in being fruitful and multiplying the resources God has given to bless the world.  Our call to Christians is to work with a quadruple bottom line in mind, no matter where the workplace:  social, spiritual, economic, and environmental, and for all of us to see ourselves as disciple-makers in our very own sphere of influence.

This message was received very well, and I have been scheduled to teach for the MA program at the Evangelical Theological College next year (the earliest I could be back), and will begin to do the two day training at that time for pastors in Addis Ababa and hopefully in Awassa.

View from my window at the mission guest house in Addis Ababa

Monday, May 2, 2016

Prayerful Request



Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Yesterday I looked at my personal support account at ICM (not the Kenya ministry account which some of you recently gave to), as I knew it was dropping, and saw that I had $21.77.  I have about $2200 in outstanding bills for the work in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Ghana.  A bit of a problem, yes?  Despite having been in this predicament many times over the past nineteen years, I felt the familiar sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.  I shared with Michael, who stated that he wavers between a feeling of panic when I tell him things like this and a head knowledge that knows that it will probably be okay.  I told him that the feeling is the same for me. 

The thing is that the work is not only going  very well, but the demand continues to increase while giving decreases.  Why might this be, is the question that I, as well as many others who have to raise their own support, ask.  I’ve been reading a book called The Great Evangelical Recession.  While I don’t agree with some of the things in the book, it does talk about an overall decline in giving that will continue over the next thirty years.  The younger generation is not as committed to church and to giving in general, while the generous older generation is growing into retirement age.  As I look at my consistent individual donors, many (if not most) are over the age of sixty.  This is a concern.  The book says at one point that the problem is not a lack of funds, but rather a lack of commitment due to the lack of discipling of the youth.  Only 6% of Evangelical Christians tithe, according to The Barna Group.  If Christians raised their giving to the Old Testament standard of giving 10%, there would be an additional $139 billion available per year. 

My bold request is this: 

  • I am looking for twelve people to prayerfully consider committing $100/month for the next year.
  • OR if you are personally not able to give or increase your giving, I am looking for new partner churches who would be willing to support the unique ministry that I am involved in, Discipling Marketplace Leaders.  The only way new churches come on board is by a closer and personal connection with a member or the mission committee.  Letters and calls from a stranger like me does not work.  So if you are able to help me make a connection and set up a meeting, that would also help this ministry go a long way.

After the very dark period of the burnout that I just came through, I am convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that this ministry is God’s and not mine.  I believe that I am joining Him in His work to unleash the Church from the four walls of a building, into the four corners of the Marketplace.  So my encouragement is that you don’t consider this as a request from Renita, but rather from the Creator and Sustainer of our Faith, to join Him in the work that is happening across Kenya, Egypt, Ghana, and Ethiopia.

If you feel led to be one of the twelve, please email me and let me know.  If you are able to arrange a meeting with your church, the missions committee, or the pastor, please also let me know.  If you would like to meet with me to discuss this further, I would be happy to do so.  I will be following up this message with phone calls once I have returned to the US from Ethiopia. 

If you would like to financially assist with this work, please give through ICM at www.icmusa.org and include "20065" in the comment line; or through CRWM at www.crwm.org (go to "missionaries" and find my name). 

Thank you for your prayerful consideration.
May God bless you.
Renita

Monday, April 25, 2016

Happy Birthday, Hannah!

In France...
So cute...
Today is Hannah's 23rd birthday.  I don't like being 7500 miles away on her birthday so this is a very loud shout out to her!  Maybe you can join me in wishing her a happy birthday but sending an email to her at haremail93@gmail.com.  She is working with an agency called Novel Responses, providing in-home services to children with developmental disabilities.  She seems to be enjoying it! 

Hannah emulating her Dad...enjoying lying in the yard, looking at the sky...
Today we completed our first day of our first intensive training for pastors.  It went very well, with pastors coming from many different parts of Kenya to attend.

I will share more in the coming posts, for for today, let me just share with you some of our favorite quotes that we shared with these senior pastors:

Scottish theologian, Dr. George MacLoed (1895-1991):  "I simply argue that the cross be raised again, at the center of the marketplace as well as on the steeple of the church...Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves, on the town garbage heap, on a crossroad so cosmopolitan that they had to write His title in Hebrew and in Latin and in Greet, or shall we say, in English, in Bantu, and in Afrikaans...at the kind of place where cynics talk smut, the thieves curse and soldiers gamble, because that is where He died, and that is what he died about, and that is where Christians should be and what Christians should be about." 

Henry Blackaby, in Experiencing God in Business:  "The Marketplace is the last mission frontier.  Christianity in the marketplace is salt and light in a dark world."

William Tyndale, the great English Reformer and the first translator of the Bible into English:  "There is no work better than another to please God:  to pour water, to wash dishes, to be a shoemaker, or an apostle, all is one; to wash dishes and to preach is all one, as touching the deed, to please God." 

C.T. Studd (missionary):  Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Cheering for the little guy

Who doesn't like cheering for the little guy to win?  I ran across a great video recently called "Battle at Kruger," a national park in South Africa, where a baby buffalo is grabbed by some lions, the buffalo abandon the baby, and then they organize themselves and come back.  Watch it here if you have a few minutes and want to be inspired:   

 Battle at Kruger

What does this have to do with Discipling Marketplace Leaders?  I'm glad you asked.  :)

Of the four strategic activities that we are involved in with business people through Discipling Marketplace Leaders (training, mentoring, advocacy, and access to capital), advocacy is the most difficult one for people to understand.  The other three activities are simple as they seek to build and develop one person's business internally through training, mentoring, and access to capital. If you are familiar with SWOT analysis, these three activities address both the strengths and weaknesses of a business.

But what about external pressures to a business, outside of its control?  That is where advocacy comes in.  Advocacy looks at the other part of the SWOT analysis, specifically the opportunities and threats.  Too often small business owners feel like the baby buffalo - so many predators, unable to fight on their own.  Advocacy is trying get the buffaloes back together and organized to go after the big scary predators.  We tend to describe the way advocacy works in the following fish picture and encourage all our Marketplace Ministers to get together in cooperatives to address both the opportunities and barriers that exist externally to their business.  So far we have four cooperatives that have formed in four different cities in Western Kenya for this purpose.
Small fish organizing to be able to defend themselves and take on some bigger fish together.
Here is short (one-minute) fun video which helps drive home the point:

 It's Smarter to Travel in Groups

I'm reminded that in the work of Discipling Marketplace Leaders our ultimate goal is to see business people do their work as unto the Lord and to see Him lifted up in the Marketplace.  The choice of DML is to do that through the church, which can be both an opportunity for businesses to do this well, but it can also be a threat.  But when we look out for each other, when we affirm the work, the life, the value of each person, and when we pull together rather than pull apart, we can make a significant difference.  The Church is a key umbrella to unifying the vision and calling of Christian men and women in business.


Amartya Sen, a Nobel-prize winning economist, states that, “Economic growth cannot be sensibly treated as an end in itself.  Development has to be more concerned with enhancing the lives we lead and the freedoms we enjoy.”  Sen states that what matters is “not the things a person has – or the feelings these provide – but what a person is, or can be, and does, or can do."  Business development, while important, is not simply about increasing income or creating jobs.  It is about enhancing lives, enjoying freedoms, and affirming what people can do.  The Church can and should play a significant role in helping people understand this and find their place in it.  If a secular economist who claims to be an atheist can see the need for affirmation of calling and the role of economics beyond numbers, certainly we as the church can see that need as well.  Can I hear an "amen?"