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.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Shifting Paradigms

This week I have had the pleasure of teaching Church-based Business as Mission at the Africa Theological Seminary in Kitale, Kenya to the BA Theology Students.  Also present in the classroom were 23 trainers in training for Discipling Marketplace Leaders from Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya.  One of the requirements for the students in this class is to journal their thoughts and reflections on a daily basis.  Hearing those journals is one of the highlights for me.

A senior pastor of a Deliverance Church in Kenya shared on the second day of class that paradigms were already shifting for him.  The day before we had discussed the role of business in the world, asking the questions:  "Who is the primary player in alleviating poverty?"  The answer came back, as it frequently does, as "the Church" or "Government." When asked, "Where does the Church get it's money to do ministry?"  The answer was "the members."  When asked, "Where do the members get their money?"  The answer is "Business."  When asked, "Where does Government get its money?"  Answer:  Taxes.  "Where do taxes come from?"  Answer:  Business.  But additionally, business provides a more long-term approach to poverty as businesses produce jobs, which produce salaries, which continue week after week, month after month, year after year AND allow for the creative ability of those made in the image of God to find fulfillment, which brings real happiness.


We then ask, "Who is the primary player in promoting peace?"  This particular pastor answered by saying, "We just completed a Development and Social Change class and the answer for that is the Church."  Question:  What happens in a country when people can't work and provide for their families?  (Unfortunately too many people in the room know too well that happens because of current political struggles.)  Answer:  People become angry and start demonstrating.  The answer is for the primary play for promoting peace is business.

This pastor then shared that in the development and social change class he had just been in that they had not once discussed the role that business plays in peace or poverty alleviation.  It was startling to him to recognize the huge role business plays and how the church leaves them out of the discussion at every turn.  He
went on to say that a further paradigm shift was the realization that businesses are problem solvers, and problems provide opportunities for creativity.

I love hearing the buzz of these discussions during breaks, as people challenge each other and debate this paradigms that are shifting.  Of course, the major shift is the realization that we were created for work and that work can be our act of worship.

It's not lost on us that we were able to bring this training of trainers together because of three generous business people who helped to sponsor it. We are thankful to God for business people who fulfill their calling every day to make this world a better place, to help people to flourish with their goods and services, and who preach to creation every day and help the creation reflect the image of its Creator!
Our International Team of Trainers

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Let's start at the very beginning...a very good place to start...

[A couple of updates: First, I'm currently in Uganda, about to start a two day training for pastors and church leaders in Kampala.  A number of you continue to ask about my health and I am thankful to say that I feel very healthy!  Secondly, we are so thankful to report that the match that was offered for the training of trainers was met and we are able to cover the costs of the fifteen trainers coming from five different countries to Kenya on Wednesday!  Thank you to all who gave financially and for those who pray diligently!  Oh...and if anyone was worried about me being bored, I wanted to let you know that I have started working on my Ph.D. in Sustainable Development and Diplomacy. I am doing it primarily so that I will continue to have open doors to teach in seminaries and higher learning institutions, who require a Ph.D.  I burned out after my Masters, so please pray with me for wisdom and a healthy pace through this process!]

Growing up, I had very limited exposure to TV and movies (I saw my first movie in a theatre when I was fourteen - Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom).  Annually, however, we could expect to watch the Sound of Music and Fiddler on the Roof at least once, usually around Christmas.  I know all the words of all the songs and they will occasionally pop into my head.

As I was heading out to the airport this past Friday, Michael put a book in my hands called The Economics of Neighborly Love by Tom Nelson.  I am so backed up in reading books right now (thanks to my loving husband's desire to bless me with many good books) but on my first flight I set aside my other books and started reading this one.  Very quickly, the song "Let's start at the very beginning..." from the Sound of Music began to go through my mind.

Tom Nelson was speaking my language...singing my tune...preaching to the choir...and when I read words that I am trying to teach, there is a sense of familiarity and home that warms the heart.

Starting at the very beginning, to me, means recognizing the incredible importance of our Great Commitment to God and this earth, found in Genesis 1 and 2.  You see, Michael gave me another book about a week ago and the author wrote that "Genesis 1-12 is all about the fall."  I stopped reading after that sentence.  That is NOT true and it completely undermines the purpose of man and of creation.  Too many people treat Genesis 1 and 2 as simply an introduction to the "real story" which, in their opinion, starts in Genesis 3; we forget that how God created man and creation was very good and that we were made to work.  Work became more complicated after the fall but work and creativity, like the image of our Creator, is what we were made to do.

Nelson spends time in Genesis 1 and 2, but I love what he did with the Good Samaritan, the parable that Jesus tells in response to the lawyer's question of "who is my neighbor" relating to the Great Commandment.  We often focus on the compassion that the good Samaritan showed but we neglect to speak of the necessity of economic capacity in the equation of being able to help a brother or sister who is hurting.  The truth in this story is that both were needed: compassion as well as economic capacity.  And where does all economic capacity come from?  From business.  The Good Samaritan was a business man.  But the hotel owner was also a business man.  Both had capacity and were willing to take risks in order to show compassion to the injured man.

Nelson says, "The Samaritan's economic capacity came from diligent labor and wise financial stewardship within an economic system where he added values to others.  If we are going to love our neighbor well, we must not only manage our financial resources well; we must also have ample financial resources to manage."

He then says this, "If we have compassion without capacity, we have human frustration.  If we have capacity without compassion, we have human alienation.  If we have capacity and compassion, we have human transformation.  We have neighborly love."

Dallas Willard says this, "The task of Christian spokespersons, leaders, and professionals is to exemplify and teach foundational traits of the good life Jesus manifests.  But this must also include the more specific traits required in the public domain - industriousness, self-control, moderation, and responsibility for oneself and others.  That is the responsibility and posture of love.  The human drive to be self-supporting can be tied to a determination to be productive in order to bless others."

And that is what is too often missing in our teachings about Jesus and in our teachings in the institutional church.  Too many times pastors have told me, often with an air of confession, that they have frequently told new Christians to leave their jobs and join church work, rather than affirming and understanding the inherent goodness of work and the opportunities for being involved in human flourishing by doing work to the glory of God.  And that takes us back to Genesis 1 and 2 and our great commitment.

Our calling is not only about the Great Commission.  That was an add-on to our calling, after the fall.  Our calling is also about the Great Commandment, but we can't do that without being fruitful and multiplying, which is what we call the Great Commitment.

And Nelson pointed out a verse that I hadn't yet discovered.  We struggle with helping pastors to understand that to be "fruitful and multiply" goes beyond procreation.  But he goes back to the Hebrew language which points to the word "fruitful" in other parts of the Bible that primarily refer to the products of human labor.  He refers to Deuteronomy 28:4-5 which says, "The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock - the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks.  Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed."  Being fruitful is so much broader than simply having babies!  Fruitfulness involves procreation but also productivity.

Andy Crouch, Executive Editor of Christianity Today says, "God made wheat. We make bread!  God made grapes.  We made wine!  Wheat is good.  Bread is very good!  Grapes are good, but wine is very good."  We make computer chips from sand.  We make furniture from trees.  A wealthy God designed us with that in mind.

Nelson says that "far too little has been written or taught to the rising generation of leaders about how religion and economics seamlessly intersect."  [This will be the subject of my dissertation, by the way!]  He calls the pastoral work that he was doing as a young pastor "malpractice" as he was spending most of his time equipping his members for where they spend the minority of their time, and not equipping them for where they spend the majority of their time.  He describes this as "an inconvenient truth" and states that this same malpractice that he accused himself of as "tragically common" throughout the church.

As we seek to spread this message in many different countries, cities, denominations, local churches, languages, and people groups, will you continue to pray with us that this message will take hold?  Will you pray with us that the work that we do from Monday-Saturday can be good and holy, done to the glory of God, to enable human flourishing and the loving of our neighbor?

To do that may mean that we have to start at the very beginning and let the good news of Genesis 1 and 2 wash over us and sink in, without rushing too quickly to Genesis 3...but as both Julie Andrews sings, and as our Creator says, the beginning is a very good place to start!

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Amazing Shea Tree


[After spending this past week in California for meetings with ICM-USA, I am home for a few days before leaving on Friday for a month to Uganda, Kenya, and Ghana. Please pray for this trip which promises to be non-stop with trainings!]

While I lived in Ghana from 2009-2012, I heard a lot about shea butter nuts and the processing of shea butter.  Researchers say that shea butter has been used in West Africa since approximately 100 AD.

But it was on this last trip that I paid a bit more attention, as many of the people we met with were involved in the processing of shea butter nuts.  As we were waiting for a meeting to start at a Baptist Church in a village about an hour away from Tamale, something fell from the tree and hit Blossom on the head - a shea fruit from a shea tree.  I took a picture of the offending tree.  But my curiosity was piqued when Fanny told me that shea trees cannot be farmed.  They will only grow in the wild.  How can that be, I wondered?

In doing a little research, I discovered the following:
  • There are 9.4 million shea trees in Ghana, producing 100 tons of shea nuts, which is valued at about $1 million USD per year.
  • According to legend, no one owns a shea tree because they grow on their own
  • After three to five years, the tree becomes fire resistant because of deeply fissured bark.  
  • By thirty years old, the tree is full grown and can live to be 300 years old!
  • It does not have natural enemies, which is what allows it to grow to be so old.
  • The mature kernel contains 61% fat, which is edible as well as medicinal.  The oil from the shea tree is only second to palm oil in terms of importance in West Africa.
  • Shea butter can be used like lard or margarine as it makes a pliable dough.
  • Shea butter is high in vitamins A, E, and F, and can be an intense moisturizer for skin.
  • The residue from the shea nut, the leaves, and the tree itself can also be used for other things.  Every part is used!
While visiting the family that I wrote about last week, I was invited to take a bite of a shea fruit.  Since I'm always on the lookout for different types of fruit that God has created, I accepted the offer and took a bite.  It was surprisingly sweet with a texture of an avocado.  It is rich in vitamins, calcium, and iron.  The family we visited is also involved in shea nut production, as can be seen on the left of the picture with the goat.  

Many of the women we work with in the Northern Region of Ghana are involved in the processing of this incredible gift from God.  Hopeline Institute continues to look for ways to help the women work together, as well as to find markets for them.

Upon some further research, I finally discovered that the shea nut will not germinate if planted in a traditional manner - being fully buried in dirt.  It will only germinate if it is covered halfway with dirt, with the eye of the seed pointing up.  So, nuts that are thrown around haphazardly will germinate, while those carefully planted will not, giving the impression that these cannot be farmed and will only grow in the wild.

Shea butter
Unfortunately, shea trees are also beginning to be cut down for charcoal, as many people cook with charcoal in Ghana.  This will have a great negative impact on the industry if it is not curtailed.  In Discipling Marketplace Leaders, we teach that each Christian should have a quadruple bottom line (loving neighbors, discipling, economically being fruitful and multiplying, and stewarding the earth) and encourage each person to look at the impact that their business has on the earth.  For those who are selling charcoal, not only do we encourage them to plant trees but they also should know what type of wood they are buying and strive to protect this vital crop in the Ghanaian economy.

Monday, September 18, 2017

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

video

Monday, September 11, 2017

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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