Sunday, February 24, 2013

Reed Update - one month in

Business meeting in with my translator.
I just returned from a weekend in Butere, a city about 150 km south-west of Kitale.  I went to visit one of the pastors from my class, Rev. Ibrahim Makokha.  I had a chance to visit a number of businesses from the members of his church, Butere Miracle Center, and on Sunday morning was able to speak at both of the morning services.  Following the second service, they gathered all of the members of their Professional, Business, and Farmers Association, and I had some time to do some teaching on Business as Mission.  There were over 70 business people there, with a number of people missing due to involvement in the upcoming election.  It was an exciting and dynamic group.  Let me just pause here to say, I love what I am doing!  I get so much energy from visits like this - meeting with small business owners, seeing a church get excited about how pulpit pastors and marketplace ministers can work together to build the church!  The pastors are really getting it...and the business people are so appreciating the affirmation of their calling and the fact that God created and loves work! 
Mud block making business
[...By the way, did you realize that Jesus was a business man?  That for probably 15-18 years of his life, he worked as a carpenter... selling, negotiating prices, making sure his business was profitable, dealing with customers, understanding supply and demand?  Remember, he was the first born son and his father died early.  The weight would have been on him to teach his younger siblings in the trade.  Additionally, did you know that of the 132 public appearances that Jesus made, 122 were in the marketplace?  And that of the 52 parables that Jesus told, 45 of the parables had a workplace context?  Some of the themes were:  crop yield, management and labor, construction, misuse of money, ranching, hostile takeovers, wine-making, and so on.  Also, most of the disciples Jesus selected were business men.  And the gospel writers were mostly business men.  Jesus recruited people from the Marketplace to be the backbone of his redemptive movement!  That is just a little bit of what I present to business people...]  
Pastor on left, translator on right
Unfortunately, I had to tell them that their church was not selected for the pilot project, but by the time I left, I did promise to come back monthly to begin the Partners Worldwide model of basic business training, mentoring, access to capital, and advocacy.  While disappointed that I would not be moving to Butere for three months, they were somewhat placated by the promise of a monthly visit.  I also really enjoyed the church.  The preaching was very sound, the worship very worshipful.  But the highlight was the translator.  Each service is in English; the first service is translated into Swahili, and the second into the local language.  The translator was one of the best I have ever seen.  As I told him afterward, he not only translated the words, but he translated the passion.  The pastor and the translator worked so well together, it was amazing and so enjoyable to watch!

Alfred and his son, Harrison, outside the Friends Church.
Pilot Project:  I'm excited to announce that the pilot project for the ICM Marketplace Ministry has been decided.  It will be held right here in Kitale and will be with the Friends Church (Quakers).  [Apparently Africa has 46% of the population of Quakers, with Kenya having the largest number of all African countries.]  This church has about 200 members many of whom are involved in business.  In addition, they have a few daughter churches in the surrounding area.  The pastor who attended the Business as Mission class, Alfred Kibairu, was one of the pastors who said from day one that this class was an answer to prayer for their church - it was what they had been wrestling with and prayed for some way to better equip their business members.  There are two other good things about having the pilot here in Kitale - first, there are four other pastors from the class who have their churches in the area.  They will each be invited to send three business people from their church, making the class multi-denominational, and allowing for other churches to begin to embrace Marketplace Ministry a bit more.  Additionally, since ATS (the seminary) is right here in Kitale, it makes sense to start in the home town.  We hope to gather a number of churches to do prayer walks through the marketplace and begin to reclaim it for Christ.  Lord willing, the class will start mid-March, after the elections. 

A small, rural church that I attended last week.  I loved it!
Learning Swahili Learning a new language at the age of 44 is not easy, but I'm thankful that Swahili seems to be easier than other least easier than French and tonal languages.  I have a tutor who meets with me three times a week...and I have a pounding headache at the end of each session!  But I'm able to greet people pretty well, as well as greet churches.  The thing about Swahili is that each word ends with a vowel - I think I would enjoy playing Scrabble in Swahili - no more complaining about too many vowels!  For example, as I often speak in churches, I greet the congregation by saying this:  Ndugo na dada zungu, nawa salimu kwajina la Jesu Kristo.  This translates to, Brothers and Sisters, I greet you in the name of Jesus Christ.  Lots of vowels, right?  But then if I want to say, God bless you, it is:  Mungu awabariki.  However, Swahili has verb prefixes that determine if it is plural, present, past, future tense, or negative.  So when you remove the prefix, the root word for bless is bariki.  But the word for kettle is bakuli.  So I am afraid some day that I will say "Mungu awabakuli" ...God kettle you!  Oh well, I have to try.  I'm sure I'm not the first mzungu to mess up the language!
The congregants of the rural church - a lot of talent in that small group!

Weather:  The weather continues to be pleasant, with temperatures in the mid-70s during the day, but getting as low as 42F at night.  Since there is no heating system and the windows don't really close, it makes for some chilly mornings!  So, for those of you who laughed at me for needing a blanket when the temp was in the 70s in Michigan, you be happy to know that I think my blood is finally getting thicker!  The other thing is that because of the higher elevation, we do get some strange weather patterns.  The other day, it was 77F by about 4 pm, and a storm rolled in with hail.  It immediately melted, but it's not at all unusual here to see hail.  I like it because it gives me a sense of winter without what all of you are going through back in the US!

The instant hot water heater in my shower.
Electricity - I was spoiled during my first two weeks here (or maybe welcomed :-) with the electricity being on pretty steadily; and any time it went off, the generator on campus immediately kicked on.  But the last two weeks have been a different story.  The power seems to go off and on about 20-30 times per day, and I think the generator has worn itself out.  The frustrating thing about that is that each time the electricity goes out, the IP address for the wireless internet has to be reset...and it's in the administration building, so for most of the time, the internet doesn't work.  Thankfully I have a modem that allows me to get online without electricity.  The other challenge is showers...they have instant water heaters here, which of course depend on electricity.  If you know me, you know I must have a shower in the morning to be able to feel awake during the day...but taking a cold shower when it is 50 degrees in your room is quite a challenge!  (I wonder why these instant water heaters haven't taken off in the US.  It immediately heats your water - no more running out of water because someone takes a shower for too long, and the only power needed is while you are taking the shower.) 

Ugali with sikuma wiki
Food and Drink - The most common foods eaten here seems to be ugali with sikuma wiki.  Ugali is a maize flour (cornmeal) cooked with water to a doughlike consistency.  Because there is a lot of corn grown here, it is quite affordable.  Sikuma wiki is a stew made of kale, which is also grown in abundance here.  It is not spicy like West Africa at all, which means I need to carry hot pepper with me since I have grown very used to spicy food.  The main drink here is Chai.  As they say, "Every time is tea time!"  Because of the abundance of dairy farmers around (everywhere you go, you see grazing cows roaming around), so milk is in abundance. As I mentioned before, this area is called the bread basket of Kenya, with so much farming going on.

Election:  The election is scheduled for next week Monday, March 4; schools will close this week Thursday and will remain closed for one week.  It seems that much of the country will shut down during the course of the election.  Because they have implemented biometrics (electronic voting) for the first time, they expect to announce the results by the next day.  As we continue to move closer to the election, prayers continue to be needed.  Many churches are planning a fast and prayer time for the whole weekend, with people staying at the church to pray through the night.  The more time I spend talking with people here, the more I am beginning to understand the complexities behind what happened in the 2007 election, as well as the dynamics behind the current situation.  Kenya held their first ever presidential debate on February 11 and a second will be held tonight, February 25.  You can stream in to watch it online, as I will (I don't have a TV) if you are interested; it looks like one of the two frontrunners will not participate due to the focus of the debate on the 11th on the indictments on both he and his vice-presidential candidate by the International Criminal Court.  The BBC has a good summary of what is going on currently with the election.  If you are interested, click here.
Random monkeys playing outside my window while I worked.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

An ATS Martyr

On February 7, at 12:30 pm, in the Kenyan city of Garissa, an alumni of the Africa Theological Seminary was shot and killed by two members of the Muslim Extremist group, Al-Shabaab.  Pastor Ahmed Abdiwelli had graduated two years ago from ATS and just last year received one of the 28 motorcycles that were given to pastors who were working in remote areas.  Pastor Abdiwelli was a Somali and a former Muslim.  He had been working as an evangelist in an underground church among the Somali population in the North-Eastern province of Kenya, through Youth With a Mission.  He and another pastor, Ibrahim Makunyi, were in a car when two gunmen approached them and shot them at close range, killing Pastor Abdiwelli immediately, and injuring Pastor Makunyi.

Ahmed Abdiwelli
I learned from ATS staff that Pastor Abdiwelli knew he was in danger and had fled a few times for safety, taking refuge in various cities until it felt safe to return.  This area of Kenya is especially dangerous for Christians.  In 2012, twenty-two Christians were killed and over 100 persons injured in attacks like this one in the area of Garissa. 

Pastor Abdiwelli's body was taken to Nairobi, but no-one from his family wanted to claim it since he had forsaken their faith.  He was buried on Thursday, February 14, on the Youth with a Mission campus in Nairobi.

His voice on this earth has been silenced.  But I am thankful that his voice has not been silenced in the heavenly realm.  We are reminded in Revelation 6: 9-11  that "the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony that they had maintained," will have a voice.  They will cry out, "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?"  Then they are each honored by being given a white robe and told to wait a little longer.

I'm reminded of an analogy of the time that we are in, as written by Ken Blue.  He reminds us of World War II, when the allied troops landed on the Normandy Beach successfully (D-Day).  He says,
It was understood by  military experts that this operation secured ultimate victory for the allies.  There would be, however, many more bloody battles fought before the day on which ultimate victory would be realized:  "V-E Day" (Victory in Europe Day).  In God's war with evil, "D-Day" occurred with the death and resurrection of Christ.  Ultimate victory is now assured; yet the fight rages on until "V-E Day," the glorious return of Christ.  Between these times, the Church presses the battle against the evil which remains in the world.  Blood is still shed in these battles, and some of the blood will be ours, but we are assured that the ultimate victory of the past will be fully realized in the future.  
Additionally, though this is a time of battle, it is also a time of mercy - a chance in-between the first coming of Christ and the second coming of Christ where people have a chance to receive the gift of salvation.  My prayers are also for those associated with Al-Shabaab.  Thank God for both the assurance of victory, as well as the opportunity for mercy.

Pastor Abdiwelli is survived by his wife, Hellen, and three young sons.  Please pray for this family.  And please continue to pray for the struggle with Al Shabaab that continues in Kenya.  Unconfirmed reports on February 15 announced the killing of a Kenyan soldier by this group and a threat to kill more hostages that have been taken.

ATS will be taking an offering for this family at the up-coming chapel service on Wednesday and will also find a way to memorialize him on campus. Please pray for the other pastors, both current students and alumni, as this is a stark reminder of the dangers that some are facing as they carry the gospel forward. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Business as Worship?

I have a confession to make.  I have called a missionary for over seven years and yet I have never taken a missions class.  Of course, I grew up in the CRC and memorized 87 Q&As from the Heidelberg Catechism for my profession of faith; as a Calvin grad, I took the requisite courses on Biblical Theology and Reformation Theology; I've read many books, attended conferences and workshops related to missions...but have never taken an in-depth missions course.  Up until now.
The first Business as Mission class at ATS!

[I have to also admit, however, that I have never liked calling myself a missionary.  On my landing cards for immigration, I almost always write "business consultant" under profession.  There is something about the title "missionary" that makes me feel uncomfortable.  But I digress...]

One of the requirements for International Christian Ministries (ICM) staff is that they take a course called, "Perspectives on the World Christian Movement."  This involves a 768 page text, online audios, papers, and online quizzes.  I just completed my second lesson and I am really enjoying it.  I think the timing is especially right considering the change that I went through in this last year regarding my calling and a shift in view of my work.

There are a few statements from my most recent reading that captured my attention and caused an involuntary "Amen" to escape.  Most of these quotes refer to the concept of missions in general, but also the presentation of missions to the world:
It is not primarily out of a compassion for humanity that we share our faith or pray for the lost; it is first of all, love for God...We should never be Christian humanists, taking Jesus to poor sinful people, reducing Jesus to some kind of product that will be better than their lot.  ~John Dawson
Missions is not a recruitment project for God's labor force.  It is a liberation project from the heavy burdens and hard yokes of other gods.  (Matt 11:28-30)  ~John Piper
The weakness of much current mission work is that [we] betray the sense that what is yet to be done is greater than what [Christ] has already done.  The world's gravest need is less than Christ's great victory.  ~P. T. Forsyth
So many conflicting and competing missions cry for our attention.  We're so easily drawn and quartered by the pull of divergent needs and calls.  Without a central understanding of the Biblical emphasis on the Kingdom of God, our terminology becomes one of, "I bring you bad news of sad problems"...These things are important, but the gospel begins with, "I bring you good news of great joy!"...Instead of relying entirely on presentations of need, we must begin inviting people to participate in God's work by making known to all people the "mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." (1 Pet 2:9)  ~Tim Dearborn
Through these readings, I have come to identify more clearly that the people group that I am reaching out to are business people - those in the Marketplace, which we define as business, education,and government.  Piper states that the ultimate goal of the Church is worship.  He says, "Missions only exists because worship doesn't...Mission is the means to get people to the greatest activity in the world, which is worship...Worship is the fuel and goal of missions." What these readings have helped clarify for me is that my overall goal is not to make the businesses more successful...or to create jobs...or to build the church by building its members (those can be sub-goals)...but my overall goal is to bring worship into business, or people in business into worship.   Up until this time, I have been working with the term, "Business as Mission" but maybe the term should be "Business as Worship"?  What would the world look like if people recognized that labor is worship and they entered the Marketplace each day with an attitude of going to worship?

Business people need to be reminded that they can be called and anointed to do business - that God delights in work and in business.  He has a great purpose on earth for business in terms of providing needed resources that allow individuals and communities to flourish, as well as to create jobs where people's God-given creativity has an outlet to make this world a better place.  My goal is to free people from the burden of work and rediscover the joy of work - the worship of work - a calling that comes from the Creator - which will allow people to worship while they work.   This helps me better define my goal and my focus.  I have the privilege of traveling to Thailand in April to take part of the Business as Mission Congress and I hope to engage in further dialogue about this with like-minded colleagues.

Henry Blackaby reminds us that,  "when God is about to take a further step to advance His mission, He comes to one or more of His servants.  He lets them know what He is about to do.  He invites them to join Him, bidding them to adjust their lives to Him so that He can accomplish every aspect of His mission through them."  I am beginning to more clearly see God's hand in hindsight as it relates to how I have come to teach Business as Mission at the Africa Theological Seminary (ATS).  In fact, two of the pastors stated over and over how this class was an answer to prayer as it dealt specifically with an area in their church with which they had been wrestling.  Lord willing, I hope to be able to do a pilot project with each of these pastors - it seems that God has already taken steps with these two churches and I hopefully can join Him in the work.  How exciting is that!

Thursday was a game day of ATS staff against a non-profit located here on campus, Water Missions International.  All the people in this picture played...even the women in their dresses!  It was fun to watch them play and laugh together.
A little football (soccer) action...ATS (in yellow) won...
A little volleyball action...ATS won (Dean of Theology is the one in black pants up in the air)...
Good ol' Tug of guessed it...ATS men won...although the women lost:-(.  (Assistant Principal of ATS third from the end on the right; Director of Counseling Program first yellow shirt on left)

Sunday, February 3, 2013

One week in...

I have made it through my first full week in Kitale.  And I wouldn't say that I just survived, but rather thrived!

While the week was good, I do find myself wondering about the irony of where God has me right now.  When we moved to Liberia, Bob struggled significantly with the incessant heat and humidity.  He longed to live in a place in Africa that was cooler.  When we talked to our children initially about moving to Africa, one of their first questions was what kind of animals will be there?  There were no animals of note in Liberia.  And now I'm living in a place where the temperature seems about perfect.  Cool in the night, warm in the day.  Yesterday, as I drove to town, I passed a group of vervet monkeys, cows, donkeys, and goats.  Last weekend I saw a lot more animals than that, within close driving distance.  And the natural beauty of this place is amazing.  Why God now has me in a place that would be perfect for my family, and yet I am here alone, is a question I will probably have to wait on the answer to until I get to heaven. But I am at peace, just smiling and wondering at the irony of the situation. 

One of the pastors from my class.
I started teaching my class this past Thursday.  There are twelve students, almost all of whom are pastors; eleven men and one woman.  The first day was a revelation, as I presented a concept that was new to all of them - the idea of Marketplace Ministry and Business as a Mission.  I came to understand that they had no idea what this class was going to be about...and hoped that at a minimum they would learn how to be better at running their own personal business so that they could support themselves as pastors. 

The church where I worshiped on Sunday - a rural church in Kitalale.

At the end of the first day, I could see that light-bulbs had gone on for several students.  The next day, several more.  The highlight in the week for me was the first journal presentation on the second day of class.  I asked each person to keep a journal - a record of their thoughts as it relates to the class, our discussions, their readings - an attempt for them to get in touch with what the Holy Spirit is doing in and through them in this class.  While they struggled a bit with keeping a journal (wondering if it was supposed to be a daily reaction paper :-), I was so encouraged by the first person who shared from his heart.  One of the things that he shared was that he had never considered Christian business people as called and anointed by God.  He had always looked down on the marketplace and looked down on business people as less holy.  He said that he was feeling convicted that one of the first steps was to confess and ask for forgiveness from the business people in his church, and then figure out how to partner with them, as pulpit pastors and marketplace ministers.  Amen!!  That was what I was hoping to hear and didn't expect to hear it the second day already!  The books that I brought for the library, to be used by future classes, this class wants to buy because they say it is important for their ministry to have these books in their own library!  I'm very thankful to God for this and look forward to what He will continue to do in and through these pastors as they reconsider their flock and the role of the church in the world.

Some other quotes from the pastors so far in terms of what the Holy Spirit has been doing in their hearts are:
  • "This class has revolutionized my way of thinking and my approach to my ministry.  Every pastor should take this class!"
  • "Pastors only have access to congregants 52 days out of the year; while Marketplace Ministers are on the work site 313 days out of the year."
  • "The marketplace is a combination of the business, government, and education, and we have been focused on discipling individuals, rather than discipling nations (as we are called to do in the Great Commission)."  This pastor shared that we must obey this command and that we are equipped to do so, because God has called us to it!
  • "The gap between the rich and the poor can be exacerbated by both sides...and pastors tend to be intimidated by the rich, not recognizing their need for Christ and forgiveness as much as anyone else."
  • "People are not the problem, they are the solution!  But those in poverty do not see themselves as the solution, with the ability to be creative and produce for themselves and this world, often because of a lack of hope."
  • "The Creational Mandate, and the call to work, puts a whole new perspective on the so-called Prosperity Gospel that many are preaching.  The prosperity gospel tends to put the emphasis the exterior - that God will rain down blessings if people do a,b,c,d...the Creational Mandate instead puts the emphasis on the interior - that we each have the ability to create and to produce because God made us in His image...and He creates, works, and produces." 
  • "Church growth problem could be addressed by equipping and releasing Marketplace Ministers into the Marketplace, and partnering with them to reach many people."
And I could go on.  Many, many great debates.  It has been exciting and I have thoroughly enjoyed it! It is definitely different teaching pastors than teaching business persons, but I feel so blessed to have started this class with such a great group of pastors who are so willing to engage and examine this new area of opportunity for ministry!

On to other news:
Raila Odinga
Elections:  The Kenyan election continues to draw closer, with the date set for March 4.  There are six candidates, and of the six, there appears to be two front-runners - the current prime minister, Raila Odinga, with the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), who became the Prime Minister in a coalition government after the violent post-electoral crisis in 2007.  The position of Prime Minister will be eliminated after this election.

Uhuru Kenyatta
The other front-runner is Uhuru Kenyatta, with the National Alliance Party, who is the son of Kenya's first president.  What makes him a bit of an interesting candidate is that he has been charged by the International Criminal Court of crimes against humanity following the 2007 post-election violence.  Many people with whom I have spoken believe that these are trumped up charges of a conspiratorial nature.  Lots of preparations are going on for this election, including many safety and security measures in places that were hot spots in the last election.  Surveys show that the key items facing Kenyans are lack of jobs and high cost of living, as well as insecurity, poor leadership, bad infrastructure, and lack of water.

Driving:  I have learned to drive on the wrong...I mean...left side of the road!  I still have to keep repeating, "left, left, left" while I drive, as my instinct is to naturally go on the other side.  Additionally, I keep turning on the windshield wipers instead of the signal light when I want to turn, and haven't learned yet to look over my left shoulder when reversing, instead of my right.  But I had a very good teacher who declared that I was a Kenyan on my second day of driving!  Thankfully driving a stick and driving in crazy traffic, with motorcycles and pedestrians all over, doesn't bother me, otherwise the learning curve would be very steep!