Monday, December 22, 2014

"I've got you..."

This blog may make some of you uncomfortable, as I will be talking about the healing power of touch.  If that does make you uncomfortable, please stop now and know that next week's topic will be different!

For those of you still here, I want to share something that has become an important realization to me in the last six months, as it has been such a surprise. It is intimate and personal, yet I think important.  It has to do with sleeping with someone - not sex - but actually sleeping.

You see, Bob and I shared a bed for nineteen and a half years.  Very early in our marriage we somehow decided that it was too hot and disruptive to hold each other during the night and still get a good night's sleep.  And so we slept side by side but without touch.  And to be honest, over the years when I saw people sleeping and holding each other on TV or in movies, I was 99% certain that they just did that for the cameras.  After all, I believed that people can't actually get good sleep that way!

Imagine my surprise after marrying Michael six months ago when he immediately wanted to hold me all through the night.  I thought, "well, we can try it but I can't imagine that we will get much sleep."  For the first few nights, I didn't sleep much as I'm a light sleeper.  But then I got used to it.  And I have grown to absolutely love it.  Suddenly, the bed is a haven, a safe place where being held is so healing and powerful.  It is private and intimate, and no-one enters in that sacred place.  To enjoy that for seven hours a night is an amazing thing!  It makes you feel that you can face any troubles in the daytime, knowing that there will be healing again that night.  If you have experienced this type of touch and affection for your entire married life, then you are indeed blessed.  I wish I could turn back the hands of time and do it differently with Bob as I think it would have made our marriage even stronger and healthier.

Not only is being held a delight, but whenever Michael stirs during the night, he usually whispers some words of love to me for a second (almost unconsciously) and then falls right back to sleep.  On one of the first nights when he stirred, with his arms around me, he said reassuringly "I've got you."  I remember smiling and thinking to myself, "Really?  You've got me?  Hmmm...not sure I need that.  After all, I'm this tough missionary lady who has survived rogues, arrests, a husband's death, and being alone in Africa.  I think I've proven that I am not the type of woman who needs a man." 

Yet, over the months, I have learned something additionally important.  I do need someone to hold me and tell me that they've "got me".  I have learned that I'm not so tough.  I have learned that in many ways, this is how I was made to be at this time in my life - in relationship, in communion, both a helpmate to and a helpmate of another person.  God has used Michael to slowly break down that wall of independence.  The thing I love about Michael is that he has always seen me as Renita the person, and not Renita the missionary or Renita the widow or any other role.  And so when he says he's "got me," he is telling me that NOT because I am needy or weak or need reassurance, but simply because he loves me.  And that lesson has pointed me back to the realization of my dependence on God as well.  I want to feel the embrace of God and know that He's "got me" but too often I don't want to bother Him, or I think I need to solve my issues for myself, or even worse, for Him.  But God's desire for me, like Michael's, is one of pure love and acceptance, and He has proven over and over again to me that He's "got me."

That is one of the gifts of Christmas time - the message that He's "got us" whether we are married or single, old or young, wise or naive. The message is that it doesn't matter what we have or have not done, said or not said, thought or not thought; He loves us and He desires to be intimate with us and hold us in His safe, reliable, and ever-loving arms. And likewise, I think the message for us is that we need each other to be the hands and feet of Jesus, to hug and encourage, to "have" each other when we need each other and even when we don't.

Since getting married, Michael and I have heard independently from countless people, in many places, how much better we look, how much healthier, more rested, more youthful, and more lovely we look.  [In fact, it has happened so often that I shudder to think of how terrible I must have looked before - and that it was obvious to so many people!]  I believe that this change is a reflection of the healing power of touch, of safety, and of the joys of marriage.

As we enter this week of Christmas, my prayer for all of you, dear friends, is that you experience the loving arms of God and know that through the birth of Christ we can be assured that, indeed, He's got us.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Changes, Changes...

This is my last day in Kenya as a resident.  I leave Kenya this afternoon and will return at the end of February.  But when I return, I will return as a guest.

I have lived in Africa since 2005 and this is the first time since then that I am adjusting myself to become a resident of Michigan again.  The times that I have been home since 2005 were either for transition time to a new country or to work from the US while my kids were home in the summer.

So there is some identity shifting that is happening again and most of it is good.  It is right that this happen at this time.  If Church-based Business as Mission is to become a global ministry, the work must be developed in a way that is more global than African.  And at the rate of demand that we are seeing from multiple countries, it is no longer efficient for me to live in a country for two-three years to implement.

But change is always stressful and usually a bit painful.  It is bittersweet.  While I am looking forward to living with my husband and being closer to my children, it means I need to say goodbye to life here.  While I am excited about starting this work in Egypt and Ghana in 2015, I feel like I was just getting to know Kenya.  Relationships are beginning to blossom and that growth will be interrupted.  And the work feels like it is exploding now, with calls and emails from people wanting to know more and have us come to their area.

And so leaving is a bit painful.

But I am sure that leaving is the right thing to do at this time.  It has helped that I have left twice before and have seen the work continue even stronger in my absence, in both Liberia and Ghana.  It helps to know that there are very strong Kenyan men and women who can take this work and carry it further with greater vision and passion than what I bring.  In fact, I had a most amazing meeting on Friday with the Advocacy sub-committee as they argued with passion about keeping this work Church-based, and not focused on growth and numbers.  I actually teared up to hear them make arguments about something I am so passionate about, and to hear them argue with more wisdom than I have!

Two weeks ago we began to do the final surveys for the pilot project, which will be in progress until the end of March.  I also posted two new positions to start April 1st as we transition from a pilot project to a permanent department of the Africa Theological Seminary.  I pray for good leaders to come forward and apply.  And I have to trust that He who began this work before I even conceived of it will be faithful to complete it and carry it on.  I have no doubt that He is in this and will do this.

But I have to admit as well that I leave with some sense of fear. Africa keeps me grounded and keeps me real.  When I live in the US, I tend to forget about real life struggles.  My vision starts to narrow.  For example, this past week I witnessed three accidents.  That alone keeps me praying for traveling mercies every day for myself and loved ones.  And I am so aware of God's protection over me in nine years to not have had an accident (other than bumping a person in Liberia with my side-view mirror which nearly resulted in a riot).  Another example:  This past week, the car I used was being used for surveys, and so I had to go by motorcycle taxi in the rain to a meeting.  As I rode and grumbled in my heart because I was cold and wet, that grumble lasted just an instant before I realized that many more people were walking in the rain because they couldn't afford the motorcycle taxi.  Additionally, daily here we hear news about people being killed because of their faith or dying due to medical issues in which "it becomes too expensive to save" the person (as a pastor wrote me this week about one of our business members who died at a young age).  The US news seems obsessive in what I would call trite stories of celebrities or stories of "national interest."

I will miss that immediate, in-your-face, perspective.

I live so simply here and I fear entering a consumerist society and falling into the trap of what I "need."  For example, for the past couple of months I have only had a toaster oven in my room on which to cook.  I could have gone to buy a hot plate and propane tank but I decided to be content with it and figure out how to cook with a toaster oven (it's actually quite a useful appliance!).  I would never had made that decision if I lived in the US.

And so I worry and fear.  And I feel sadness and grief.  I love Africa.  I love the people, the culture, the roads (yes, the roads!  I love driving in the mud and dodging potholes and donkeys and cows and people and motorcycles!), the animals, the environment.  I will miss monkeys trying to break into the office or my room and the sound of their feet running on the roof.  [I will NOT miss noisy banded crows that I would love to take out with a slingshot.]  I will miss the beautiful nature of this country.  I will miss worship in Swahili.  I will miss how open and accessible life is here.  I love so much and have learned so much.  Africa has truly changed me and I know that I will always be a "third culture" person, not really fitting in either Africa or the US.

But I trust God's leading and guiding.  He has not failed me yet (even though I have disagreed with Him about some paths and have been surprised by Him on other paths) and I believe He has a plan going forward that will not only be good for Discipling Marketplace Leaders, but also good for Renita Reed-Thomson, His American-Kenyan-Ghanaian-Liberian-Canadian daughter.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

An Opportunity to Pray...and to Give....

Last week's picture with Moffat Weru in the center.
I don't think I write posts like this very often.  I usually try to stay away from requesting donations in my blog, keeping the blog more purely a journal.  But I feel compelled about this one.

Moffat Weru, the pastor that I wrote about just last week, suffered a great loss this week.  As I mentioned last week, Pastor Weru is a student at the Africa Theological Seminary and is the pastor of the Faith Tabernacle International Ministries in Kitale.  He is passionate about Church-based Business as Mission and hopes to start a class in his church soon in cooperation with several other churches.  He and his wife own a motorcycle parts shop in Kitale.  It is his business that allows him to go to school at ATS, put food on his table, and (as is the case with most pastors here who are bi-vocational) allows him to be a pastor. 

On Wednesday evening, at 10 pm, he received a call that the two "hotels" very close to his business had caught fire ("hotels" in this case refer to small cookshops).  Apparently one of them had left something burning in the coal pot, which then started the fire.  As he rushed to his business, he found hundreds and hundreds of motorcycle taxis (boda-bodas) jamming the street in front of the fire.  He heard them calling their friends to come to where the fire was.

The two hotels burned to the ground.
He fought his way through the crowd to get to his business.  Upon arriving, he found the iron door had been broken down and the contents of his shop had been moved into the middle of the big crowd.  The large glass cabinet, which held about $5000 worth of small parts had been moved into the middle of the big crowd with the glass had been broken and contents gone, and the large shipment that had not yet been unpacked, was gone.  The people watching this fire said they broke in to help save the contents.  Yet they skipped the other two businesses that were closer to the fire.  Why is that you might ask?  Well, it seems they wanted the parts and saw an opportunity.  As they "helped" to "save" his supplies, they also helped themselves.  As Moffat went to the back of the building, he found that they had also broken into that side of the building to help themselves to the stock in his storeroom.

Pastor Weru's shop is the one in the corner.
But thankfully, Moffat had done everything right.  He had fire and theft insurance AND the businesses there together had hired a security firm (who is covered by their insurance if there is theft on their watch). BUT Moffat's insurance and the security insurance ruled that because of the large crowd and the nature of them breaking in to "save" his things, that this was "terrorism and political violence" and therefore he was not covered.  When he pushed them on this, that the cause of this was the fire, they said that he should not have removed the items from the store (which he didn't).  He should have left it to burn and then they would cover it.  The total loss of goods totaled about $10,000 US - a large amount for any person anywhere to lose, but particularly devastating in Kitale, Kenya.  I didn't ask Moffat if he had taken the new goods on loan, which is typical - I think I was afraid to hear the answer.
Pastor Weru, his wife, and two daughters.

What makes me angry here is that he had done everything right.  He was a hard worker. He had insurance.  He had security.  He was using his business to bless Kitale, not only in the business but also by allowing it to allow him to pastor a church.  He was pursuing his theological education.  He is passionate about business being a good and holy calling.  And the week after being commissioned as a Marketplace Minister, this happens.  And yet, as you can see by the picture of Moffat, his wife, and two beautiful girls, the smile on his face has not left.  He believes that God can bring good from this and will continue to put one foot in front of another.  He will revive his shop and sell to those who stole from him.

If you are interested in helping Moffat recover from this by making a donation, please go to www.icmusa.org and select my name.  In the comment section, please note:  "20065M - Pastor Weru" and I will make sure it gets to him.  Or maybe you would like to pay for his next class at ATS, which is $200; if so, write "20065M - Pastor Weru scholarship."  If instead you would like to give Moffat a loan to help him rebuild his shop, please email me at renitar@icmusa.org.  We offer 5% interest to those who would like to invest money in businesses for a year, so if you invested $1000, at the end of the year we would return your $1000 investment with interest.  Either a gift or a loan would bless him. 

Please pray for him, his family, and his church.  I am thankful for the body of Christ around the world!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Churches Engaged!

These are all the pastors who took their time to be present with us!
New Marketplace Ministers
This past Sunday we had the graduation and commissioning of the third group of Marketplace Ministers from the Kitale Friends Church.  Let me clarify to say the host was the Kitale Friends Church, but there were a total of sixteen churches represented in this group of 36 Marketplace Ministers.  The Friends Church continues to push the Church-based Business as Mission throughout their denomination while at the same having open, welcoming arms to Christian business people of all denominations.  We are learning how to do this ministry with multiple churches, because the goal is not just to graduate and commission Marketplace Ministers, but to have the local churches of the Ministers be the sending church, to give ongoing support, discipleship, encouragement, and accountability.  The Friends Church saw with this third class that there was beginning to be some suspicion creeping in from other churches, who thought that they might be trying to steal their members.  They tried to meet with the pastors, but couldn't get them to turn out.  So they asked the Discipling Marketplace Leaders office to have the meeting.  We called, and eight of the sixteen pastors showed up.  But the room felt quite cold.  However by the end of the meeting, they understood what we are doing and that this is for all churches.  The Holy Spirit moved and by the end they too were excited about this ministry.  They all turned up for the commissioning, including the pastors who didn't come to our meeting, and they promised to do an affirmation and sending of their members from their church.  Praise God!

Alexie, on the right; her "sister" Grace next to her.
One of the graduates is Alexie.  She comes from Vihiga, which is 135 km from Kitale.  She is a member of the Friends Church and when she heard about this class, she just knew she had to come.  So each Friday for twelve weeks, she traveled three hours each way by public transport, spending $21 on transport each week, to attend the class.  After just a few classes she was sold, and when she heard there was going to be a Training of Trainers session coming up, she signed up.  She completed successfully, and despite her self-doubt in her accounting ability, received the highest exam score!  She organized 25 businesses people from her church and the surrounding area, and started a class three weeks ago.  This woman believes in moving!  She is such a dear, precious, godly woman.  I am so excited to see how God is going to use her in this ministry. 

Churches are engaged and it is spreading!  Last week I had two different trainers stop by to talk about areas where they want to start a training.  For both of them, I was able to pull up my trainers list (seventy strong now) and connect them with one or two trainers in the geographical area where they desired to go.  We connected them and now they can work together to organize business people in their areas!  I was also able to start spending time gathering data for the work that has been done in Western Kenya thus far.  I put a map together to show where our ToTs are so far, which was fun.  They come from six mainline denominations and 28 independent, and are spread across 23 different cities, in three major concentrations in Western Kenya.  Only God could do this in two years!   
Map of where Discipling Marketplace Leaders Trainers are located
Moffet Weru (center) is the Pastor of Faith Tabernacle International Ministries, Kitale.  He is a BA Theology student at ATS, a ToT for Church-based Business as Mission, and he brought eight members of his church to this training.  He is now going to launch a training with a couple of other churches in his area who also are Trainers.  This is about multiplication and we are seeing happen!  This will make the third location in Kitale alone!
We have one more commissioning before I leave on December 15 in Kakamega, and the Africa Gospel Church will have one shortly after I leave.

God is good, all the time; and all the time, God is good...and that is His nature!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Do They Know It's Christmas?

Last Tuesday, my class at the Africa Theological Seminary presented their group papers.  One of the groups presented splendidly on how charity has hurt Africa and they articulated their position in a way that made this teacher heart proud.

That evening, I received a posting from my former colleague, Jeff Bloem, regarding the organization BandAid putting out a remix of an old song, Do They Know It's Christmas? to raise money for Ebola.  The leader for this movement, Bob Geldof, is someone that we discuss in class as an example of how NOT to do aid.  He is quoted as saying, "We have to do something, even if it doesn't work."  No, Bob.  We must use our head as much as our heart and do the right thing.  Sometimes helping hurts.  And if it hurts, it is not the right thing to do.

So wincing, I went to the website and saw the words of the song.  Sigh.  Fears were confirmed.

First of all, the title is demeaning.  Of course they know it's Christmas.  Liberia is a Christian country and all three countries hardest hit by Ebola have Christmas as a public holiday.  Secondly, they treat the continent of Africa as a country. It is a continent of 55 countries, 1000 ethnic groups, 2000 languages and dialects, and is geographically bigger than China, the US and Europe combined!  Third, the lyrics say of Africa “where nothing ever grows, no rain or rivers flow” and “where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears.” Wow.  So one billion people should just give up and wait for the aid to come.  Nothing ever grows.  Are you sure, Bob Geldof et al?  Never mind that Africa is the world's richest continent in terms of natural resources.  Never mind that the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, and Zimbabwe have enough agricultural potential to feed the entire continent of Africa! Fourth, these lyrics:
There’s a world outside your window, and it’s a world of dread and fear
Where a kiss of love can kill you, and there’s death in every tear
And the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom.
Death in every tear? The percentage of the population in Liberia with Ebola is 0.2% (Sierra Leone - 0.1%; Guinea - 0.02%).  I point this out not to undermine the seriousness of Ebola, but do they have to be so very dramatic and manipulative of the audience?  Can they use their brain in this?

There just doesn't seem to be much of an excuse for how insulting this is, especially in this day and age, where it only takes two seconds of a Google search to come up with a more correct view of Africa.  I was embarrassed in front of my students for how insulting "my people" are (and yes, all white people apparently are my people) and I had to apologize (again). I encouraged them to get angry and speak out - to let people know that this type of aid is not welcome.  We welcome those who want to come alongside those in need but to engage their heart and their head and not damage the image of one billion people in the process.

If you are friends with me on Facebook, you saw my rant about this already.  I have copied one of the responses to this song below, because in the midst of my anger, it made me laugh.  And it really is better to laugh, because very close behind the laughter is tears, brought on by outrage and the continued misrepresentation and mistreatment of so many - often in the name of Christianity and good intentions.

[From http://www.vox.com/xpress/2014/11/18/7242291/band-aid-30-single]
Having watched the video, I have a number of questions. For instance:

  1. Do Bob Geldof & Co. know that 87% of Liberians are Christian, as are substantial minorities in Guinea and Sierra Leone?
  2. If so, why does the song spend so much time asking if they "know it's Christmastime at all"?
  3. How many Africans need to learn about Christmas in order to cure Ebola?
  4. Can learning about other holidays also cure disease?
  5. Could knowing that it's Columbus Day cure malaria?
  6. How can you be so sure?
  7. Well have you run a randomized controlled trial on the anti-viral properties of holiday knowledge?
  8. Why are they singing "it's Christmastime" in early November?
  9. Is it possible that Bob Geldof & Co. are the ones who are having difficulty pinning down the existence and timing of Christmas?
  10. Did they get their calendar information from the same source that told them that there is "death in every tear" in West Africa?
  11. Shouldn't they know that there is death in, at most, a fraction of a percentage of all tears, once infection and survival rates are taken into account?
  12. Why didn't the song's writers feel an obligation to be more accurate in their lyrics?
  13. Because it's art? Really?
  14. Hahahahaha, no really why?
  15. Why did the song's producer respond to measured criticism from a Liberian academic by angrily asking if she wanted people to "sit back and do nothing?"
  16. Is he under the impression that the only available options for Ebola relief are "produce and market a stereotype-laden pop song that offends the people it's supposed to be helping" or "do nothing"?
  17. Is anyone else growing increasingly curious about where these guys get their information?
  18. Has anyone told them that Wikipedia is a thing?
  19. Or, you know, Oxfam?
  20. Speaking of which, where is the money from this campaign actually going?
  21. The Band Aid website just says "all proceeds from the Band Aid 30 competition will be donated to the intervention and prevention of the spread of Ebola"; doesn't that seem a little unspecific?
  22. Can't they tell us the actual charity?
  23. Could they give us a hint?
  24. Even if we promised to keep it a secret?
  25. Please?
What is sad is that it is one thing for these artists to be so ignorant and insulting about Africa.  But it's quite another to note that this song sold $1.7 million in the first four or five minutes.  Does that mean that so many people are really this ignorant?  Or maybe they just don't care but want to feel good about doing something?  Or maybe they want to care about Ebola but don't really care about the manner that the people dealing with Ebola are cared for?

"The important thing to remember is that compassion is not simply vehement expression of a point of view. The compassionate person has to consider the practical effects of what he is giving." (Theodore Dalrymple, Author Life at the Bottom)

If you want to help in the fight against Ebola and want to give to a ministry that uses its head and heart, consider giving to ICM.  Go to www.icmusa.org.  

And now, because I believe every blog should have pictures, let me share with you a couple of pictures from yesterday.  I had the opportunity to preach at the East Africa Christian Reformed Church of Sande, which is close to Kitale, Kenya.  I think this is the first real CRC church that I have visited in Africa (the CRC in Liberia didn't really count since they only said they were CRC because the Reeds were CRC).  This church had a pastor who graduated from Calvin Seminary in 1984, they recited the Apostles Creed (in Swahili) and sang songs I knew (except in Swahili :) ).  It was great to be with them and we hope to engage them more on Church-based Business as Mission.  

A small, rural church who is passionate for Christ!
The leaders of four CRCs in Western Kenya.  The pastor of this particular CRC is to the right of me.  Two of the pastors in this picture have gone through the ToT for Church-based Business as Mission and we hope they will start training soon.
As a gift for preaching in the Luhya tradition, I am given a live chicken, bananas and a cabbage.  Poor thing had to stay tied in my car for a number of hours as I was busy all day, but he survived!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Toilet Paper...and Second Marriages

I made it back to Kitale from the US on Tuesday morning at 9:30 am, after a 29 hour trip.  I had to begin teaching at 11 am.  During the travel, I came down with a cold from my dear husband, despite his best efforts not to give it to me.  I was jet-lagged, felt lousy, and exhausted, but started teaching anyway.  It was a very full week with the alumni conference here at the seminary, lots of guests, meetings, and lots of catching up to do after being gone for two weeks.  On Thursday night, I received a text message telling me that the commissioning service scheduled for that Sunday was going to be pushed back a week.  For a moment, I was happy because it meant I had the Sunday off.  Ten minutes later I received a text from a pastor of a large church in Eldoret, asking if I would preach and then lead a seminar this Sunday on business as mission and family budgeting, subjects that are passions of mine.  I know that I'm leaving Kenya in about a month and opportunities to speak should be taken when they can. What to do.

My dear husband, of course, urged me not to do it.  "The time is too short to plan a message and seminar, plus you still have to teach on Friday and Saturday.  Your body needs a rest.  You need to rest."
Dr. Walker, the founder of ATS and a friend and mentor to me, urged me not to do it, telling me over and over again that I need margin in my life and that I need space for quiet. And what did Renita do?  She accepted, of course, and began working at each spare moment on her message and presentation. Both men shook their heads.

On Saturday morning, I woke up with a fever, lungs hurting, and voice strained.  I was to teach from 8 am - noon.  I made it until 11 am with the help of cold medicine but then stopped.  And I decided to cancel Sunday, much to the chagrin of the pastor (and myself, to be honest).  I spent the day sleeping and hanging my head over a bowl of hot water trying to clear my lungs.

What does this have to do with toilet paper and second marriages?  Good question.  This week's debate with Michael about my work load was reminiscent of debates I had with Bob.  Bob's two biggest complaints about me were that 1. I'm too serious, and 2. I live in "what's next" mode.  This week I saw a glimpse of Michael understanding why this was a complaint of Bob's.  [So far Michael is very positive about my approach to life.  He says very positively, "you get more done than anyone I know in a day!"  But I know what that could turn into if I'm not careful.]

It reminded me of the "great debate" that Michael and I had this summer.  The toilet paper debate.  You see, when I married Bob, I believed that toilet paper should come from the bottom, or point A on the picture.  I actually think that Canadians tend to have it come that way.  Bob thought it should come from the top, or point B.  And we didn't resolve that argument - whoever happened to change the toilet paper would put it his/her way.  Over the years, I came to appreciate that having the paper come from the top was more logical (easier to grab), but I don't think I ever told him that.  Michael has the toilet paper coming from the bottom - and he is Canadian - go figure.  So we had a fun debate about it.  In the end, he said that he really doesn't care which way the toilet paper roll is hung.  My quick counter was, "if you don't care, then just do it my way."  And he agreed.  I was pretty surprised; it caused me to pause and reflect on his gracious response.  Michael is able to be a stubborn man - he proudly declares that.  My name means "firm of purpose" and I too can take pride in being stubborn.  It's one of the reasons I fell in love with him - we have great debates on many topics together.  So why did he give in on this?

This week a friend, Shirley Hoogstra, posted an article that gave a bit of insight on this.  The article was on the scientific finding that lasting relationships depend on two basic traits: kindness and generosity (to read article go here).  More specifically it talks about "bids" that partners make for connections - for example, "look at that beautiful bird outside" - the partner can either turn toward this "bid" or turn away from it.  The scientist who did this study can predict with 94% certainty whether or not relationships are doomed to fail or be unhappy if the responder turns away from such bids with contempt, criticism or hostility. It describes kindness in one of two ways - either it is a fixed trait, or it is a muscle that can grow stronger with exercise.  The article states that one way to practice kindness is to be generous about your partners intentions.  Over the twenty months that Michael and I have been together, I have seen him turn toward my "bids" so naturally each time; I have seen him practice kindness and generosity over and over again, so naturally.  You might say, but this is still young love - give it time.  But at 45 and 49 years old, it is difficult to "pretend" for this long of a period without reality showing.  I am so thankful for the kind and generous spirit that Michael has toward me, as well as to so many others.  He teaches me about turning toward bids and I hope to exercise my kindness muscle to be ever responsive to him.

And who knows?  Maybe I'll start turning the toilet paper the other way.

[Oh, who am I kidding?  I can't change.  It's not logical to have it come down the back side, to have to reach an extra three inches and bang into the wall!  sigh...Sorry, Michael. I'll focus on trying to say "no" more often.]

Monday, November 3, 2014

Firsts - Looking at things for the first time...

This week I am back in the US with two colleagues from Kenya, Pastor Charles Keya from the Deliverance Church in Kakamega and Richard Lukuyu from the Friends (Quakers) Church in Kitale.  This has been a time of many firsts for them, and it has been fun for me to see those firsts through their eyes.
Leaving Nairobi.
  • For both of them, it is their first time in the US.  
  • For one of them, it was his first time on a plane.
  • It was their first sighting of fall, with leaves changing colors.
  • It was their first Halloween and they tried to understand the meaning of it.
  • It was their first time change which also seemed strange, as they observed that it was still dark at 8 am and the days seemed shorter than their days in Kenya.
  • They had their first sighting of snow. They had hoped for enough to make a snowman, but the rest of us were thankful that wish did not come true.
  • For one, it was his first tasting of cheese (he didn't like it) and butter (which he liked).
  • For both it was their first taste of asparagus, couscous, salmon, key lime pie, and many other foods.  (However, without ugali and chapati, most meals felt lacking without these Kenyan staples.)
  • It was their first time seeing a pastor preach in a t-shirt (Madison Square Church).
  • It was a first to see church announcements start and finish in two minutes (in Pastor Charle's church, announcements alone can take an hour; then an hour for preaching and an hour for praise and worship).
They have been able to share about the work of Church-based Business as Mission a few times and the response from those hearing has been very positive and encouraging.  There were questions about why this is not in seminaries in the US and that it needs to be accreditated for seminaries throughout the world.  We thank God for the positive response and the interest in seeing this work grow in churches.

They will be visiting a number of businesses yet this week, then flying to Texas for a conference for church leaders.  We will fly back to Kenya on Sunday.  Thanks to all of you who helped to make this trip possible!
Richard, Charles, and I on the bridge in Grand Rapids.
Richard presenting at the Partners Worldwide conference on the Church-based Business as Mission and the impact of this ministry on his church.
Time with old friends and new friends at the Partners Worldwide conference.  Former intern, Jeff Bloem, was able to spend time with Richard and Charles, much to their enjoyment.
Mary Katerberg graciously opened her home to Charles and Richard during their stay in Grand Rapids.  Thanks, Mary!

Monday, October 27, 2014

To whom much is given...

I've been on the road a fair bit lately - driving to Kakamega, driving to Eldoret, and places in-between.  And I have to admit flashes of covetousness as I drive, something I have wrestled with since moving to Africa in 2005.  As I drive through quiet villages, and I see people sitting outside together, laughing and talking and having fellowship, I find myself coveting a quiet life.  I often wonder what it would be like to be them.  I wonder what it would be like to wake up and only have to care for your family - not responsible for raising support for ministries that many people rely on.  I wonder what it would be like to live in a village of family and friends, where you know each other and care about each other.  I wonder what it would be like to not have to rush here and there, seemingly always battling deadlines.  For example, I took an exam for a class on Wednesday and started a new class on Thursday.  I work most evenings until 9 pm, and still go to sleep knowing an endless list of things to do.  In part, it is my personality (I know!); but also, there is a lot going on for which I am responsible.

And I find myself coveting that lifestyle.  For a moment.

Almost always when those thoughts occur, I hear a verse very loudly in my head, "To whom much is given, much is required."

It makes me think of the parable of the talents in Matthew and Luke.  I'm sure you know it.  The three persons are given according to their abilities and are expected to use the talents in a way that will bring profit for the master.  When we talk about this parable in our class, it always seems a bit surprising to people when I point out that the reward of doing well - of making a profit - is not "Well done, good and faithful servant - come and put your feet up and relax."  It is, "Well done - you have been faithful with little and I will put you in charge of many things."  In fact in Luke, the reward is to be put in charge of ten or five cities.  There is a part of me that wants to say, "Really? That is the reward?"  I find running one organization stressful enough - managing ten cities sounds like punishment to me.  But if you have been given talents and gifts to manage and grow things, it makes sense that the giver of those gifts wants you to use them.

To whom much is given, much is required.

The truth is, I have been given much.  As much as I may grumble about frequent power outages, or no running water, or no kitchen to cook in, or being so far away from my husband and children, I know very, very well how blessed I am.  I was born and raised in a "developed" country, with parents who love me. I was able to get a good education.  I have good health care.  If I were to contract ebola or some other illness, I would be evacuated.  I can connect with my husband and children via Skype because I own a laptop and have access to internet. My children didn't wonder whether or not they could get a college education - they only wondered how much they would have to pay in loans. 

Would I want to trade my life for someone in the village?

The good news is that I don't have to answer that.  It doesn't matter.  My life is my life and I am called to use what I have been given for the benefit of my God and His Church.

I love Africa and the perspective that it continues to offer me.  And I know how much I need that perspective because it doesn't take much to slip into seeing the grass greener somewhere else.  I am thankful for the gifts and talents that God has given me, and how He has equipped me to use those gifts and talents to build His Church. So today, I focus on that and ask God to forgive my covetous nature!  Thank God for grace, forgiveness, and mercy!

Monday, October 20, 2014

10-20-90 to 10-20-14

Youthful Bob
Twenty-four years ago today, I married Robert Allen Reed, on a sunny autumn day at Madison Square Church.  I was 21 years old; Bob was 35 years old.  In many ways, I didn't know who I was or what I was doing - but God knew.  I believe our marriage was orchestrated by Him.

A lot of who I am today is because of the influence that Bob had in my life.  I know that I have heard many of you speak of the influence that Bob had on your life through counseling or his writing.  Imagine 19 years of time with him and you can imagine the influence.
Our last family picture in December 2009 (hasn't Noah changed?!).
Bob helped me discover my own faith. He affirmed my gifts and talents, and encouraged me to develop them.  He challenged my thoughts and my theology.  He taught me to argue in a healthy way.  He encouraged me to see conflict as a good and even healthy thing.   

Although he has now been gone for 4.5 years, he is not forgotten. If you ask my students, they will tell you that I refer to Bob every day when I teach.  I now have to clarify between "my husband" and "my late husband" but the impact that Bob had on my life and the majority of stories that I have to tell are of the time with Bob as my husband.

I don't ever want to forget him, our marriage, or the love we had.  There are three days per year where I will take the opportunity to share:  his birthday, our anniversary, and the day I said goodbye.  But every day I remember him in one way or another.  My heart aches for how much he has missed as our children continue to grow - and even more so for how much my children have missed in having their father witness their life and use his wise words to direct them.

As my friend recently wrote, grief does change us and we don't forget our loved ones, no matter how life may have changed in the years since their passing.  We are encouraged to reinvest in life and not stay stuck in grief.  I'm thankful to God that I have been able to do that, and have been able to continue to live into my calling and even accept a new calling.  

Until we meet again.
Bob, with Rev. Zar by his side.  I'm assuming they have connected in heaven.

Last picture taken of Bob on earth, in Nigeria, two days before he died.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Its Ghana! and Egypt!

If you've been hanging out with us long enough, you might remember way back in January 2009 that Bob wrote a post called, "Its Ghana!" (here), after the decision came for where God was leading us after Liberia.  It was the last post in the "Reeds In Liberia" blog, after which Bob developed the "Reeds In the Wind" blog.

As you know the pilot project in Kenya is drawing to a close and the work is moving forward very well by nationals in several parts of Kenya.  Our philosophy has always been to get out of the way once the work is strong enough to be continued by nationals, while giving support and encouragement as needed.  That strategy worked well in both Liberia and Ghana where the work continues with strength and relationships continue.  And now that time is drawing nigh in Kenya. 

As I have also mentioned, the pilot project was leading us to see if Church-based Business as Mission is something that will work to develop business leaders spiritually and economically, as well as build the church numerically and financially.  It is clear from the work in Kenya that the answer to this is an emphatic yes.  The final surveys have not yet been done and they will give us the actual statistics but all observations and narrative reports are positively conclusive.  Therefore the challenge now before us is to develop materials for the Global Church and begin to widen the work beyond Kenya. 

When I attended the International Council for ICM in Ghana last month, one of the agenda items was to determine which countries would be next.  There have been a number of requests from various African countries but our goal was to determine which countries had the partnership potential and infrastructure through ICM and our partners (like the Christian Reformed World Missions and Partners Worldwide Affiliates) to make this work effective.  An additional aspect we considered was to work in a country that is not considered "Christian" to see the response of the Church in such a context.  After considerations, conversations and consultation (and a lot of prayer), we have decided to start in Ghana and Egypt in 2015.

Rev. Philip Tutu (L) and Rev. Stephen Mairori (R)
Ghana has a strong ICM presence, with ICM Country Director Rev. Philip Tutu, who has been a friend and colleague since 2010.  Additionally, Hopeline Institute is the organization with which I worked for the three years we were in Ghana.  The director, Fanny Atta-Peters is a dear friend and colleague who has wanted Church-based Business as Mission in Ghana since the idea has been in its infancy.  This work is part of her desire, vision and on-going prayers.

Egypt is not one of the formal ICM countries but ICM has been doing work in Egypt for a number of years, through the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo (ETSC) and the Middle East Leadership Training Institute (MELTI).  The Christian Reformed World Missions is also doing work in Egypt through ETSC.  Egypt has been on my heart ever since the Business as Mission Congress in Thailand in which three Egyptian businessmen asked with earnestness for support and help in doing business as mission.  Additionally, Egypt would be a context very different from Kenya, Liberia, and Ghana, all of which are considered Christian countries. This would test this program in a different way; additionally, it will require this work to be translated into Arabic.

The goal will be to develop this program, (book, manual, and possibly video series) during the first few months of 2015 and then launch Discipling Marketplace Leaders in both Egypt and Ghana beginning in June.  I will continue to travel to Kenya as well, being there in both March and October of next year to teach at the seminary.

The big change is that no longer will I live in these countries for extended periods of time.  This work has to grow beyond me if we want to reach the Global Church.  It is not efficient for me to live for two-three years in each country. This is why it is important to develop materials that Church leaders can take and run with.  I will be based in Grand Rapids and travel out to teach and train Church leaders in the respective areas.

Please continue to pray for this work moving forwards.  Current funds are almost depleted and there are still a number of critical projects to complete this year.  We also need to grow our resources so that we can begin in these two new countries next year.  Please pray with us for God to send partners through the body of Christ who believe that reclaiming the marketplace is a valuable effort for building the Church and for poverty alleviation!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Congrats, Kenya! ... I think...(and some sad news)

In my Church-based Business as Mission ToT class, we take a close look at the economic situation in Africa as we discuss the gap between the rich and the poor and the role of the church in the reconciliation of that gap. On Monday, I asked my class the question, "From 1960-1990, the four countries in Asia that led the way in economic growth (called the Asian Tigers) were Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan.  What are the four Lions of Africa?  Most people come up with Nigeria and South Africa pretty quickly, but struggle to come up with Egypt and Algeria.  And since I am teaching a class to Kenyans, most students put Kenya on the list;  I have to tell them that I am sorry, but Kenya is not in the top four.

That was Monday. On Tuesday, BBC announced that Kenya had done some recalculations of their economy, using 2009 as the base year rather than 2001, and including the two areas of communications and property which were not previously included.  The result is that the Kenyan economy is 25% bigger than previously calculated, and it now moves up to the number four slot on the continent.  Additionally, Kenya is now considered a lower middle-income country.  The economic growth rate for Kenya went from 4.7% to 5.7%.  [Growth rate for the US is 1.9% in 2013.]

I got to announce to my class on Wednesday morning that I was wrong and they were right.  That brought cheers but also some sobering discussion.

Being considered a middle income country means that Kenya will not qualify for some assistance from the IMF or World Bank.  To be considered a middle income country, the per capital income per year has to be between $1045 and $12,746.  The per capita for Kenya is $1246, with poverty levels at 45.9% and life expectancy at 61 years.  That is just over $100 per month which is a very difficult income level to survive on.  Not to mention that the tax rate is 44%.  And the unemployment rate is 40%.

The change may increase foreign investor interest in Kenya, which is a good thing, but also can be problematic if foreign investment comes in the form of foreign ownership of local resources at the expense of Kenyans ability to own their own resources.  Foreign investment often means the resources are used, Kenyans are paid a minimum wage, and all the profits go back to the country of origin for the foreign investors.  

To some degree, this makes the work that we are doing a bit more urgent.  Because most people are raised to pursue employment in the formal sector and when they fail to do that they "have to" get into business, doing business is a sign of failure.  Furthermore, business is viewed as a dirty business and the belief is that to succeed, you must be corrupt.  That perception begins to change when we understand the God of business, the purpose of work, and the calling on each of us to "be fruitful and multiply" to fill the earth and help provide goods and services to allow the seven billion people on earth to flourish. 

Additionally, the barriers to do business in Kenya are immense.  In a study by the World Bank, Kenya ranks as 121 out of 185 countries for the ease of doing business (the US ranks as #4, Canada as #17; Singapore is #1).  As one of the trainers said this week, "The sustainability of the whole concept of Church-based Business as Mission lies in Advocacy - in fact, not just sustainability but mobilization and coordination as well."  They declared very loudly that we must develop a national voice, so that the small and medium size entrepreneur has representation as well as options to move ahead in this growing economy...so that they are not left behind.  We will have a meeting this week with a subcommittee to look more closely at that issue.  We have had several associations and cooperatives grow out of our work but each has been geared toward a specific industry.  Developing a national voice would be a bit of a different challenge.

So it's an exciting time and also a challenging time.  I believe the Church has a role to play in this.  I believe the Church doesn't stand aside and watch economies develop.  In fact, I'm writing a paper right now on the role of religion in economic development, and it is quite fascinating to study the role of the Church over the last one hundred years.

As a side note, and as a result of our own development, we are changing our name.  We are no longer the ICM Marketplace Ministry.  We are now "Discipling Marketplace Leaders:  Church-based Business as Mission."  This work is not about just training business people to do business better.  It is about the Church discipling business people to reclaim the redeemed marketplace; and as business people rediscover their calling and recognize that the work of the church is in their parish - their business - they in turn impact the marketplace.  It's not about business as usual.  It's about business as mission.
Postscript:  I just learned of the death of Rev. Augustine Zar from Liberia due to Ebola.  If you visited us in Liberia (and a number of you did) you met him.  He was the Principal of Christ's Friend Children's Academy as well as the pastor of the Christian Reformed Church in Thinkers Village.  [To read a story that Bob wrote about him, click here.] Rev. Zar wrote me a few weeks ago to tell me of his wife's death. They had nine children who are now orphans.  I can no longer pray with confidence for God to do something miraculous in Liberia.  I think His answer is that He will do it not supernaturally but rather through His people - His hands and feet - the body of Christ, His Church. But what to do?  Michael and I sent money for food, and specifically asked that some go to Rev. Zar's family for the funeral of Mary.  Seems a tepid response.  I have been tempted to go to Liberia myself but I don't have medical skills.  I could go and care for the patients, and help clean and bury, but is that a reasonable, rational response?  I've been told it is not.  Why is there not an urgent cry for volunteers to go and help?  Americans will be medically evacuated if they contract Ebola.  They will get treatment - we've seen this.  2 Chronicles 7:14 keeps going over and over in my head: If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face....  God, show us what the Church should be doing regarding Ebola!
Rev. Zar is in the front row, next to me, in purple.

Monday, September 29, 2014

And we're off!

Last week Tuesday, I started a gauntlet of three back to back classes at the Africa Theological Seminary that will carry me until the end of October.  The one day off per week that I do get (usually Sunday) is filled with driving to Kakamega or Eldoret to do continuing work with the groups there.  My evenings are filled with reading and writing papers for my Masters, so my time is very full.  [I know what some of you are thinking - good, then you won't miss Michael as much.  But it doesn't work that way.  :) ]

The current class is a Training of Trainers session, this time with 28 students.  I thought that it might be a bigger class but you never know until the day of, and this time, most of the people who said they were coming actually came. [This presented some problems, as I only had 12 textbooks, but we made due.]

What was so exciting about this class is that this time the two other churches in the pilot project showed up with strength.  The Deliverance Church not only brought three more trainers from their church but also four other pastor from area cities to begin this work as well.  The Anglican Church of Kenya sent three delegates from St. Mark's Church in Eldoret to become trainers.  In addition, a number of other pastors and business leaders from Kitale and a number of cities are also in this class, including two pastors from the Christian Reformed Church of East Africa!  We now have over fifty churches involved in this work across Kitale, crossing many denominations!  There has been great debates and discussions.  I am loving it.

In addition, there are now three simultaneous business classes going on - one in Kakamega and two in Kitale, with a total of about 85 businesses, all run by partner churches.  The trainers are working together and sharing the load to get the best training out to our participants.

We had a Trainer meeting on Thursday and had 29 trainers present!  When we look back and see how we started, it was great to see a room full of trainers who are passionate about this work. And they had such great input as to how to make this program better and better.  It was exciting.

And so, we are off and running.  Please pray with us that Church based Business as Mission will continue to spread in a way that will bring glory to God.  We want to be part of "discipling the Nations" by discipling the Marketplace!

A prayer for all of you foolish people out there like me - this spoke to my heart:


Monday, September 22, 2014

Ahhh...Ghana...

I just spent a whirlwind four days in Ghana. 

The International Council for ICM was meeting, with all the country directors including:  Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Burundi, Ghana, Nigeria, Congo, USA, and Canada.  Liberia and a few others were not in attendance due to other issues.  It was very good to hear the reports of what is going on through the work of ICM in these other countries, both the strengths and the challenges.  It was especially good to spend time in prayer and to refocus our attention on the big picture of what it is we are trying to achieve by equipping Church leaders.  Every country is independently run and it was wonderful to see so many strong leaders wrestling with the changing times in theological education and the changing times in the Church as well.  I was privileged to sit at the table with them.

ICM Country Directors from Uganda, Kenya, and Ghana.
I was given the opportunity to present Church based Business as Mission (CbBaM - get used to this acronym - you will see it more) and was pleasantly surprised when the International Council decided to have CbBaM as one of the three focus areas for ICM going forward.  There was a lot of interest in figuring out how to go forward in the respective countries, so that is very exciting, but also challenging for me.  I additionally had a chance to see a bit better how I fit into the ICM USA team and whether or not there are needs/opportunities/callings for me to get involved in the greater work of ICM.  There are some definite areas of convergence between some of my gifts of organizational development and business and some of the needs of the individual partnerships.  Time will tell.  Dr. Walker continues to encourage me to "narrow my focus and go deeper."

The International Council for ICM
They have done great advertising as well!
As the IC was meeting from 8 am until 7 pm, I had to sneak in meeting times before and after with other dear friends and colleagues from Ghana, like Laurie Korum, Emily Daher, and the whole Hopeline Institute team.  On Friday morning, Hopeline Institute had a breakfast meeting for all their businesses and I was able to meet a lot of old friends and acquaintances.  It was great. 

Hopeline has had amazing growth in the two years that I've been gone.  When I met them in 2009, they had one small office and seven staff.  They now have 25 staff, serving over 6000 businesses, have a central office, a microfinance unit that looks and operates like a bank in the central market area, a full training center with three simultaneous classes going on at a time, and an IT center with sixteen computers, teaching businesses basic computer skills.  It is amazing.  Despite all the growth and success that they have had, they continue to be very grounded spiritually and seek to serve all those with whom they come in contact.  The servant leader heart of Fanny Atta-Peters, the Director, has infected the hearts of her staff, and that is very apparent when you meet them.  In fact, the day I was to fly to Ghana I realized that I would not be able to get a visa upon arrival as I had earlier been told.  The staff there went into full swing to do everything in their power with their contacts in immigration in Ghana to make contact with the Ghanaian Embassy in Nairobi, and with their help I was able to get a visa within a few hours, rather than missing my flights and having to wait 24 hours.  They then met me in full swing at the airport to greet me at ten pm, despite my flight having numerous delays and ICM having a bus to take me to the guest house. 
The Hopeline Microfinance Unit and staff in the Market.

Think that's amazing already?  Well, the next day, I found out that the day I asked for help for my visa, their office had been broken into during the night and they lost most of their laptops and equipment.  While they were helping me, they were dealing with police and with this major loss.  But they didn't speak a word of complaint and instead were gracious and helpful and called me every twenty minutes or so to check up on me.  THAT is a team that is amazing and has a servant heart.  I am honored and blessed to know them.  [By the way, if anyone wants to bless them with a laptop to replace one that was stolen, let me know!]

On Saturday, before taking off for Kenya again, Fanny and Dennis had me over to their house to have every Ghanaian food that I have missed, as well as to visit the new window factory that Dennis has started.  It is called "PROFAD" (with FAD standing for Fanny and Dennis) and it really is quite remarkable.  Several years ago, they brought me to this plot of land in the middle of nowhere where Dennis was producing cement blocks for his construction work.  They have now built this huge factory on that same piece of land, and the area is so developed now that I didn't even recognize it.  Dennis was trained in this work in Turkey when he went there to get windows for the housing development that he built.  He now has so many orders that it is a challenge for him to keep up with the demand.  Praise God!


But things are not easy in Ghana right now.  We stopped for gas while we were out and Fanny asked for 220 Ghana cedis of petrol to be put in.  I looked at her with astonishment and asked how big the tank was, as when I was in Ghana it only took 50 Gh to fill my tank!  When I left Ghana in 2012, the exchange rate was $1 US to 1.5 Gh (it had been that rate pretty consistently for the three years we lived there).  At the beginning of 2014 it increased to 2.5 Gh and right now it is 3.6 Gh.  Prices have increased with the increase in the exchange rate but salaries have not kept up.  So someone making 300 Gh per month at the beginning of this year, is now barely able to do much more than fill a tank of gas with that same salary.  The business owners we met expressed much stress and fear about this trend.  A number of businesses have closed.  When you add to that the high interest rates on loans (upper 30%s) and the frequent power outages, it reminds me how to pray for our brothers and sisters in Ghana. 

Please pray with me!

Monday, September 15, 2014

sigh...Heaviness...sigh...

The last couple of weeks have been quite heavy for me.  The adjustment to Kenya was more difficult than I anticipated.  I miss my husband and my children.  I had to move into a room that is just big enough for the bed, no dresser, and so all my things are piled on top of each other with no where to move.  I moved into a small house with six other people who all seem to be very extroverted (and I am very introverted).  We didn't have any water on several different occasions and in one day the power went off at least twenty times.  A few days after arriving in Kitale, I had to travel again for a training near Nairobi.  And in a few days I will travel again to Ghana.  I have felt very blue.

But I didn't want to share with anyone, although Michael let me vent pretty consistently for the better part of a week, bless his heart.  He encouraged me to share and ask for prayer, but I resisted.  And I realized recently why that was.  I think it is because under the personal heaviness of moving back to Kenya by myself, there is an even greater heaviness for what I see around me.  The Ebola crisis in Liberia occupies my mind much of the time - I pray constantly for my brothers and sisters there.  My brother there shared with me that not only has the economy ground to a halt and prices of food are rising significantly, but he has to pass by countless people on his way to work who are sick with Ebola, laying outside the gate of a hospital or clinic because there aren't enough beds for them to get care. I can't imagine how heartbreaking that would be.  (How can I complain about being away from my husband and children in light of that? Or about the size of a bedroom?)

New weigh bridge in Kenya.
And this week, while conducting a training outside of Nairobi, I heard the following lament of a Kenyan business owner.  The woman I spoke with runs a construction company with her husband.  He is a contractor; she is a supplier.  She has been running this business for about 15 years and for most of those years, business was very good.  But business regulations have changed of late with the government organizing itself in different ways.  This business owner shared that there is a new fee for transport trucks on weigh bridges along the road:  there used to be no weigh bridges, but now, if your
Trucks waiting to be weighed on Kenyan roads.
truck is over 25 tons, you are fined 400,000 Kenya shillings (or $4700 US).  Trucks used to carry 50 tons in order to turn a profit.  Since they can only carry 25 tons now, those who had taken loans for their trucks are simply letting them get repossessed as they can't make a profit with these new rules. 

Permits are now required for digging sand out of the river bed and those new permits went from zero to 60,000 KSH per month (or $700 US).  Her business can't afford that (nor can the customers) and work has slowed down considerably.  She is unsure this business can continue. The challenges to do business are immense.

Add to that the insecurity issue.  I spoke to a man this week who was supplying specialty produce to hotels in Mombasa, but because of Al-Shabab most of the hotels there have closed, tourism has dried up, and he had no buyers for his product.  It all went to waste as Kenyans don't eat it.  The heaviness of doing business in this environment:  new regulations and fees at every turn and insecurity.

One of the buildings with beautifully manicured grounds at KEFRI
So...weight...heaviness...and lots of sighs.  I know that we can always find someone that has it worse than us.  I know that this world will always have troubles. Michael has reminded me over and over that just because others have it worse doesn't negate my discomfort or sadness.  But more than anything, I pray for Christ to return.  And soon.

Growing bamboo is encouraged.
Yet in the middle of this, I had the opportunity to stay at the Kenya Forestry Research Institute for several days as the training that I conducted was held here.  It was a place of beauty and forward thinking - researching trees and their uses; nurseries everywhere with people tenderly caring for these plants; carefully nurtured flowering trees and beautiful plants everywhere; it was quite and serene amidst a world that is chaotic.

This week someone posted this poem by Mary Oliver on Facebook and it resonated with me and spurred me onward:

"When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it is over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.”
― Mary Oliver