Sunday, November 23, 2014

Do They Know It's Christmas?

Last Tuesday, my class at the Africa Theological Seminary presented their group papers.  One of the groups presented splendidly on how charity has hurt Africa and they articulated their position in a way that made this teacher heart proud.

That evening, I received a posting from my former colleague, Jeff Bloem, regarding the organization BandAid putting out a remix of an old song, Do They Know It's Christmas? to raise money for Ebola.  The leader for this movement, Bob Geldof, is someone that we discuss in class as an example of how NOT to do aid.  He is quoted as saying, "We have to do something, even if it doesn't work."  No, Bob.  We must use our head as much as our heart and do the right thing.  Sometimes helping hurts.  And if it hurts, it is not the right thing to do.

So wincing, I went to the website and saw the words of the song.  Sigh.  Fears were confirmed.

First of all, the title is demeaning.  Of course they know it's Christmas.  Liberia is a Christian country and all three countries hardest hit by Ebola have Christmas as a public holiday.  Secondly, they treat the continent of Africa as a country. It is a continent of 55 countries, 1000 ethnic groups, 2000 languages and dialects, and is geographically bigger than China, the US and Europe combined!  Third, the lyrics say of Africa “where nothing ever grows, no rain or rivers flow” and “where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears.” Wow.  So one billion people should just give up and wait for the aid to come.  Nothing ever grows.  Are you sure, Bob Geldof et al?  Never mind that Africa is the world's richest continent in terms of natural resources.  Never mind that the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, and Zimbabwe have enough agricultural potential to feed the entire continent of Africa! Fourth, these lyrics:
There’s a world outside your window, and it’s a world of dread and fear
Where a kiss of love can kill you, and there’s death in every tear
And the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom.
Death in every tear? The percentage of the population in Liberia with Ebola is 0.2% (Sierra Leone - 0.1%; Guinea - 0.02%).  I point this out not to undermine the seriousness of Ebola, but do they have to be so very dramatic and manipulative of the audience?  Can they use their brain in this?

There just doesn't seem to be much of an excuse for how insulting this is, especially in this day and age, where it only takes two seconds of a Google search to come up with a more correct view of Africa.  I was embarrassed in front of my students for how insulting "my people" are (and yes, all white people apparently are my people) and I had to apologize (again). I encouraged them to get angry and speak out - to let people know that this type of aid is not welcome.  We welcome those who want to come alongside those in need but to engage their heart and their head and not damage the image of one billion people in the process.

If you are friends with me on Facebook, you saw my rant about this already.  I have copied one of the responses to this song below, because in the midst of my anger, it made me laugh.  And it really is better to laugh, because very close behind the laughter is tears, brought on by outrage and the continued misrepresentation and mistreatment of so many - often in the name of Christianity and good intentions.

Having watched the video, I have a number of questions. For instance:

  1. Do Bob Geldof & Co. know that 87% of Liberians are Christian, as are substantial minorities in Guinea and Sierra Leone?
  2. If so, why does the song spend so much time asking if they "know it's Christmastime at all"?
  3. How many Africans need to learn about Christmas in order to cure Ebola?
  4. Can learning about other holidays also cure disease?
  5. Could knowing that it's Columbus Day cure malaria?
  6. How can you be so sure?
  7. Well have you run a randomized controlled trial on the anti-viral properties of holiday knowledge?
  8. Why are they singing "it's Christmastime" in early November?
  9. Is it possible that Bob Geldof & Co. are the ones who are having difficulty pinning down the existence and timing of Christmas?
  10. Did they get their calendar information from the same source that told them that there is "death in every tear" in West Africa?
  11. Shouldn't they know that there is death in, at most, a fraction of a percentage of all tears, once infection and survival rates are taken into account?
  12. Why didn't the song's writers feel an obligation to be more accurate in their lyrics?
  13. Because it's art? Really?
  14. Hahahahaha, no really why?
  15. Why did the song's producer respond to measured criticism from a Liberian academic by angrily asking if she wanted people to "sit back and do nothing?"
  16. Is he under the impression that the only available options for Ebola relief are "produce and market a stereotype-laden pop song that offends the people it's supposed to be helping" or "do nothing"?
  17. Is anyone else growing increasingly curious about where these guys get their information?
  18. Has anyone told them that Wikipedia is a thing?
  19. Or, you know, Oxfam?
  20. Speaking of which, where is the money from this campaign actually going?
  21. The Band Aid website just says "all proceeds from the Band Aid 30 competition will be donated to the intervention and prevention of the spread of Ebola"; doesn't that seem a little unspecific?
  22. Can't they tell us the actual charity?
  23. Could they give us a hint?
  24. Even if we promised to keep it a secret?
  25. Please?
What is sad is that it is one thing for these artists to be so ignorant and insulting about Africa.  But it's quite another to note that this song sold $1.7 million in the first four or five minutes.  Does that mean that so many people are really this ignorant?  Or maybe they just don't care but want to feel good about doing something?  Or maybe they want to care about Ebola but don't really care about the manner that the people dealing with Ebola are cared for?

"The important thing to remember is that compassion is not simply vehement expression of a point of view. The compassionate person has to consider the practical effects of what he is giving." (Theodore Dalrymple, Author Life at the Bottom)

If you want to help in the fight against Ebola and want to give to a ministry that uses its head and heart, consider giving to ICM.  Go to  

And now, because I believe every blog should have pictures, let me share with you a couple of pictures from yesterday.  I had the opportunity to preach at the East Africa Christian Reformed Church of Sande, which is close to Kitale, Kenya.  I think this is the first real CRC church that I have visited in Africa (the CRC in Liberia didn't really count since they only said they were CRC because the Reeds were CRC).  This church had a pastor who graduated from Calvin Seminary in 1984, they recited the Apostles Creed (in Swahili) and sang songs I knew (except in Swahili :) ).  It was great to be with them and we hope to engage them more on Church-based Business as Mission.  

A small, rural church who is passionate for Christ!
The leaders of four CRCs in Western Kenya.  The pastor of this particular CRC is to the right of me.  Two of the pastors in this picture have gone through the ToT for Church-based Business as Mission and we hope they will start training soon.
As a gift for preaching in the Luhya tradition, I am given a live chicken, bananas and a cabbage.  Poor thing had to stay tied in my car for a number of hours as I was busy all day, but he survived!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Toilet Paper...and Second Marriages

I made it back to Kitale from the US on Tuesday morning at 9:30 am, after a 29 hour trip.  I had to begin teaching at 11 am.  During the travel, I came down with a cold from my dear husband, despite his best efforts not to give it to me.  I was jet-lagged, felt lousy, and exhausted, but started teaching anyway.  It was a very full week with the alumni conference here at the seminary, lots of guests, meetings, and lots of catching up to do after being gone for two weeks.  On Thursday night, I received a text message telling me that the commissioning service scheduled for that Sunday was going to be pushed back a week.  For a moment, I was happy because it meant I had the Sunday off.  Ten minutes later I received a text from a pastor of a large church in Eldoret, asking if I would preach and then lead a seminar this Sunday on business as mission and family budgeting, subjects that are passions of mine.  I know that I'm leaving Kenya in about a month and opportunities to speak should be taken when they can. What to do.

My dear husband, of course, urged me not to do it.  "The time is too short to plan a message and seminar, plus you still have to teach on Friday and Saturday.  Your body needs a rest.  You need to rest."
Dr. Walker, the founder of ATS and a friend and mentor to me, urged me not to do it, telling me over and over again that I need margin in my life and that I need space for quiet. And what did Renita do?  She accepted, of course, and began working at each spare moment on her message and presentation. Both men shook their heads.

On Saturday morning, I woke up with a fever, lungs hurting, and voice strained.  I was to teach from 8 am - noon.  I made it until 11 am with the help of cold medicine but then stopped.  And I decided to cancel Sunday, much to the chagrin of the pastor (and myself, to be honest).  I spent the day sleeping and hanging my head over a bowl of hot water trying to clear my lungs.

What does this have to do with toilet paper and second marriages?  Good question.  This week's debate with Michael about my work load was reminiscent of debates I had with Bob.  Bob's two biggest complaints about me were that 1. I'm too serious, and 2. I live in "what's next" mode.  This week I saw a glimpse of Michael understanding why this was a complaint of Bob's.  [So far Michael is very positive about my approach to life.  He says very positively, "you get more done than anyone I know in a day!"  But I know what that could turn into if I'm not careful.]

It reminded me of the "great debate" that Michael and I had this summer.  The toilet paper debate.  You see, when I married Bob, I believed that toilet paper should come from the bottom, or point A on the picture.  I actually think that Canadians tend to have it come that way.  Bob thought it should come from the top, or point B.  And we didn't resolve that argument - whoever happened to change the toilet paper would put it his/her way.  Over the years, I came to appreciate that having the paper come from the top was more logical (easier to grab), but I don't think I ever told him that.  Michael has the toilet paper coming from the bottom - and he is Canadian - go figure.  So we had a fun debate about it.  In the end, he said that he really doesn't care which way the toilet paper roll is hung.  My quick counter was, "if you don't care, then just do it my way."  And he agreed.  I was pretty surprised; it caused me to pause and reflect on his gracious response.  Michael is able to be a stubborn man - he proudly declares that.  My name means "firm of purpose" and I too can take pride in being stubborn.  It's one of the reasons I fell in love with him - we have great debates on many topics together.  So why did he give in on this?

This week a friend, Shirley Hoogstra, posted an article that gave a bit of insight on this.  The article was on the scientific finding that lasting relationships depend on two basic traits: kindness and generosity (to read article go here).  More specifically it talks about "bids" that partners make for connections - for example, "look at that beautiful bird outside" - the partner can either turn toward this "bid" or turn away from it.  The scientist who did this study can predict with 94% certainty whether or not relationships are doomed to fail or be unhappy if the responder turns away from such bids with contempt, criticism or hostility. It describes kindness in one of two ways - either it is a fixed trait, or it is a muscle that can grow stronger with exercise.  The article states that one way to practice kindness is to be generous about your partners intentions.  Over the twenty months that Michael and I have been together, I have seen him turn toward my "bids" so naturally each time; I have seen him practice kindness and generosity over and over again, so naturally.  You might say, but this is still young love - give it time.  But at 45 and 49 years old, it is difficult to "pretend" for this long of a period without reality showing.  I am so thankful for the kind and generous spirit that Michael has toward me, as well as to so many others.  He teaches me about turning toward bids and I hope to exercise my kindness muscle to be ever responsive to him.

And who knows?  Maybe I'll start turning the toilet paper the other way.

[Oh, who am I kidding?  I can't change.  It's not logical to have it come down the back side, to have to reach an extra three inches and bang into the wall!  sigh...Sorry, Michael. I'll focus on trying to say "no" more often.]

Monday, November 3, 2014

Firsts - Looking at things for the first time...

This week I am back in the US with two colleagues from Kenya, Pastor Charles Keya from the Deliverance Church in Kakamega and Richard Lukuyu from the Friends (Quakers) Church in Kitale.  This has been a time of many firsts for them, and it has been fun for me to see those firsts through their eyes.
Leaving Nairobi.
  • For both of them, it is their first time in the US.  
  • For one of them, it was his first time on a plane.
  • It was their first sighting of fall, with leaves changing colors.
  • It was their first Halloween and they tried to understand the meaning of it.
  • It was their first time change which also seemed strange, as they observed that it was still dark at 8 am and the days seemed shorter than their days in Kenya.
  • They had their first sighting of snow. They had hoped for enough to make a snowman, but the rest of us were thankful that wish did not come true.
  • For one, it was his first tasting of cheese (he didn't like it) and butter (which he liked).
  • For both it was their first taste of asparagus, couscous, salmon, key lime pie, and many other foods.  (However, without ugali and chapati, most meals felt lacking without these Kenyan staples.)
  • It was their first time seeing a pastor preach in a t-shirt (Madison Square Church).
  • It was a first to see church announcements start and finish in two minutes (in Pastor Charle's church, announcements alone can take an hour; then an hour for preaching and an hour for praise and worship).
They have been able to share about the work of Church-based Business as Mission a few times and the response from those hearing has been very positive and encouraging.  There were questions about why this is not in seminaries in the US and that it needs to be accreditated for seminaries throughout the world.  We thank God for the positive response and the interest in seeing this work grow in churches.

They will be visiting a number of businesses yet this week, then flying to Texas for a conference for church leaders.  We will fly back to Kenya on Sunday.  Thanks to all of you who helped to make this trip possible!
Richard, Charles, and I on the bridge in Grand Rapids.
Richard presenting at the Partners Worldwide conference on the Church-based Business as Mission and the impact of this ministry on his church.
Time with old friends and new friends at the Partners Worldwide conference.  Former intern, Jeff Bloem, was able to spend time with Richard and Charles, much to their enjoyment.
Mary Katerberg graciously opened her home to Charles and Richard during their stay in Grand Rapids.  Thanks, Mary!

Monday, October 27, 2014

To whom much is given...

I've been on the road a fair bit lately - driving to Kakamega, driving to Eldoret, and places in-between.  And I have to admit flashes of covetousness as I drive, something I have wrestled with since moving to Africa in 2005.  As I drive through quiet villages, and I see people sitting outside together, laughing and talking and having fellowship, I find myself coveting a quiet life.  I often wonder what it would be like to be them.  I wonder what it would be like to wake up and only have to care for your family - not responsible for raising support for ministries that many people rely on.  I wonder what it would be like to live in a village of family and friends, where you know each other and care about each other.  I wonder what it would be like to not have to rush here and there, seemingly always battling deadlines.  For example, I took an exam for a class on Wednesday and started a new class on Thursday.  I work most evenings until 9 pm, and still go to sleep knowing an endless list of things to do.  In part, it is my personality (I know!); but also, there is a lot going on for which I am responsible.

And I find myself coveting that lifestyle.  For a moment.

Almost always when those thoughts occur, I hear a verse very loudly in my head, "To whom much is given, much is required."

It makes me think of the parable of the talents in Matthew and Luke.  I'm sure you know it.  The three persons are given according to their abilities and are expected to use the talents in a way that will bring profit for the master.  When we talk about this parable in our class, it always seems a bit surprising to people when I point out that the reward of doing well - of making a profit - is not "Well done, good and faithful servant - come and put your feet up and relax."  It is, "Well done - you have been faithful with little and I will put you in charge of many things."  In fact in Luke, the reward is to be put in charge of ten or five cities.  There is a part of me that wants to say, "Really? That is the reward?"  I find running one organization stressful enough - managing ten cities sounds like punishment to me.  But if you have been given talents and gifts to manage and grow things, it makes sense that the giver of those gifts wants you to use them.

To whom much is given, much is required.

The truth is, I have been given much.  As much as I may grumble about frequent power outages, or no running water, or no kitchen to cook in, or being so far away from my husband and children, I know very, very well how blessed I am.  I was born and raised in a "developed" country, with parents who love me. I was able to get a good education.  I have good health care.  If I were to contract ebola or some other illness, I would be evacuated.  I can connect with my husband and children via Skype because I own a laptop and have access to internet. My children didn't wonder whether or not they could get a college education - they only wondered how much they would have to pay in loans. 

Would I want to trade my life for someone in the village?

The good news is that I don't have to answer that.  It doesn't matter.  My life is my life and I am called to use what I have been given for the benefit of my God and His Church.

I love Africa and the perspective that it continues to offer me.  And I know how much I need that perspective because it doesn't take much to slip into seeing the grass greener somewhere else.  I am thankful for the gifts and talents that God has given me, and how He has equipped me to use those gifts and talents to build His Church. So today, I focus on that and ask God to forgive my covetous nature!  Thank God for grace, forgiveness, and mercy!

Monday, October 20, 2014

10-20-90 to 10-20-14

Youthful Bob
Twenty-four years ago today, I married Robert Allen Reed, on a sunny autumn day at Madison Square Church.  I was 21 years old; Bob was 35 years old.  In many ways, I didn't know who I was or what I was doing - but God knew.  I believe our marriage was orchestrated by Him.

A lot of who I am today is because of the influence that Bob had in my life.  I know that I have heard many of you speak of the influence that Bob had on your life through counseling or his writing.  Imagine 19 years of time with him and you can imagine the influence.
Our last family picture in December 2009 (hasn't Noah changed?!).
Bob helped me discover my own faith. He affirmed my gifts and talents, and encouraged me to develop them.  He challenged my thoughts and my theology.  He taught me to argue in a healthy way.  He encouraged me to see conflict as a good and even healthy thing.   

Although he has now been gone for 4.5 years, he is not forgotten. If you ask my students, they will tell you that I refer to Bob every day when I teach.  I now have to clarify between "my husband" and "my late husband" but the impact that Bob had on my life and the majority of stories that I have to tell are of the time with Bob as my husband.

I don't ever want to forget him, our marriage, or the love we had.  There are three days per year where I will take the opportunity to share:  his birthday, our anniversary, and the day I said goodbye.  But every day I remember him in one way or another.  My heart aches for how much he has missed as our children continue to grow - and even more so for how much my children have missed in having their father witness their life and use his wise words to direct them.

As my friend recently wrote, grief does change us and we don't forget our loved ones, no matter how life may have changed in the years since their passing.  We are encouraged to reinvest in life and not stay stuck in grief.  I'm thankful to God that I have been able to do that, and have been able to continue to live into my calling and even accept a new calling.  

Until we meet again.
Bob, with Rev. Zar by his side.  I'm assuming they have connected in heaven.

Last picture taken of Bob on earth, in Nigeria, two days before he died.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Its Ghana! and Egypt!

If you've been hanging out with us long enough, you might remember way back in January 2009 that Bob wrote a post called, "Its Ghana!" (here), after the decision came for where God was leading us after Liberia.  It was the last post in the "Reeds In Liberia" blog, after which Bob developed the "Reeds In the Wind" blog.

As you know the pilot project in Kenya is drawing to a close and the work is moving forward very well by nationals in several parts of Kenya.  Our philosophy has always been to get out of the way once the work is strong enough to be continued by nationals, while giving support and encouragement as needed.  That strategy worked well in both Liberia and Ghana where the work continues with strength and relationships continue.  And now that time is drawing nigh in Kenya. 

As I have also mentioned, the pilot project was leading us to see if Church-based Business as Mission is something that will work to develop business leaders spiritually and economically, as well as build the church numerically and financially.  It is clear from the work in Kenya that the answer to this is an emphatic yes.  The final surveys have not yet been done and they will give us the actual statistics but all observations and narrative reports are positively conclusive.  Therefore the challenge now before us is to develop materials for the Global Church and begin to widen the work beyond Kenya. 

When I attended the International Council for ICM in Ghana last month, one of the agenda items was to determine which countries would be next.  There have been a number of requests from various African countries but our goal was to determine which countries had the partnership potential and infrastructure through ICM and our partners (like the Christian Reformed World Missions and Partners Worldwide Affiliates) to make this work effective.  An additional aspect we considered was to work in a country that is not considered "Christian" to see the response of the Church in such a context.  After considerations, conversations and consultation (and a lot of prayer), we have decided to start in Ghana and Egypt in 2015.

Rev. Philip Tutu (L) and Rev. Stephen Mairori (R)
Ghana has a strong ICM presence, with ICM Country Director Rev. Philip Tutu, who has been a friend and colleague since 2010.  Additionally, Hopeline Institute is the organization with which I worked for the three years we were in Ghana.  The director, Fanny Atta-Peters is a dear friend and colleague who has wanted Church-based Business as Mission in Ghana since the idea has been in its infancy.  This work is part of her desire, vision and on-going prayers.

Egypt is not one of the formal ICM countries but ICM has been doing work in Egypt for a number of years, through the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo (ETSC) and the Middle East Leadership Training Institute (MELTI).  The Christian Reformed World Missions is also doing work in Egypt through ETSC.  Egypt has been on my heart ever since the Business as Mission Congress in Thailand in which three Egyptian businessmen asked with earnestness for support and help in doing business as mission.  Additionally, Egypt would be a context very different from Kenya, Liberia, and Ghana, all of which are considered Christian countries. This would test this program in a different way; additionally, it will require this work to be translated into Arabic.

The goal will be to develop this program, (book, manual, and possibly video series) during the first few months of 2015 and then launch Discipling Marketplace Leaders in both Egypt and Ghana beginning in June.  I will continue to travel to Kenya as well, being there in both March and October of next year to teach at the seminary.

The big change is that no longer will I live in these countries for extended periods of time.  This work has to grow beyond me if we want to reach the Global Church.  It is not efficient for me to live for two-three years in each country. This is why it is important to develop materials that Church leaders can take and run with.  I will be based in Grand Rapids and travel out to teach and train Church leaders in the respective areas.

Please continue to pray for this work moving forwards.  Current funds are almost depleted and there are still a number of critical projects to complete this year.  We also need to grow our resources so that we can begin in these two new countries next year.  Please pray with us for God to send partners through the body of Christ who believe that reclaiming the marketplace is a valuable effort for building the Church and for poverty alleviation!