Monday, September 30, 2013

Since my return...an update

"Sister Renita, you are a prophet." 

Those are the words that I heard twice last week, from two different pastors.  They went on to add that I am calling out a warning in the way of Ezekiel and that pastors and leaders of the Church, need to hear and respond.  This followed on the heels of a chapel service for pastors, in which I was told after, that if I had done an alter call, all the pastors would have had to come up and confess to standing in the way of their people glorifying God by doing business.

While I have heard positive feedback about my work throughout my time of doing it, these strong statements are unusual.  I think, in part, it is coming because I am speaking with a new passion and energy for this work.  There were a few things that happened this summer - a few "aha" moments - that have helped me articulate this work and this vision even better, and so I am finding myself speaking, teaching, and even preaching with more passion.  I am praising God for this, as I believe it is from Him.

I am currently teaching a Business as Mission class at the Africa Theological Seminary for about 20 pastors and business persons who will become trainers in this at their respective churches.  This is session one of two sessions in which they will earn a certificate to become trainers.  What a joy and delight to teach this material to them - to see lightbulbs going off, to watch them look at God delighting in work and business - to realize that work is NOT a curse, it can be worship and it's what we were created to do!

Pastor John Matui, an enthusiastic and charismatic pastor.
Yesterday I was privileged to give the message at a church of approximately 125 people in a small village (of about 2000 people) in Mt. Elgon.  The church was packed, in fact they are having the wonderful challenge of not having enough space in their church. It was a beautiful service, with a good portion of the service dedicated to testimonies.  Person after person gave thanks to God for His blessings - not a single person asked for prayer for anything.  The joy was palpable and contagious.  As I sat in the humble church, filled to overflowing, surrounded by praise, I was humbled to remember how blessed I am and how the joy of the Lord is our strength!

His very crowded church (intern Jeff in the front right).
I couldn't help but notice the new church that was being built adjacent to the current building.  As I asked Pastor Matui about it, he shared that this building project (see picture below) started in 2006 - seven years ago.  As the picture shows, it has a zinc roof, and steel crossbeams (instead of bamboo) and is cement block instead of mud.  It has been built, slowly but surely, by these faithful members, many of whom are farmers and small business persons.  They are now at the place where members are encouraged to "buy" a window for 5000 KSH (about $43 US).  While we were there, two older women gave their money for a window.  I can't imagine the sacrifice that was made on their part to contribute such a gift.  Again, a humbling experience. 
After church everyone shakes everyone's hand as they form a circle.  A lovely tradition.
The current structure.
The new structure, begun in 2006.
House of Hope VSL group
Since my return, I have also had the opportunity to visit with the business owners who were trained and commissioned as Marketplace Ministers at the beginning of June.  The reports continue to come back in very positively, with businesses growing, lives being given to Christ, new jobs created, and so on.  A big surprise to me is the success of two Village Savings and Loan groups that I helped start just prior to leaving.  I really did not think that they would be successful, as I gave the training and then left, without any ongoing support.  To my surprise though, both groups are doing great.  The first group, from House of Hope (which is a church of lower income, lower educated, micro business owners) had accumulated around $240 US during the three months, and were loaning that out to each other.  That is not a large amount of money, but to them it was huge!  Their pastor shared with me that her members are no longer coming to her for every little need, but are going to each other and growing from this group!  Praise God for that. 

Friends VSL Group
The second group is a bigger group with businesses that are a bit larger.  I was able to attend their fourth meeting (they meet monthly) and was surprised to learn that they have saved a total of 150,000 KSH or $1760 US in that same period of time!  They were very orderly in their procedures as well, closely following the constitution that had been put in place.  The money was all being loaned out; they had significantly more loan demand than their savings was able to meet, but they had a system in place for working it out.  Very exciting!

Intern Jeff Bloem arrived this past Wednesday as well and joined the BAM class, learning alongside the Trainers and getting to know the people with whom we will be working.  Additionally, I was excited to receive news of partial funding to hire a Kenyan to make this team three people strong!  I have posted the position and am beginning to receive CVs of interested persons.  Please pray along with us that we will find the right person!
I discovered a new fruit:  the sugar apple.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Mambo Sawa Sawa

I was going to update you on my work this week and share with you what I have found since my return, but there are two news stories that I think need our attention and our prayers, so I will update you on the work next week.

People fleeing the mall.  Picture taken from BBC website.
The first news story is terrorist attack that took place starting on Saturday at noon in Nairobi.  At the time that I am writing this, the death count stands at 68 with 175 people injured.  The siege is still ongoing however, with an unknown number of hostages inside, so we don't know what the final count of persons injured/killed will be.  My understanding is that this morning (Monday morning) there has been heavy gunfire heard. It is believed that there are between 10-15 male and female militants still inside.  The Somali Militant group, Al-Shabab, has claimed responsibility for this attack, which took place at noon at an upscale mall, where many expats and middle income Kenyans shop and spend their Saturdays.  The mall was hosting a special children's day event when the attack began. Those killed are men, women, and children, from North America, Europe, Asia, Ghana, and of course Kenya.  President Uhuru's nephew and his nephew's fiance are among the dead. 

Kenyan soldiers also injured.  Picture from BBC website.
Al-Shabab, which is linked with Al-Qaeda,  had apparently threatened that they would do this in response to the Kenyan military operations in Somalia.  This mall was a prime target because of the international presence.  If you recall in February I shared about the killing of one of the seminary students by the same group (click here for link).  This is a very sad event and scary for so many people.  Please pray that this does not fuel greater tensions between Muslims and Christians in Kenya; that the response by the government is wise and discerning; and that terrorism does not become an ever present danger and concern on the streets of Nairobi and other cities in Kenya.

The second story has to do with the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague.  If you have been reading our blog for some time, you have heard us talk about it.  It is this court that tried Charles Taylor, from Liberia, and found him guilty not too long ago.  It is this court that took former president Laurent Gbagbo from Cote d'Ivoire when he refused to step down and where he now awaits trial.  And now the recently elected president and vice-president of Kenya are to be tried by the ICC for atrocities during the 2007 Kenyan presidential election.  The vice-president's trial has already begun.  There has been a growing outcry among Africans that the ICC or the search for international justice is being politicized, and that African leaders specifically are targeted while atrocities in other areas are ignored.  It has now come to the point that on October 13, the African Union will meet in Addis Ababa to discuss a mass withdrawal from the ICC in protest.
Kenyan Vice-President William Ruto at the ICC trail.  Photo from BBC.

While the Kenyans I speak with claim that they don't know the truth about the innocence or guilt of their president or vice-president in this matter, there is a principle at stake:  a principle of justice and equity. 

This morning at church, we sang a song in Swahili called "Mambo Sawa Sawa" which says that things are already better when the Lord is on the throne.  I like that phrasing - "things are already better."  When I hear  a song like that, sung with confidence and joy by Kenyans who are facing or who have faced so much, it gives the words a whole new meaning.  Please pray with us that those making key decisions will keep the Lord on the throne.  Please pray with us that things will get better - for the hostages, the families in mourning, for national justice and international justice, and even for the members of the Al-Shabab Militant group, who also need to know the Lord.

Thanks to so many of you who have sent me messages since Saturday letting me know that you are praying and wondering about my safety.  I am very safe, being about 250 miles northwest of Nairobi.  I received three text messages from the US Embassy on Saturday alerting me to the danger, so there is good communication.  I am not concerned for myself, but for my brothers and sisters in Nairobi.  Thank you for continuing to pray.

Monday, September 16, 2013

A Time of Rededication: A Song, a Message, and a Prayer

On Friday morning, after a trip of about forty-eight hours, I returned to Kitale, Kenya, where I will be until early June, 2014.  That seems like a very long time to be away from loved ones, especially my children and Michael.  It is true that I have left before, many times, for even longer periods.  But having done it before, doesn't make it easier now.  Knowing what I know, knowing what can happen in times apart, knowing the fragility of life, can make it more difficult.  This was evidenced in the death of a dear friend and elder, John Lambers, while I traveled to Kitale.  In an instant, I'm reminded of how far away I am from loved ones - how unable I am to reach out to hug, to be present, to share in the grieving and in the joy of my church family.

And so I find myself in a time of rededication to my Lord and God: of myself, my loved ones, my calling, and my work; I imagine that this is something that we are all called to do on occasion, wherever we are. And so, just as I have been ministered to in various ways this weekend through various venues, let me share those with you, in case you too are in need of some encouragement.

Last week, at Madison Square Church, we were led in worship in a song that commanded us to "Go, go, go..." and I found myself thinking about how easy those words are to sing...and how difficult to do.  This weekend, I have been singing Michael Neale's mix of Take my life/I am Yours, as can be heard here.  The words, at times, are an effort of my brain to bring my heart along: Take my life, You are all I live for, I am yours.

I then listened to a message from Pastor Joy Bonnema, from Madison Square Church, who reminds us so passionately of the power of the Holy Spirit that is ours as we are sent out (Acts 1:8) and that we are not called to stay in our comfort zone.  To hear her message and passion, and her own remarkable testimony of going, you can hear it here: http://www.madisonsquarechurch.org/sermondownloads/2012-10-28-MS.mp3 

Lastly at the Christian Reformed World Missions Orientation this past summer, Patty Hogan shared some prayers from the book called, Guerillas of Grace: Prayers For the Battle, by Ted Loder.  I quickly got myself a copy and have been ministered to by these prayers as well. This prayer in particular speaks to where I am right now:
Turn your Spirit Loose
O God, turn your Spirit loose now,
and me with it,
that I may go to where the edge is
to face with you the shape of my mortality:
the inescapable struggle and loneliness and pain 
which remind me
that I am less than god after all,
that you have made me with hard limits,
limits to my strength,
my knowledge,
my days.

Facing those limits, Lord,
grant me grace
to live to the limit
of being unflinchingly alive,
irrepressibly alive,
fully alive,
of experiencing
every fragile,
miraculous,
bloody,
juicy, 
aching,
beautiful ounce of being a human being;
of doing my duty and a little more;
of loving the people around me, my friends and my enemies;
of humbling myself to take others seriously and delightedly;
of applying my heart to the wisdom of simplicity, the freedom of honestly.

O God, turn your Spirit loose here, and me with it,
that I may go to where the silence is
to face with you the utter mystery
of questions without answers,
pain without balm,
sorrow without comfort,
and fears without relief,
which hound my days
and haunt my sleep.

Facing the mystery, Lord,
grant me grace 

to wrestle with it
until I name the fears
and force them to set me free
to move on with whatever limp I'm left with;

to wrestle with it
until the pain teach me 
and I befriend it,
until the silence subdues me
into an awareness that it is holy
and I am healed by it;

to wrestle with it
until I go deeper in it
to gratitude
for all the shapes of wholeness
and of hope that bless me.

 O God,
turn your Spirit loose now,
and me with it,
that I may go to where the darkness is
to face with you the terrible uncertainty of tomorrow:
of what will happen,
what might happen,
what could happen,
to me
and to my children
and to my friends,
to my job,
to my relationships,
to my country;
all that I cannot see, but fantasize,
that I would prevent, but cannot,
and so must accept as possibilities.

Facing the uncertainty, Lord,
grant me grace
to look at it directly and openly and truly,
to laugh at it with crazy faith
in the crazy promise
that nothing can separate me from your love;
to laugh for the joy of it,
the joy of those saving surprises
that also stir in the darkness.
And, so, I trust,
despite the dark uncertainty of tomorrow,
in the light of my todays,
in the cross,
and in a kingdom coming,
and, so, I move on and pray on
with Jesus, my friend and redeemer.
Unflinchingly alive.  Crazy faith.  Crazy promise.  Indeed.  Amen and amen.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Temptation of Plenty

Noah heading back to Calvin.
I have booked my ticket to return to Kenya next week Wednesday, September 11, which means that I have secured enough pledges to cover my support.  Thanks to all of you who graciously and generously have committed yourself to this work by supporting it financially! 

There is no doubt that this will be one of the more challenging departures.  Leaving Hannah and Noah for nine months will be tough; and leaving Michael, and a relatively new relationship, will be difficult, to say the least.  Hopefully Hannah and Noah will be able to come to Kenya for a visit over Christmas and stay for interim, taking a class at the Africa Theological Seminary.  And hopefully, Michael will be able to visit Kenya once during these nine months as well. 
Michael and I enjoying Niagara Falls.

The good news is that throughout the summer the work that I am doing continues to take shape and receive affirmation.  As I have recounted previously, my shift from doing business development with non-profits or NGOs to working with and through churches, was prompted by this key phrase from Ed Silvoso, an author of many Marketplace Ministry books, who said, "Be careful that you don't fatten people's bellies on their way to hell."  This phrase, of course, refers to the idea that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  So as we are in the business of poverty alleviation - or the positive phrase of that is wealth creation - how are we protecting people's faith and discipling them to stay faithful to the call of God? 

Dr. Robert Coles calls this the "temptation of plenty."  In fact, he refers to the temptation of plenty as the most dangerous temptation all.  In the book by Philip Yancy called Soul Survivor (I referenced this book when I first read it in the summer of 2011 - you can read that posting here - it's a great book), Yancy spends a chapter on Dr. Robert Coles writings and specifically this issue.  Coles concluded that being privileged tends to stifle compassion, curtail community and feed ambition.  Yancy writes,
Reviewing the rich and poor people he had come to know, Coles was struck with the ironies.  It was true the poor were cursed...yet in a strange but undeniable way, the poor were also blessed, for whatever reason, with qualities such as courage and love and a willing dependence on God.  The irony:  good humanists work all their lives to improve the condition of the disadvantaged, but for what?  To raise them to the level of the upper classes so that they too can experience boredom, alienation and decadence? 
By the time the last of [his]...volumes were published, Coles had arrived not in a new place, but in a very old place.  He had traveled thousands of miles, recorded miles of tape, and written a million words, all of which pointed right back to the Sermon on the Mount.  He had discovered that the poor are mysteriously blessed and that the rich live in peril.  He had learned that what matters most comes not from without - the circumstances of life - but from within, inside the heart of an individual man or woman or child.  He had begun his research with a head full of phrases such as "guilt complex," "character disorders," "response to stimuli."  He had emerged with old-fashioned words like conscience and sin and free will. 
What was he to make of it all?  He dare not glorify poverty, for his field research had taught him the folly of that romanticism.  Nor dare he glorify wealth, which he now saw as a distraction or actual impediment to what matters most.
This quote reminds of God's will for our lives, my calling to encourage the Church, and the calling of the Church worldwide to equip, disciple, and encourage ALL believers in their dependence on God.  I am excited about the work that is ahead of me.  I am looking forward to joining God in the work that He has already begun in Churches and through the Marketplace.

So this is a bittersweet time - a time of saying goodbyes and a time of starting an exciting work.  I leave you with a video that Michael took of my father (who is in a nursing home with Alzheimers) and my mother singing, Great is Thy Faithfulness, when we visited them this summer.  My Dad didn't recognize me but he still does remember a few hymns.  This video is a good reminder to me of the faithfulness of God in all things, as well as a beautiful testimony yet of my father's recognition of the faithfulness of my mom to him through 56 years of marriage.
video