Monday, December 31, 2018

Status of Global Christianity, 2018

This is the time when many of us look at statistics from the past year, personal, national, or international. In my study, I have been reading statistics about the status of Global Christianity, especially from 1900-2050, and thought I would share some of these with you.

Here are some facts from a report from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary:


  • Christianity is projected to hold its own in terms of percentage of the world.  In 1900 it was 34.4%.  In 2050, it is expected to be 35.3%.  Not much change in terms of percentage but the overall number has gone from 500 million to 2.5 billion today.
  • The number of congregations will have increased from 400,000 in 1900 to 9,000,000 in 2050.
  • The number of denominations will have increased from 1,600 in 1900 to 70,000 in 2050.
  • One number my husband might like:  Book titles about Christianity will have increased from 300,000 in the year 1900, to 14,500,000 book titles in 2050.
  • Personal income of Christians was $270 billion in 1900 and will increase to $200,000 billion in 2050.  This year, 2018, it is $57,000 billion. 

The history of giving as it relates to churches and Christians is also interesting.  Giving to Christian causes was at $8 billion in the year 1900.  It is now at $960 billion and is expected to go up to $3,300 billion in the year 2050. The Christian community has been very generous and faith-based organizations actually account for nearly 60% of US-based foreign aid organizations. 

What do churches give to?  Evangelism is definitely #1, with church planting right behind.  The chart
on the right shows the breakdown of average giving for churches.  For my particular study, it is telling that creation care is at the bottom of the list, while business as mission fares a bit better.

One surprising statistic in the middle of all the numbers was this:

Ecclesiastical crime:  in 1900, it was $300,000.  In 1970, it was $5,000,000.  In 2000, $19 billion.  In 2018, $63 billion.  In 2025, $80 billion.  In 2050, $250 billion.  The footnote to this statistic says, "Amounts embezzled by top custodians of Christian monies (US dollar equivalents, per year)."  Wow.  This seems to be about 7-8% of the giving received.

A startling statistic to read.  

So the Global Christian Church is giving at about 1.6% and of that amount, we are losing 10% to ecclesiastical crime. This is very sad as we know that the impact of this number is far beyond simply a loss of money.  It goes to the reputation of the Church and is a poor reflection on Jesus. [It makes the class that I teach in seminaries on Integrity and Finance so important, but also a definite sense of swimming upstream.  How I wish all seminaries would include a class like this in their curriculum!]

It tells us the capacity that we could have if we could unify ourselves better, commit to giving, and have better transparency and accountability in the Church.  We certainly have our work cut out for us in 2019 and beyond!

Let's continue to pray for wisdom for the days in front of us, as well as discernment and courage to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit!

We wish you all a blessed New Year in 2019, and pray that we may continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ!

[To see the full report on the status of Global Christianity, click here.]

Monday, December 17, 2018

Turning 50 Ain't So Bad

Yes, it looks like I'm sticking out my tongue.
I remember when my dad turned fifty years old.  He was a pastor at a church in Toronto, and the Council brought over a very large Abraham made out of fruit.  I was 11 years old and it made perfect sense to me to bring over an Abraham, as Abraham had become an old man and 50 seemed really old to me.  Looking back at it now, I wonder what they were thinking?  As they were all in that same age range, surely 50 did not seem THAT old to them!

It's amazing how perceptions of age change with age.  I now hear of someone dying at the age of 75 and say, "That's so young!"  Maybe it's because my parents are in their 80s and I know of a number of friends have parents who are in their 90s.

Today I turn 50.  Many people lament it.  For some reason, it's not bothering me.  Turning 40 bothered me more.  It may be because I'm the youngest of five children, and I watched all my siblings break into this decade long before me.  It may be because Bob, who was fourteen years older than me, broke the 50 decade in 2004 (he would be 64 today!).  It may be because Michael broke the 50 decade a few years ago.

But, for what it's worth, I'm ready and I'm okay.
My family

In fact, I'm more than okay.  I have much to celebrate.  I feel I have lived several lives in these fifty years.  I have been privileged to see the world go through significant and positive changes in these fifty years. I have been able to watch my children grow and mature into adulthood.  That is not a privilege that Bob had and I am daily aware of that.

Not only that, but I also get to do work that I love.  Recently, I heard someone ask the question, "If you won one million dollars today, would you be at work tomorrow?"

I believe that I am one of the privileged who would answer that with a hearty, "YES!"  It's a privilege to work.  It's an even greater privilege to LOVE what you do. (Okay, I might take one day off to figure out what to do with the million dollars but THEN I'd be right back at work.)  Many of you may think, "It's easy for you, Renita - you get to travel to cool places."  But make no mistake that every work has its challenges - the grass is almost always greener on the other side of the fence.  But I do love my work.  And I know that is not the case for many.  What do we do in those circumstances?  Do we stay and try to find joy?  Do we change jobs?  Do we keep plugging along?  How does work become worship?

What about you?  If you won one million dollars today, would you be at work tomorrow?  For my birthday, if you would take a minute and respond to this with a "yes" or "no" and maybe a brief reason as to why, I would appreciate it!
My dad on his 50th birthday.  He turned 89 last month.
I love this picture of me with my sister Yvonne.  I was such a cute kid.  And I know my brother is thinking (RIGHT NOW - yes, you, Henry), "What happened?!"

I close with this prayer on my birthday, "Bless What Eludes My Grasp," from my favorite prayer book, Guerillas of Grace:

Lord, so many things skitter through my mind
and I give chase to gather them
and hold them up in a bunch to you.

But they go this way and that,
while I go that way and this...

So gather me up instead
and bless what eludes my grasp but not yours

Trees and bees, fireflies and butterflies
roses and barbeques, and people.

Lord, the people...bless the people.

Birthday people, 
giving birth people,
being born people,
conformed people;

Dying people, dead people, 
hostaged people, banged up people, held down people;

Leader people, lonely people, limping people;

Hungry people, surfeited people, indifferent people;

First world people,
second world people,
third world people;

One world people,
your people,
all people.

Bless them, Lord.
Bless what eludes my grasp, but not yours.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Creation As Both Temple and Choir

I have finished my courseload for my PhD (Woo-hoo!  Let me say it again even louder:  WOO-HOO!  So happy and thankful!) and have started working on my dissertation proposal.  While the title is yet a work in process, the essence of the dissertation will be looking at justice in the Global Christian Church as it relates to the economy and the earth.  The requirements for the literature review for the dissertation is one hundred and fifty writings from different authors.  That is a HUGE amount of reading to do.  Thankfully, Michael let me check some books out of his library - he says there are no late fees which is a good deal for me!  At this time, I'm about 1/6th of the way through the 150 readings.

This past week, I read two books:  one by Jonathan Wilson called, God's Good World:  Reclaiming the Doctrine of Creation, and the other by Edward Brown called, Our Father's World:  Mobilizing the Church to Care for Creation.  There were a number of "aha" and "amen" moments as I read these books.  One phrase that particularly caught my attention is that creation is both a temple and a choir.  I love this phrasing.  I had to put the book down for a while and just think about the implication of those words.  Creation is a temple.  It is a worship space that is sacred, where we meet God and He meets all members of creation to be in relationship with them.  Hear this from Psalm 148:7-13:

Praise the Lord from the earth,
you great sea creatures and all ocean depths,
lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding,
you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars,
wild animals and all cattle, small animals and flying birds,
kings of the earth and all nations, you princes and all rulers on earth, 
young men and women, old men and children.
Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; 
his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.

Creation is also to be a choir, a participant in the worship of God.  We are to join in leading the choir to worship the one true God.  We help the plants, animals, and all the resources that we use from creation be able to worship God. We are to help fix creation - to restore it to how God intended.  God gives many instructions for how we are to care for the earth in the Old Testament.  But Brown laments that, despite the hymn that says, "This is My Father's World, O let me ne'er forget...", we have indeed forgotten.  We have allowed consuption and convenience to trump our care for this creation.  We are afflicted with "affluenza" in many parts of the world.  He goes on to say that nothing is more important than the care of the environment, because without a healthy environment, almost nothing else matters.  People, animals, plants, and relationships all suffer.

None of us are able to play our instruments correctly in this choir and orchestra except through Christ.  Creation groans and is unharmonious (Romans 8:22).  We need a lot of practice in order to play well.  And the place where this practice can happen is in the church.

Wilson writes that Christian theology began to abandon the doctrine of creation about 250 years ago when science began to come up with answers that the Church could not compete with.  Theologians began to recast Christian convictions in terms of our inner life or about "the heart."  He goes on to say that the doctrine of creation is primarily about the nature of the God who creates.  The God who creates cannot be known apart from the God who redeems.  Moreover, he says, the doctrine of cration is primarily not about the origin but about the end. Yes!

He says, "One of the greatest tragedies of theology's neglect of creation has been the church's complicity in the destruction of the natural world and thus also of conditions that contribue to the flourishing of life.  An even greater tragedy or an even greater sin has been the voices in the church that have resisted and mocked the passion for life that leads to care of creation."

I love this!  To find theologians who back what I have been saying and thinking is thrilling.  And they put it so much more articulately than me.

Our reason to love creation is not about the current crisis (that we may or may not believe exists), but rather because of God and our love for what He has created for us.  The environmental problems that we face are essentially a result of sin.  And if it is a result of sin, then it is a spiritual problem.  An if it is a spiritual problem, then the Church must be involved.  The Church continues to be the institution that can best deal with the complexity of this problem.

Theologian Christopher Wright wrote that, "It is not so much that God has a mission for his church in the world, but that God has a church for his mission in the world...mission was not made for the church; the church was made for mission - God's mission."

And so some of my questions for my dissertation have to do with why the Church comes to this table so late with significant divisions, and why the Church does not speak more loudly on how to be a harmonious contributor to this choir? Why do we continue to not respect or affirm those who contribute to the economy in terms of their work being an act of worship?  How we find a way forward, joining the voice of the Church (the highest populated religion in the world) to the efforts of 170 nations who have committed together to protect the dignity and flourishing of human life, as well as the protection of the earth?

Thomas Aquinas said, "Any error about creation also leads to an error about God."

Thankfully, for me, this is a topic I'm passionate about and it is something that Discipling Marketplace Leaders is passionate about.  That makes the reading and the research much more enjoyable!  If you have any books or articles that you think would be good for me to read, please feel free to refer them to me at renita@disciplingmarketplaceleaders.org.

Monday, December 3, 2018

An Expanding DML Team

We are excited to announce that the Discipling Marketplace Leaders team is growing.  Our goal as a ministry is to stay as organizationally flat as possible, partnering with existing ministries in our partner countries.  This helps keep this ministry owned by nationals who know and understand the context the best, as well as keeping organizational overhead costs low.

But as we grow, there is a need for some expansion.  Dr. Walker and I have been doing most of the work for DML, and we are beginning to find the work a bit much for the two of us.  We are very thankful to make a few additions to our team to help share the work.  What's even more exciting is that each of the three additions has come on their own - not that we were looking for specific people.

The first person is Paul Soper, a CPA from Grand Rapids, who has been providing healthcare consulting services to hospitals in the US for the past 22 years.  Prior to becoming a healthcare consultant, Paul was an auditor for an international public accounting firm and a financial executive for two nonprofit organizations.  Paul and his wife Sue have been married for 26 years and have three adult children.  Due to the sale of Paul's company in December 2017, he is now able to devote himself fulltime to working with a variety of Christian non-profit organizations.  As a businessperson, Paul has been drawn to serving God through organizations that focus on Business as Mission.  He especially appreciates how DML provides Business as Mission through the church and has been greatly impressed with how God is blessing the work of DML in Africa.  He looks very much forward to being part of the DML team!



The second is Emeline B. Nde from Cameroon.  In 2011, Emeline wrote her Masters thesis on the need for the Church to become involved with discipling business people. (This was before 
DML was born.)  God had laid this on her heart and then He orchestrated us meeting in Abuja, Nigeria.

Emeline has been working as a missionary for the last eighteen years as a church-planter, cross-cultural mission's coordinator and as a translator.  For the last twelve years, she has been working with Development Associates International (DAI) as the Administrator and MA Coordinator for Nigeria, International Facilitator in Uganda, a member of the DAI International Leadership Team, a graduate lecturer for the DAI MA program, and the director for DAI's work in Cameroon.

Emeline has a teaching ministry that has taken her to university classrooms and conference centers in different parts of the world including India, Egypt, Rwanda, Sweden, and the USA.  As a lecturer and a seminar facilitator, she teaches servant leadership to Christian leaders in the Church and marketplace.  She is an author,  an associate pastor at Omega Gospel Mission in Washington DC,  as well as a doctoral student at Regent University in Virginia.  She has a passion to see Christians in different sectors of society equipped and empowered to do their work as ministry/worship unto the Lord.

The third person is Steve Kennedy from the United Kingdom. Steve has been a Christian for over forty years and is active in his local church where he is licensed to minister.  He received the call to missions in the latter part of 2015 when he acted on an invitation to go overseas and visit the West African country of Sierra Leone.  This was the first of several visits there.  Steve retired from British education in December 2017 and began to do more visits to other nations in January 2018.  He has since been to Eastern Europe and the African continent to support and serve churches and other missionaries.  For over thirty years Steve has been happily married to Dawn and they are the proud parents of two grown daughters, Abigail and Naomi.  Steve has a special interest in intercessory prayer; he founded and ran a school of intercessory prayer for over ten years.

Steve Kennedy got to know Dr. Walker many years ago when they served together for a period of time in Israel. They recently met up again, and last year Steve felt led to start International Christian Ministries in the United Kingdom.  Steve has accompanied us on a number of trips and is especially passionate about Discipling Marketplace Leaders. He has a passion for prayer and prophetic ministry and will join us as the DML Prayer Team Coordinator, helping each of our teams to be covered in prayer, and uniting us regularly to pray together.

Please welcome these three to the DML team and keep them in your prayers as they seek to serve the Lord by helping the local Church to Reclaim the Redeemed Marketplace!

Monday, November 26, 2018

Discipleship Makes Her Feet Dance!

I had to start teaching just hours after the long trip from Grand Rapids to Accra, Ghana.  I felt pretty good, but I knew it was a stretch to be my best.  It turned out well and after teaching we were to go to dinner (although I was ready to go to bed).  God’s timing does not wait for my rest!  During the dinner, a key business lady began to share her excitement about the DML message and work.  It is always nice to hear from busy people that the message is appreciated.  But my eyes (beginning to droop) snapped open when she told us that she had shared about the message and upcoming workshop of DML with another Christian business leader; she told her how work is worship and God’s plan is to disciple every member of the congregation to be disciple makers in every corner of the community.  She then really got my attention when she said this important, successful business person got up and danced at the news!  Really, I asked, they danced?  She said yes because it affirms business as a calling through which the message of making disciples is to flow. 

At the heart of DML is discipleship. While business training is critical to our mission, discipleship is critical to God’s desire of developing ambassadors of the Good News. To make effective business people without making effective disciples is to major on the minor part.  We are all called in a variety of occupations, but also called to be disciples who make disciples. DML is first about making disciples and second about making good business practitioners. It is what makes our feet dance and our hearts sing. We love business and making disciples, and we will not do one without the other.
Discipleship in the Local Church Fuels the Ministry
By the end of 2018, we will have formally introduced DML in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Nigeria, and Ghana, with initial discussions in Liberia, Burkina Faso, and Togo.  Our focus has been on understanding the best way to introduce DML so that it is both effective and sustainable. 

The holistic approach of integrating faith and work is becoming a major concern for churches and denominations in Africa.  Africa will double in population by 2050 and then double again by 2100 (if current projections hold true).  Economically the African economy is expected to grow 10-fold, from 1 trillion dollars now, to over 10 trillion dollars in the next 30 years. 

The African Church understands that it cannot hide behind the walls of a building if African Christianity wants to impact the continent and world.  African church leaders have seen a correlation between church decline and increased prosperity in Europe and America.  Leaders do not want to follow the same path.  They want to move their model of church from a place to gather to a place from which to scatter.  Discipling Marketplace Leaders (DML) provides a solid Biblical basis for seeing work as a God-given directive (Gen. 1:28, 2:15).  This affirming of work as a holy calling has begun to give leaders hope that the church has relevance in a growing economy.  The rising generation wants a faith that is relevant to every area of life. DML connects the Sunday service with life lived out the other six days of the week.

Our “official” date of launching Discipling Marketplace Leaders was 2016.  Starting with a few dozen participants in 2016 we have seen over 20,000 leaders attend one or more of our trainings in 2018.  We are now being approached by Christian leaders who want to implement the vision and ministry across their denominations.  One denomination has 10,000 churches and over 10 million members.  Another has over 5,500 churches and a million members.  Another wants to field test it in one diocese and then roll it out in other dioceses across their country.

We have the message, we have the delivery, and we are building the structures to help implement this ministry across Africa.  But to do business training without discipleship is to take away from the church its greatest resource for sharing the love of Jesus in every community.  We desire to see every local congregation discipling every member to be released as light, salt, and leaven in every community.  
Discipleship Leads to Amazing Growth (i.e. God is Good!!)
The following table shows the expansion of DML over the past two years.  The cost per person per training is kept low as DML partners with other ministries rather than setting up its own organization in a country.  We also require participants to provide a portion of the training costs.  This keeps the training cost per person to under $10 per event.


Activity
2017 (12 months)
(five countries)
2018 (Jan-Sept)
(seven countries)
Introductory meetings/attendance for pastors and church leaders

Not measured
231 meetings
with 570 people
Awareness Creation meetings/attendance
(more formal 2-hour or 4-hour meetings)
8 meetings
With 444 people
73 events
with 16,404 people
Two-day events/attendance for Pastors and Church Leaders
18 events
With 694 people
16 events
with 1,298 people
Seminary Classes/students trained around the theme of DML
4 classes with
43 students
9 classes
with 206 students
Churches using “Thirty Days in the Marketplace”
53 churches
With 1694 members
36 churches
with 6,383 members
Total number of business people trained in one of our three training programs
558 businesses
 860 businesses
Business events/participants involved in advocacy
18 events with
539 participants
33 events
with 1,375 participants
Cities/Countries where DML is active
24 cities in five countries
47 cities in seven countries
Denominations where DML is active
32
48
As you review this report, we ask you to try and look beyond the numbers to the faces of men and women who are beginning to understand the role they play in God’s economy.  They are moving out of the shadows and into the light of understanding their call to be God’s chosen ambassadors whose parish is the auto shop, corner kiosk, small market garden and hundreds of other small businesses.  It is in these places where they are in touch with thousands of vendors and customers in need of the love of Christ. The starter gun has sounded, and we have a strong surge out of the blocks.  But we know and understand that we are in a marathon race to see the local church reenergized to move from the four walls of a building to be the Church in the four corners of the community.  Your prayers and support are part of the foundation that makes this ministry possible.  On behalf of the global DML team, thank you for joining us as we seek to disciple the next generation to be God’s light in the marketplace.
If you would like to support this ministry as it expands and grows in 2019, please go to www.disciplingmarketplaceleaders.org/donate and follow the prompts to give to DML, or to https://www.resonateglobalmission.org/support/donate-now and select "Missionaries-Africa" and then my name (Renita Reed-Thomson).  If you prefer to send a check, please make it out to ICM and mail it to PO Box 129, Monument CO 80132, and add the code 609045 on the memo line. We thank you in advance for your prayerful consideration!

Sunday, November 18, 2018

From the Mouths of Children

This past week, I had the privilege to be the speaker for theBible Study at the Victory Baptist Church in Kaduna, Nigeria.

I have to admit that it was a bit of a struggle for me to get enthusiastic about it.  You see, I had to teach Integrity and Finance with ECWA Seminary that morning from 9-12:30 pm.  Then I had to rush to another Baptist Church where we were doing a two-day workshop for pastors and church leaders from the area Baptist Churches (about 50 pastors and church leaders were in attendance).  I taught there from 1 pm - 4 pm.  I then was scheduled to teach at this particular church from 5:30-8 pm.  There was no time for lunch or dinner (other than some quick ramen noodles which I always keep in my suitcase for times such as this).  Normally, this isn't a problem for me to teach this much.  But the last two and a half weeks had been so exhausting (especially for me as an introvert) and weariness was settling in deep.

I tried to persuade the person arranging this to let me just speak for thirty minutes and then let me go.  But I could tell that they weren't going to budge.  So at some point, I resigned myself to the fact that I would be there for the full evening.

And, as God often has it, it turned out to be a blessing.

The church was in an unfinished building with a dirt floor, with more than 120 people waiting for Bible study to start at 5:30 pm on a Tuesday evening.  Let me emphasize this:  120 people, ready (and on time) for Bible study at 5:30 pm, on a Tuesday evening.  This is unusual.  And this is the average turnout, I was told, for their weekly Bible study.  Most of those in the audience were considered youth (which in most parts of Africa, means under the age of 35).  I spoke on 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 and talked about how work is an opportunity to worship and how we can witness through our work by working with excellence, being committed to our values, and remembering that we work for the Lord and not for man.

I then showed them the first session of the Poverty Cure, by the Acton Institute.  If you have not watched it, I would highly recommend it.  I love watching Session one and two with Africans because you can see the lightbulbs going on.  The first session is called "Charity that Hurts" and it begins to expose the audience to the idea that aid can be problematic, that looking for solutions from the outside is problematic, and that most answers can be found within ourselves (with the help of God) and our community.  I then broke them up into small groups for discussion.  The noise was astounding as people talked and argued and debated about these concepts.  The feedback was great, as it always is when we show it, with people responding by saying that they need to stop waiting for the answer, and instead, be the answer.


But the highlight of the night was that as the adults broke up into about ten groups to discuss what they watched, there was a small group of children, pictured here, who also came together as a small group and they too were discussing what they saw.  When it came time for the leader from each group to share what had been discussed, a nine-year-old girl in the back row, dressed in blue, stood up as the leader for the children's group.  She said something like this, "We also discussed what we watched in the video.  And we have seen that it is good for us to work with our hands.  There are things that we are able to do that we are not doing.  We need to not be fully dependent on our parents but also work."

Praise the Lord!  May a new generation arise that doesn't look outside for answers but knows that as co-creators with God, as image-bearers and reflectors of the Most High God, that they have the capacity and ability to find answers for themselves.

I leave for home today after a very full time in West Africa.  I'm looking forward to some family time this week over Thanksgiving.  I am so thankful to God for His faithfulness, His grace, and His mercy, and I thank God for each of you as well who have encouraged, prayed for, and supported this ministry!

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Letting pictures tell the story

[Writing to you from Kaduna, Nigeria where we have DML events, as well as teaching a class for the ECWA seminary Masters students.]

To say that last week in Ghana was a busy week would be an understatement.  But to say it was a successful week, with many answered prayers, would be quite accurate.  We thank God for the past week with our DML partners from West and East Africa.

We spent time in prayer and worship as a team.

We spent time in planning and dreaming of how the Church could reclaim the redeemed marketplace for Christ.

We spent time laughing and fellowshipping together.

We had Yoseph and Sitotaw from Ethiopia.  We had Grace and Moses from Uganda.  We had Elly and Caroline from Kenya.  We had James from Tanzania.  We had Freeman from Nigeria.  We had Joy and Maxcelline from Cameroon.  We had Steve from the UK.  And from Ghana, we had Fanny, Beatrice, Afia, Derek, Yvonne, Rev. Johnson, Isaac, Pastor Adams, and Elder Johnson.

Our thanks to those who prayed for this trip.  Our thanks to those who donated to make this trip possible.

Please enjoy some pictures of our time together.  I wish I could share some video but the internet is too slow for uploading those!

The DML Team, with members from nine countries.  In order to reinforce the teaching of the environmental bottom line, we gave each team member a Brita water bottle and filters; no more disposable plastic water bottles while we were together and they can continue using it in their own context!
We had a worship service together which involved getting up and dancing to the Lord!
Every morning we had devotions with the hotel staff.  Front and center in this picture is Joy from Cameroon.
Dr. Ahilijah, President of Ghana Christian University, sat through our entire week of Training of Trainers, took the exam, and taught with me on Monday.  Very unusual for a man of his stature to do that!  He is an excellent trainer and passionate about DML!  We are thankful he is on our team!
We shared the Lords Supper together.  Serving us (right to left) was Pastor Moses from Uganda, Rev. Johnson from Ghana, and Yoseph from Ethiopia.  Three great men of God who are passionate about serving Him!

Monday, November 5, 2018

"God is moved by faith, not by needs."

This past week we had a delightful time with very thoughtful, experienced, wise pastors, church leaders, theologians, and business people.  The Ghana DML Movement team carefully selected representatives from the following regions of Ghana:  Northern Region, Ashanti Region, Brong-Ahafo Region, Western Region, Eastern Region, Upper East, and Central Region.  All regions of Ghana, with the exception of Upper West, were represented.  Then they selected leaders from Togo and Burkina Faso to join.  And we also had guests from Liberia, and guests representing Sierra Leone present.

We had great in-depth discussions with those who were thinking of the big picture - in fact they are now not calling this the DML Ghana Movement, but the DML Africa Movement.

We were blessed to hear thoughtful comments like this throughout the week:
  • Africa is the most praying continent in the world and the poorest continent in the world.  We need to stop praying so much and start acting!  
  • The Church views businesses like a refrigerator.  We just open the door and help ourselves!
  • You cannot speak of the glory of God if you are not living to the glory of God.
  • Are we teaching people to hear the voice of the Lord or are we trying to be the voice of the Lord to the people?
And the one in the title, "God is moved by faith, not by needs."  While I think we can debate this one, it does get one thinking.

These comments challenge us both as individuals and as a group.

And we also hear this feedback about our time together:
  • We have rediscovered a truth that is in plain sight. As you shared from the Old and New Testament, we began to see what is clear:  Jesus and the disciples spent more time in the marketplace than in any other place!
  • The theological teaching opens our eyes, but the practical teaching has equipped our hands.
  • The training was filled with examples, laughter, and stories.  It gave me a fresh understanding of what it means to be the Church scattered.  We are salt, light, and leaven in the community.  Very, very practical.
Two of the participants shared early on that they had a vision of people walking arm in arm, linked together like a chain.  That in order to change the Marketplace and for the Church to have relevance in the world today, Christians need to come together.  As we closed our time together, we formed a circle and linked arms, and prayed for God to work in us and through us to be the change that we wish to see in our communities, in our churches, and in our nations.

On Sunday, all of our teams arrived from Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, and Cameroon, to join the Nigerian team, UK team, US team, and Ghana team already at work.  We know this week will be very full of activities, but we can't wait to see how God will use this time together to build each other up, and ultimately to build His church!  Please pray for our time together!

Monday, October 29, 2018

We Can't Wait...We Won't Wait

In 1945 a book called Toward the Conversion of England stated this:  "We are convinced that England will never be converted until the laity use the opportunities daily afforded by their various professions, crafts, and occupations."

In 1945, 30% of England attended church.  In 2018, less than 7% attend church in England.  In Europe, fewer than 3% of the population attend church weekly.  They have become secularized and now live in a post-Christian era.

Africa has come to Christ faster than any other continent in history.  In 1900, fewer than 5 million in Africa were Christians.  In 2010, 45% or 500 million Christians were in Africa.  By 2050, it is projected that there will be one billion Christians (out of the projected population of 2.5 billion) in Africa.  However, Church size is not necessarily indicative of Church health.  The question we are asking African Church leaders is will they equip the "laity" to use the opportunities afforded to them daily through their work to be the Church every day of the week?

We are in Ghana where a Discipling Marketplace Movement was born in June, through a number of key strategists who desire to see the message of DML move from border to border in Ghana and beyond.  

These leaders in Ghana wrote me in July to request if DML could start working in Burkina Faso.  We said no, as we don't have the time or the resources to add that country.  They said, "We can't wait.  We won't wait.  When you come to Ghana next, we will have them come.  The Church there needs this, especially as Muslims have taken over the Marketplace and the Church doesn't know what to do about it."  We are having two very key leaders of church and missions in Burkina Faso join us on Monday.

Then some leaders from Liberia came and asked if we are going to work in Liberia.  We said no, as we don't have the time or the resources to add that country.  They essentially said, "We can't wait.  We won't wait.  Where are you speaking in the area that we can come and listen?"  We are having three people from Liberia join us on Monday.
Yesterday we learned that the DML movement in Ghana is also bringing in leaders from Togo to join us.  We also will have a leader from Nigeria join us.  

Suddenly, what was a key event for significant leaders in Ghana has turned into an international event with leaders from five countries in attendance.  

On Friday night, we met with a couple of the leaders in the movement and heard their passion for this message.  But mostly what we heard is that God had been calling them into this area of ministry for longer than DML has existed.  Let me repeat that:  THIS CALLING HAS EXISTED ON THEIR HEARTS LONGER THAN DML HAS EVEN EXISTED.  And that is what is so exciting to us.  This isn't a DML message.  This isn't my message.  This is God's message.  We are a tool to be used in the purpose of fulfilling what God has called the Church to do, and for many years the Church has forgotten this component.  

Of course, we also tremble a bit at this.  Because we know that after this next week of intense meetings and workshops, the requests will come with a bit more passion for us to go to these countries.  And it's more difficult to say no when you have a relationship and hear the need.  

BUT we also know that God continues to raise up leaders who can take up the call.  Our focus in this next year is to be equipping leaders.  That is why we are doing a Training of Trainers in Ghana this next week.  We will be doing a Training of Trainers in Nigeria in January and in Cameroon in February.  We just did a training of trainers in Ethiopia.  And Kenya DML just did a training of trainers for Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.  So the team is growing and we are thankful!

Please pray for the Holy Spirit to be very present this week in the hearts and minds of those who will be with us this week - that this attitude of "we can't wait...we won't wait" may be fanned and fed by the Spirit of the Living God!

Monday, October 22, 2018

Faithful, Flexible, and Forgiving

My trip to Cameroon was canceled.  We have postponed the DML trainings in Cameroon until February.  Both major cities, Yaounde and Douala, are on lock-down by the government until the announcement of the winner of the election, expected on Monday morning.  Riot police have taken over the streets and gatherings have been canceled.  Citizens are currently blocked from using the internet.  It is expected that the current president, 85-year-old Paul Biya, will be announced as the winner again, starting his seventh term as president.  There have been many accusations of widespread fraud and voter intimidation, but all legal attempts to have the election rerun failed.  Prominent politicians are under house arrest and many journalists have been arrested as well.  Because of this, we don't expect there to be a lot of news coming out of Cameroon, so please pray for our brothers and sisters there!  Please continue to pray for peace in Cameroon, as well as justice and equality for all citizens of this country, both English-speaking and French-speaking.

I leave for Ghana this Thursday, where we have two very busy weeks scheduled.  I land on Friday at 8 am and then leave immediately for a three-hour talk on "Doing Our Business God's Way."  Hopefully I will be able to stay awake!  We then will have a two-day workshop the following Monday and Tuesday for pastors and church leaders, followed by a Training of Trainers for the rest of the week.  The exciting thing will then be Sunday, November 4, when our DML teams from Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Cameroon, and Nigeria will all arrive in Ghana, and we will spend five days together learning, sharing, and growing in how to do this ministry to the glory of God.  Following that time, I will make my way to Nigeria and will be there for about ten days.

It is time for a brief update from home:

The big news is that Michael has left his job at Eerdmans Publishing Company after twenty-three years.  He served as the Sales Director for a number of years, and then as the Senior Acquisitions Editor for a number of years.  He has taken a job with a different publishing company called "Wipf and Stock" where he will start Monday in a similar position as Acquisitions Editor (https://wipfandstock.com).  Wipf and Stock is located in Oregon, but Michael will be able to work from our home in Michigan.  This will be a big change for him, as well as for us as we adjust to both of us working from home - at least when I'm here. He's excited about this change, and the opportunity to work with this new company which is growing and involved in some similar yet some different lines of books.

Michael's desk/office in our sunroom.
During the farewell lunch for Michael on Friday, his boss described Michael as someone who has exemplified being flexible and forgiving in their office.  They also remarked on what an incredibly hard worker he is, and how he is like the energizer bunny, which keeps going and going.  I would definitely agree with this assessment of Michael.  He is one of the hardest workers I know.  He bends over backward to help people, and he has a great ability to not hold grudges and to forgive those who have wronged him. He is faithful, flexible, and forgiving!

We are thankful for this new phase in Michael's life and the opportunities ahead.  God is good!

Monday, October 15, 2018

Twitches in Our Life

Image result for eye twitchFor the past three weeks, I have been dealing with pretty constant headaches and an eye twitch on my right eye. Twitch, twitch, twitch.  All day.  It seems to be directly related to fatigue and stress.  The eye twitch isn't very noticeable to other people, but it feels very obvious to me.  I try to rub it away.  I try to apply counter pressure.  I try to close my eye for a few minutes but to no avail.  Twitch, twitch, twitch.

As I've struggled with being irritable about it, it has caused me to think about how complex and intricate our bodies are.  I am fatigued and stressed.  I get headaches.  I get eye twitches.  When I rest and deal with the stress, the headache goes away and the eye twitch stops.  It's quite amazing, really.
Image result for finger pointing with three more pointing back
It has stopped me from complaining, for the most part.  Because while I can point fingers to stress and fatigue, as an adult, I know that I have made the choices that are bringing fatigue and stress, and therefore I need to live with the consequences.  As I often teach, when I point my finger at others, there are three fingers that point back to myself.  While I'd like to exonerate myself fully from life challenges, that almost never works in this world of relationships and choices.

I need to pay attention to twitches in my life.  I need to be curious about where these twitches come from and what my part is in them.  I need to be curious enough to investigate the three fingers that point back at me.

And of course, that gets me to thinking about our amazing Creator and the role of the Holy Spirit in the twitches of our lives.  God has created our bodies, so intricately and wonderfully.  He has made us in His image, giving us the opportunity to be co-creators with Him.  He has not created us to be like animals, searching for our daily bread every day, but has created us for a much higher purpose than that - to be a blessing to others through the gifts and talents that He has endowed us with.  He has given us the Holy Spirit which often can feel like a twitch, reminding us and prompting us to do the right thing as ambassadors of the Most High God.  When we experience the twitching from the Holy Spirit, we can either ignore it and hope it goes away, or examine it and do something about it.

He has put us in the contexts of families and networks of relationships that can often act like twitches as well.  People who know us, love us, care for us, can act like an annoying eye twitch as they seek to lovingly (and sometimes not so lovingly) remind us of who we are and whose we are.

We can ignore these twitches.  We can continue to point fingers and lament the pains of life.  OR we can learn to appreciate these twitches, remain curious about them and have the courage to look at them full on.

Twitch.  Twitch.  Twitch.  While I'm not quite at the point of thanking God for my eye twitch, I do have a greater appreciation for it!

This week Friday I leave for Cameroon.  They had their election on October 7 and the results have not yet been announced.   There have been demonstrations and there is expected controversy for when the announcement is made, which should be while I am there.  We are unsure whether or not the program that we have scheduled will be able to go forward.  Please pray for this country and for peace; please pray for justice and equality for the people in this country who have felt downtrodden and ignored for decades; please pray for the safety of those who may be traveling for our DML program, should we decide to continue; please pray for wisdom and discernment on our part as to whether we proceed or not.