Monday, December 11, 2017

Politically Correct

I've been writing this blog now for seven years (2010-2017).  Wow!  That means that I've been writing it two years longer than Bob (2005-2010).  That means that some of you have been following Reedsinthewind for twelve years!

Writing a blog on a weekly basis has been therapeutic for me in many ways.  I view it as a journal of sorts to help me process my experiences, my relationship to God and others, and the ministry in which I'm involved.  I usually write it over the weekend.  Many of you have said that you enjoy reading it Monday mornings as you get back into the office and into a work routine.  So for me that means that usually Friday night or Saturday morning, I am figuring out what to write and writing it; editing it Sunday evening, and then publishing Monday morning.

Sometimes ideas come easily.  Sometimes I have several ideas and I save them as drafts, to return to them later when ideas come a bit slower.  I try to write about my family, my faith, and my work.  But other times, it is difficult to know what to say.  I try to share about the ministry, its joys and challenges, but not bring the ever-present need for support which allows this ministry to continue.  I worry about wasting your time.  I worry about not taking enough time to write with clarity or with a depth that God might want me to use in such a forum.

But mostly I worry about misrepresenting Africa, its people, its beauty, its culture, and its struggles.  I have to be politically correct.  And I don't always like being politically correct.

There are stories that I could tell you that would keep you up at night.  There are stories that I could tell you that would make you worry about me and others who work in Africa.  There are stories that I could tell you that would break your heart about what so many people go through in various parts of Africa.  These are real stories.  These are difficult stories.  And these are stories that are revealed to me because of trust and friendship.

I want to share these stories so that you can pray.  I want to share these stories so you appreciate how good life is in North America (despite what seems like nonstop complaining that I hear).  But I'm afraid that if I share these stories, it will paint Africa with a brush and a stereotype that is not fair.

You see, while these stories are true, they also just tell one aspect of the story.  People tend to remember the negative and forget the positive.  We tend to repeat the dramatic and forget the mundane.  This is why the news is so full of the bad stories.  That is also why too many ministries manipulate people by telling the bad, sad, heart-tugging stories in order to get donations.  Too many ministries also exaggerate their accomplishments to also make you think your donation is going to make a huge difference.  And life doesn't work that way.

And so I ponder these things in my heart.  I bring them before the Lord.  And I vent my anger at injustice, pain, and sorrow to people close to me (mostly Michael, who gets an earful with each trip!).

So I want you to know that I work hard at being politically correct.  But it is a stretch and it is a struggle.  I don't always get it right.  But while I believe that the US has its issues, this is a very comfortable country comparatively speaking.  I would still rather live in sub-Saharan Africa than the US, because of the earthy reality of life that is not hidden behind closed doors.

As I wrote before, my family and I were able to enjoy Thanksgiving in Canada and did the touristy thing of visiting the CN Tower and the Ripley's Aquarium, which was very cool!  Here are some family pictures.

Hannah and Noah letting their hands get chewed by "cleaner shrimp."  Love the look on Hannah's face.
Noah's Hannah petting a bamboo shark.
My mom delighting in being with her grandkids.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Child Trafficking

[A number of you have written me about the matching grant for my support as to how long it goes and it will be available until the end of December. Thank you!]

I recently heard a news report on child trafficking in Haiti.  They said in this report that if you support an orphanage in Haiti, you are supporting child trafficking.  Click here for full news report.

Harsh statement.

As I think back to the orphanages that I have seen across Africa, I know there have been times when that term applies.  The taking of children from parents and bringing them to an orphanage, promising a better life, but not delivering on that promise, is unfortunately a common practice.  Parents who love their children, being pressured to give them up because of poverty.  I remember a family in Liberia who had beautiful twin girls, told of frequent visits from one particular orphanage director, trying to talk the parents into giving up their girls, telling the parents that they (the orphanage) could give the girls a better future than they could as parents.  Four out of five children in an orphanage in Haiti have at least one living parent.  I would guess the same is true in many parts of Africa.


Some (dare I say many?) orphanages then intentionally keep children in squalor to pull on the hearts of generous North Americans who can't resist helping a poor child. They intentionally keep conditions harsh, keep resources from the children, overcrowd rooms, in the hopes of getting more donations.  This is what leads to the label of trafficking.

Many are saying that orphanages should be banished around the world.  Orphanages are a relatively new phenomenon in Africa, where traditionally a child would be taken in by relatives if the parents died.

What is definitely true is that we need not just have a heart to help the poor...but we also need a mind to help the poor.  Putting children in institutions, away from their parents, makes no logical sense.  Helping parents to keep their children, to be able to afford to meet the needs of their children educationally, nutritionally, and medically, is where the concentration needs to be.

One of the things that we have begun to hammer with people is that the only institution that is at the root of poverty alleviation is business.  When people say that church or government is the primary player in terms of poverty alleviation, we ask, "Where do churches get money?  Where do governments get money?"  The answer always is from members/citizens, who get their money from business.  Business is involved in wealth creation.  Church and government are involved in wealth redistribution.

So we have become bolder at telling people to become wealth creators.  To not look to the church or government for relief, but to diversify their income streams by doing something, however small.  Too many people are graduating across Africa with degrees but there are no jobs.  As Poverty Cure says, we need to train job makers, not job takers.

So let's educate ourselves about orphanages.  Let's stop supporting the part industry that removes children from their parents.  And lets figure out how to help the poor in ways that will provide long-term sustainable changes.

In this Christmas season, have a heart for the poor.  But also have a mind for the poor.  Find ways that can help families to keep their children, the best and most loving choice for almost all children.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Conflicted Feelings and Comfort Zones

Jos, Nigeria.

That is where I am writing from, having left Kaduna on Saturday morning.

Jos is a place that does not hold fond memories for my family.  The first time Bob and I were here, in 2008, Bob ended up being medically evacuated to Italy, causing significant stress for our family (unnecessarily as it turned out).  The second time he was here, in March of 2010, he passed away two days after returning from Jos.  We have often wondered whether the cause of death was related to something that happened when he was here.  We also had ministry and leadership challenges that were rather painful here as well.

So driving to Jos filled me with conflicting emotions.  And I know for my children, Hannah and Noah, that simply being in Nigeria is enough to make them nervous.

But I'm reminded about how we are called to live outside of our comfort zones.  We are called to trust that "greater is He that is in me, than he that is in the world."

This past week, I found myself out of my comfort zone a few times:
  • On the way to Kaduna from Abuja, I noted that there were police vehicles every two kilometers or so.  Upon asking why, I was told that there had been a number of kidnappings for ransom recently, so the police were there to try to prevent that.  About 36 hours after that conversation, in the middle of the night, we found the place where we were sleeping suddenly filled with loud and many male voices, who apparently had no idea that we were there.  They tried to get in our rooms, and in peeking out through the window, we saw them carrying things out of the rooms.  Assuming they were looting the place, we tried to reach people who could help, but were not about to rouse anyone.  I was told to "get in my bathroom, lock the door, and not come out."  As I sat there, I pondered what clothes I would want to be wearing if kidnapped for a long time...as well as other thoughts about loved ones.  It brought back a lot of memories from the numerous times we faced danger in Liberia with our house and yard being broken into.  After a couple of hours, we came to learn that they were campers from a youth group, and so all was well.  But for a couple of hours, I was definitely out of my comfort zone.
  • Being without running water and electricity was frustrating for most of the students and faculty who came to facilities for the ECWA Seminary classes this past week.  I too was frustrated at first, and then I remembered that I am privileged to be able to leave after some time.  The people who live here struggle with this day in and day out.  [I also quickly remembered how to live this way, having lived 3.5 years in Liberia without running water or electricity.]
  • The Integrity and Finance students that I taught this past week to Masters students told me numerous stories about how creative people (in the church and outside the church) can be in deceitfulness and dishonesty.  At one point, a student told me that the people in the US are better than "we, Africans" as Americans tend to be much more honest, whether or not they are Christian.  I reminded them that the sin of Sodom (Ezekiel 16:49) was being arrogant, overfed, and unconcerned, which certainly could be applied to the US.  These conversations, while I enjoy them and they are so very important, take me out of my comfort zone, as I don't want to be part of the problem and I want to speak the truth in love.
  • One story in particular bothered me.  A missionary in the class shared about a man who converted from Islam to Christianity.  The church that he joined had connections to North America, and they ended up taking his picture and telling his story over and over.  Several churches in North America were touched by this story and ended up sending money monthly to support him as he made this transition, which included setting up a new life outside of his Muslim family.  Unfortunately, that money has never come to him as the church has used it for other purposes.  He is now saying that he is thinking of going back to Islam if this is the way Christians behave.  This missionary beseeched us to pray for this man.
Stepping outside of our comfort zone.  Facing ugly truths head on.  Facing fears, sometimes finding that there is nothing there; other times, facing the ugliness of the reality of sin in this world.

As the work of Discipling Marketplace Leaders in Nigeria increases, in Kaduna, Jos, Abuja, Lagos, and now possibly Ibadan, we are going to have to get used to my traveling here.  In 2018, I plan to travel to Nigeria three times.

May God give all of us the strength and courage to go where He is calling us to go, trusting that He will equip us with what we need when we get there.

On Tuesday, I drive to Abuja, fly to Lagos, then home.  Upon arriving at home on Wednesday afternoon, I will be picked up at the airport and then Michael, Hannah, and I will drive straight to Canada to spend American Thanksgiving at my mom's place.  Noah and his Hannah are flying in to Toronto, as we all have a family wedding to attend on Saturday in Oshawa.  So excited to have some family time!  May God give us thankful hearts for the grace and mercy that we experience in our lives.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Faith, Hope, and Love

"Bridging the gap between the rich and the poor is beneficial for both.  Both have been entrusted with complementary blessings as a result of their stations in life and can enrich each other.  When the
wealthy and the poor are reconciled and walk together in an atmosphere where they can minister to each other, the rich provide hope and the poor impart faith.  When faith and hope come together, love soon becomes evident."  (Ed Silvoso, Anointed for Business)

I am currently in Nigeria, where we just finished a two day training for about forty-five pastors and church leaders. Each time I come to Nigeria, I am surprised by the way Nigerians speak about their own country - there seems to be a real lack of hope for the future.  I'm surprised because Nigeria has one of the strongest economies in Africa.  Also, seven of the twenty riches pastors in the world are Nigerian (although that is not necessarily an argument in Nigeria's favor as a good percentage of the money given to these pastors are from the poor who have been told to "sow a seed"!).  But there is a reason for this "downcast spirit."  While the world celebrates that poverty has been halved in the last twenty years, the reality is that the drop is mostly because of what has happened in China and India, as can be seen in the chart below.  These countries have significantly reduced poverty not through Millennial Development Goals or aid, but rather through businesses (China - manufacturing; India - services).  Unfortunately, many countries in sub-Saharan Africa has actually increased in the number of people in extreme poverty.  For Nigeria, people living in extreme poverty has increased from 51 million in 1990, to 86 million in 2013.

During our training, the quote from Silvoso came back to me and I realized afresh the significance of the quote that faith and hope together can produce love.

We are in Kaduna, and are also working in Abuja, Jos, and Lagos.
Dr. Walker and I presented a hopeful perspective of Africa:  a continent that is the richest in the world in terms of natural resources; a continent with the youngest population which will double in size by 2050; a continent where the number of Christians has grown more rapidly than anywhere else in the world, at any other time.  The potential of the people in Africa to solve the problems of today and tomorrow as image-bearers of God and co-creators with Him is immense and exciting!  Dr. Walker said to the group during our training, "If I can be so bold, I believe that Africans do not see themselves the way God sees them."  To which he heard many saying "Amen" in support.

As I listened to them share their stories, the challenges and opportunities in the Church and in the Marketplace in Nigeria, I was encouraged by their faith.  Their faith shows a dependence on God that is real and deep.  A faith comes when you don't have running water or electricity and yet you had it a year ago; when you see your country moving backwards rather than forwards because of corruption, religious struggles, and governmental challenges; when you believe that justice and rule of law is not equitably applied.  They know how to be on their knees and look to God for the answers that seem so out of reach.

As we offered hope, and they imparted faith, a love grew in the room.  The love that grew was a love of God and for each other; an appreciation of the richness within the body of Christ; a recognition of the creative potential in each person to see problems as opportunities that can be met by people using the three gifts they have been given:  time, treasure, and talent.  

The stories and the sharing of the challenges can be heartbreaking to hear.  But we need our hearts to be broken.  The stories of the opportunities and potential that are before us are exciting.  And we need to be excited!

Faith, hope and love.  And the greatest of these is love.  We need each other.  We learn from each other when we listen to each other.  And this information can become transformational when we do something with it.

These pastors left our time together with excitement and purpose.  They had told us that so many youth don't want to do any type of business, but rather just wait for a job;  as a result many of them are idle, as they graduate with a degree but no jobs are available.  They told us about pastors who are preaching that certain labor is beneath them and they need to pray for God to give them something different, also resulting in a lot of idleness.  Seeing how Jesus was a carpenter for eighteen years, how prophets were farmers, disciples were fishermen, reminded them that all work is important - it is what we were created to do - and God can use us wherever we are and bless the fruit of our hands.  They are determined to go out and make a difference in their churches and denominations.  Please pray for these pastors and for the country of Nigeria.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Save the Date: Work As Worship Retreat - Friday, February 23, 2018

Do you ever wake up with the Monday blues?  Do you live for Fridays?  Do you wonder if the work that you do from Monday-Saturday makes a difference in the world?  Do you wonder if God has called you to the job you are in?  Do you wonder how to integrate your faith and your work in a culture that wants to keep the two separate?

If any of these questions applies to you or to someone you know, then please consider yourself
invited to the 2017 Work as Worship Retreat, where eleven influential business leaders and pastors will discuss what it looks like to connect faith and work. Taking place as a 1–Day Local Church Retreat on February 23, 2018, the live event in Dallas from RightNow Ministries will be web-streamed to over 2,000 churches around the world, including Madison Square Church in Grand Rapids MI.

Many of us spend little more than two hours of our week at the church building or in a small group.  This kind of worship is Biblical and a vital rhythm in the life of a Christian.  But during the other 166 hours of our week, we have just as much potential to worship the God who created us.  Our time at church and small group should launch us out into the world – which includes the marketplace – prepared to take the hope of Jesus with us.  This retreat will help us do just that.

Here are eight key tenets of what you will learn:
1.       God designed work before the Fall.
2.       We are called to a mission.
3.       Church is the people – not the building.
4.       Work impacts our perspective on God.
5.       God uses work to impact communities.
6.       All of life can be worship.
7.       We don’t work to earn God’s favor.
8.       Work as Worship, but don’t worship work.

Join Patrick Lencioni (Author, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team), Joel Manby (CEO, SeaWorld), Phil Vischer (Creator, VeggieTales and Jellyfish Labs), Wendy Davidson (President, US Specialty Channels Kellogg Company), Matt Chandler (Lead Pastor, The Village Church), and others in a day filled with real-life stories, biblical teaching, and practical wisdom that will equip believers in the marketplace to see their work as an opportunity to care for their families, fulfill their calling, and bring glory to God.

But we don’t want to stop with just a one-day event!  In partnership with Discipling Marketplace Leaders, we will be encouraging churches to begin discipleship ministries in their church and offer tools with which to do that.  So invite your pastor, your church leader, and others to join in a movement to reclaim the redeemed marketplace for Christ!

Click here to learn more about the event, or click here to register for the retreat at Madison Square Church.  Registration is now open!  If you are not in the Grand Rapids area and would like to attend, please go to the event website and you will be able to find a church near you!

Other details:
Retreat Start time:  8:00 am   End time:  4:30 pm
Retreat Cost:  $25 (covers materials and lunch)
Preregistration is required:  Please go here to register.
Questions?  Contact:  Michael Thomson (616-450-0186), Judy Beene (616-633-5206) or Renita Reed-Thomson (renitar@icmusa.org). 

Encourage a colleague (or your supervisor/boss) or your pastor to join you!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Knowledge without application is just information.

Some of the mantras that we repeat during our trainings are:  "Knowledge without application is just information."  "The Bible is about transformation, not just information."

It's so easy to do trainings and think that the number of people who sit through a training account for potential "impact."  But the training is just the beginning.  The application of the knowledge shared in the training is key.  But even that is not enough.  Through application, transformation can take place.  Transformation comes through the application of what has been taught and the lessons learned.

This is tough for us to understand.  Learning to apply knowledge takes time, practice, and sometimes an unlearning that has to happen first before we can even start the application.  Transformation takes even more time.  This waiting is tough.

Beautiful group of Trainers
We live in a "hot n now" world.  Immediate feedback.  Immediate results.  Immediate changes.  In the development world, it is even more pressing, as those being served are trapped in poverty and real challenges that can threaten survival.

But to change the marketplace where marketplace ministers are recognized, supported, equipped and encouraged by the church will not be quick.  To work with the Church to be counter-cultural rather than a sub-culture is like swimming upstream.

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that we had trainers from five different countries gather together for a Training of Trainer event  for Discipling Marketplace Leaders.  While I love the dialogue, enjoy the debates, and can see the lightbulbs going on while we are together, the key outcome comes after they leave and begin to apply these concepts to their own life, their own work, their own church, and their own community.

And that is why I love to read the journals of the trainers.  What they write in private, at the end of the day, can inform me of what is going on inside, of what God is whispering to the person.  It's not unusual to see a correlation between someone's very thoughtful and deep journal writing and actual transformation that will take place as a result of our time together.

Below is an excerpt from one of the trainers from Ghana, who has just finished his MBA.  His faith came through so clearly throughout the week as did his passion for business.  He grew up in a very poor family and is so excited at seeing how his passion for business and his passion for his faith can be merged together to make a difference for people in similar circumstances.  He gave me permission to quote one part of his journal in this blog.  This was just one paragraph in 22 pages of a typed journal that came from his heart.  I love how he tied the Bible and economics together, especially for Christian business people:


Exam time for Trainers!
THE BIBLE DOES NOT PROVIDE INFORMATION: IT PROVIDES TRANSFORMATION: One important concept I have learnt from economics is that the importance of any resource is determined by it economic values and usefulness. The Bible is and must be very important to every marketplace minister. Newspapers, magazines and other books provides people with information concerning economic, political or business activities or other opportunities they can take advantage of. The readers are not bound to comply with the information these books provide. The Bible is different. 1st Timothy 3:16 clearly indicate that all scriptures are given by the inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction and for instruction in righteousness. The market place can never be transformed unless market place leaders have read and solemnly studied the Bible and have been transformed by the inspiring message they have learnt. A marketplace leader cannot shy away from reading the Bible.

Trainers being silly
I like how he is seeing a different application of the Bible - from personal salvation to transformation within the Marketplace.

Because of this desire to see real impacts and outcomes, we are starting a new research study in Northern Ghana that will be four times the size of our initial research in Kenya.  We want to study to see whether the work that we are doing can lead to personal transformation, workplace transformation, as well as transformation in churches and communities.  It doesn't seem logical to me for us to continue to do this work without having statistical proof that there are real causal impacts that lead from information to application to transformation.  We ask for your prayers as we embark on this.  It won't be easy and it won't be cheap.  But neither is it cheap or easy to keep doing something and making assumptions about causal results which may be merely a result of a correlation. 

We want trainers, pastors, denominations, and business people to feel confident about this ministry as it is a big commitment of time.  We want donors and investors to also feel confident about this ministry, as it is a big commitment of talent and treasure.  But most of all, as we use the three resources that each of us are given (time, treasure, and talent), we want to be able to say before God that we there has been actual multiplication and transformation.

Update on Kenya:  Thank you for praying during this last week for Kenya.  The election on the 26th was marked by demonstrations, boycotts, arson, looting, and death.  Four counties postponed voting indefinitely due to insecurity.  Only one-third of registered voters showed up to vote.  The opposition has called for mass civil disobedience and has started what he is calling the "National Resistance Movement."  Continued prayers are still needed.  Kenyans are weary and the way forward is not clear. 

Monday, October 23, 2017

Call for Prayers for Kenya (and Uganda)

May I ask for your prayers this week for Kenya?

The August 8th election in Kenya was overturned by the Supreme Court on September 1st.  This was a great surprise.  The re-election date was set for October 17.  However, in late September the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) ruled that the changes that were needed would not be in place by the 17th and moved the election to October 26.  On October 10 the main opposition (Raila Odinga) to the incumbent (Uhuru Kenyatta) withdrew from the race, stating that the 12 irreducible minimums to undo the problems from the August election would not be met by the 26th.

The country was left wondering what to do, going back to the constitution for guidance.  On October 13, the IEBC decided to allow the other presidential candidates who had contested on August 8th to be added to the October 26th ballet.  On October 18, one of the members of the IEBC resigned from New York, citing death threats and the belief that the election can't be credible.  On October 19, the CEO of the IEBC took a three week leave (!!??).

There have been many protests in various parts of Kenya, resulting in more than 75 deaths.  Raila Odinga insists that there will be no election on the 26th and has announced that he will "deliver a way forward" on October 25 (which sounds rather ominous to me.  If you have a way forward, why wait to announce it?). His party has called for country wide protests on the 26th.

All of this has been so disruptive to the citizens of Kenya, to businesses, and to a general calm and peace in the process of democracy.

Written by a Kenyan friend on Facebook, "God, you are enough for Kenya and you are saving us from danger.  When we hear about the guns and deployment forces, when leaders speak threats to innocent Kenyans on media, we fret!  But you say in your holy word, "Fear not I am with you" 365 times.  David told Goliath, "You come to me with a sword and javelin but I come to you in the name of the Lord!"  It doesn't matter your tribe or position.  God will fight for us!  Lord, we pray you calm the storm in Kenya!"

Amen.

While you are praying, please also pray for peace and democracy in Uganda.  President Museveni came into office in 1986.  At the time the country had a two term limit, so Museveni had the constitution amended so that he could run again.  Now he has run into another constitutional issue which says you cannot run for president if you are over the age of 75.  He is seeking to change the constitution again and protests are being had around the country regarding this issue.

Thank you for praying for these precious countries, for our brothers and sisters in Christ, and for God's will to be done.

I am in Ghana and have finished an exhausting month of trainings.  I leave on Monday and will be home on Tuesday, only to leave again in nine days, back to Ghana and then Nigeria.

Monday, October 16, 2017

A Wife of Two Husbands

On Saturday, I met a man who told me that his father had 52 children.  I think that’s the highest number that I have heard from someone I’ve met in person.  This was from five different wives.  His own mother had eleven children, and she already has over one hundred grandchildren from those eleven children.  On Sunday, I talked with a man whose father had 38 children from four different wives.  He said they are planning a family reunion over Easter in their village, which may actually overtake the village in pure numbers!

Many times, when we do introductions in our classes and workshops, men in Africa will introduce themselves this way: “Praise the Lord.  My name is David and I am the husband of one wife.”  And then they go on.  Most people smile when this is said.  I usually introduce myself last and then go straight into teaching. 
This last time in Kenya, for the first time, I introduced myself this way.  “Good morning.  My name is Renita Reed-Thomson and I am the wife of two husbands.”  Everyone started to laugh.  And then I explained – first about my name and then about the fact that they would hear very clearly about two different husbands as I teach, as both have had an influence on who I am as well as on my ministry. 

A wife of two husbands.  That is what I am.  And there is no conflict in it.  Something can happen on a given day that makes me smile and think of Bob.  Something different occurs that makes me smile and think of Michael.  The heart has a capacity to hold both as beloved.  And the heart can learn, in time, to do that without anxiety, guilt, fear, or regret.
This Friday is October 20.  This would have been our 27th wedding anniversary.  We only made it to nineteen.  This Saturday, however, October 21, the same wedding dress that I wore 27 years ago will be used by a bride in Kitale, Kenya, by dear friends who had never formalized their marriage but want to do so now.  [I had preserved the dress and gave both of my wedding dresses to someone in Kitale who rents wedding dresses as a business.]  I was thrilled when I heard that and smiled at the date.  A love that continues.
Recently in Bakersfield CA, I met with a friend who had recently lost her beloved, and she shared a book with me called The Cure for Sorrow: A book of blessings for times of grief, by Jan Richardson.  I highly recommend it for those of you who are or who know of someone who is grieving.  It was written by a pastor who lost her husband and the only thing she knew how to do to get through the pain was to write blessings.  It’s amazing how when reading it my heart vividly remembers the hours, days, weeks, and months following Bob’s death…and it is important to remember.
I want to share one blessing with you from this book and pray that it will bless you as well.
Now, Beloved, We Live
Now, Beloved, we live
In a country 
that has no name

No ceremony 
for the vows
no liturgy for
how wedded,
no ritual for
our marriage
whose only shape
is this:

I hold your heart
in my heart
that you hold.

Never not in
my bones.
never not in
my blood.

I hold your heart
in my heart
that you hold.

Gathered
without measure
given back
without reserve.

I hold your heart
in my heart
that you hold.

Mystery, all,
for which I see
no end but that

I hold your heart
in my heart
that you hold.

Blessed, beloved,
in this country that has
no name.

I hold your heart
in my heart
that you hold.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Shifting Paradigms

This week I have had the pleasure of teaching Church-based Business as Mission at the Africa Theological Seminary in Kitale, Kenya to the BA Theology Students.  Also present in the classroom were 23 trainers in training for Discipling Marketplace Leaders from Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya.  One of the requirements for the students in this class is to journal their thoughts and reflections on a daily basis.  Hearing those journals is one of the highlights for me.

A senior pastor of a Deliverance Church in Kenya shared on the second day of class that paradigms were already shifting for him.  The day before we had discussed the role of business in the world, asking the questions:  "Who is the primary player in alleviating poverty?"  The answer came back, as it frequently does, as "the Church" or "Government." When asked, "Where does the Church get it's money to do ministry?"  The answer was "the members."  When asked, "Where do the members get their money?"  The answer is "Business."  When asked, "Where does Government get its money?"  Answer:  Taxes.  "Where do taxes come from?"  Answer:  Business.  But additionally, business provides a more long-term approach to poverty as businesses produce jobs, which produce salaries, which continue week after week, month after month, year after year AND allow for the creative ability of those made in the image of God to find fulfillment, which brings real happiness.


We then ask, "Who is the primary player in promoting peace?"  This particular pastor answered by saying, "We just completed a Development and Social Change class and the answer for that is the Church."  Question:  What happens in a country when people can't work and provide for their families?  (Unfortunately too many people in the room know too well that happens because of current political struggles.)  Answer:  People become angry and start demonstrating.  The answer is for the primary play for promoting peace is business.

This pastor then shared that in the development and social change class he had just been in that they had not once discussed the role that business plays in peace or poverty alleviation.  It was startling to him to recognize the huge role business plays and how the church leaves them out of the discussion at every turn.  He
went on to say that a further paradigm shift was the realization that businesses are problem solvers, and problems provide opportunities for creativity.

I love hearing the buzz of these discussions during breaks, as people challenge each other and debate this paradigms that are shifting.  Of course, the major shift is the realization that we were created for work and that work can be our act of worship.

It's not lost on us that we were able to bring this training of trainers together because of three generous business people who helped to sponsor it. We are thankful to God for business people who fulfill their calling every day to make this world a better place, to help people to flourish with their goods and services, and who preach to creation every day and help the creation reflect the image of its Creator!
Our International Team of Trainers

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Let's start at the very beginning...a very good place to start...

[A couple of updates: First, I'm currently in Uganda, about to start a two day training for pastors and church leaders in Kampala.  A number of you continue to ask about my health and I am thankful to say that I feel very healthy!  Secondly, we are so thankful to report that the match that was offered for the training of trainers was met and we are able to cover the costs of the fifteen trainers coming from five different countries to Kenya on Wednesday!  Thank you to all who gave financially and for those who pray diligently!  Oh...and if anyone was worried about me being bored, I wanted to let you know that I have started working on my Ph.D. in Sustainable Development and Diplomacy. I am doing it primarily so that I will continue to have open doors to teach in seminaries and higher learning institutions, who require a Ph.D.  I burned out after my Masters, so please pray with me for wisdom and a healthy pace through this process!]

Growing up, I had very limited exposure to TV and movies (I saw my first movie in a theatre when I was fourteen - Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom).  Annually, however, we could expect to watch the Sound of Music and Fiddler on the Roof at least once, usually around Christmas.  I know all the words of all the songs and they will occasionally pop into my head.

As I was heading out to the airport this past Friday, Michael put a book in my hands called The Economics of Neighborly Love by Tom Nelson.  I am so backed up in reading books right now (thanks to my loving husband's desire to bless me with many good books) but on my first flight I set aside my other books and started reading this one.  Very quickly, the song "Let's start at the very beginning..." from the Sound of Music began to go through my mind.

Tom Nelson was speaking my language...singing my tune...preaching to the choir...and when I read words that I am trying to teach, there is a sense of familiarity and home that warms the heart.

Starting at the very beginning, to me, means recognizing the incredible importance of our Great Commitment to God and this earth, found in Genesis 1 and 2.  You see, Michael gave me another book about a week ago and the author wrote that "Genesis 1-12 is all about the fall."  I stopped reading after that sentence.  That is NOT true and it completely undermines the purpose of man and of creation.  Too many people treat Genesis 1 and 2 as simply an introduction to the "real story" which, in their opinion, starts in Genesis 3; we forget that how God created man and creation was very good and that we were made to work.  Work became more complicated after the fall but work and creativity, like the image of our Creator, is what we were made to do.

Nelson spends time in Genesis 1 and 2, but I love what he did with the Good Samaritan, the parable that Jesus tells in response to the lawyer's question of "who is my neighbor" relating to the Great Commandment.  We often focus on the compassion that the good Samaritan showed but we neglect to speak of the necessity of economic capacity in the equation of being able to help a brother or sister who is hurting.  The truth in this story is that both were needed: compassion as well as economic capacity.  And where does all economic capacity come from?  From business.  The Good Samaritan was a business man.  But the hotel owner was also a business man.  Both had capacity and were willing to take risks in order to show compassion to the injured man.

Nelson says, "The Samaritan's economic capacity came from diligent labor and wise financial stewardship within an economic system where he added values to others.  If we are going to love our neighbor well, we must not only manage our financial resources well; we must also have ample financial resources to manage."

He then says this, "If we have compassion without capacity, we have human frustration.  If we have capacity without compassion, we have human alienation.  If we have capacity and compassion, we have human transformation.  We have neighborly love."

Dallas Willard says this, "The task of Christian spokespersons, leaders, and professionals is to exemplify and teach foundational traits of the good life Jesus manifests.  But this must also include the more specific traits required in the public domain - industriousness, self-control, moderation, and responsibility for oneself and others.  That is the responsibility and posture of love.  The human drive to be self-supporting can be tied to a determination to be productive in order to bless others."

And that is what is too often missing in our teachings about Jesus and in our teachings in the institutional church.  Too many times pastors have told me, often with an air of confession, that they have frequently told new Christians to leave their jobs and join church work, rather than affirming and understanding the inherent goodness of work and the opportunities for being involved in human flourishing by doing work to the glory of God.  And that takes us back to Genesis 1 and 2 and our great commitment.

Our calling is not only about the Great Commission.  That was an add-on to our calling, after the fall.  Our calling is also about the Great Commandment, but we can't do that without being fruitful and multiplying, which is what we call the Great Commitment.

And Nelson pointed out a verse that I hadn't yet discovered.  We struggle with helping pastors to understand that to be "fruitful and multiply" goes beyond procreation.  But he goes back to the Hebrew language which points to the word "fruitful" in other parts of the Bible that primarily refer to the products of human labor.  He refers to Deuteronomy 28:4-5 which says, "The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock - the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks.  Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed."  Being fruitful is so much broader than simply having babies!  Fruitfulness involves procreation but also productivity.

Andy Crouch, Executive Editor of Christianity Today says, "God made wheat. We make bread!  God made grapes.  We made wine!  Wheat is good.  Bread is very good!  Grapes are good, but wine is very good."  We make computer chips from sand.  We make furniture from trees.  A wealthy God designed us with that in mind.

Nelson says that "far too little has been written or taught to the rising generation of leaders about how religion and economics seamlessly intersect."  [This will be the subject of my dissertation, by the way!]  He calls the pastoral work that he was doing as a young pastor "malpractice" as he was spending most of his time equipping his members for where they spend the minority of their time, and not equipping them for where they spend the majority of their time.  He describes this as "an inconvenient truth" and states that this same malpractice that he accused himself of as "tragically common" throughout the church.

As we seek to spread this message in many different countries, cities, denominations, local churches, languages, and people groups, will you continue to pray with us that this message will take hold?  Will you pray with us that the work that we do from Monday-Saturday can be good and holy, done to the glory of God, to enable human flourishing and the loving of our neighbor?

To do that may mean that we have to start at the very beginning and let the good news of Genesis 1 and 2 wash over us and sink in, without rushing too quickly to Genesis 3...but as both Julie Andrews sings, and as our Creator says, the beginning is a very good place to start!

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Amazing Shea Tree


[After spending this past week in California for meetings with ICM-USA, I am home for a few days before leaving on Friday for a month to Uganda, Kenya, and Ghana. Please pray for this trip which promises to be non-stop with trainings!]

While I lived in Ghana from 2009-2012, I heard a lot about shea butter nuts and the processing of shea butter.  Researchers say that shea butter has been used in West Africa since approximately 100 AD.

But it was on this last trip that I paid a bit more attention, as many of the people we met with were involved in the processing of shea butter nuts.  As we were waiting for a meeting to start at a Baptist Church in a village about an hour away from Tamale, something fell from the tree and hit Blossom on the head - a shea fruit from a shea tree.  I took a picture of the offending tree.  But my curiosity was piqued when Fanny told me that shea trees cannot be farmed.  They will only grow in the wild.  How can that be, I wondered?

In doing a little research, I discovered the following:
  • There are 9.4 million shea trees in Ghana, producing 100 tons of shea nuts, which is valued at about $1 million USD per year.
  • According to legend, no one owns a shea tree because they grow on their own
  • After three to five years, the tree becomes fire resistant because of deeply fissured bark.  
  • By thirty years old, the tree is full grown and can live to be 300 years old!
  • It does not have natural enemies, which is what allows it to grow to be so old.
  • The mature kernel contains 61% fat, which is edible as well as medicinal.  The oil from the shea tree is only second to palm oil in terms of importance in West Africa.
  • Shea butter can be used like lard or margarine as it makes a pliable dough.
  • Shea butter is high in vitamins A, E, and F, and can be an intense moisturizer for skin.
  • The residue from the shea nut, the leaves, and the tree itself can also be used for other things.  Every part is used!
While visiting the family that I wrote about last week, I was invited to take a bite of a shea fruit.  Since I'm always on the lookout for different types of fruit that God has created, I accepted the offer and took a bite.  It was surprisingly sweet with a texture of an avocado.  It is rich in vitamins, calcium, and iron.  The family we visited is also involved in shea nut production, as can be seen on the left of the picture with the goat.  

Many of the women we work with in the Northern Region of Ghana are involved in the processing of this incredible gift from God.  Hopeline Institute continues to look for ways to help the women work together, as well as to find markets for them.

Upon some further research, I finally discovered that the shea nut will not germinate if planted in a traditional manner - being fully buried in dirt.  It will only germinate if it is covered halfway with dirt, with the eye of the seed pointing up.  So, nuts that are thrown around haphazardly will germinate, while those carefully planted will not, giving the impression that these cannot be farmed and will only grow in the wild.

Shea butter
Unfortunately, shea trees are also beginning to be cut down for charcoal, as many people cook with charcoal in Ghana.  This will have a great negative impact on the industry if it is not curtailed.  In Discipling Marketplace Leaders, we teach that each Christian should have a quadruple bottom line (loving neighbors, discipling, economically being fruitful and multiplying, and stewarding the earth) and encourage each person to look at the impact that their business has on the earth.  For those who are selling charcoal, not only do we encourage them to plant trees but they also should know what type of wood they are buying and strive to protect this vital crop in the Ghanaian economy.

Monday, September 18, 2017

A road that was not a road...and a goat named Thursday

On Tuesday afternoon, in the Upper East Region of Ghana, close to the Burkina Faso border, following our meetings with four churches in Sandema, we wanted to stop to meet a family whose sons have been living with my dear friends, Dennis and Fanny Atta-Peters, for years.  Fanny had not ever met the parents of these young men, despite having helped them for over ten years.

The challenge of finding directions to a home without road signs began.  When we finally located the young man to who was to guide us on his bike, he quickly let us off the road, onto a path....and deeper into the corn fields we drove...until there was only a small bike path before us, and millet and maize fields all around.  We kept wondering where this house was, when suddenly we curved around the field and there it was, completely surrounded by millet.

As we pulled in, we all exclaimed surprise at what we saw (I was with three Ghanaians who had not seen such a compound either).  The architecture, I was told, is very much like that in Burkina Faso: flat roofs, so that people can sleep on top when it is hot and also dry peanuts or other foods up there; smooth buildings, made of mud, cow dung, rice husks, and other organic materials, that make for a very solid, strong smooth walls (this particular compound was over 100 years old!).  Four generations live together in this compound, including a husband, with four wives, many children, many grand-children, and great grandchildren.  Each wife has her own particular area, as does the husband, and the children begin to build their own areas onto the compound.

Animals are also a part of the home.  As you enter, you see round structures in walls with tiny doors for hens and guinea fowl, somewhat larger areas for goats and dogs, then in the center of the compound is the place for the cows (as can be seen in the picture below).




But it's not just the 100 people, four generations, and many animals who enjoy this compound. The picture below shows the little house where the chicken and guinea fowl live.  But in front of the bench, you can see a mound.  That is where the grandmother is buried.  There are other places as well throughout the compound where a grandfather or other family members are buried.   It's a visual reminder of the generations, although prayer to ancestors is still quite strong in these parts.  (We were told that if they need rain, they pray to the ancestors and rain will fall in an hour.)

Out of gratitude to Fanny and her family for all they have done for the three young men that they have helped with work and education, they presented her with a goat, which we named "Thursday" (for reasons that would be too long for me to write in this blog).  Thursday made the long road trip back with us to Tamale, where he found a home with a new family.  The family also made a gift of a drumming dance presentation made by a number of young men from the family and the extended community.  We were privileged to watch and enjoy, although we were interrupted part way through by about fifty cows running into the compound right through the middle of where we were sitting.
It was such a privilege to visit with this family and to learn a small bit about their lives.  On the one hand, it was beautiful, peaceful, and serene.  On the other hand, it felt like we had gone back in time quite a number of years.  Someone remarked to me, "What can we do to help them?"  To which I responded, "How do you know they need help?  I didn't hear them complain."  What feels to many of us like going back in time, to them may be a choice of remaining intentional about family and community. 

[Recently a Ugandan told me that they love sitting on mats on the floor.  Someone came to their house to visit, thought, "These poor Ugandans can't afford furniture!" and sent furniture to their house.  But the Ugandans didn't want the chairs, and very soon, the chairs were outside in the rain and the elements so that they could continue living culturally in a way that was preferable to them.  Tough for us to recognize and appreciate sometimes, but so important that we don't project our own preferences on someone else!]

Below is a very brief video of our time in the Northern Region of Ghana, including this compound and the drumming.  I hope it captures for you a bit of the beauty that we were privileged to enjoy.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Twenty-one Churches, 450 members, and we need your help!


I am currently in the Northern Region of Ghana, visiting churches who have completed the Discipling Marketplace Leaders "Thirty Days in the Marketplace," which followed the training that was given to the pastors and church leaders in June. It is Sunday evening when I am writing this and in the past few days we have visited twelve churches, with more to come on Monday-Wednesday.

We wanted to meet with each church to see whether or not the pastor was able to effectively communicate the message that work can be worship, that business is a holy calling, and that God delights in the creativity and work of man, made in His image.  As the business people and pastors gathered in the church, we started the meetings by asking for testimonies from the business people of what they learned during the "Thirty Days in the Marketplace."  It was very apparent, very quickly, which pastors "passed the test" and which pastors need a bit more time to learn more, in order to better educate their members.  We are thankful that the majority of churches, thus far, passed with flying colors.  The business people spoke with such passion about business being a calling...about people in the Bible who were business people...about Jesus himself being an active carpenter for more than 15 years!  It brought me much joy to hear their joy and excitement over the realization that business is not "evil" but can be used to glorify God.  It was also great to see the pastors smile, as they listened to their congregants bear witness to their teachings.
The next step for those churches who are ready is the training of the business people, and so a large part of our meetings in these churches involves assessing whether or not the business people would benefit more from the micro-business training or the small and medium size entrepreneur training.  What types of businesses did we find?  A number of the churches are in very rural areas, and so there are many farmers who are farming between 3-12 acres:  corn, rice, peanuts, cashews, cocoa, peppers, tomatoes; a number also have animals in addition to their crops:  goats, sheep, cows, pigs, rabbits, guinea fowl, ducks, and chickens.  In the more urban areas, we find accountants, bakers, caterers, fashion designers, tailors, beauticians, make-up artists, gospel musicians, hat makers, shoe makers, artisans, metal workers, and the list goes on.  Truly a mix of retailers, service providers, manufacturers, and agriculturalists.

Once we understand the types of businesses found in a church, we then need to coordinate times, dates, and trainers as we seek to train and release up to 450 Marketplace Ministers into the Northern Region of Ghana.  This region is a very Muslim region and many of the churches are made up of Muslim converts.  We have already heard a number of stories from those we trained last year of people giving their lives to Christ and it is exciting to think of what 450 Marketplace Ministers released into the Marketplace could do.

And this is where we need your help.  It is time for us to do a major effort in the training of trainers.  We have huge opportunities in Ethiopia and Ghana, and emerging opportunities in Uganda, Tanzania, Nigeria, and Kenya.  We have planned a training of trainers for the key leaders of DML from October 5-13 in Kitale, Kenya.  We are flying in trainers from these countries to spend ten days together at the Africa Theological Seminary, where we will certify many of them as trainers and have a chance to share best practices, lessons learned, and continue to build a team made of national leaders, who can reach pastors, church leaders, and business people in their own context and culture.

We have a donor who has offered an challenge grant in the amount of $1500 towards this effort.  We need more than $3000 for this effort, but we are thankful for this opportunity!  (Have you noticed how many people are liking challenge grants lately?  We all want to see our investments double quickly, which is wise investing!)  If you are willing to help build the church through Discipling Marketplace Leaders, please go to www.icmusa.org/donate, select "Discipling Marketplace Leaders" in the dropdown box, and in the comment section put "Training of Trainers Matching Grant."

At the same time, my support has dropped very low (for the first time this year, for which I am thankful!).  If you are able to chip in something extra for that as well, it would be greatly appreciated!  To do that, go to the same web address and select "Renita Reed" in the dropdown box.

Lastly, many of these businesses that we are training would benefit from loans.  In Ghana, the interest rates are ridiculously high (38% in banks, 60% with MFIs, and 120% in the informal sector).  Through investors, we are able to give loans at a much more affordable rate.  We currently have $50,000 invested in Ghana, and would like to see that doubled or even tripled by March (when these churches will have completed their training).  We accept any amount from $1000+, we pay investors 4% annually, and ask for your investment to remain with us for three years.  If you are interested in putting your money into small businesses in Northern Ghana, please email me at renitar@icmusa.org for more information.

Thank you!  We appreciate your prayers as we work to coordinate this great opportunity that God has given us!

PS - We are excited to have found a home for Hopeline Institute and Discipling Marketplace Leaders in Tamale.  Thanks to the on-going generosity of Rev. Johnson Asare (an incredible man of God and business man who is SO committed to Business as Mission), we have received an office at the Radach Hotel and Conference Center where Isaac and Blossom (the two on the right of the picture below) will be able to work out of and coordinate these efforts.  Also in this picture is Rev. Monday, who is the Mission Outreach Coordinator for the Good News Bible Church and has been instrumental in the spreading of DML in the Northern Region, and beside him is my dear friend, Fanny Atta-Peters, the Executive Director of Hopeline Institute.  What a privilege to spend these days with this team!