Monday, September 21, 2009

Ask Zach About Practical




From Renita: Here's Something






Last week, Bob's post brought a series of responses ranging from hearty "Amens" to mild frustration on what to do or how to even get started when it comes to large justice issues and poverty. In pondering these comments, I found myself reflecting on how we got started and thought I would give Bob a break and share those reflections-- from the "for what it's worth" angle.

Step One: Get Mobile
For us, it wasn’t first an issue of “How do we address poverty in Africa,” because initially, we had no idea that our faith walk would take us to one of the poorest regions in the world. For us the issue was availability. Our lifestyle decisions up to that point had shackled us with so much stuff—and debt, we couldn’t follow Jesus beyond our comfortable neighborhood.

So when Bob and I began to get serious about living out our faith, one of the first things we did was make a commitment to get out of debt and detach from our stuff. We stopped using credit cards, put ourselves on a budget, and made a plan to get out of debt within a year. (Note: I do not believe debt includes a mortgage—a house is usually an investment.) Once we got ourselves out of debt, we then found ourselves much freer to follow a calling of God as we were no longer serving another (unfriendly, punitive) taskmaster. Our lack of debt freed us to ask serious questions about our lifestyle choices, and made us much more “mobile.” We were able leave the suburbs and live within walking distance of our church in one of the city’s poorest communities and get to know the salt there. We changed our purchasing patterns—less of the best, more used or second hand. Our debt-free mobility meant I could afford the time to work with community leaders and members to initiate a community development organization for our area—one that remains to this day. Our mobility allowed us the freedom to take a stand on behalf of Christian involvement in public education in poor communities—a position that cost Bob a good job at a Christian college whose policies prohibited that level of involvement. The result of the stand we were able to take brought us closer to the community. The path we had chosen meant Bob could start a low-cost counseling ministry in our area. Eventually, our path led us to Africa, and because we were not shackled to a consumer-based lifestyle and debt, we were able to go.

So for those who want to be more available to God—and His promised Abundant Life-- I suggest that you first get out of debt and work toward unattachment from the things of this world. Jesus said, "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money." If you need additional help with getting out of debt, check out Financial Peace University (
www.daveramsey.com/fpu/home ) or Crown Ministries (www.crown.org ). I‘m convinced that many people are called, but few are able to follow because they are serving two masters. Get out of debt and see what amazing and totally unexpected doors are wide open because you are free to walk through them.

Step Two: With Whom do You Identify?
Bob mentioned last week that it may be difficult or we may not want to identify with the poverty people endure everyday in, say, West Africa. As another step toward “doing something” I would recommend that you check out an opportunity that we published in The Reeds in Liberia a couple years ago, called "Let's play living Liberian"
Click here. This is an exercise that you can do as a family to experience some of choices that millions of families face every day. I haven't heard of many people who have actually done it, as it's not easy to do, but if you are serious about leading your family in the path of righteousness for His name sake, and lack of empathy is standing in your way, I would strongly encourage you to try it. After you have experienced a bit of poverty for a period of time, have a family meeting and set a new budget with new goals for what can be cut and what the plan will be. The exciting part of the meeting would be to focus on what you will be able to do as a family for the Kingdom of God with the excess freedom your choices may give you.

Step Three: Learn from an Eleven Year-Old
A third step from there is to figure out what to do. I am convinced that
no matter your age, no matter your skills, no matter your career, God can use you. In fact, He wants to use you in ways that you wouldn’t believe if He told you.

While driving the other day, I was listening to BBC and heard an interview with an 11 year old boy from Florida, who started walking for homelessness when he was six years old. The interviewer said, "Most people would say that children your age should be playing baseball or video games", Zach replied, "This is baseball or video games for me. I prefer to do this." He even started a foundation: Little Red Wagon, Inc.
You can read/watch more at (
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30644308/ or http://zachtracker.com). I didn't hear that this young man was a Christian, but his story, at his young age struck me as a parent and as an individual. If a six-year old can figure this out and make something happen, what can adults possibly say? The excuse “I don’t know what to do” won’t cut it. We can figure this stuff out. What we lack, Zach has—the empathy, the passion and drive to do it.

Both organizations that we work for (Partners Worldwide
www.partnersworldwide.org
and Christian Reformed World Relief Committee www.crwrc.org) work with regular people, in regular jobs, who want to give of their gifts and talents, whatever they may be. Check out their websites to see how to get involved. Yesterday I was on a phone meeting with Partners Worldwide, where two businessmen gave their testimonies of feeling restless last year, went to a Partners Worldwide conference in October '08, got plugged into work in Uganda, and are now using their gifts as business people in partnership with business people in Uganda - and their testimony is how they have been changed in the process. The excitement in their voice was palpable. (Partners Worldwide is having their 2009 conference October 8-10. Check out the website for more details.)

And throughout all this, Pray. Ask and listen. Paul said in his letter to the Philippians that “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.”(1:6) Paul continues on to say, in verses 9-11, “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.”

Monday, September 14, 2009

This May Sting a Bit




I don't Think He was Kidding





For a long time I have lamented how, for so many American Christians, life is mostly about creating a safe, comfortable life and happy home for family-- and that is the end of the matter. As if Christian scriptures extol the virtues of the America Dream, instead of the hundreds of references to pursuing justice, especially as it relates to the poor and oppressed. As if Micah really said “ …And what does the Lord require of you but to pursue comfort, to worship family, and to walk happily with your Stuff?” I sometimes wonder if those of us from the United States and Canada understand the extent, severity and nature of poverty. I think this must be the case, because if we examined how destructive, painful and flat-out wrong it is, more of us would be troubled, especially when we look out from our relatively cozy viewpoints of plenty. It cannot be that we see and understand how so many destitute humans live day to day—often as a result of our own decisions—and we simply disengage by choice from the misery of poverty. It cannot be that we do not care enough. I hope not.
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I’m thinking that in the US, our nonchalance about poverty might be due to the perception in the US that “poor people don’t have it so bad.” After all, there is plenty of US census data out there that most of the 12% of US Americans classified as “poor” by the government are making it. Few are undernourished-- only 2.5% of poor children are stunted in weight and height, and only 7% of poor households report that they “sometimes” or “often” do not have enough food to eat. According to the US government, 73% of the nation’s poor own a car, 80% have air conditioning, 64% have a clothes washer, 89% a microwave, 97% a color TV—62% with cable or satellite, 25% have a big-screen TV-- 78% have a DVD or VCR, 89% have phones. So maybe being poor is not such an ordeal. Maybe this is the mindset of many middle to upper class American Christians.
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However, in Ghana, and West Africa, and throughout the continent of Africa, poverty is a whole different animal, and I do not see how we can miss it. Poverty in Africa means destitution. It means gnawing hunger, stunted growth and starvation. It means thirst and foul water and disease. It means anger and frustration and humiliation and despair. Poverty in Africa destroys hope, creativity, and the will to continue, and it is everywhere. Millions of people in Africa have never known a single day without the shackles of poverty. Millions more will die as a direct result of the effects of poverty. 30,000 die every day in Africa because of their poverty. 6000 a day from HIV-AIDS. 3000 kids a day from malaria. A fifth of all African children will die before they reach their fifth birthday. With all the access we have to our world today, it possible so many Christians are unaware of these monstrous facts?
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Even here, in rapidly developing Ghana, poverty boggles the senses. Ghana is often touted as a beacon of development and a model for the entire sub-Saharan continent, an “island of peace and stability.” Indeed it is well on its way to achieving the Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty and hunger by 2015. But halving poverty in Ghana still means millions remain without enough food, water, adequate shelter, or access to health care or economic opportunity.
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In Ghana, poverty is concentrated in the northern part of the country; some people talk about “two Ghanas:” the Ghana of the south, more wealthy, growing, developing, looking more and more technologically advanced with each passing year, and the Ghana of the north, lagging behind, waiting for better roads, waiting for investments, waiting for change, waiting.
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But even the south suffers. Just a few miles away, in the heart of Accra, is an area known as Old Fadama. Old Fadama houses some 30-40,000 souls in conditions almost as bad as can be imagined. With no electricity, no water, no sanitation, the area has become an open sewer—literally a cesspool. Citizen of greater Accra have given Old Fadama another name—Sodom and Gomorrah, because with the poverty has also come drugs, violence, prostitution and a home base for criminals. The government has for years issued ultimatums and is currently threatening to evict the squatters and bulldoze the place—but where would the people go?

Amidst the squalor and poverty of Old Fadama, and of other places throughout Ghana and West Africa and the continent, it is impossible to escape the simple, staggering humanity of every single boy and girl, man and woman. As Christians, we are supposed to care about this. Many do. But surely, suffering of this magnitude, on this scale by fellow human beings ought to be a concern of all serious Christians. Surely we cannot be aware of this colossal injustice, inequity and pain and refuse to identify ourselves with it.

It scares me. Because if most Christians do know, if most of us have an awareness of the numbing suffering due to injustice and poverty in this world, and we choose to look the other way, what will Christ we say to us in the end? More frightening, if we avoid the poor, the hungry, the thirsty and instead choose lives focused primarily on serving ourselves and our loved ones—lives characterized by the pursuit of comfort, predictability and security—how can we possibly think of ourselves as serious Christians?


Or am I misreading the words of Jesus:

"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

"Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

"Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
Matthew 25:33-46

Isn't Jesus saying that He lives today in Old Fadama? Is He not saying that it is He who hungers there, He who drinks bad water, and He who has no toilet so He must relieve Himself where He can. Is He not telling us that He is sick and in a prison—and who sees Him? Who even is willing to look? Further, it seems that He is saying He expects us to look—and much more.

Across the ocean, the richest, most advantaged , most educated, most fed Christians in the history of the world live and worship. Many of us are indeed grateful for all God has given. I know some wonder how to give back. I know some want to do more. I also know it often ends there. We get distracted by the lives we have made for ourselves. I think about what we could do if we all looked beyond ourselves, our families and our comfortable distractions. If we determined to do something.
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It might help to remind ourselves about what its like for so many of the world, and if we remembered Who really lives in places like Old Fadama, waiting.
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We look away from Him at our peril.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Haulin' me in





Time for Another Trip to the Station


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Ok, enough with the Monopoly images. But I've wanted to use the "Go to Jail" card since the last time I got called in for a shakedown, and today I was blessed with another opportunity. This morning, Douglas and I headed off (note the Ford Escape to the left-- my "vehicle to extortion") to the Madina market. Now, Douglas (right, below) is a 45 year old man who is kind of a jack-of-all trades we have hired three days a week. Douglas also cooks Ghanaian food for us those days and gives me tips as I make my way in Accra. The Medina market is one of several very large-- huge-- open markets in and around Accra, and I admit to being completely enamored by them. There was nothing like this in Liberia. Liberia's largest market was a study in mob rule and filth, a living and desperate disaster. The market in Madina is chaotic, but there is order and organization, and for the most part, it is clean. I could spend hours bargaining, teasing and listening to the folks there-- although most people I cannot understand beyond the universal language of price haggling. Markets are more than being about buying and selling. They are the quintessential human creation, and provide the engine for community.

Anyway, when we had done all the damage we could for one morning, Douglas and I headed back toward East Legon where we live, stopping off for a couple of Cornish meat pies from one of the thousands of meat-pie vendors on the road. (Meat pies are very popular here, introduced by the British during their occupation in the nineteenth century.) Our mouths stuffed with flaky goodness, we headed back the way he had come. As I approached a bend, I noticed a "ONE WAY-- DO NOT ENTER" sign. I pointed it out to Douglas, slowing down to prepare to turn around. "No, no," he said, with a tone of calm certainty, "It is ok-- go ahead, go ahead."

That was my second traffic mistake in as many weeks. It turned out to be a new sign-- and a trap. Just around the bend were about six traffic cops gleefully picking off Ghanaian offenders left and right who thought they knew better. And now they had me. They took my license, my insurance, and my registration and told me to return to Madina police station. I was under arrest.

At the station, Douglas and I waited, got shuffled around, waited some more, until finally we were led out of the main building, around back to a little shack. It was filled with young men, non-uniformed, in rather grimy tee shirts, talking loudly, and a few uniformed officers. "Ok," I thought. "It's showtime." I sat down with a chubby police woman who told me I must be "processed," and then would have to come back tomorrow and see a judge who would fine me. I said ok. She emphasized that I could not see the judge today, but stressed I would have to come back for another day of waiting and being put out. I said fine. Finally, one of the non-uniformed young men approached Douglas as if he had something important to say. He whispered something to Douglas, who bent down to me and suggested that I "meet the young man outside." I knew exactly what had just happened. The man had told Douglas that "for something small," I could go home. I wasn't buying, and told the police women at the desk I would be happy to see the judge tomorrow.

Their bluff called, they now needed a way to get me out of there without losing face. After all, it wasn't worth their time to process me with all these other offenders to squeeze, but on what basis could they release me? The smallest pretext would be enough. So I gave them one. I said, "You know, the police told me two weeks ago to have a Ghana man ride with me so I would not make a mistake. Today, I do as police say. I take the Ghana man and look! He makes the mistake and I am here."

The shack erupted with the sound of laughter. Shouting, they cried that I had said a "wonderfully true thing," and because of this, I obviously must be allowed to leave without delay. I, through my marvelous insight and humor, had earned my freedom. I knew it was part of the show, so I demurely accepted their praise. They were slapping me on the back and shaking my hands as they ushered me out and (quickly) to my car.

Thus endeth my second encounter with the Ghana police.

In other news-- if we can change the subject, we went to the symphony the other night. The Ghana National Orchesta was putting on a benefit concert and the four of us attended with the Hannah and Noah's classmates and teachers. We enjoyed it, especially when they played "Guantanamera." I couldn't help but think of the bar scene in the movie, Antz.

Finally, Dusty the Dog continues to survive. She barely eats, but we believe she is sustaining her weight. Hannah discovered that she had been badly bitten by Jack's ultra sharp puppy teeth sometime last week, and it had festered into a nasty infection. The bacteria could be contributing to her illness so Daughter and Father are now twice daily tending to the rapidly healing wound. Dusty ate some fish today, but may not have kept it all down. Stay tuned.

The Ghana National Symphony Orchestra.

We have hundreds of coconuts, so a couple guys from the neighborhood cut 'em down and sell 'em. We get our palm trees trimmed.

Surprise! The Reeds now have three pups-- that's Jack on the left laying down, sick lil' Dusty continuing to look pathetic in back and... Faith! A very chubby happy pooch there on the right.

Blog Readers: Click on small pics to enlarge.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Jugglin' Stuff-- Dogs Too





ReedNews Update, Good-bye August Edition





As September begins, we find ourselves in a new country, in a familiar region, and far away from most of you. So being here is bittersweet, but it feels right. Our weeks are fuller than they have been in ten months, as we juggle everything involved in getting situated with our jobs as parents and employees of the two organizations that sent us in the first place. We’ve also been visiting other organizations and people, looking for ways to build connections and bridges that pay off directly and indirectly. August was a non-stop month, so we are hoping September is nicer to us. Here are some news tidbits:
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The Cost of Living—Well, it depends, but much in Ghana—especially US-style food in the big modern markets-- is crazy expensive. A jar of peanut butter, $10.00. A pound of mozzarella cheese, $10.00. A big bottle of ketchup, $10.00. Hamburger here is the current bargain meat at about 2.50-3.00 a pound. It’s similar to Liberia: We adapt by finding foods the Ghanaians don’t view as valuable and making it work. And we are exploring the huge open markets. Electronic items can be comparable to US prices if you shop around and avoid brands like brands popular in the US. Commodities, like furniture, are low because all you have to do is find the right road-side carpenter and you can get an entire hand-made living room set for $500.00, or a hardwood dining room table and padded chairs that seats eight for about the same. And a gallon of gas is high, too at $4.00. Car repairs? As in Liberia, workmanship costs are low, parts are high, which is a nice flip-flop from the US. We bought a 2003 Ford Escape (I hope we don’t regret going with an American car here—so many Toyotas and Nissans) and had the mechanic take two days to make sure it’s ok with brake work, new bushings, oil change, radiator flush, new plugs, and it will cost us about $200.00-- most of that for parts. So it’s a mixed, but mostly expensive bag with some surprise deals inside.
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Hurry Up and Wait— A big "time-eater" for us is joining or signing up or registering for things. Banks, immigration offices, schools, car insurance and registration, utility companies all require one to “Que up”—get in line while one’s interests are process. It’s the same in North America of course—but not usually all at once while everything else is swirling around, and usually not for hours at a time.

Utilities—It’s a whole lot better than anything we had in Liberia, but now that we’re adjusting to Ghanaian normal, we grumble sometimes. Like the other night, when we realized we had been without running water from the city for three days. We found out when our water tanks went dry and thus finally so did our faucets. Most middle-class type homes are connected to the city system, but also maintain their own reservoir, both for water pressure and for backup. Sometimes the water is off for days. In that case, households need to hire water tanks to fill our reservoir, and we need to be careful with water usage. Electricity is also mostly reliable. We’ve been here two and a half weeks, and the power has been off about five times for a total of 20 hour. Everybody tells us to get a backup generator, and we’re thinking on it. The Internet service is also intermittent and slow—about the speed of a 28Kps- 56Kps modem. But better than an internet cafĂ©.
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The Dogs—Its important that we have several dogs in our yard. The truth is, razor wire, as sad, ugly and unwelcome a necessity as it is, will not keep determined thieves away. It helps having multiple systems in place to make a home just not worth the effort. Dogs are a crucial part of that effort. However, of the three pooches we picked up, Downer was very sick within hours of arriving and died two days later, and now Dusty is sick, although it looks bacterial and we are treating her aggressively. She’s been sick for four days now, which is good and bad. We just don’t know if she’ll make it. Only Jack appears oblivious to all anguish and discomfort.

Getting to Know the Co-Laborers— This has been a fun part. We have had a chance to visit with organizations doing great work throughout Africa. Two of them: The Mobile Member Care Team and Theovision. MMCT has been in operation since 2000, and its focus is to provide training, counseling and consulting for ministry folks from all countries throughout West Africa. Quietly passionate and dedicated, they specialize in working in the midst of post trauma situations. They are also easy to sit with, and beyond that make a mean red-red, although their kelewele could have been spicier. (I think they may have been going easy on us.) Their web site is http://www.mmct.org/. Theovision is a completely different but equally fascinating Ghanaian organization run by Rev Theodore Asare and a dedicated staff. It gets the bible into remote places in the most unique way. Theovision sends a team into a village, and using modern equipment, records the language there and eventually record someone reading the bible in that language. The team comes back later with teachers, and they stay while conducting bible studies using tapes of the bible played in the villagers own tongue. Very powerful. Been around for almost 20 years, and has recorded around 150 languages. Web site: http://www.theovision.org/.
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Below some local pics. City, rural and market pics soon!

This is the way we chat on the phone much of the time. Renita with Liberia and the US at the same time, via Skype.
From right to left, our back yard. We have all of it to the green wall. And dontcha just looove what we did with the razor wire?
Anybody up for the "Tunnel Game?"
Our water tower. First, we rely on city water. When that fails, the tanks sustain us for about four days. Then we start searching for water trucks.

This guy's doin' great! Oblivious to the suffering...

...of this lady. Five days and still sick. But still with us.