Monday, July 18, 2016

An Economic Missionary?

My mom (center), five kids, and their spouses.
Last week, I was able to celebrate my mom's 80th birthday.  We are so blessed to have such a healthy and happy mother, who is enjoying these years with her sisters, taking care of my Dad, and loving her children and grandchildren.  We were able to get together with all five children and spouses, as well as many grandchildren, great-grandchildren, cousins, aunts and uncles, and many friends to celebrate her 80 years.

On our way back from Canada, we stopped at the border and I handed the border guard the passports.  As is often the case, this guard reacted to the thickness of my passport.  Here is how the conversation went:

The five of us, torturing our dear mother.
Guard (weighing my passport against the other three I had handed him):  Is this your passport?  Why is it so thick?
Me:  I travel a lot for work.
Guard:  What do you do?
Me:  (in an effort to keep the answer simple and short) I am in international development.
Guard:  What does that mean?
Me:  I do business development in various parts of Africa.
Guard:  What does that mean?
Me (wondering how long of an answer he might want):  Well, we work to develop businesses so that poverty can be alleviated.
Guard:  Who is we?
Me:  I work for International Christian Missionaries.
Guard:  Oh.  Okay.  (pause, thinking) So you are like an economic missionary?
Me:  Sure.  We can go with that.

I often don't know how to describe what I do.  On landing cards for different countries, I tend to put "business consultant" because that is something most people understand.  When talking with Christians, I tend to say "missionary" because that is what many understand.  If I had said "economic missionary" when I pulled up to the border, he would have had no clue what I was talking about.

But then the conversation with the guard got a bit more fun:
Guard:  Are you bringing any goods back with you to the US?
Me:  Potato chips
Guard:  (tipping his head as he is thinking) Ketchup?
Me:  No, but that was a close second!  "All-dressed" chips.
Guard:  Any chocolate?
Me: Unfortunately no.
Guard:  Really?  No Coffee Crisp, Smarties???
Me:  I wish we had.  But no.
Guard:  Well the bridge is really slow today.  I can let you turn around and get some yet if you want.
Me:  (laughing) No, that's okay.
Guard:  Are you sure?  Their chocolate is so good!
Me:  I appreciate the offer...but we are okay.

We were then released.  I wish I had told him, as he stood there in his bullet proof vest protecting our borders and trying to make people smile while doing his job, that I appreciate how he is serving our country.  I wish I had asked him whether I could say a prayer for him and the safety of this particular border.  Next time I hope not to miss that opportunity.

It's such a complex world that we live in.  So many trials and tribulations.  Although I hear over and over again that things are getting worse in the world, the statistical truth is that things are actually better overall.  What feels worse is that because of social media, we now know of every abuse, killing, and attack with vivid detail, often as it happens.  But never-the-less, there are many trials and tribulations in the world.  And yet, we are called to continue to act in so many different ways to fulfill God's call on our life.  For me, I'm an "economic missionary."  That is my calling and I am embracing my work as an ambassador of this work.  It is challenging at times, but we all have challenges no matter where we work or with whom.  Where-ever there are human beings, there are challenges; one of the real challenges how to turn those challenges from problems to opportunities. 

This saying has been my encouragement in the last week and I hope it also encourages you:

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Road Not Taken

Recently, Dr. Phil Walker, the founder and president of International Christian Ministries, wrote the following message as it relates to the Church in Africa and beyond, and the relevance of the Discipling Marketplace Leaders ministry.  I would like to share his message with you today, as it may be good to hear another voice on this topic then only mine.  Please read the important call to action regarding Ghana at the end of this post!

The Road Not Taken
This is the title of a famous poem by Robert Frost. It also represents a concern I have about the future of the Church in Africa. When ICM began 30 years ago in Kenya the focus was on discipleship. The goal was to come alongside Christians leaders and teach them how to be effective disciplers in and through their churches. Over time this discipleship emphasis found expression in two delivery models, the Africa Theological Seminary and the Christian Leadership Institute, providing invaluable teaching for leaders to develop a Biblical foundation for discipleship, tools for discipleship and skills for leading the local church.

But something is missing.

As I travel the continent teaching, sharing and watching, I have come to the conclusion that far too many churches in Africa (and beyond) are taking a dead end approach to church development that hinders their impact.

Jesus came at just the right time to offer the world a way back to God. His message of reconciliation was preached through signs and wonders as well as words and deeds. The ultimate deed was his death on the cross for our sins, which made reconciliation possible.  Fulfilling the prophecies of the Old Testament, Jesus paved the way for a "nation of priests" commissioned to go into the whole world and make disciples of every people. This nation is more commonly known as the Church, the called out ones. The Church is a nation of ambassadors commissioned with the message of reconciliation. As the Church, they gather in their various communities to worship, partake of the sacraments, and be equipped as effective disciples that come in to grow, so they can go out ambassadors to the world.

The emphasis was not on the local gathering but on the effective witness of every believer in their sphere of influence. It would appear that this model of coming in order to go is not emphasized enough. The road most traveled appears to be one that places the greatest emphasis on the gathering of believers.

Come to Get

When there is a shift to church as building there is a danger that it will become more akin to a social club than to a center for equipping people for the work of the ministry. Consider the following examples: 
·   In a recent interview with a growing church in Africa, the leaders proudly revealed they had 40 programs in which members could participate on a weekly basis. Programs are not wrong or bad, but people have limited time. Where is the "going" into the community?
·   In West Africa, I turned on the TV and watched a few minutes of casting out of demons and flailing of bodies and limbs as people were healed...miracles are good, but we should do them where Jesus did them: in the marketplace.
·   Riding around any major city in Africa you will see signs for “miracle services/crusades” on nearly every street corner. The call is, "come to get" something God has for you. These events are not wrong, but very incomplete. God's call is to take his message and healing power into every corner of the marketplace.

I want to be clear: I do not oppose the miraculous. But we need to travel carefully along the road to ensure miracles do not replace transformation. Instead of transformation that comes from intentional discipleship, some pastors believe that a show of God’s miracle power is the key to unlocking church growth.
There are two consequences of this “Come and Get a Blessing” model: the laity views itself as ‘consumers,’ and pastors begin to view themselves as prophet/priests. The result is the local church becomes an entertainment hub, where the focal point is "priests and prophets" who are intermediaries delivering God's miracle to the members.

 

Come to Go

The "Come to Go" church is committed to serving the congregation by equipping them to live for Jesus seven days a week. While the “Come and Get a Blessing” model is very prevalent, we can be encouraged that there are pastors and local churches who have not succumbed to the temptation to travel the road of a church as entertainment. These churches still offer programs, but they are geared toward equipping members to live for Jesus in all aspects of their lives – their marriages, families and work. In these churches, pastors see themselves as servant-leaders, committed to equipping their members to “go” into the community and be God’s blessing, light and leaven. There is a need for greater emphasis on discipling every member of every congregation.

Discipling Marketplace Leaders (DML)
In 2013 ICM launched a pilot project called, “Discipling Marketplace Leaders.” There are many organizations working with Christians to help them become better business people. But none of these groups are doing so in direct conjunction with the local church. After two years of studying the synergy between the local church and their business people, the pilot project demonstrated that through the local church’s discipling, business people increased their spiritual and financial bottom lines. Through DML, pastors gain a better understanding of how to effectively disciple business people. It also helps business people understand the call as ministers to their communities by running their businesses as unto the Lord. The results are pastors commissioning business people to be ministers through their daily interaction within their communities. As a result, churches grow, giving increases, and members become more committed.

Frost ends his poem like this:
I shall be telling this with a sigh, somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. (
http://www.bartleby.com/119/1.html)

It is time to take the road less traveled, it is the one Jesus took, and we are to follow.

Thank you, Dr. Walker, for these thoughtful and challenging words.

ICM has now begun the process of rolling out DML in Kenya, Ethiopia, Egypt, Ghana, and Nigeria. We are looking at 2017 as a breakout year where we reach a tipping point in the movement. We need your help! We are looking for business people and pastors who want to team up with us to make the DML movement possible in many more countries. We are also in need of help in meeting the financial challenges of taking this message to the nations.  We are specifically looking for help as it relates to the work starting in the Northern Region of Ghana.  This is predominantly Muslim area and the Church is working hard to maintain its ground and grow.  This ministry would be of great assistance to the Church there.  We need $15,000 for the first year of work, to hire staff and navigate the vast terrain of the Northern Ghana region.  Or, to put it another way, we need twelve people to commit to $100/month for one year to help cover this cost.  If you would like to financially assist with this work, please give through the envelope enclosed from CRWM, or through their website at www.crwm.org (go to missionaries and find my name), or you can go directly to ICM at www.icmusa.org and include ‘20065’in the comment line.

Thank you for your faithful prayers, encouragement and support in partnering with the DML ministry!

Monday, June 27, 2016

An Inspirational Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 20, 2016

My Dear Ghana

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

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

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

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

2014:
And 2016:
















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

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

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

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

"Where is your brother?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 30, 2016

Carriers of Light

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

Carriers of Light:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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