Monday, August 7, 2017

Praying for Kenya

On Tuesday, August 8, Kenya will have it's presidential elections.  I was in Kenya for the last presidential election in February of 2013, which was very tense because the previous election of 2007 erupted in much violence and many deaths.  Thankfully, the election of 2013 was mostly peaceful.  But I have been told by Kenyans that tensions are high for this election.  Commodities are scarce as people are stock-piling goods, and business has slowed down considerably as people are holding on to their money in case of emergency.  Many people are leaving the major cities and going to the countryside in hopes of being safe.

It didn't help that last week, a senior election monitoring official was tortured and murdered.  It's difficult to think of the courage that others who are responsible for monitoring this election for transparency will have to show, given this violence.

Tribalism plays a major role in Kenyan politics and this election is no different, with the race between current president, Uhuru Kenyatta who is Kikuyu, and the opposition leader Raila Odinga who is Luo. This is Odinga's fourth time running for president. The Kikuyu tribe is the largest in Kenya, with 6.6 million people; the Luo tribe is the fourth largest in Kenya, with 4 million people.

Please pray for Kenya this week, for free and transparent elections, free of violence, where every vote of every citizen will count.

While all of this goes on in political spheres, we continue to see small business men and women, who care about the Church and their families, continue to seek and strive to be who God has made them to be.  The story below was written by one of the co-directors of DML Kenya, Caroline Sudi.

SALAMA RIDERS


By Caroline Sudi, Co-Director DML Kenya
Grace Mzee, in the front, standing with one of her drivers.

Meet Grace Mzee, the Manager of Salama Riders. The word ‘Salama’ is Swahili for ‘fine’. This is a business in the transport industry owned by a Marketplace minister and TOT (Trainer of Trainers) of the Discipling Marketplace Leaders ministry. Grace is one of those who were in the very first class of BAM and in fact taught both of the current Co-Directors for DML Kenya (Rev. Elly Kisala and Caroline Sudi), as we were in the second class. She is also a Medical Engineer at the Kitale Referral Hospital right here in Kitale town. She is also a Pastor’s wife serving in their ministry.  Talk of a busy marketplace minister!
In more rural areas of Kenya, many people get around by “boda-boda,” which are motorcycle taxis.  The customer demand for this form of public transportation has been significantly increasing over the last number of yearsSalama Riders was started in January 2016 with a capital of $1200.00 USD and begun with one new motor bike. Through a well-structured management, Grace was able to purchase two more second-hand motorbikes in quick succession, and a fourth one through a DML, loan growing her fleet to 4 motorbikes in less than two years. Her husband doubles up as the Supervisor of Salama Riders; and runs the day-to-day of the business including recruitment, repairs and servicing. She has employed four experienced riders and a mechanic who ensure that the bikes are in tip-top condition. Her husband is also Pastor to their local church.
Each motorbike earns her $3.50/day, six days a week giving her about $330.00 USD net profit per month. Through the business training offered by DML, Grace is able to manage the processes from recruitment of drivers, communication, record-keeping to salaries; and according to Grace, this is the reason for her success. “DML has been of great help to me and my business,” she stated during our conversation. 

Salama Riders business hopes to grow into motor vehicle public transport business and the purchase of a car –the probox model is in their plan. These are commonly used for public transport commuting between Kitale town and the outskirts which is their target area. They also plan to expand their church building with resources from the business – a need necessitated by their growing congregation. They also have a social bottom line which is to support needy children. These are found within their locality and what better way than to reach out to such as they are the hope for tomorrow’s church.

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Role of the Church in the Faith at Work Movement

While I was grounded in Grand Rapids for a number of weeks due to illness, I tried to put my time to good use by continuing to coordinate the work of Discipling Marketplace Leaders in different countries, and also spend time reading and reflecting.  Two books that I have been working through are God At Work:  The History and Promise of the Faith at Work Movement by David W. Miller, and Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World by Miroslav Volf.   These two books have made me think and rethink the work of Discipling Marketplace Leaders.

When I started feeling the call to move the work of business development into the Church, I heard a number of voices that it "couldn't" be done and also that it "shouldn't" be done.  The reasons for those words seemed to me to be unfounded and without depth, casting aside the Church as a broken institution that has lost its way, rather than the people of God equipped by the Holy Spirit to be change agents in the world.

Miroslav Volf's book looks at the often competing visions of world religions and market-drive globalization processes and how they impact lives worldwide.  He looks at the historical relationship as well as what the relationship should be.  He concludes that world religions, despite their malfunctions "remain one of our most potent sources of moral motivation and contain within them profoundly evocative accounts of human flourishing.  Above all by keeping alive the truth that human beings do not live by bread alone, religions can foster hope and global solidarity, bridge the yawning gap between the rich and the poor, and help protect our endangered planet.  Globalization in turn can nudge world religions to loosen ties to particular states, which tend to rope religions into legitimizing violence, and help them rediscover their authentic universality."

We can see from this quote the affirmation that not only can this work be integrated in the Church, but it SHOULD be integrated with the Church.
David Miller's book tells the story of how the faith at work movement has moved through the church for the last 150 years, giving a rich history and context for what has worked, what has not, and some of the reasons for it.  He describes the Faith At Work movement in terms of three distinct waves.  Much of what is in the book is what we have experienced:  there is a lack of theological understanding and teaching from seminaries; clergy are focused on criticizing the problems in the marketplace without appreciating the complexities or the theological possibilities in the marketplace; churches are too focused on an internal focus at the expense of the external focus. While some denominations (Reformed and PCUSA) have a theological tradition of linking Christian vocation and work, most do not move from theory to praxis, or from the structured to the personal.  Another of our consistent findings is the lack of awareness or "unconscious" of the distance between the Sunday/Monday gap, and how the church actually contributes to it.

There have been times when a pastor will tell me how well they are connected to their business people and discipling them.  This book has given me two great question to ask to find out more from these churches:  "As an operational focus, in comparison to other departments, how much staffing and what amount of budget resources does the Faith At Work ministry receive?  Secondly, how frequently are Faith at Work issues addressed theologically, and what is the content of this expression as seen by denominational policy statements and discussion papers?"

For me, it finally gave some depth to critics of the work of DML and confirmed some of the struggles that we are seeing with some countries and some denominations relating to DML. It has been good for me to be reminded that this is part of an on-going battle that will not be completed until Christ returns.  It also reminds me that, of course, this is one miniscule battle in the midst of many battles going on.  But I know with confidence and joy that this is the battle I have been called to, surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who have gone before.

Next week I leave for Tanzania, where we will be joining many people for the Theological Education in Africa conference.  Dr. Walker and I will be teaching about Discipling Marketplace Leaders and ask for your prayers for those who will be attending to be energized, encouraged, and equipped to continue to work towards building the Church.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Wealth Creation Manifesto

The idea of "wealth creation" has been a difficult one for Christians to get behind if we define that as our goal in the work of business development.  "Poverty alleviation" is a much more palatable term.  That is in part because we equate wealth with Jesus' words that it is "more difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than a camel to go through the eye of a needle."  We forget that the very next words from the disciples is "who then can be saved?" and Jesus replies that with man it is impossible - none of us can do it on our own.  Or sometimes we have been taught that "money is the root of all evil" instead of "the love of money."

Wealth creation is not the same as making people rich.  Helping people have access to opportunities that will allow them to be creative and productive, and to provide for their families and children, can often only take place through wealth creation, which never comes from handouts.  One of my favorite lines from the Poverty Cure is this, "I have never heard of a third world nation becoming a first world nation because of aid.  That track is wrong and it leads nowhere."

I was happy to see the Lausanne Movement and BAM Global come out recently with a wealth creation manifesto.  I think they have done a very nice job of putting this together.  I have pasted it below and would love to hear thoughts on this.

As the DML team has just completed three different trainings in Nigeria (Abuja, Jos, and Lagos) that apparently went very well.  Close to three hundred pastors and church leaders were trained in Discipling Marketplace Leaders!  I will include some pictures from those trainings at the end of this post.


Wealth Creation Manifesto




Background


The Lausanne Movement and BAM Global organized a Global Consultation on The Role of Wealth Creation for Holistic Transformation, in Chiang Mai, Thailand, in March 2017. About 30 people from 20 nations participated, primarily from the business world, and also from church, missions and academia. The findings will be published in several papers and a book, as well as an educational video. This Manifesto conveys the essentials of our deliberations before and during the Consultation. 

Affirmations 

1.    Wealth creation is rooted in God the Creator, who created a world that flourishes with abundance and diversity. 

2.    We are created in God’s image, to co-create with Him and for Him, to create products and services for the common good.

3.    Wealth creation is a holy calling, and a God-given gift, which is commended in the Bible.

4.    Wealth creators should be affirmed by the Church, and equipped and deployed to serve in the marketplace among all peoples and nations.

5.    Wealth hoarding is wrong, and wealth sharing should be encouraged, but there is no wealth to be shared unless it has been created.

6.    There is a universal call to generosity, and contentment is a virtue, but material simplicity is a personal choice, and involuntary poverty should be alleviated.

7.    The purpose of wealth creation through business goes beyond giving generously, although that is to be commended; good business has intrinsic value as a means of material provision and can be an agent of positive transformation in society.

8.    Business has a special capacity to create financial wealth, but also has the potential to create different kinds of wealth for many stakeholders, including social, intellectual, physical and spiritual wealth.

9.    Wealth creation through business has proven power to lift people and nations out of poverty.

10. Wealth creation must always be pursued with justice and a concern for the poor, and should be sensitive to each unique cultural context.

11. Creation care is not optional. Stewardship of creation and business solutions to environmental challenges should be an integral part of wealth creation through business. 

Appeal 

We present these affirmations to the Church worldwide, and especially to leaders in business, church, government, and academia. 

       We call the church to embrace wealth creation as central to our mission of holistic transformation of peoples and societies.

       We call for fresh, ongoing efforts to equip and launch wealth creators to that very end.

       We call wealth creators to perseverance, diligently using their God-given gifts to serve God and people.

Ad maiorem Dei gloriam - For the greater glory of God

Version 4.0: 23 April 2017


Dr. Walker, Barbie Odom, and the leaders from Lagos

200+ pastors in Lagos, very excited to be together.

After a long and tiring trip, Dr. Walker still teaching with passion.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Rain falls on the Just and the Unjust

Pastor Johnfred and his wife, Lydia.
I met Pastor Johnfred Ajwang in the spring of 2014, while living at the Africa Theological Seminary in Kitale, Kenya.  Pastor Johnfred was the pastor of a church he planted in Kisumu through Dove Christian Fellowship, and a student studying for his BA in Theology.  I met him because someone had referred him to me for some marketing that we were doing for ATS and he was reportedly a very good writer.  I was immediately captivated by his great smile, his humble attitude, and his servant heart.  I had the opportunity to teach him two courses (Business as Mission and Accounting for Pastors) and found him to be a serious and dedicated student, while also having a unique gift of bringing warmth into a room and helping people feel comfortable.
Pastor Johnfred (right) was the first to show me Lake Victoria.
Pastor Johnfred was very excited about Discipling Marketplace Leaders and eagerly looked forward to bringing this ministry to Kisumu.  He became a trainer, and then brought a number of church members (business people and church leaders) to also become trainers.  Even though Kisumu was the fourth city we opened for DML in Kenya (after Kitale, Kakamega, and Eldoret), it quickly took the lead in a number of areas because of Pastor Johnfred's passion and energy.  He organized meetings with pastors and business people, and had us back a number of times to do workshops and trainings.  Pastor Johnfred was the first to show me Lake Victoria, as seen in the picture (he is on the right).

I so believed in Pastor Johnfred and the work he was doing that last year Michael and I asked if we could be "members" of his church.  We are members of our church in Grand Rapids but I wanted to be able to go a little deeper with a couple of churches and not always feel like a guest when traveling, so last year we joined his church and one other church.  I have been privileged to watch as a member about the growth and challenges of Pastor Johnfred's church.

But on Saturday, July 1, Pastor Johnfred Ajwang lost his life on this earth after a very brief illness.  He preached the Sunday before on suffering for Christ.  On Monday began to feel sick with some stomach issues.  On Friday they planned to move him to a different hospital that could better address his issues, but early on Saturday, he passed away.  I am told the confusing story that often comes out of health care in developing countries - something was happening to his liver which caused bile to be released into his stomach and bloodstream.  To me this sounds more like a ruptured gallbladder but that is what the family has been told.  As is often the case, it doesn't matter much as it doesn't change the reality.

He leaves behind a wife, Lydia, and four children:  a son aged 14, a son aged 13, and twins (boy and girl) aged 8.  His wife is a primary school teacher in a rural school (which usually means very little pay).  They did not have health insurance or life insurance, and have been left with bills totaling $4500 USD.  The church is struggling to raise some of that money, and I imagine the extended family has been called upon to raise some of it as well.  But my heart goes out to this widow, with four young children, left on her own, so suddenly.  It is heartbreaking.

His death hit me hard on many levels that are obvious (a friend, my pastor, a DML partner, knowing a little of what his wife and children are going through, dealing with a poor health care system, etc).  But it also hit hard as I had been sick with stomach issues for the past six weeks.  I have health insurance, had access to every test (that insurance would allow), and had very good care.  I know I didn't have what Pastor Johnfred had, but I wonder if he would have lived had he been in the US.  And I wonder about the justice of the random chance of where we are born.  And it makes me feel guilty, it makes me want to be more stewardly with my resources, and it makes me want to work harder to end poverty.

Please remember this family in your prayers.  His wife's name is Lydia.  Their children are Shem, Enoch, Ruth, and Japheth - such Biblical names! 

If you would like to give a gift that can be put toward his hospital and funeral expenses, or toward an education fund for his children, please go to www.icmusa.org/donate, select Discipling Marketplace Leaders from the dropdown, and put "Johnfred Ajwang" in the comment section.

As for me, I am mostly back to normal.  I will most likely never know what it was that I had but I am thankful that it seems to be behind me.  To those who prayed and sent encouraging notes, I am thankful.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Sometimes the answer is "No" but...

The Accra Team
We may not get the answer we pray for, but one thing we do always have is the peace that God is in control and works through the Body of Christ, the Church, spread throughout the world.

The answer to my prayer for healing in order to make the trip to Ghana was a "No" which cost me about $700 in cancelled and changed tickets.  The answer to my prayer for healing in order to go to Nigeria was a "No" with a net financial loss of an additional $2000 USD, not to mention other losses (the financial loss is quantifiable).  BUT there is little doubt in my mind that God's work through the Discipling Marketplace Leaders (DML)ministry is continuing.  We all have the head knowledge that we are not indispensable but we don't always get to see it in action.  I have been blessed to see it in Ghana, and am already seeing it for Nigeria.

If you remember, in February we took some time in California to train others to be trainers for DML.  We didn't know how soon we would need those trainers and are very thankful for those who came out for that training!  One of those persons was Rev. Dave Champness, who will be the new President of ICM-USA beginning in 2018.  He has travelled with DML to Guatemala and Uganda, and was planning to join me in Ghana, to teach the theological portions that Dr. Walker typically teaches.  Fanny Atta-Peters and Beatrice Buxton, from Hopeline Institute in Ghana, have also heard the teaching twice, and are trained facilitators, so that team of three led a group of about 25 pastors and church leaders in Accra, and a group of 100 pastors and church leaders in Tamale (northern Ghana) through the DML workshop.  And from everything I have heard so far, they did a great job!  God's people were in place and ready to go.

[We did cancel the training of trainers for Ghana, so Lord willing, we will be able to get to that in the not too distant future.]

Dave posted this message on FaceBook with the picture on the left:
This is Rebecca, she was a Muslim and came to Christ thru a church that participated in the DML training. After she came to Christ she was forced to leave her home. Thru the DML training she obtained a loan and started this business. She's now supporting herself, leading other Muslims to the Lord and growing her business and her faith. She is a light in her community. Pray for her.
Amen!

In February, we also had Barbie Odom in our training of trainers.  She is a Hebrew scholar, with a Masters in Divinity, and a gifted teacher.  She was to join Dr. Walker and I on our trip to Nigeria, where we were to do a DML workshop in Abuja, in Jos, and in Lagos.  In addition to that, we were each going to teach a class at the ECWA (Evangelical Church Winning All) Seminary - my class was Integrity and Finance.  Barbie will work very well with Dr. Walker for the DML workshops, and even though they only had one week to find a replacement for me for my class at the seminary, they were able to find someone!  So everything seems to be going on as planned.  God has provided an answer - not the one I wanted, but the one that reminds us that this is His work, done through His people, who are everywhere.
The group in Tamale, with Dave teaching.

Please pray for these workshops in Nigeria, that God may be glorified and the church built up.

As for me, the anti-nausea pills that I was given last week have really helped, allowing me to eat and keep the food in.  It has also calmed down some inflamed areas after having nausea and vomiting for four weeks.  So I feel better and will continue to work with doctors to see if we can find an answer, unless it mysteriously goes away on its own!  Thank you all for your prayers and concern.  My next trip is to Tanzania in August, but I won't book my tickets just yet!

Monday, June 19, 2017

"How Long, O Lord?" A Father's Day Reflection

Shortly after Bob died, my brother Henry sent me a CD from Brian Doerksen, asking me to listen specifically to the song "How Long O Lord," which is based on Psalm 13, a psalm of David.    It is a beautiful and haunting song.

This particular psalm has three different components to it:  the question of anxiety, the cry of prayer, and the song of faith:
L-R:  Yvonne, Henry, Dad holding Renita, Liz, Janette

Psalm 13
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.

This song ministered to me in the year following Bob's death, and now it ministers to me in thinking about my father, Peter Kranenburg.  Seven years ago, my dad entered a nursing home with dementia (at the time they were thinking it was Alzheimers but because there has been no other deterioration, they are now thinking it is dementia).  At the time he entered, he had about a thirty second memory but he still knew all of us.  Seven years later, he doesn't recognize most of us, his body is still quite strong, yet he spends day after day sleeping in a wheelchair, unable to converse in any meaningful way, unable to walk, and unable to remember that he cannot walk.

And so I, like the psalmist, I wonder, "How long, O Lord?" will you forget your servant, Peter Kranenburg?  Four times this psalmist cries out, "How long?" and feels separated and abandoned by God.  While my Dad isn't capable of articulating that feeling, I feel it on behalf of him.  My dad struggled with anxiety his whole life; his parents struggled with anxiety; I have struggled with anxiety.  I hear the anxiety in these questions, the feeling of abandonment and darkness and despair.

From despair, the psalmist then makes his request, "Give light to my eyes."  The lights are mostly gone from my father's eyes.  Those lights will only be restored in a heavenly place.  My dad wasn't a perfect father nor a perfect pastor.  But he gave many years of service and strived to serve, despite struggling with anxiety and depression.  And now he sits day after day after day in a wheelchair, week after week, month after month, year after year, languishing, seemingly forgotten.  Look on him and answer, O Lord!

But the delight in this psalm comes through the song of faith in the last two verses:  BUT I trust in your unfailing love.  My heart rejoices in your salvation.  I will sing the Lord's praise, for he has been good.

I know my dad would say that as well.  He would give testimony to God's grace and mercy.  He would most assuredly say that He has been good. His love is unfailing, even when things seem quiet and dark.  My heart is assured of my dad's salvation and of my own, and for that there is much rejoicing.

I made a video montage set to this song from Psalm 13, with pictures of my dad.  If you haven't heard this song, I encourage you to listen to it as it is beautiful.

I miss you, Dad.  I long for you to be free from your earthly prison and to rejoice with your Heavenly Father.  I love you.

[Health update:  I thought I was getting better last week but was not to it was good that I cancelled the portion of the trip to Ghana.  I did the labs and am hoping for a new diagnosis and treatment soon.  I am scheduled to leave for Nigeria on June 27 and hope to be better by then!]

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Foiled again by that pesky plasmodium falciparum!

[I wrote the blog below last Wednesday, June 7, looking to post it as usual on Monday, June 12.  On Thursday, I went back to the doctor as I had finished the malaria medicine and the fever was gone, but I was still throwing up and having all sorts of gastro-intestinal issues.  The doctor surmised that it was probably amoebic dysentery or giardia, told me to cancel my trip to Ghana, and start working on labs.  The next day, I realized that the treatment for both of those illnesses is the same, and being the self-proclaimed doctor that one becomes when living in places like Liberia, I requested that we skip the labs and go straight to the treatment so that I could still go to Ghana.  Surprisingly, my request was granted and on Friday I started the treatment.  By Sunday night, I was beginning to feel better.  But my loving family and friends have counselled me to delay my trip, skipping Ghana and just going to Nigeria at the end of June.  As I have been sick for about three weeks now, having eaten little and losing a good amount of weight, I have finally agreed to their counsel in order to build up my strength and to be sure my immune system is strong again. This is a costly decision financially and particularly difficult for the "ever-responsible" Renita.  But thankfully, the work in Ghana will continue without me, so please pray for Fanny, Beatrice, and David!]

Malaria tricked us once before and now it tricked me again.  Thankfully, my son Noah was quicker to be onto it.

Flashback:

In November 2008, we moved back to Grand Rapids after 3.5 years in Liberia, and were preparing to move to Ghana.  In April 2009, just at the time that there was the first swine flu outbreak, Bob got sick and we thought it was swine flu.  After being quite sick for about a week, someone suggested malaria, and sure enough that was it.  It had been dormant in his liver, waiting for warmer weather to come out.  By the time we caught it for Bob, it was still so far developed that Bob had to be hospitalized, without insurance (we didn't know that his missionary medical insurance only allowed for him to be in the US for three months), costing us about $18,000 and requiring us to check him out of the hospital against medical advice because we couldn't afford for him to stay longer.

Fast forward to Saturday, May 20, 2017. 

I returning from Guatemala, and am picked up in Chicago by my dear husband Michael who has a terrible cold.  On Tuesday, I come down with a fever and a cold as well.  By Friday, I'm nauseous, throwing up and fever keeps climbing, in addition to coughing and cold symptoms.  Michael had been diagnosed with an ear and throat infection, and suspicious that I may need antibiotics as well, I go to the doctor.  No sign of infection anywhere but doctor says that if I still have a fever of 101 F by Sunday, I should start an antibiotic.  Fever reaches 103 on Saturday, still there on Sunday and I start the antibiotic.  Fever goes away, but I'm still nauseated, throwing up, and can't eat.  I'm finished with the antibiotic by Thursday; fever starts coming back, I'm looking jaundiced, cold symptoms are pretty much gone, and Michael and I start to wonder what else this could be.  Maybe Zika?

My kids both check in with me regularly to see how I'm feeling, and Noah says, "Mom, it's malaria.  Go to hospital."  (Which I love because he says it the African way - not "go to the hospital" but "go to hospital.")  Noah keeps insisting its malaria.  I review websites again and think back over the past few months.  I was in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Uganda from mid-March to mid-April.  Ethiopia and Kenya have high enough elevations that malaria is not a great risk, but I knew when I was in Uganda (just for a few days) that I should have been on anti-malarial medication.  I actually even inquired about getting to a pharmacy to buy some...but then didn't.  Oops.

Thankfully my doctor was a missionary kid in Nigeria and understands malaria well.  She got me on meds (which are often worse than the sickness!) and I'm finally feeling better.  Unfortunately, I leave for Ghana and Nigeria again on Thursday for about four and a half weeks.  I've not had much recovery time, have a VERY hectic trip planned, didn't have much time to get anything done at home, and am quite behind in my work.

But God's got this.  And I hope to be smarter about malaria, and not quite as complacent.  I WILL be on anti-malarial drugs for this next trip for sure.

If you want to understand better how malaria works, this is what Bob wrote when he contracted it in 2009 (to read the full post click here)


As you know I like to be pithy, erudite and educative on all my posts, but this requires more energy than I fear I can muster. We'll see. The short version is I have malaria, which occasionally happens when folks come back from the tropics. The disease is caused by protozoan parasites of the genus Plasmodium. Five species of the plasmodium parasite can infect humans; the most serious forms of the disease are caused by Plasmodium falciparum. Falciparum lives in the gut the female mosquito and when she bites, the microscopic little creeps enter through an anticoagulating mosqito slobber, and make a bee line to the liver. 

Patton would be put to shame after discovering the brilliance of this little bug’s strategic assault on our body. The parasite basically infiltrates a Trojan horse into our liver, where it starts duplicating itself. Meanwhile, it is sending out a cloaking signal (similar to the Klingons in Star Trek) from within this Trojan horse so as to remain undetected by our body’s immune system. In my case, there it rested, in my liver, for at least six months.


Last Monday, however, it was time to come out and party. From Home Base Liver, the parasitical creeps searched for my juicy red blood cells. Penetrating those, it started duplicating within them as well. Usually such infected blood cells would be exterminated in the spleen. So to work its way around that, each of these little demons produces as much as 60 different types of protein which, when on the surface of the blood cell, make it stickable to the surface of blood vessels, hence avoiding potential doom by not making it to the spleen. And these proteins are the first moment when the parasites become detectable to our body’s immune system. However, by the time our body comes up with some antibody, the millions of parasites are already switching to one of its other 59 proteins. The body’s immunity system becomes a toothless bystander, because the number of different and constantly changing protein combinations are essentially infinite. 



Then things get gruesome. About every three or four days all the infected blood cells burst, exploding from over population and sending a wave of fever onto Yers Trooly, so that the next batch of demon creep babies can go about the body in search of fresh red blood cells again.
The cycle. Note the juicy explosions, both within the liver cells and red blood cells. This party cost me a few million.
Love this National Geographic shot. An exploded red blood cell and another just about to go. Each yellowish projectile is yet another living parasite, ready to find a new blood cell in which to multiply.

Monday, June 5, 2017

A Word from Michael

As I have been pretty sick since coming back from Guatemala, Michael, being the very helpful husband that he is, wrote this week's blog.  It's refreshing to hear about the work of Discipling Marketplace Leaders from his perspective.

Discipling Marketplace Leaders (DML) was conceived at a time when Renita wanted to ensure that the skills she had been teaching over the years in Liberia, Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana, and Nigeria would not help enrich the small struggling business owner in a way that would erode trust in God. As the wealth of western nations demonstrates, affluence is no arbiter of the Godly life. DML was conceived and the ministry of training business people returned to the church, and the church was challenged with the full discipleship of believers in the marketplace.

Renita’s approach impressed me in that every group that has a calling towards the spiritual formation of those serving the marketplace were equipped to that role. Pastors are reminded of the Biblical vocation of all who follow the holy call of business, or government or service. Leaders in the congregation who can teach business skills are trained to teach these skills (accounting, marketing, and the like), but taught in the context of a biblical worldview such that the Lordship of Christ over all our callings and over every facet of life is affirmed. Business owners or others involved in marketplace are both taught basic skills as needed but are also taught and discipled in fulfilling that calling according to the Gospel.  The DML vision
includes the discipleship, the teaching of skills, the advocacy towards success, all in the context of a full, rich vision of God’s redemption in the world.  Renita was in the throes of hammering out the shape of DML in three cities in Kenya when we exchanged our first messages online, when we started talking, when we began to believe that even though our callings were quite distinct and being lived out on different continents, a new calling to covenant with one another was being discovered.

In time Renita and I fell in love, and married. The project in Kenya played out its three years and an ministry was born that helped churches in a number of Kenyan cities. Within the first year of our life together, the call to plant DML ministries in other countries began to make themselves heard. As she and her colleague Dr. Walker discerned a plan, Renita started the groundwork for DML ministries to take root in Ghana, Ethiopia, Egypt, Guatemala, and soon to add Uganda to that list.


In time it became clear that Renita was receiving more calls than she could answer. One of the answers was the recognition that the call of DML was not a call Renita was called to bear alone. When she started to ask for volunteers to help shoulder that call by teaching pastors and churches how to have a DML ministry and unleash the church in their communities, I felt a calling to be with Renita in this.


And so on May 2, I flew to Guatemala with Renita. I immediately fell in love with that beautiful, lusciously green country with its historic buildings and abundance of volcanoes. I sat through the entire DML training along with a group of pastors. These were a mix of pastors, many rural, some who had to have small businesses themselves to supplement their income. Faced with the callings of God as expressed in scripture to shepherd the earth itself to multiply its blessings, along with the divine commandments to love and to make disciples, their eyes and hearts burned with fresh understanding of the beauty of the gospel that in Jesus, all things are being called to be made new.


At the end of the two and a half day seminar, a good number of them wanted to take the initial steps towards developing a DML ministry in their local church settings. I had seen this before but from afar, in the stories Renita had shared with me and on her blog. Once this new wine of DML enters into the wineskins of church, grown a little dry from a ministry that retreats from the public square, well, such wineskins will crack and the gospel will flow like spilled wine throughout neighborhoods and businesses and communities.

I continue to study with Renita and prepare for a time, not too far from now, when I can go with her and help teach DML, be it in Guatemala or some other part of the earth. I have as of yet not discerned a calling to abandon my work as an editor, work that I have come to love over the years. I have felt a new burning to be a part of this growing global ministry. I hope to help Christians who do not yet see that Jesus calling for redemption is the redemption of all things and as God redeems our lives, our work and vocation is holy in Him. This is the context for work done with a Kingdom ethic that is liberating, whole, and marked by the presence of Christ in the marketplace. It is such a privilege to help Renita shoulder this calling by listening to her and lifting her head when she is tired, but now hopefully in teaching with her from time to time. These are the first steps in discerning how I can support this ministry that takes these fundamental truths of scripture and helps churches and marketplace Christians in the church to be unleashed in these holy vocations of bankers, shop owners, manufacturers, all to the glory of God. I can’t wait to see what will be the next step in this adventure.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Inspiring People

The venues where we get to give trainings sometimes are amazing.  I'm not sure that we will ever be able to top giving a training on a boat on the Nile River in Egypt, but the view from the window of the church that we taught in this past week, in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, was pretty remarkable.  To simply say that Guatemala is a beautiful country would be a gross understatement. 

The time we spent there was very productive, with three different groups of people involved in several different types of trainings:  church leaders and pastors, NGO leaders, and business people. 

But even beyond the views and the beauty of God's creation, I love to hear and learn from God's people, with all of their complexities and uniqueness.  This week, I met a number of inspirational people, and would like to introduce you to two different men, all who came from families in absolute poverty, all of who made a decision at a young age to get themselves out of poverty.

Meet Pastor Santos, who decided at the age of eight that he was not going to live in the same poverty as his parents.  He was tired of not having shoes and sleeping on the floor.  Pastor Santos started with a corn mill business that he worked from 4 am - 9 am, and a coffee farm that he worked from 10 am - 2 pm.  Any profit that he made, he reinvested into his business and determined to live very simply to help his businesses to grow.  He grew his businesses to four machines for corn, and his coffee farm to the point where he was selling to big coffee exporters.  He bought land whenever he could and earned money through selling it. 

He saved money whenever he could.  He has four children:  two are doctors, one is a lawyer, and one is a systems engineer.  He instilled the importance of hard work and the importance of education in them.  Pastor Santos also felt called into the ministry at a later age, and when we met him, he was sitting next to the three story hotel that he built with his wife and children.  This hotel is going to help him into his retirement, and as he owns it debt free, he is able to help out people who come to town for various workshops and church gatherings with discounted rooms.  Why was Pastor Santos able to make a decision at the age of eight to move out of poverty?
Meet Antonio, one of twelve children, who also grow up in absolute poverty.  His father was a coffee farmer and, when giving his testimony, he shared that there was no reason that any of his brothers or sisters should have lived into adulthood.  He decided that he wouldn't live that way or raise his children in that depth of poverty.  Through extreme difficulties and struggles, he graduated from university as a teacher and began to see that his people needed access to capital.  He started a microfinance organization that now serves over 1500 members in a rural area of Guatemala, is running a school, and raising two beautiful children with his wife.  It hasn't been easy to run the microfinance organization, but Antonio says, "The success of the business was not because of the good customers but because of the bad customers.  I had to learn from them and develop policies and procedures that led to greater protection of the business."  Why was Antonio able to lift himself out of poverty and be such a sign of hope to many around him? 

One of the things we often talk about are how the rich and the poor need each other - the rich bring hope and the poor bring faith, and together love is created.  But sometimes the poor find a hope that is beyond human understanding given what they have seen; the rich are able to have a dependence on God which is beyond human understanding given their lack of perceived "need" of God.  These inspirational stories happen more often than we know but are so moving.

If I worshipped at this church, I would be so distracted by the view!
This group of business people have over 280 years of business experience between all of them!  There were some real entrepreneurs in that group!  It was a joy and a privilege to spend time with them. 

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Integration of Faith and Work in Guatemala

One of the joys of doing the work that we do is to meet like-minded people along the way.  A few months ago we were able to speak with the Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics and recently they asked if they could do an interview on Discipling Marketplace Leaders.

So this week, while we were busy in long training days in Guatemala, we had the interview.  The text of it can be seen below, and I have put the pictures from our time in Guatemala throughout.  It is especially meaningful while doing this type of interview to be exposing pastors to this old yet forgotten Biblical truth.

Helping Churches Support Business and Transform Communities in West Africa

(https://tifwe.org/helping-churches-support-business-and-transform-communities-in-west-africa/)
   

At IFWE we’re always looking for real-life examples of the integration of faith and work. What does it mean practically, day-by-day, to glorify God through our work and bring about flourishing? International Christian Ministries (ICM), through its Discipling Marketplace Leaders (DML) ministry, is doing just that by growing businesses and equipping churches to provide spiritual support to business owners. We recently spoke with Renita Reed of ICM about their work in Africa.

IFWE: What is the concept behind DLM’s church-based Business as Mission (BAM) program?


Renita Reed (RR): Since 2001, there have been many initiatives in and through the business as mission movement globally. Much of this work is done through nonprofits and has been theoretical, focusing on the theology of work. Some BAM work has been practical, working directly with businesses to help them develop a quadruple bottom line—addressing economic, social, environmental, and spiritual needs through their business.
The church-based Business as Mission program (or Discipling Marketplace Leaders) grew out of seeing the need for business people to have ongoing discipleship from the church to resist the business-as-usual pressures of the world. Also, when business as mission is church-based, pastors preach about it and incorporate the call to be the church very practically in our jobs.

IFWE: Who has most influenced the philosophy of the program—author, leader, ministry, etc.—and how?

RR: The business people of West Africa have most influenced the ministry, as well as the pastors of Kenya. It was through the work of business development in West Africa and feedback from business owners that ICM saw the need for ongoing discipleship and church engagement. When we began this work in Kenya, pastors at Africa Theological Seminary helped form and shape the message as they heard and were challenged by it. Several key pastors in Kenya, led by the Holy Spirit, have implemented BAM in creative and unique ways.

IFWE: Why is ICM focusing on Africa with its programs?

RR: ICM began in Kenya and grew to the surrounding countries, so it is natural that thirty years later our work continues mainly in Africa. We believe that the dichotomy between the “sacred” and the “secular” is a global issue, not one related to just Africa. So, we are taking DML where God is opening doors, which includes Central America. The message and methods are appropriate everywhere, including North America.


IFWE: The first step in the church-based Business as Mission program appears to be training pastors. Why do you need to start here?

RR: Prior to becoming the international coordinator of the DML ministry, I was involved in business development through a Christian NGO in Africa. I personally saw and experienced the frustration from the lack of support, equipping, and prayer for business owners from the church. According to Ephesians 4:12, the purpose of the church is to equip people for the works of service (ministry). We are discipled in our personal relationship with God; we are often discipled in our marital relationship, as well as how to be good parents. But very few churches seem to disciple people in how to be the church in their place of work. DML does that through church-based Business as Mission—by encouraging and equipping pastors first, discipleship of those in the marketplace becomes a natural part of what the church does.


IFWE: What are the two or three key ideas that help pastors understand the value of business?

RR: There are a number of paradigm shifts that we see pastors and church leaders make in our time together. The first shift is to understand that the purpose of the church is not only what happens in the four walls of the church building. Too often, pastors and church leaders expend more efforts to get people into church, rather than equipping people to be the church outside of it. The second major shift is for pastors to get a broader understanding of Genesis 1:28—that being “fruitful” and “multiplying” involves taking the resources of this earth and being creative (fruitful) and replicating (multiplying) for the flourishing of all people. After these shifts, we look at how God used business people to fulfill his purposes throughout the Old and New Testaments. This gives pastors a deeper appreciation for business people as God’s ambassadors to the community.

IFWE: You seem to be saying the thinking of the church has to change. What has been the problem in the church in general and in Africa specifically?

RR: A very apparent need is correcting the dichotomy between the sacred and the secular that is evident in the global church, and the tension that exists between pastors and those involved in the marketplace. We use the example that the church often acts like a cruise ship, where people come solely to get blessed and get good food, fellowship, and healing—rather
than a warship where people are equipped for battle, receive their orders, and are encouraged and prayed over for the fight. Pastors and marketplace Christians need to work together to help the church be effective on a much wider and broader scale.
The church in Africa has these same issues. In some ways, the African church is even more critical of business. Inequality and corruption seem to be more overt in the marketplace in parts of Africa than in other parts of the world. A church that is ministering to and equipping those in the marketplace will ultimately help resolve these starker systemic issues.

IFWE: What message do you have for IFWE readers (primarily in the States) learning about your program—how might you encourage or exhort us?

RR: Believers want to understand how their daily lives make a difference. If the church is to be a change agent, it must shift from being a subculture to being a kingdom counter-culture. Many pastors and church leaders need a major shift in understanding to better equip their congregations for serving the purposes of God in their community. But pastors and leaders also need practical tools for equipping people to live like Jesus as they fulfill their calling in their work. The church is the vehicle God gave us and it is the natural gathering place for people seeking God. The Business as Mission movement can and should embrace the church as the change agent Jesus created it to be.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Seeing the world a bit differently...

It's amazing to me that at the ripe old age of 48, there is still so much to learn.  Maybe I'm a bit slow...I don't know.
Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids, MI

Last week I was invited by a dear friend to meet for lunch at the Meijer Gardens.  To be honest, in my heart I grumbled a bit.  I already have a difficult time carving out time for lunch, let alone add in a walk in a garden.  Plus I knew that Meijer Gardens is expensive and in twelve years of working in Africa, almost everything is weighed in terms of "is it stewardly in light of what the people I know and love have?"  But I hadn't seen this friend for a while, so I agreed to go.  As I pulled up and saw the packed-out parking lot, at $15/person, my heart became agitated, thinking of all the money spent to look at flowers.  Had I been there by myself (which wouldn't have happened of course), I would have cruised through that place in a few minutes, thought about how it was nice but definitely something for the middle to upper class people, and shook my head in a judgmental way at American consumerism.

But the friend I went with was the perfect partner for me that day.  As we entered one of the gardens, she stopped for quite some time to look at three very different plants that were placed in proximity to each other, and wondered out loud about why they decided to put those together.  She noted the differences in the leaves.  Trying to not check my watch, I joined her in wondering out loud.  But as that happened, I found myself beginning to relax.  I began to see through her eyes, and very soon, began to see through my own eyes.  I was struck by the creativity of man to take resources made by the Creator, to put them together in a way that could evoke wonder, allow for deep breaths, and slip out of the darkness of the world, into the beauty that I believe the Creator meant for us to enjoy.  I wondered whether people I know who love plants so much will be making gardens like this for us to enjoy in the new earth.  I realized that just because many can't enjoy this type of beauty, it doesn't make it bad for those who can.  I get so caught up in the tragedy of poverty sometimes that I miss the beauty that God created this world to be - a reflection of Himself.

Our view in Antigua
As I write this blog, I am in Antigua, Guatemala.  There is a volcano in front of me (!), flowers around me, birds singing.  Yesterday, Michael and I walked around the city and saw the ruins from four thousand years ago, the beauty of vegetables and fruit that were unknown to me, and a colorful and beautiful people busy with their work of being fruitful and multiplying.  They experience a natural beauty carved out by volcanoes all around, a lushness of vegetation, and a rich, long history.   We walked through a large outdoor market and while Antigua is a tourist area (declared a preserved city by UNESCO), there were very few tourists in there, which made me feel like we were enjoying some authentic Guatemalan life.  We have been blessed by a colleague to have a couple of days to enjoy Guatemalan culture before beginning two weeks of non-stop workshops.  It is very helpful to have this time before teaching to create a deeper understanding and passion for the people. 
Market in Antigua

We serve an amazingly creative God.  He created us in His image to be creative like Him.  He told us to be fruitful (creative) and multiply (the work part of it).  Some of us are more creative and some of us are better at multiplying (replicating the creations).  But He declared it good before the fall, and sin did not wash all of the good away.  His idea of the promised land, the land flowing in milk and honey (Deuteronomy 8), involved work and creativity.  But He also wants us to enjoy what we see and give praise to Him when we see it.

It seems I should know that by now.  It's very likely I will forget again as I get "too busy."  I love how God made me but also know that while my eyes are open to some things, they remain closed to others. 

Nance, a fruit of prehispanic Guatemala.
This week we begin trainings for pastors and church leaders in the ministry of Discipling Marketplace Leaders.  We will then have a training for trainers (two from the US and a number of Guatemalans) who will take this material to other churches.  We will then spend time with successful business people who want to help with poverty alleviation to learn about "Asset-Based Community Development" so that the work of poverty alleviation can be done "with" people rather than "to" people.  Next week, we will travel to a different part of Guatemala and do a training with pastors and church leaders there, and then do a three day microbusiness training for a number of entrepreneurs from the churches.  Please pray for these days together, that the Holy Spirit may join us, and that the previous months of laying the foundation may produce solid opportunities to build and grow!
Vegetable that looks like corn, called "pacaya."


Overlooking Antigua

This is one of three active volcanoes in Guatemala.  We saw it smoking and belching.  We were able to roast marshmallows from the hot rocks.  It last erupted in 2014.

Beautiful mountains and volcanoes in the distance - Guatemala is a lovely country.