Monday, June 27, 2016

An Inspirational Man

 (L to R) Dr. Walker, Fanny, and Rev. Asare
I returned yesterday from Ghana, having spent time doing Discipling Marketplace Leader conferences for about 140 pastors and church leaders in both Accra and the northern region of Ghana, in Tamale.  The Northern Region of Ghana is dominated by Muslims and is a region of greater poverty than the regions in the south.   Before I moved from Ghana in 2013, my colleague, Fanny Atta-Peters, and I had talked many times about the desire to work in the Northern Region of Ghana and had started some communication with pastors there.  It's great to see those conversations from years ago coming to pass now.
Cross in red brick at the top

One of the pastors with whom Fanny has been communicating is Rev. Johnson Asare, the owner of the Radach Hotel and Conference Center, a beautiful and successful business (www.radach.org).  Each of the four towers in this hotel has the cross in the bricks as can be seen in the picture, and therefore the cross can be seen from almost any angle of the hotel.  This hotel and conference center is doing so well that Rev. Asare is building an eight story building directly behind it.  He has invested $1,000,000 USD of the company money into this new building and is looking for investors to help with the balance $4,000,000 USD to complete the building.  This is not a man with small visions and dreams!  He employs about 155 people at this hotel and conference center, and gathers them for morning devotions each day at 8 am.  We were privileged to join them on two different mornings.

Many women work on the construction site.
Rev. Asare is also the founder/director of Markaz Al-Bishara (Center of Good News) Ministries (www.bisharapraise.radach.org).  The tagline for this ministry is "using the business platform to nurture the Great Commission" and Rev. Asare's first words to us is that everything he and his employees do, from carpentry to room cleaning, is an act of worship.  Certainly we have found a brother in Christ who speaks the same language as us!  Approximately 90% of his ministry is funded by the hotel and conference center, which is very impressive!  Rev. Asare employs about a thousand more people indirectly through his many off-shoot projects, such as shea butter farming and processing, other micro-development projects, evangelism, and education projects.  His heart's desire is to reach Muslims for Christ.
The eight-story building, with two pools, being built.

He has been preaching about work as worship for about ten years but he says it has fallen on deaf ears.  He was very encouraged to hear us affirm what he believes and has been preaching; he told me after our first day of the conference that I had "stolen his heart" and referred to me afterward as "his professor."  High praise from such a successful man who could teach me so much!

The response from the Northern Region was very encouraging and at this time we are planning to hire someone for DML Ghana, through Hopeline Institute, to begin working with these pastors and churches, walking alongside them to start Marketplace Ministries in their churches.  Please pray with us for this ministry, especially as it relates to spreading the church in the marketplace in a heavily dominated Muslim area.  Please pray for Fanny as she looks for the right person who can speak effectively to both church leaders and business leaders alike, and for me as I look for the funds to help this ministry get started, with the goal of it being self-sufficient in three years.

Dr. Walker and Fanny promoting the DML workshop at Rev. Asare's Christian radio station which has two million listeners.
The conference center at the hotel.
Fanny and I in an intense planning meeting at the hotel.

Monday, June 20, 2016

My Dear Ghana

I am in Ghana, preparing to do two two-day workshops for pastors - one in Accra and one in Tamale, in the Northern Region of Ghana.  Altogether, we hope to present Discipling Marketplace Leaders to 150 pastors from many different denominations.

My old friends and colleagues at Hopeline Institute will be the implementing partner for this program.  They are so well qualified and connected to facilitate this work through the church.  It was out of my many conversations with Fanny Atta-Peters, the Founder and Director of Hopeline Institute who is so passionate about the Church, that the seed of DML began to grow.

But Ghana is hurting, my friends.  Ghana has been such a strong country in many ways for a long time, and has been the economic leader in West Africa for many years. When we lived in Ghana from 2009-2012, the Ghana Cedi exchange rate to the US dollar was about 1.5:1.  In about 2013, the Ghana Cedi crashed to 4:1.  This is significant as there is much importing and exporting in the country.  What used to cost a person 150 Gh Cedis, now would cost 400 Gh Cedis, even though salaries did not rise. Prices, however, went up on many, many things.  Electricity, which might turn on and off a dozen times a day when we lived here from 2009-2012, took a significant hit and went into a pattern of being on for twelve hours, off for twenty-four hours.  Most businesses can't run with limited electricity like that.  While electricity is now on again more regularly, the cost of electricity has gone up 200%. Interest rates at banks for loans continue to be around 37%, with informal loans reaching up to 60%.  Businesses are downsizing or closing and unemployment is rising.  The growth rate of the country has dropped to 3.2% while much of the rest of Africa enjoys a growth rate of 6%+.  The inflation rate for the country is 18.9%!

What is shocking is to see the report from the World Bank of the Ease of Doing Business.  In 2014, Ghana was at a solid 67 out of 180 countries.  In 2016, it has dropped to 114 out of 180 countries.  That is significant.  Very significant.  If you are interested in the numbers, I have included the graphs from 2014 and 2016 where it breaks down the issues.

2014:
And 2016:
















Taxes have increased, trading across borders has become significantly more difficult, and the country is seen as more risky by investors because of this.

Ghana has elections scheduled for November of this year.  Whether or not a change in government will result in improvements for the country is the major question.

Please pray with us for this country, as well as for the Discipling Marketplace Leaders presentations this week.  Northern Ghana is dominated by Muslims but our Christian brothers and sisters are making every effort to grow churches there.  There are many challenges faced here by the church as well as by business people.  Please pray with us that the message of the need to disciple marketplace leaders can be heard by the pastors and church leaders, and that business people may feel supported and affirmed in their calling to do their business "as unto the Lord."

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

"Where is your brother?"

Where is your brother?  Children making balloons...
Recently on the plane from Nairobi to Grand Rapids, I watched a documentary on Pope Francis.  This week I heard this quote from him:

"Where is your brother?   May this question from God spread through the city and our hearts, but above all may it enter the hearts of the Cains of today.  Where is your brother, the slave?  The brothers you are killing every day in the illegal factories and in the prostitution rings?"

We all know the story of Cain and Abel from Genesis 4 where Cain kills his brother Abel.  "The hearts of the Cains of today."  What a great statement. Who are the "Cains of today" to whom the Pope refers?  Could I be a "Cain"?  Where is my brother?  Or even more difficult, who is my brother?  Part of the problem today is that we don't know our brother and therefore we don't know how to love or even locate him.

Computer parts waste
This quote reminded me of an Eerdmans book I recently read called Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire by William Cavanaugh.  He presents an interesting case about the dilemma of knowing our brother.  He points out that what complicates this problem in our society is consumerism (not greed).  Most people in our society are not overly attached to things, rather they are attached to the NEXT thing.  People do not cling to things, but rather easily discard them in pursuit of "new and improved."  If you think about it, and if you look at the photos of landfills full of dumped technology, there is more than an element of truth to this.  The next new computer, the next new smart phone, the next new gaming system, the next new TV or appliances that do this, that or the other, even while the ones we own still work, scream to us daily through advertising. This truth leads to significant challenges.

Cavanaugh says, "Consumerism isn't so much about having more as it is about having something else; that's why its not simply buying but shopping that is at the heart of consumerism.  This restlessness - the moving on to shop for something else, regardless of what one has just purchased - sets the spiritual tone for consumerism" (page 35).

Out with the old, in with the new: a TV graveyard
What happens with this type of consumerism is that there are issues of detachment in the West from production, as it has moved out of our countries, as well as then detachment from labor and laborers.  In the North America, we often don't see production anymore, nor those involved in production.  US companies have become marketers of what others produce (like Disney, various clothing lines, many technology products, etc).  As we see less and less of production, and our neighbors are not the ones we know and see working in factories, we lose the connection with our brother. So we consume and discard, with little knowledge of those working twelve hour days, seven days a week for thirty-five cents per hour, producing these products that we dispose of easily. 

For those caught in the trap of consumerism, pleasure doesn't come anymore in the possession of the product, but rather in its pursuit; pleasure comes not so much in the having, as in the wanting.  Once we have obtained an item, it brings desire to a temporary halt and the item loses some of its appeal.  The consumerist spirit is a restless spirit, typified by detachment, because desire must be constantly kept on the move.

"We shop.  They drop." Cavanaugh says.  Literally.  Stories are told about people being forced to work sixty days straight without a day off, twelve to sixteen hours a day for cents on the hour. 

What to do about this?  We all have to be consumers.  There is no way around that.  Knowing where all of our products come from and trying to get to know our brother in a factory 7000+ miles away is virtually impossible.

But we can change the way we allow the desire of pursuit of the next new and best thing disrupt our spiritual contentment.  We need to somehow equate our purchases with the people who made it, understanding that the purchase in and of itself brings us into relationship with others.  The relationships must be characterized by promoting the good of community with God and other people.

Discipling Marketplace Leaders seeks to affirm all workers in all walks of life, caring for them socially, environmentally, economically,  and spiritually, and having them do the same for others.  Our lives as Christians need to be about this quadruple bottom line - the way we live and the way we use our resources matters.  Where is my brother?  He may be far away and I may never know his name or his face, but I CAN care about him in the way I choose to live my life. 

Monday, May 30, 2016

Carriers of Light

[Update -  Many of you have been kindly asking so two quick updates:  One, a number of you responded to my request for funds - thank you! But unfortunately the funds are not yet enough, so I have taken a pay-cut to get me through until I can get to some serious fundraising after my trip to Ghana in June.  Second, Noah did not find an apartment in DC but we learned a lot about the city!  He can't afford to have an apartment on his own and so will have to share with strangers.  Please pray with us that he will find a good room and good roommates!]

Carriers of Light:

One of the themes of our teaching in Discipling Marketplace Leaders is the need to be the light in the darkness of the Marketplace (business, government, education).  The Bible is full of references to us being called to be a carrier of the light of Christ:
  • Isaiah 42:6b-7 - I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.
  • Matthew 5:14 - You are the light of the world.
  • Matthew 5:16 - Let your light shine before others.
  • John 8:12 - He who follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the Light of life.
  • Ephesians 5:8 - For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.
  • Philippians 2:15 - ...you shine as lights in this world. 
Unfortunately, many of us tend to leave our light in the church building in order to "survive" in the work world.  Some of this is because we haven't been discipled to purpose for how to be a light in the workplace.  Let me explain being discipled to purpose:  most of us are discipled as individuals - how to study the Bible, pray, etc; many of us are discipled to marriage and parenting by the church.  But most of us are not discipled to the workplace, where the majority of us spend the majority of our adult lives.  We end up compartmentalizing our faith into categories unless we are specifically discipled to purpose so that we can know how to apply it in our various contexts.  The result is that we tend to leave our light in the Church, which is already full of light and we don't bring that light into the Marketplace.  Even the smallest of light makes the darkness flee.  Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate:   only love can do that."

A couple of weeks ago, I shared the story of Daniel, who was troubled over and over with ethical challenges in the workplace.  If you remember, Daniel chose to leave his work in accounting as well as medical laboratories because of ethical challenges (http://reedsinthewind.blogspot.com/2016/05/daring-to-be-daniel.html). While Daniel showed great courage in standing for his principles, he also made the difficult decision of leaving those places of darkness.  What is unfortunate is that when he left those places, he took his light with him, leaving more darkness.

Let me share about a business person in a developing country who made the difficult decision to remain in a place of darkness and allow his light to shine.  [Again, I will change his name to protect his identity.]

Moses worked as a manager in a furniture company for fourteen years.  He was known as a manager who would not compromise his ethics.  At one point, his company gave him the opportunity to take an eight year loan to purchase a home.  He decided to pay it off in five years, and then continued to make payments to himself for the remaining three years to build up some savings.  On January 1st of his fifteenth year with the company, he was approached by an elder in his church who said that God prompted him to remind Moses of how Jacob had worked for Laban for fourteen years and then Jacob went out on his own.  Moses had felt a tug of leaving this business to start his own business
prior to this elder's visit, but the elder's comment confirmed this sense, and so Moses left that comfortable position to start his own business.  Moses began importing high quality office furniture from China, working primarily through contracts (also called "tenders") from various government offices, businesses, or institutions.  Businesses who work through contracts or tenders tend to be plagued with potential corruption, as the contract will often go to the one willing to bribe the people in charge of decision making.  Moses and his wife decided when opening this business that they would not pay bribes or receive bribes.

Moses shared with me, "Each bribe has two parties - a giver and a receiver.  If we all would stop being givers, what could the receivers do?"  This was not an easy decision for them.  Moses shared story after story of lost contracts because he was unwilling to pay bribes.  But over time, and because he insisted on selling high quality furniture, he began to be known as a business man with integrity whose products would outlast his competitors.  This has opened doors for him to have may conversations, especially with government officials (even those who are Christian) about doing work with integrity.  But one of the main things that has allowed him to keep his integrity is the fact that he and his family have decided to live below their means, so that they will always have the option of saying no to contracts that demand bribes.  Moses teaches "Family and Finance" in his church (something I did for years as well and find to be so important!) and he stresses how important it is to not increase your expenses as your income increases, but rather to be wise with savings so that you can follow God when He closes a door or tells you to go.  Moses told me, "My joy is not from money in my business but rather in the satisfaction of doing a job well."

Moses is an example of having the courage to be light in a dark place.  He is shining his light in his sphere of influence and is willing to sacrifice in order to be this light.

I like this quote from Michael Strassfeld: "Light gives of itself freely, filling all available space.  It does not seek anything in return; it asks not whether you are friend or foe.  It gives of itself and is not thereby diminished."

The beautiful thing about being a carrier of light is that God continues to be the giver of the light through the Holy Spirit.  Our job is not to leave this light in the church building, but allow it to shine in our workplace.  The Discipling Marketplace Leaders ministry is designed to help churches and church leaders figure out how to do this through intentional discipling to purpose.

Matthew 5:14-16 (NLT) - You are the light of the world.  A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the houses.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

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.