Monday, November 20, 2017

Conflicted Feelings and Comfort Zones

Jos, Nigeria.

That is where I am writing from, having left Kaduna on Saturday morning.

Jos is a place that does not hold fond memories for my family.  The first time Bob and I were here, in 2008, Bob ended up being medically evacuated to Italy, causing significant stress for our family (unnecessarily as it turned out).  The second time he was here, in March of 2010, he passed away two days after returning from Jos.  We have often wondered whether the cause of death was related to something that happened when he was here.  We also had ministry and leadership challenges that were rather painful here as well.

So driving to Jos filled me with conflicting emotions.  And I know for my children, Hannah and Noah, that simply being in Nigeria is enough to make them nervous.

But I'm reminded about how we are called to live outside of our comfort zones.  We are called to trust that "greater is He that is in me, than he that is in the world."

This past week, I found myself out of my comfort zone a few times:
  • On the way to Kaduna from Abuja, I noted that there were police vehicles every two kilometers or so.  Upon asking why, I was told that there had been a number of kidnappings for ransom recently, so the police were there to try to prevent that.  About 36 hours after that conversation, in the middle of the night, we found the place where we were sleeping suddenly filled with loud and many male voices, who apparently had no idea that we were there.  They tried to get in our rooms, and in peeking out through the window, we saw them carrying things out of the rooms.  Assuming they were looting the place, we tried to reach people who could help, but were not about to rouse anyone.  I was told to "get in my bathroom, lock the door, and not come out."  As I sat there, I pondered what clothes I would want to be wearing if kidnapped for a long time...as well as other thoughts about loved ones.  It brought back a lot of memories from the numerous times we faced danger in Liberia with our house and yard being broken into.  After a couple of hours, we came to learn that they were campers from a youth group, and so all was well.  But for a couple of hours, I was definitely out of my comfort zone.
  • Being without running water and electricity was frustrating for most of the students and faculty who came to facilities for the ECWA Seminary classes this past week.  I too was frustrated at first, and then I remembered that I am privileged to be able to leave after some time.  The people who live here struggle with this day in and day out.  [I also quickly remembered how to live this way, having lived 3.5 years in Liberia without running water or electricity.]
  • The Integrity and Finance students that I taught this past week to Masters students told me numerous stories about how creative people (in the church and outside the church) can be in deceitfulness and dishonesty.  At one point, a student told me that the people in the US are better than "we, Africans" as Americans tend to be much more honest, whether or not they are Christian.  I reminded them that the sin of Sodom (Ezekiel 16:49) was being arrogant, overfed, and unconcerned, which certainly could be applied to the US.  These conversations, while I enjoy them and they are so very important, take me out of my comfort zone, as I don't want to be part of the problem and I want to speak the truth in love.
  • One story in particular bothered me.  A missionary in the class shared about a man who converted from Islam to Christianity.  The church that he joined had connections to North America, and they ended up taking his picture and telling his story over and over.  Several churches in North America were touched by this story and ended up sending money monthly to support him as he made this transition, which included setting up a new life outside of his Muslim family.  Unfortunately, that money has never come to him as the church has used it for other purposes.  He is now saying that he is thinking of going back to Islam if this is the way Christians behave.  This missionary beseeched us to pray for this man.
Stepping outside of our comfort zone.  Facing ugly truths head on.  Facing fears, sometimes finding that there is nothing there; other times, facing the ugliness of the reality of sin in this world.

As the work of Discipling Marketplace Leaders in Nigeria increases, in Kaduna, Jos, Abuja, Lagos, and now possibly Ibadan, we are going to have to get used to my traveling here.  In 2018, I plan to travel to Nigeria three times.

May God give all of us the strength and courage to go where He is calling us to go, trusting that He will equip us with what we need when we get there.

On Tuesday, I drive to Abuja, fly to Lagos, then home.  Upon arriving at home on Wednesday afternoon, I will be picked up at the airport and then Michael, Hannah, and I will drive straight to Canada to spend American Thanksgiving at my mom's place.  Noah and his Hannah are flying in to Toronto, as we all have a family wedding to attend on Saturday in Oshawa.  So excited to have some family time!  May God give us thankful hearts for the grace and mercy that we experience in our lives.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Faith, Hope, and Love

"Bridging the gap between the rich and the poor is beneficial for both.  Both have been entrusted with complementary blessings as a result of their stations in life and can enrich each other.  When the
wealthy and the poor are reconciled and walk together in an atmosphere where they can minister to each other, the rich provide hope and the poor impart faith.  When faith and hope come together, love soon becomes evident."  (Ed Silvoso, Anointed for Business)

I am currently in Nigeria, where we just finished a two day training for about forty-five pastors and church leaders. Each time I come to Nigeria, I am surprised by the way Nigerians speak about their own country - there seems to be a real lack of hope for the future.  I'm surprised because Nigeria has one of the strongest economies in Africa.  Also, seven of the twenty riches pastors in the world are Nigerian (although that is not necessarily an argument in Nigeria's favor as a good percentage of the money given to these pastors are from the poor who have been told to "sow a seed"!).  But there is a reason for this "downcast spirit."  While the world celebrates that poverty has been halved in the last twenty years, the reality is that the drop is mostly because of what has happened in China and India, as can be seen in the chart below.  These countries have significantly reduced poverty not through Millennial Development Goals or aid, but rather through businesses (China - manufacturing; India - services).  Unfortunately, many countries in sub-Saharan Africa has actually increased in the number of people in extreme poverty.  For Nigeria, people living in extreme poverty has increased from 51 million in 1990, to 86 million in 2013.

During our training, the quote from Silvoso came back to me and I realized afresh the significance of the quote that faith and hope together can produce love.

We are in Kaduna, and are also working in Abuja, Jos, and Lagos.
Dr. Walker and I presented a hopeful perspective of Africa:  a continent that is the richest in the world in terms of natural resources; a continent with the youngest population which will double in size by 2050; a continent where the number of Christians has grown more rapidly than anywhere else in the world, at any other time.  The potential of the people in Africa to solve the problems of today and tomorrow as image-bearers of God and co-creators with Him is immense and exciting!  Dr. Walker said to the group during our training, "If I can be so bold, I believe that Africans do not see themselves the way God sees them."  To which he heard many saying "Amen" in support.

As I listened to them share their stories, the challenges and opportunities in the Church and in the Marketplace in Nigeria, I was encouraged by their faith.  Their faith shows a dependence on God that is real and deep.  A faith comes when you don't have running water or electricity and yet you had it a year ago; when you see your country moving backwards rather than forwards because of corruption, religious struggles, and governmental challenges; when you believe that justice and rule of law is not equitably applied.  They know how to be on their knees and look to God for the answers that seem so out of reach.

As we offered hope, and they imparted faith, a love grew in the room.  The love that grew was a love of God and for each other; an appreciation of the richness within the body of Christ; a recognition of the creative potential in each person to see problems as opportunities that can be met by people using the three gifts they have been given:  time, treasure, and talent.  

The stories and the sharing of the challenges can be heartbreaking to hear.  But we need our hearts to be broken.  The stories of the opportunities and potential that are before us are exciting.  And we need to be excited!

Faith, hope and love.  And the greatest of these is love.  We need each other.  We learn from each other when we listen to each other.  And this information can become transformational when we do something with it.

These pastors left our time together with excitement and purpose.  They had told us that so many youth don't want to do any type of business, but rather just wait for a job;  as a result many of them are idle, as they graduate with a degree but no jobs are available.  They told us about pastors who are preaching that certain labor is beneath them and they need to pray for God to give them something different, also resulting in a lot of idleness.  Seeing how Jesus was a carpenter for eighteen years, how prophets were farmers, disciples were fishermen, reminded them that all work is important - it is what we were created to do - and God can use us wherever we are and bless the fruit of our hands.  They are determined to go out and make a difference in their churches and denominations.  Please pray for these pastors and for the country of Nigeria.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Save the Date: Work As Worship Retreat - Friday, February 23, 2018

Do you ever wake up with the Monday blues?  Do you live for Fridays?  Do you wonder if the work that you do from Monday-Saturday makes a difference in the world?  Do you wonder if God has called you to the job you are in?  Do you wonder how to integrate your faith and your work in a culture that wants to keep the two separate?

If any of these questions applies to you or to someone you know, then please consider yourself
invited to the 2017 Work as Worship Retreat, where eleven influential business leaders and pastors will discuss what it looks like to connect faith and work. Taking place as a 1–Day Local Church Retreat on February 23, 2018, the live event in Dallas from RightNow Ministries will be web-streamed to over 2,000 churches around the world, including Madison Square Church in Grand Rapids MI.

Many of us spend little more than two hours of our week at the church building or in a small group.  This kind of worship is Biblical and a vital rhythm in the life of a Christian.  But during the other 166 hours of our week, we have just as much potential to worship the God who created us.  Our time at church and small group should launch us out into the world – which includes the marketplace – prepared to take the hope of Jesus with us.  This retreat will help us do just that.

Here are eight key tenets of what you will learn:
1.       God designed work before the Fall.
2.       We are called to a mission.
3.       Church is the people – not the building.
4.       Work impacts our perspective on God.
5.       God uses work to impact communities.
6.       All of life can be worship.
7.       We don’t work to earn God’s favor.
8.       Work as Worship, but don’t worship work.

Join Patrick Lencioni (Author, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team), Joel Manby (CEO, SeaWorld), Phil Vischer (Creator, VeggieTales and Jellyfish Labs), Wendy Davidson (President, US Specialty Channels Kellogg Company), Matt Chandler (Lead Pastor, The Village Church), and others in a day filled with real-life stories, biblical teaching, and practical wisdom that will equip believers in the marketplace to see their work as an opportunity to care for their families, fulfill their calling, and bring glory to God.

But we don’t want to stop with just a one-day event!  In partnership with Discipling Marketplace Leaders, we will be encouraging churches to begin discipleship ministries in their church and offer tools with which to do that.  So invite your pastor, your church leader, and others to join in a movement to reclaim the redeemed marketplace for Christ!

Click here to learn more about the event, or click here to register for the retreat at Madison Square Church.  Registration is now open!  If you are not in the Grand Rapids area and would like to attend, please go to the event website and you will be able to find a church near you!

Other details:
Retreat Start time:  8:00 am   End time:  4:30 pm
Retreat Cost:  $25 (covers materials and lunch)
Preregistration is required:  Please go here to register.
Questions?  Contact:  Michael Thomson (616-450-0186), Judy Beene (616-633-5206) or Renita Reed-Thomson (renitar@icmusa.org). 

Encourage a colleague (or your supervisor/boss) or your pastor to join you!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Knowledge without application is just information.

Some of the mantras that we repeat during our trainings are:  "Knowledge without application is just information."  "The Bible is about transformation, not just information."

It's so easy to do trainings and think that the number of people who sit through a training account for potential "impact."  But the training is just the beginning.  The application of the knowledge shared in the training is key.  But even that is not enough.  Through application, transformation can take place.  Transformation comes through the application of what has been taught and the lessons learned.

This is tough for us to understand.  Learning to apply knowledge takes time, practice, and sometimes an unlearning that has to happen first before we can even start the application.  Transformation takes even more time.  This waiting is tough.

Beautiful group of Trainers
We live in a "hot n now" world.  Immediate feedback.  Immediate results.  Immediate changes.  In the development world, it is even more pressing, as those being served are trapped in poverty and real challenges that can threaten survival.

But to change the marketplace where marketplace ministers are recognized, supported, equipped and encouraged by the church will not be quick.  To work with the Church to be counter-cultural rather than a sub-culture is like swimming upstream.

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that we had trainers from five different countries gather together for a Training of Trainer event  for Discipling Marketplace Leaders.  While I love the dialogue, enjoy the debates, and can see the lightbulbs going on while we are together, the key outcome comes after they leave and begin to apply these concepts to their own life, their own work, their own church, and their own community.

And that is why I love to read the journals of the trainers.  What they write in private, at the end of the day, can inform me of what is going on inside, of what God is whispering to the person.  It's not unusual to see a correlation between someone's very thoughtful and deep journal writing and actual transformation that will take place as a result of our time together.

Below is an excerpt from one of the trainers from Ghana, who has just finished his MBA.  His faith came through so clearly throughout the week as did his passion for business.  He grew up in a very poor family and is so excited at seeing how his passion for business and his passion for his faith can be merged together to make a difference for people in similar circumstances.  He gave me permission to quote one part of his journal in this blog.  This was just one paragraph in 22 pages of a typed journal that came from his heart.  I love how he tied the Bible and economics together, especially for Christian business people:


Exam time for Trainers!
THE BIBLE DOES NOT PROVIDE INFORMATION: IT PROVIDES TRANSFORMATION: One important concept I have learnt from economics is that the importance of any resource is determined by it economic values and usefulness. The Bible is and must be very important to every marketplace minister. Newspapers, magazines and other books provides people with information concerning economic, political or business activities or other opportunities they can take advantage of. The readers are not bound to comply with the information these books provide. The Bible is different. 1st Timothy 3:16 clearly indicate that all scriptures are given by the inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction and for instruction in righteousness. The market place can never be transformed unless market place leaders have read and solemnly studied the Bible and have been transformed by the inspiring message they have learnt. A marketplace leader cannot shy away from reading the Bible.

Trainers being silly
I like how he is seeing a different application of the Bible - from personal salvation to transformation within the Marketplace.

Because of this desire to see real impacts and outcomes, we are starting a new research study in Northern Ghana that will be four times the size of our initial research in Kenya.  We want to study to see whether the work that we are doing can lead to personal transformation, workplace transformation, as well as transformation in churches and communities.  It doesn't seem logical to me for us to continue to do this work without having statistical proof that there are real causal impacts that lead from information to application to transformation.  We ask for your prayers as we embark on this.  It won't be easy and it won't be cheap.  But neither is it cheap or easy to keep doing something and making assumptions about causal results which may be merely a result of a correlation. 

We want trainers, pastors, denominations, and business people to feel confident about this ministry as it is a big commitment of time.  We want donors and investors to also feel confident about this ministry, as it is a big commitment of talent and treasure.  But most of all, as we use the three resources that each of us are given (time, treasure, and talent), we want to be able to say before God that we there has been actual multiplication and transformation.

Update on Kenya:  Thank you for praying during this last week for Kenya.  The election on the 26th was marked by demonstrations, boycotts, arson, looting, and death.  Four counties postponed voting indefinitely due to insecurity.  Only one-third of registered voters showed up to vote.  The opposition has called for mass civil disobedience and has started what he is calling the "National Resistance Movement."  Continued prayers are still needed.  Kenyans are weary and the way forward is not clear. 

Monday, October 23, 2017

Call for Prayers for Kenya (and Uganda)

May I ask for your prayers this week for Kenya?

The August 8th election in Kenya was overturned by the Supreme Court on September 1st.  This was a great surprise.  The re-election date was set for October 17.  However, in late September the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) ruled that the changes that were needed would not be in place by the 17th and moved the election to October 26.  On October 10 the main opposition (Raila Odinga) to the incumbent (Uhuru Kenyatta) withdrew from the race, stating that the 12 irreducible minimums to undo the problems from the August election would not be met by the 26th.

The country was left wondering what to do, going back to the constitution for guidance.  On October 13, the IEBC decided to allow the other presidential candidates who had contested on August 8th to be added to the October 26th ballet.  On October 18, one of the members of the IEBC resigned from New York, citing death threats and the belief that the election can't be credible.  On October 19, the CEO of the IEBC took a three week leave (!!??).

There have been many protests in various parts of Kenya, resulting in more than 75 deaths.  Raila Odinga insists that there will be no election on the 26th and has announced that he will "deliver a way forward" on October 25 (which sounds rather ominous to me.  If you have a way forward, why wait to announce it?). His party has called for country wide protests on the 26th.

All of this has been so disruptive to the citizens of Kenya, to businesses, and to a general calm and peace in the process of democracy.

Written by a Kenyan friend on Facebook, "God, you are enough for Kenya and you are saving us from danger.  When we hear about the guns and deployment forces, when leaders speak threats to innocent Kenyans on media, we fret!  But you say in your holy word, "Fear not I am with you" 365 times.  David told Goliath, "You come to me with a sword and javelin but I come to you in the name of the Lord!"  It doesn't matter your tribe or position.  God will fight for us!  Lord, we pray you calm the storm in Kenya!"

Amen.

While you are praying, please also pray for peace and democracy in Uganda.  President Museveni came into office in 1986.  At the time the country had a two term limit, so Museveni had the constitution amended so that he could run again.  Now he has run into another constitutional issue which says you cannot run for president if you are over the age of 75.  He is seeking to change the constitution again and protests are being had around the country regarding this issue.

Thank you for praying for these precious countries, for our brothers and sisters in Christ, and for God's will to be done.

I am in Ghana and have finished an exhausting month of trainings.  I leave on Monday and will be home on Tuesday, only to leave again in nine days, back to Ghana and then Nigeria.

Monday, October 16, 2017

A Wife of Two Husbands

On Saturday, I met a man who told me that his father had 52 children.  I think that’s the highest number that I have heard from someone I’ve met in person.  This was from five different wives.  His own mother had eleven children, and she already has over one hundred grandchildren from those eleven children.  On Sunday, I talked with a man whose father had 38 children from four different wives.  He said they are planning a family reunion over Easter in their village, which may actually overtake the village in pure numbers!

Many times, when we do introductions in our classes and workshops, men in Africa will introduce themselves this way: “Praise the Lord.  My name is David and I am the husband of one wife.”  And then they go on.  Most people smile when this is said.  I usually introduce myself last and then go straight into teaching. 
This last time in Kenya, for the first time, I introduced myself this way.  “Good morning.  My name is Renita Reed-Thomson and I am the wife of two husbands.”  Everyone started to laugh.  And then I explained – first about my name and then about the fact that they would hear very clearly about two different husbands as I teach, as both have had an influence on who I am as well as on my ministry. 

A wife of two husbands.  That is what I am.  And there is no conflict in it.  Something can happen on a given day that makes me smile and think of Bob.  Something different occurs that makes me smile and think of Michael.  The heart has a capacity to hold both as beloved.  And the heart can learn, in time, to do that without anxiety, guilt, fear, or regret.
This Friday is October 20.  This would have been our 27th wedding anniversary.  We only made it to nineteen.  This Saturday, however, October 21, the same wedding dress that I wore 27 years ago will be used by a bride in Kitale, Kenya, by dear friends who had never formalized their marriage but want to do so now.  [I had preserved the dress and gave both of my wedding dresses to someone in Kitale who rents wedding dresses as a business.]  I was thrilled when I heard that and smiled at the date.  A love that continues.
Recently in Bakersfield CA, I met with a friend who had recently lost her beloved, and she shared a book with me called The Cure for Sorrow: A book of blessings for times of grief, by Jan Richardson.  I highly recommend it for those of you who are or who know of someone who is grieving.  It was written by a pastor who lost her husband and the only thing she knew how to do to get through the pain was to write blessings.  It’s amazing how when reading it my heart vividly remembers the hours, days, weeks, and months following Bob’s death…and it is important to remember.
I want to share one blessing with you from this book and pray that it will bless you as well.
Now, Beloved, We Live
Now, Beloved, we live
In a country 
that has no name

No ceremony 
for the vows
no liturgy for
how wedded,
no ritual for
our marriage
whose only shape
is this:

I hold your heart
in my heart
that you hold.

Never not in
my bones.
never not in
my blood.

I hold your heart
in my heart
that you hold.

Gathered
without measure
given back
without reserve.

I hold your heart
in my heart
that you hold.

Mystery, all,
for which I see
no end but that

I hold your heart
in my heart
that you hold.

Blessed, beloved,
in this country that has
no name.

I hold your heart
in my heart
that you hold.