Monday, September 26, 2016

¡Guatemala feliz

This bridge was built by slaves in the late 1400s.
Guatemala, whose name means "place of many trees" is a beautiful country, very mountainous with many rivers, lakes and forests, as well as volcanoes.  Not only is it rich geographically, it is rich in history, going back thousands of years with many historical buildings and landmarks.  Unfortunately, it is also has had many challenges - a civil war from 1960-1996, earthquakes (the one in 1976 killed 200,000) and hurricanes, just to name a few.  Guatemala is a land of extremes in many ways: highlands and lowlands, wetlands and deserts, historical and modern, and a wide gap between the rich and the poor.

A very shaky bridge leading to one of the villages.
We spent time this past week with Partners Worldwide and a church called Lluvias de Gracia (Rains of Grace).  Lluvias de Gracia has planted many churches throughout Guatemala, approximately 250.  On Wednesday, we took time to travel to some remote villages and visit a few of the small churches in those villages, learning about the types of business and work in which the members are involved.  The pastors all serve as volunteers (with no salary) and therefore most are involved in some sort of work.  Many work as day laborers in some of the large farms in the area - coffee, corn, bananas or sugar.  It was great to walk into these villages of 200 people or less, and see these churches - often the only one in the village - persevering under challenging circumstances.  While Guatemala is certainly different culturally than many places in Africa where I have worked, there are many similarities as it relates to the struggle of business and the challenges of poverty.

A coffee plant nursery in one of the villages.
We then spent some time with the leadership who are looking to help empower not just the business members of these churches but also the pastors in terms of poverty alleviation.  We took them through the two day workshop of understanding the God of Business in the Old and New Testament, as well as understanding the various needs of reconciliation that need to be done in the Marketplace.  The message was very well received and there was real excitement about the potential of working through their many churches with Discipling Marketplace Leaders.  One of the pastoral supervisors who was in attendance was going to speak with thirty pastors the very next day and he decided to immediately start presenting this material.
One of the churches of Lluvias de Gracia, with Pastor George.

The particular group around the table was unique in some ways as there was more "haves" at the table than "have nots."  The challenge in this case is to help the "haves" understand the necessity of the operating from a "pull" not a "push" - meaning that those struggling with poverty and the volunteer pastors must have a say in the solution if there is to be any progress.  There can't be a decision that "all pastors will run a business" when many pastors may not be gifted or have the desire to run a business.  My experience with Asset Based Community Development and Restorers came in very handy for those discussions.
Very traditional dress in one of the villages, worn by all the women.

Overall, it was a very good week in which we learned a lot about Guatemala and they learned about Discipling Marketplace Leaders.  They will now consider as a church how to begin implementation of this ministry.

We are thankful to God for this opportunity and we covet your prayers for Lluvias de Gracia as they seek to move their people out of poverty to discover the full potential that God has for them!
Part of the group with whom we spent time.  A dynamic bunch of leaders, passionate about Christ, His Church, as well as a strong desire to end poverty.

A prayer meeting held in front of the presidential mansion at 6 am on Saturday morning.  What a blessing to participate with these Christians praying for their country, their leaders, their economy, and their people!


Monday, September 5, 2016

Reflections

It's been a while since I've posted on some personal reflections.  A day like 9/11 brings out the reflective side of many of us.  We can all remember where we were the day that happened.  I was at Restorers, the Christian Community Development Organization in Grand Rapids where I was serving as Executive Director. 

It seems that several lifetimes have passed for me in those fifteen years.  At the time of 9/11, Bob knew he was to leave Calvin because of our decision to send our children to a closing public school, but he still had a couple of months left and had no idea of what he would do nor where our income would come from (I was making very little at Restorers).  At that time, Africa was not even remotely in the picture.  We of course had no idea that Bob had less than nine years to live.  And while Michael Thomson was someone I knew from church, I would never have guessed that one day I would be married to him.

It was a year ago, on 9/11, that I was sitting at the airport in Chicago, on my way to Ghana, and I suddenly felt hit with the realization that I was on the edge of burnout.  I fought (read "denied") it for three months before it completely overwhelmed and consumed me by early December, after which I spent two months in what felt like "the dark night of the soul." 

And this past week, a dear sister in Christ buried her second son under the age of 21, and I found myself caught up in the throes of grief for her, and the realization of the on-going devastation of the grief of loss by many around us who suffer silently with memories, longings, and desires that things "could have been different."  This suffering takes place through daily reminders, as insignificant as hearing a line that the loved one frequently used,  to a significant event that the loved one is missing. 

Suffering.  Both loud and obvious, and silent and invisible. 

In John 16:33, Jesus says, "I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace.  In this world, you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world."

Take heart. 
A day at a time.
A moment at a time.
One step forward at a time.
Soon, fifteen years will pass and you will be amazed at what has changed.
You will see where it was that Christ entered in to give peace.

My prayer list continues to grow longer and longer.  I suspect it will be that way until the day I am called home. 

This prayer, from one of my favorite prayer books called Guerillas of Grace (by Ted Loder), reminds us that while we think there is too much suffering, we need to be reminded that it may because there is too little of something else:
Sometimes, Lord, it just seems to be too much:  too much violence, too much fear; too much of demands and problems; too much of broken dreams and broken lives; too much of war and slums and dying; too much of greed and squishy fatness and the sounds of people devouring each other and the earth...
Sometimes the very air seems scorched by threats and rejection and decay until there is nothing but to inhale pain and exhale confusion. 
Too much of darkness, Lord, too much of cruelty and selfishness and indifference...Too much, Lord, too much, too bloody, bruising, brain-washing much.
Or is it too little, too little of compassion, too little of courage, of daring, or persistence, of sacrifice; too little of music and laughter and celebration?
O God, make of me some nourishment for these starved times, some food for my brothers and sisters who are hungry for gladness and hope, that, being bread for them, I may also be fed and be full.
And that is my prayer - "make of me some nourishment for these starved times."  Come, Lord Jesus.

Second Annual Prayer Walk

The prayer team in Kitale
Last week Saturday, Discipling Marketplace Leaders had its second annual prayer walk in Kenya, taking place across four cities:  Kitale, Kisumu, Kakamega, and Eldoret with more than 100 Marketplace Ministers participating.

A prayer walk for DML is where we gather at a church for some corporate prayer and to share our prayer concerns for the city.  We then break up into pairs and walk the streets, two by two, praying over the businesses, government buildings, hospitals and schools as we walk, and taking time for the Holy Spirit to reveal to us what we need to be seeing in our city.  Every pair is assigned streets to pray over and a prearranged time is set to gather on the other side of the city for some chai and mendazi (tea and donuts) and debriefing.
Taking time to pray for a small vendor. 

During the debriefing, these are some of the comments that were heard:
  • This needs to be a habit, not just an annual event.
  • This should be longer than three hours - it should be a whole day.  
  • People were wanting us to stop and pray for their business but we didn't have enough time to stop at each place.  We want to have lots of time to pray for each business!
  • The prayer walk should be tied to fasting.
  • God opened my eyes to see so many things differently than how I had been looking at them before this prayer walk.
So many churches coming together to reclaim the redeemed marketplace!
Don't you love these comments?  These were not business people who complained about giving up their Saturday to do a prayer walk.  These were not complaints about walking in the hot sun.  These were Marketplace Ministers who seized the opportunity to be part of a transformational movement, after having been discipled to the purpose of being a minister to the Marketplace.

Please join us in prayer for the Global Marketplace and your specific city or town by reading the prayer below.

A Prayer for Our Work

Lord God,
We pray for all
who work in business and industry,
who work in homemaking,
who work in medicine,
who work in education,
who work in agriculture,
who work in government,
The prayer team in Eldoret.
who work in service to others,
who are beginning a new career,
who struggle in their work,
who are seeking new or different jobs,
who are retired or anticipating retirement,
who are unemployed or underemployed.
[Add other categories as appropriate]
Give us joy in our work, and in using gifts and talents we receive from you.
Give us joy in doing all our work to your honor and glory.
Equip us to labor in ways that promote justice and peace.
Equip us to be ministers of your peace in a world that cries for peace.
Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
(Taken from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship)
Debriefing after the prayer walk with chai and mendazi, sponsored by the DML Cooperative.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Working at Being Unapologetic

A couple of months ago, I met with Nate VanderStelt, a friend, brother in Christ, fellow church member at Madison Square Church, and consultant for the Timothy Group (http://www.timothygroup.com).  The Timothy Group is a company that helps ministries with fundraising and capacity building.  While Discipling Marketplace Leaders (DML) can't afford to hire them, Nate offered to meet with me gratis in light of DML's fundraising challenges.

I walked into the coffee shop with a sense of dread.  I knew he would ask me how much time I spend with donors, how I am doing with the "ask," how many "touch-points" I have with key givers, etc.  And I knew I didn't have good answers.  I just want to do the ministry.  I don't like the whole donation side of things.  I don't like to "ask."

So I brace myself and slide into my seat to face Nate.

But if you know Nate, you know this to be true:  He is probably the only person that I have ever met that truly enjoys fundraising NOT because he is such a schmoozer or so charismatic (although he is that) but because he TRULY is excited about the opportunity to connect the dots between people who want to be involved in meaningful ministry and the participants in the ministry, both of whom want to help those ministries grow.  This is a God-thing for Nate.  He loves what he does because he sees a calling in it.  And God blesses that - Nate is good at what he does.

I like this.  I need discipline when it comes to fundraising!
I began to relax in my chair and change my perspective from the "dreaded obligation" of fundraising to potential "dot-connector."  Seeing Nate's energy and passion for this is helpful for me.  Being reminded that I am the bridge between the small business person in East, West or Northern Africa and a donor who wants to significantly partner in making a difference is important.  If I don't provide that bridge, there will not be a connection.  Nate reminds me that all three (donor, me as bridge, and Kenyan business owner) are all under God the Father, under His sight, His provision, His delight.  I have the joy of sharing the story of what God is doing through Discipling Marketplace Ministries. 

But Nate doesn't stop at just sharing his enthusiasm.  He gave me some tips (that I didn't think I needed since I've been doing this for so long!) and he encouraged me to share with you.  I will share two tips with you now:
  • One blog reader once told me several years ago that the reason they read my blog is because I don't ask for money in it.  I have since used the blog for fundraising a few times but have felt great angst about it.  However, as Nate pointed out, NPR (National Public Radio) and other Christian radio stations all have their pledge weeks.  People can tune out during that week and return when it is over.  So I will do the same.  The blog is a good resource for me as a point of contact for many of you.  Paper mail gets almost no return.  So here is my pledge:  I put out probably 50 blogs in a year, once a week.  Once every quarter (no more than that!) I will invite you into the story of what God is doing through financial partnership.  You don't have to read that one if you don't want, but you can know that the next eleven weeks will say nothing about that.
  •  Decide with your donor one time per year where you will discuss their donation.  Then for the rest of the times that you meet during a year, you can both relax and know that this does not need to be discussed.  One thing that I have found so difficult is to not take on the "donor/recipient" mentality every time I see a donor!  My guess is that donors might feel the same, so this is great advice!
There is a significant opportunity right now, so let me use this blog as a bridge.  I need to raise $1250/month for the next twelve months ($15,000) for the ministry in Ghana.  We have 130 pastors and church leaders trained both in Accra and in Tamale (northern region).  Eleven churches have started or will be starting soon a four week series in their church called "Thirty Days in the Marketplace."  When that is completed, they will call for their business people to come forward and begin a twelve week basic business skills class, followed by being commissioned by their church as Marketplace Ministers.  This is very exciting!

I learned this past week that the word about Discipling Marketplace Leaders has gone from pastors in the Northern Region of Ghana to Niger and Chad, and I was informed to expect about fifty pastors to come from those two countries when we return to do another two-day workshop in Ghana in November.  This is exciting, especially these are all very heavily dominated Muslim regions!  However, we do not have the funds to go into two more countries at this time, so we are left with the challenge of possibly needing to tell them not to come.

If you would like to join with what God is doing through DML in building His church, please go to www.icmusa.org, click on Donate, and then select Discipling Marketplace Leaders - 609045.  We are especially looking for monthly donors, as this work continues to grow and spread.  If thirteen people decided to give $100/month, we would meet this goal! Thank you for prayerfully considering this, and for reading this blog to the end!
I want this to be my new attitude about fundraising!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Discipling Marketplacer Leaders Update

It's time for a bit of an update as it relates to the actual work of Discipling Marketplace Leaders (DML).  The past six weeks have involved a lot of meetings and networking Stateside for me and now the time is approaching for me to get back out on the field again.

There are a couple new surprise additions to the countries where DML will be implemented.  The first is Guatemala, ICM's first non-African country, as well as my first time going to Central
America.  This came out of a relationship with a member of one of my supporting churches, working with a Partners Worldwide affiliate.  We will travel there during the third week of September, and materials are being rapidly translated into Spanish as I write.  Additionally, we hope to have two prospective team members from the US who hope to help us with our training join us for this trip.  God is building His team!

Additionally, this week we interviewed candidates for a DML staff position in Ghana, and during the course of the conversation with Fanny, the director of our implementing partner Hopeline Institute, I learned that the two day training we are planning to do in Ghana in November will have at least fifty pastors and church leaders from neighboring countries Niger and Chad, who have heard about DML and wish to join!  This is because of our good friend and partner Rev. Johnson, who I wrote about earlier, and the work he is doing in Northern Ghana as it relates to business as mission.  These are all heavily Muslim areas that have had some significant struggles, so if we can equip business people to be Marketplace Ministers, we believe that the Marketplace can be reclaimed for Christ!

As for Ghana, there are eleven churches who are implementing "30 Days in the Marketplace" in which there are four weeks of preaching and teaching by the senior pastor as it relates to faith and work, which will then be followed by training of the business members.  This is very exciting!

Kenya continues to be moving forward, with the annual prayer walk approaching on August 27.  This will take place across four different cities, with Marketplace Ministers traveling two by two, praying for businesses, government buildings, and the city in general.  Please pray with us for a good turn-out, for God to hear the prayers of His people, and that the Marketplace Ministers may also continue to have their hearts turned toward the city as their active parish.

I spent time this past week training a missionary to Ethiopia to be a trainer for DML.  We met him in Addis Ababa several months ago and found that he was doing business development already but needed a stronger curriculum.  When we introduced the idea of doing this through the church, he immediately saw the potential for where he is in north-west Ethiopia.  Ethiopia has been having some challenges however and continues to need our prayers.
Egypt continues to move slowly, but at least it is moving.  We have struggled to find the right churches with whom to partner.  Unfortunately, churches there apparently expect to be paid for doing ministry, rather than owning the ministry for themselves.  This has been brought about through unhealthy development practices where people are paid to come to workshops, etc.  But we continue to hear loudly the need and desire for it, especially by business people, and so we are trusting that with patience, the right church will be found.

This fall we will also make our first presentation in Nigeria.  So that means that from September to November, I will be in Guatemala, Kenya, Nigeria, and Ghana.  I will be back in Egypt in January, then Kenya and Ethiopia in March, and so on.

Please continue to pray with us.  We want to join God in where He is working, and we want to see His church built, with His will done on earth "as it is in Heaven."  Thanks to all of you who join us in prayer, in encouragement, through volunteering your time, or through financial support!  God is building His church by using His church!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Bob's Birthday - sharing his words...

The photo entitled, "Yers Trooly," his pen name for the blog.
August 9 is Bob's birthday.  He would have been 62 and probably would have been grumpy about it.  He did not like birthdays and did not like growing older.  The worst memory of a birthday with him was when he turned 50 years old, we were camping, and I had the nerve to invite some people that we knew to have birthday cake with us. He was not happy about that!  As I approach 50, I can see a bit of what he meant!

I have to admit that I've been missing him more lately.  [And please know that I can say that without it having any reflection of my marriage to Michael or my love for Michael.  I love Michael dearly, but just as many of you miss parents or siblings or friends who have passed, I miss Bob for the many different roles he had in my life.]  If you are new to this blog, I was married to Bob for 19 years, raised two children with him (to the ages of 15 and almost 17), and served in ministry together for nine years.  He died very suddenly in 2010, while we were living and working in Ghana, West Africa.  He started writing the blog when we moved to Liberia in 2005 (he started with www.reedsinliberia.blogspot.com) and was a great writer.  Many of you can attest to that.  But even beyond writing, he was a great thinker and a wise man.  So to celebrate his birthday (and in some defiance to his wishes which may have now changed since he has crossed over to heaven and hopefully realizes that birthdays are a celebration of life, NOT an acknowledgement of age and demise!), I want to share some words that he wrote ten months before he died:

With his favorite pet in Liberia, a pangolin.
After living for 54 years, and paying attention for 40, I find myself tired and occasionally angry, a victim of sorts to an ironic paradox.  40 years ago—or more precisely 39 years ago—I set out on a quest.  Terrified by my own morality, of the thought that this incredible thing called life would end, I sought  the truth—wherever I found it.  I was particularly interested in the unseen truths. I wondered: was there a god, an afterlife, consciousness after death?  But really, any truth would help, I assumed, as I journeyed.   I hungered and thirsted for it.
After 40 years here are a few observations that have proven themselves worthy of being called true. 
·         Non attachment is the wise course through life. Attachment leads to loss of awareness and disconnect from self.

·         Quietness with patience is wise.  Quietness with patience clarifies and allows truth to emerge.
·         Distraction from being centered within ourselves is the great evil.  Being centered fosters patience, distraction leads to loss of self.
·         Truth is found in many places, but it is always found in beauty. 
·         Non attachment, patience, quietness and centeredness are great principles, spanning thousands of years across civilizations and religious traditions.
·         There is a Truth that especially honors patience, quietness and non attachment.
·         This Truth seems to be conscious and interactive.  I call it God.
·         The Christ event (Jesus of Nazareth’s life and resurrection from death) actually happened and is the central event in human history.

Bob and Noah
The irony or paradox is this: for years I’ve aligned myself with a religion that—in its American expression— often distracts me from my pursuit of truth.  American culture is not patient, centered, unattached or quiet, and these characteristics have permeated and saturated American Christianity.  My observation is that American Christians are quick to speak, reactive not reflective, noisy, slow to listen and seem thoroughly distracted by social and cultural activities.   And I find myself frustrated because I feel like I’ve joined a club of distracted, busy people, fully attached to the trappings of the surrounding culture, casually convinced that all is well.   And then I become distracted by my own observations, and then I become judgmental, and at that point my own pursuit of quietness and non-attachment gets derailed. 

What did Jesus’ death and resurrection accomplish?  Was it not to simply restore us to fellowship with the Father? And once restored, how are we to live our lives?  Is it not at least to allow us to remain connected to spiritual principles that have remained constant across cultures and millennia?

For 10,000 years-- 99.9% of our time here-- we lived close to the earth, close to the beautiful, painful reality of the natural world around us. For 10,000 years, we lived as part of the creation and in small communities.  Our tasks were basic, in front of us, and simple.  Within just the last few hundred years, that “close to the earth” way of life changed profoundly, first for thousands, then millions, eventually for billions of us.  And for billions of others, still living close to the earth, many seek to live in the distracting, options-laden world spawned by the great Industrial and technological revolutions.   

Could it be that humans are not spiritually equipped for this high tech, options-laden life – separated from the earth, from the creation?  Could it be that we do not function as well with the distractions and choices of wealth and access?  Could it be that we are in over our heads?  How will we be able to find truth in the cacophony, without access to simplicity and natural beauty? 

And by the way, how do we fight for justice while remaining quiet and centered?
He closed this writing by asking people for their thoughts on the subject.  How I'd love to hear his thoughts, having had a view from heaven for six years now.  What would he say today about the racial tensions in the US, the upcoming election, the world situation with IS, and the growing refugee movement?  I'm thankful that some day we will catch up again.

Happy birthday, Robert Allen Reed.  Your life was and is a blessing.

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Three Great Mandates

Puzzle pieces floating around in the air...looking and feeling chaotic...and then the pieces begin to come together and a picture begins emerge...

That is how I feel about the work of Discipling Marketplace Ministries in the last year.  Slowly a picture is coalescing, with what feels like the hand-print of God bringing it together through His people.

One major piece that has come together recently has come with the help of Dr. Walker.  For years, I have taught people about having a quadruple bottom line in their workplace or business:  economic, environmental, spiritual and social.  But what Dr. Walker did was take that quadruple bottom line and fit it into the more common language of the mandates given by God, which we are calling the "Three Great Mandates."  This is where the rubber meets the road - where the language of the Bible, the language of the Church, and the language of Business as Mission can coalesce into one.

The Spiritual bottom line can be viewed through the Great Commission.  We all know about the great commission from Matthew 28:  19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  We are to be disciples and to make disciples.  We love to ask pastors how many commands are in this text?  Most say four:  go, make disciples, baptize, and teach.  But the real answer is only one:  Make Disciples.  "Go" can be explained as "as you go about your business;" and baptizing and teaching is what we do once we have made the disciples.  How can we be a disciple and who can we be discipling in our place of work?

The Social bottom line can be viewed through the Great Commandment.  We all know about the second great - the great commandment from Matthew 22:  ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Who are our neighbors in the workplace?  Customers, employees/employers, suppliers, competitors, colleagues, as well as the community where our place of work is located.  How can I love them?

The Economic and Environmental Bottom line can be viewed through the Creation mandate, which we (at Discipling Marketplace Leaders) are calling the Great Commitment. This comes from Genesis 1: 28:  God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground."  This is the first mandate that God gives - the work that man was given to do before the fall.  Often we have been taught that being fruitful and increasing in number refers only to procreation or having children, but it also refers to the taking of the resources of creation, being creative with them, and then multiplying those creations so that more people can benefit from them.  That is what most of us have been made to do.  But we need to be fruitful and multiply within the limits God has given us, so that we are stewards and caretakers (and not simply users) of the earth.

The message of the "Three Greats" seems to resonate very well with pastors and church leaders and it has helped them to better understand why it is important to have a discipleship ministry to people in the workplace, helping them to understand their call to these three greats.

It is exciting to see a picture emerge when putting a puzzle together.  Sometimes you are a long way from seeing the completed picture; sometimes you work on a puzzle and never complete it (and someone else has the satisfaction of seeing it completed), sometimes all the pieces look alike and it is simply trial and error.  But the satisfaction of having one piece fit after trying many...that feels good!