Monday, September 29, 2014

And we're off!

Last week Tuesday, I started a gauntlet of three back to back classes at the Africa Theological Seminary that will carry me until the end of October.  The one day off per week that I do get (usually Sunday) is filled with driving to Kakamega or Eldoret to do continuing work with the groups there.  My evenings are filled with reading and writing papers for my Masters, so my time is very full.  [I know what some of you are thinking - good, then you won't miss Michael as much.  But it doesn't work that way.  :) ]

The current class is a Training of Trainers session, this time with 28 students.  I thought that it might be a bigger class but you never know until the day of, and this time, most of the people who said they were coming actually came. [This presented some problems, as I only had 12 textbooks, but we made due.]

What was so exciting about this class is that this time the two other churches in the pilot project showed up with strength.  The Deliverance Church not only brought three more trainers from their church but also four other pastor from area cities to begin this work as well.  The Anglican Church of Kenya sent three delegates from St. Mark's Church in Eldoret to become trainers.  In addition, a number of other pastors and business leaders from Kitale and a number of cities are also in this class, including two pastors from the Christian Reformed Church of East Africa!  We now have over fifty churches involved in this work across Kitale, crossing many denominations!  There has been great debates and discussions.  I am loving it.

In addition, there are now three simultaneous business classes going on - one in Kakamega and two in Kitale, with a total of about 85 businesses, all run by partner churches.  The trainers are working together and sharing the load to get the best training out to our participants.

We had a Trainer meeting on Thursday and had 29 trainers present!  When we look back and see how we started, it was great to see a room full of trainers who are passionate about this work. And they had such great input as to how to make this program better and better.  It was exciting.

And so, we are off and running.  Please pray with us that Church based Business as Mission will continue to spread in a way that will bring glory to God.  We want to be part of "discipling the Nations" by discipling the Marketplace!

A prayer for all of you foolish people out there like me - this spoke to my heart:


Monday, September 22, 2014

Ahhh...Ghana...

I just spent a whirlwind four days in Ghana. 

The International Council for ICM was meeting, with all the country directors including:  Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Burundi, Ghana, Nigeria, Congo, USA, and Canada.  Liberia and a few others were not in attendance due to other issues.  It was very good to hear the reports of what is going on through the work of ICM in these other countries, both the strengths and the challenges.  It was especially good to spend time in prayer and to refocus our attention on the big picture of what it is we are trying to achieve by equipping Church leaders.  Every country is independently run and it was wonderful to see so many strong leaders wrestling with the changing times in theological education and the changing times in the Church as well.  I was privileged to sit at the table with them.

ICM Country Directors from Uganda, Kenya, and Ghana.
I was given the opportunity to present Church based Business as Mission (CbBaM - get used to this acronym - you will see it more) and was pleasantly surprised when the International Council decided to have CbBaM as one of the three focus areas for ICM going forward.  There was a lot of interest in figuring out how to go forward in the respective countries, so that is very exciting, but also challenging for me.  I additionally had a chance to see a bit better how I fit into the ICM USA team and whether or not there are needs/opportunities/callings for me to get involved in the greater work of ICM.  There are some definite areas of convergence between some of my gifts of organizational development and business and some of the needs of the individual partnerships.  Time will tell.  Dr. Walker continues to encourage me to "narrow my focus and go deeper."

The International Council for ICM
They have done great advertising as well!
As the IC was meeting from 8 am until 7 pm, I had to sneak in meeting times before and after with other dear friends and colleagues from Ghana, like Laurie Korum, Emily Daher, and the whole Hopeline Institute team.  On Friday morning, Hopeline Institute had a breakfast meeting for all their businesses and I was able to meet a lot of old friends and acquaintances.  It was great. 

Hopeline has had amazing growth in the two years that I've been gone.  When I met them in 2009, they had one small office and seven staff.  They now have 25 staff, serving over 6000 businesses, have a central office, a microfinance unit that looks and operates like a bank in the central market area, a full training center with three simultaneous classes going on at a time, and an IT center with sixteen computers, teaching businesses basic computer skills.  It is amazing.  Despite all the growth and success that they have had, they continue to be very grounded spiritually and seek to serve all those with whom they come in contact.  The servant leader heart of Fanny Atta-Peters, the Director, has infected the hearts of her staff, and that is very apparent when you meet them.  In fact, the day I was to fly to Ghana I realized that I would not be able to get a visa upon arrival as I had earlier been told.  The staff there went into full swing to do everything in their power with their contacts in immigration in Ghana to make contact with the Ghanaian Embassy in Nairobi, and with their help I was able to get a visa within a few hours, rather than missing my flights and having to wait 24 hours.  They then met me in full swing at the airport to greet me at ten pm, despite my flight having numerous delays and ICM having a bus to take me to the guest house. 
The Hopeline Microfinance Unit and staff in the Market.

Think that's amazing already?  Well, the next day, I found out that the day I asked for help for my visa, their office had been broken into during the night and they lost most of their laptops and equipment.  While they were helping me, they were dealing with police and with this major loss.  But they didn't speak a word of complaint and instead were gracious and helpful and called me every twenty minutes or so to check up on me.  THAT is a team that is amazing and has a servant heart.  I am honored and blessed to know them.  [By the way, if anyone wants to bless them with a laptop to replace one that was stolen, let me know!]

On Saturday, before taking off for Kenya again, Fanny and Dennis had me over to their house to have every Ghanaian food that I have missed, as well as to visit the new window factory that Dennis has started.  It is called "PROFAD" (with FAD standing for Fanny and Dennis) and it really is quite remarkable.  Several years ago, they brought me to this plot of land in the middle of nowhere where Dennis was producing cement blocks for his construction work.  They have now built this huge factory on that same piece of land, and the area is so developed now that I didn't even recognize it.  Dennis was trained in this work in Turkey when he went there to get windows for the housing development that he built.  He now has so many orders that it is a challenge for him to keep up with the demand.  Praise God!


But things are not easy in Ghana right now.  We stopped for gas while we were out and Fanny asked for 220 Ghana cedis of petrol to be put in.  I looked at her with astonishment and asked how big the tank was, as when I was in Ghana it only took 50 Gh to fill my tank!  When I left Ghana in 2012, the exchange rate was $1 US to 1.5 Gh (it had been that rate pretty consistently for the three years we lived there).  At the beginning of 2014 it increased to 2.5 Gh and right now it is 3.6 Gh.  Prices have increased with the increase in the exchange rate but salaries have not kept up.  So someone making 300 Gh per month at the beginning of this year, is now barely able to do much more than fill a tank of gas with that same salary.  The business owners we met expressed much stress and fear about this trend.  A number of businesses have closed.  When you add to that the high interest rates on loans (upper 30%s) and the frequent power outages, it reminds me how to pray for our brothers and sisters in Ghana. 

Please pray with me!

Monday, September 15, 2014

sigh...Heaviness...sigh...

The last couple of weeks have been quite heavy for me.  The adjustment to Kenya was more difficult than I anticipated.  I miss my husband and my children.  I had to move into a room that is just big enough for the bed, no dresser, and so all my things are piled on top of each other with no where to move.  I moved into a small house with six other people who all seem to be very extroverted (and I am very introverted).  We didn't have any water on several different occasions and in one day the power went off at least twenty times.  A few days after arriving in Kitale, I had to travel again for a training near Nairobi.  And in a few days I will travel again to Ghana.  I have felt very blue.

But I didn't want to share with anyone, although Michael let me vent pretty consistently for the better part of a week, bless his heart.  He encouraged me to share and ask for prayer, but I resisted.  And I realized recently why that was.  I think it is because under the personal heaviness of moving back to Kenya by myself, there is an even greater heaviness for what I see around me.  The Ebola crisis in Liberia occupies my mind much of the time - I pray constantly for my brothers and sisters there.  My brother there shared with me that not only has the economy ground to a halt and prices of food are rising significantly, but he has to pass by countless people on his way to work who are sick with Ebola, laying outside the gate of a hospital or clinic because there aren't enough beds for them to get care. I can't imagine how heartbreaking that would be.  (How can I complain about being away from my husband and children in light of that? Or about the size of a bedroom?)

New weigh bridge in Kenya.
And this week, while conducting a training outside of Nairobi, I heard the following lament of a Kenyan business owner.  The woman I spoke with runs a construction company with her husband.  He is a contractor; she is a supplier.  She has been running this business for about 15 years and for most of those years, business was very good.  But business regulations have changed of late with the government organizing itself in different ways.  This business owner shared that there is a new fee for transport trucks on weigh bridges along the road:  there used to be no weigh bridges, but now, if your
Trucks waiting to be weighed on Kenyan roads.
truck is over 25 tons, you are fined 400,000 Kenya shillings (or $4700 US).  Trucks used to carry 50 tons in order to turn a profit.  Since they can only carry 25 tons now, those who had taken loans for their trucks are simply letting them get repossessed as they can't make a profit with these new rules. 

Permits are now required for digging sand out of the river bed and those new permits went from zero to 60,000 KSH per month (or $700 US).  Her business can't afford that (nor can the customers) and work has slowed down considerably.  She is unsure this business can continue. The challenges to do business are immense.

Add to that the insecurity issue.  I spoke to a man this week who was supplying specialty produce to hotels in Mombasa, but because of Al-Shabab most of the hotels there have closed, tourism has dried up, and he had no buyers for his product.  It all went to waste as Kenyans don't eat it.  The heaviness of doing business in this environment:  new regulations and fees at every turn and insecurity.

One of the buildings with beautifully manicured grounds at KEFRI
So...weight...heaviness...and lots of sighs.  I know that we can always find someone that has it worse than us.  I know that this world will always have troubles. Michael has reminded me over and over that just because others have it worse doesn't negate my discomfort or sadness.  But more than anything, I pray for Christ to return.  And soon.

Growing bamboo is encouraged.
Yet in the middle of this, I had the opportunity to stay at the Kenya Forestry Research Institute for several days as the training that I conducted was held here.  It was a place of beauty and forward thinking - researching trees and their uses; nurseries everywhere with people tenderly caring for these plants; carefully nurtured flowering trees and beautiful plants everywhere; it was quite and serene amidst a world that is chaotic.

This week someone posted this poem by Mary Oliver on Facebook and it resonated with me and spurred me onward:

"When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it is over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.”
― Mary Oliver

Monday, September 8, 2014

Ebola, Flat Tires, and Resettling

Dr. Rick Sacra doing what he loves.
This past week I learned that our former doctor and friend in Liberia, Dr. Rick Sacra, who works with SIM, was infected with Ebola and evacuated back to the US.  Rick had been in the US but returned to Liberia at the beginning of August to help reopen the wing of ELWA hospital for prenatal and maternity care.  Rick is a great doctor and such a compassionate man.  He couldn't stay away from Liberia knowing that people were not getting the care they needed for malaria, deliveries, and came knowing the dangers - the hospitals, for the most part, are just dealing with Ebola and all other issues are falling to the wayside.  What he did is heroic in my eyes.  He was diagnosed last Tuesday and was flown out of the country on Thursday.  His wife, Debbie, gave a powerful testimony during a press conference about how to live is Christ and to die is gain.  Our family is fervently praying for Rick's healing. [To read more about this story, see the news report here.]

Of course, many people in West Africa are not so lucky to be evacuated and receive special treatment.  On Tuesday, the WHO reported that the death toll had gone to 1900 with 40% of those deaths taking place in the last three weeks.  On Thursday, the death count was 2100.  What is interesting is what the US is learning about Ebola from the three evacuated missionaries - they are learning that there are some similarities between Ebola and Cholera.  A major part of the issue is the loss of electrolytes due to constant diarrhea and vomiting.  These electrolytes keep the heart beating regularly and without it can cause a heart attack.  If people can get on a saline solution early, have their electrolytes monitored and replaced, there is good hope of recovery.  Unfortunately, in countries like Liberia, that is easier said than done.  (For more on this go to this website: Faith, Medicine or ZMapp?)

This was also a big week in the news for this area: the US conducted airstrikes against Al-Shabab and have taken out their key leader.  Al-Shabab just named a new leader and vowed revenge; area governments are gearing up for attacks.  Additionally, the president of Kenya who was elected despite indictments by the International Criminal Court just had his trial adjourned indefinitely as key witnesses kept pulling out.

For me, my trip back to Kenya was relatively uneventful, other than the bush plane that I flew in from Nairobi to Kitale.  The 12-seater plane had a flat upon landing and it felt like we were sliding on ice.  Thankfully the pilot got control pretty quickly and we were able to get out safely.  Quite the change from the 600+ passenger plane that I was on the night before! 

I am settled back at the Africa Theological Seminary, although because of construction, I am in a room about a third of the size of the one I had before.  My little 10 x 10 room is now home for the next four months, although I leave on Tuesday to do a training outside of Nairobi; then I fly to Ghana for the International Council for ICM.  It has been raining pretty much non-stop since my arrival but the rainy season should begin to draw to a close.  The farmers are hoping it will end soon so that the corn does not begin to rot.

It is good to be back, to catch up with colleagues, brothers and sisters in Christ, and to enjoy the activity of Kenyan roads (all by bodaboda - taxi motorcycle - so far, as my car is apparently broken down and in the garage to be fixed).   

God bless you all this week!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Return to Kenya

On Tuesday, September 2, I return to Kenya for four months (except for a ten day visit back for the Partners Worldwide International Conference, accompanied by two Kenyan church leaders, at the end of October).  It is, of course, a bittersweet time.  Leaving my new husband for that long of a period will be difficult.  Leaving my children is always tough.  But I do love my work and I do love Africa.

These days, talk of Africa brings immediate questions about the Ebola virus. As I write this, Ebola has not yet been discovered in Kenya, although the World Health Organization (WHO) warns that
Fruit bats are considered to be the major carrier of Ebola.
Kenya is at high risk because it is such a hub for Africa.  But the landscape does keep changing.  I check BBC now every couple of hours to keep track of what is happening with this virus.  I just now went to check and see that the first case was discovered in Senegal.  Yesterday, the WHO reported that the number of cases may get as high as 20,000, may take six months to eradicate, and may cost as much as $489,000,000 dollars.  The day before, Nigeria decided to close all of the schools in order to try to prevent the spread.  And so it goes.  It is heartbreaking to hear the fear and the alarm from brothers and sisters in Christ that you care about and love.  It is painful to know of the food shortages, the businesses closed, the looting that happens as people panic.  It is difficult to hear the doubt from nationals who believe that the government is lying about this virus in order to profit in some way - it speaks to a deep rooted mistrust.  I continue to pray fervently every day for God's intervention and for the brave people who are risking their lives to combat this disease.

As for my travel to Kenya, Michael and I have decided that my decision to go or stay needs to be made as objectively as possible, so we are relying on the US Embassy and Department of State for how they advise US citizens in Kenya.  Thus far, the only advice from the US Embassy in Kenya is to not travel to the east side of Kenya due to Al-Shabab terrorist activity.  Thankfully, I work on the west side, so that is not a problem.

All of this reminds us that our lives are not our own but we are called for a purpose.  We don't make decisions out of fear or out of a desire to stay safe.  We make the best decisions we can make to do what we have been made to do and then trust God's will to be done.  And I have learned that God's will is not always to keep us safe or alive, but never-the-less, we still trust.
Hannah working at Qdobe on 28th St.

Please continue to pray for the Ebola crisis, for the challenges of Al-Shabab in Kenya, for the work of the ICM Church-based Business as Mission, and for my travel throughout this time.

A quick update on Hannah, Noah and Michael:

Hannah is entering her senior year of Calvin after having a very busy summer of working three jobs.  She is working on a triple major of psychology, social work, and French.  She is a very hard worker and high achiever!  She continues to struggle with the fatigue that has plagued her for a number of years now, which makes her feat even more impressive.  Thankfully she is only working two jobs this fall, and I'm hoping that will become only one!

Noah (far left) and the RA Team for Schultze Eldersveld.
Noah is a Resident Assistant (RA) this year at Calvin.  Last year he was a Barnabas (floor chaplain) and he enjoyed being in a leadership position. It seems to be a role that he rather easily slips into.  I hung out with him for a bit on his floor and it was very cool to see how many young men were seeking him out.  I am reminding him, though, that he is a student first and an RA second.  He continues to want to work in the Foreign Service field and was able to get some advice this summer from a member of one of our partner churches, specifically for the path to take toward working in US Embassies in the Consular section.

As for my dear husband, Michael, parting for four months just shy of our three month wedding anniversary is a challenge, but we will fall back to old routines that did work well for us - Skype and Facebook.  The fall is a busy time for Michael with lots of work travel as well, so that will also help to make the time go quicker as well.  We had a very busy summer with lots of travel for both of our work and for the most part we were able to accompany the other, learning more about each others work and meeting colleagues. I will miss him!

Our wedding cake

Monday, August 18, 2014

Wait! Before you snap!

I have grown increasingly uncomfortable with taking pictures in Africa over the years.  I have observed more than a few altercations with Africans objecting to their picture being taken by North Americans.  I encourage guests to get permission before snapping photos.  Yet, I feel I need to put photos up every week on this blog; every quarter I try to include pictures in my prayer letter; and every time I do a presentations in North America, I want to use pictures, which convey "more than a thousand words." 

The problem comes through the idea that people want to see (or perhaps more viscerally respond to) pictures that connote need, heartache, hunger, disease, or poverty. 

I'm taking a class now on culture and global change, and it described pictures of African babies with swollen bellies and flies hovering around them as "pornographic."  Really, I thought?  That is a very strong word.  But looking up the dictionary definitions, pornography is "obscene pictures with little artistic merit;" obscene is defined as "offensive to morality or decency."  The author of the book goes on to say this:
Photography combines voyeurism and control because visual images are taken by the powerful of the powerless; the subjects of the photograph are transformed into objects by virtue of being 'shot.' So photography can produce the colonized and the powerless as fixed realities:  entirely knowable and visible, but equally 'other,' irreconcilably different:  the objects of desire and derision. (Young 1990: 143).
These pictures are negative images which often lead to the wrong type of development, focused on charity, stripping of dignity, and development of dependency.  And wrong development has been pushed by many for many years   Development that objectifies and paints a helpless, hopeless picture.  Development that expresses need without expressing innate capacity.  Development that damages rather than restores - often by well intentioned people who wanted to help but do so with a short term perspective and maybe even self-serving in making ourselves feel good about what we are doing.

Contrast these pictures to this advertisement below by Christian Aid, where a young woman is on a bike, a national doing something positive in her community.  This is a positive image in which there is a name given to the person, she is working, there is mobility, a sense of community, and the need for health care which is universal.  This is a great picture of a glowing empowered subject: independent, competent, and self-determined,  instead of an object of development who is hopeless and despairing.
(BTW, "Third World" is no longer politically correct.  "Developing countries" or "Majority World" or "Two-thirds World" is better.)
So what to do with this dilemma?  I want people to see a positive, hopeful Africa.  But I also need to raise funds.  I want people's hearts to be moved by the positive, sustainable change that we see in the work that we do.  Yet pictures of classes or pictures of businesses are not as evocative as pictures of orphans or orphanages.  The challenge to myself is not to objectify people and justify my behavior by trying to raise funds for a good ministry. [Michael reminded me of the Benny Hinn story where he took a sad-looking boy, stood in front of a dilapidated building, with a makeshift orphanage sign, and raised a bunch of money. I wish I could say that I haven't experienced similar stories across Africa.  Ask me sometime to share what I think about orphanages in Africa because of these experiences.]  And my challenge to all of us is to be careful how quickly our emotions are moved by a picture - make sure that the brain has a chance to keep pace with the emotions; and if there is an opportunity to travel internationally, be careful in how those pictures are taken or presented. And feel free to hold me accountable if you catch me drifting toward bad development!